Seun desperately needed a comeback to salvage the situation. He had to gather what was left of his dignity. He dialed FK again.
“FK Money!” He hailed with unnecessary gusto.
Seun laughed, a little too loud, a little too forced. “You got me there and you successfully frustrated my prank.”
He could hear her sigh over the phone. “I see…”
Seun wanted to convince her. I needed to make sure she didn’t think of him as a petty criminal.
“You know, a lot of people fall victim to these people. I was just messing around with my friends in order to keep them on their guard.”
Silence. Seun scratched his head, cursing his luck in his heart.
FK laughed. “I was really confused. How are you finding your new job?”
Relief flooded Seun’s heart. She believed.
“What jo-“ he started to say before he remembered that he had lied about getting a better offer from a competitor before he left his former job. He bit his tongue. “Oh, yeah. My new job. It’s fantastic. Just fantastic.”
“I wish I could say same. Now that you’ve left, all your work has rolled to my desk. I never really realized how much you juggled because of how efficiently you did.”
It took him by surprise. Compliments always surprised him, and lifted him momentarily. And so he fished for compliments; constantly seeking validation in people’s sterling opinion of him. But soon after receiving a compliment on his competence, skill and acumen, he’d be needing another to assuage the avalanche of self doubt that held his heart in a firm clasp.
Goke looked at Seun funny. Seun jumped off the window and walked down the street, away from Goke and his probing gaze.
“We never got to do a proper send forth for you,” FK said over the phone. “how about I treat you to lunch?”
Seun could scarcely believe his luck and then, skepticism swept in as swiftly as his excitement bubbled. What was this lady playing at?
“How kind. What’s the catch?”
FK laughed. “Everyone is selfish these days such that a simple gesture of kindness is looked upon with narrowed eyes. After my preaching, you are right. There is indeed a catch.”
Seun giggled, partly because of Folake’s good humor and partly cos of the effect of the drink he’d been having all evening. “I knew it. Spill.”
“I want to pick your brain on how you managed heading the unit and managing Mr. Ekweremadu’s sickening demands.”
“So my brain is beans now, abi?”
“Your words, not mine.” FK said after a terse chuckle. If Seun was a little more perceptive, he would have noticed an undertow to Folake’s banter.
“Just text me the address and time, I’ll make myself available. I have to go now, I have a long day ahead of me tomorrow.”
Long day indeed,Seun’s mind mocked him. He walked back to Goke. He explained the close shave he just had with Folake. Goke has a good laugh, head thrown back and his laughter coming out in slurred spurts like they did whenever he was drunk. After the laughter came the ramblings. Seun’s phone started ringing. It was Felicity. His heart skipped a beat. She was his pickup from the club one night. The two of them had been drunk and reckless. They didn’t use protection.
“I’m pregnant.” She delivered succinctly.
It was a blow he saw coming, yet it knocked the wind right out of his sails.
Seun’s charade was lace, Folake could easily see through it. He obviously had no job and that tale about sensitizing his friends with a prank reeked of its falsehood. Folake was bothered. It was beyond a casual cause to furrow one’s brows. Folake could discern a burden here. She bowed her head.
“My former boss is sinking, dear Lord. Give me the soul of this one. Give me the boldness and utterance to witness to him. Grant me wisdom oh God…”
Knackered as she was, she slept off in the place of prayer. When she jolted awake, she felt no guilt or shame, only a loving whisper in her heart lingered.
And so she climbed her bed and slept off.
“Are you going to do something about it?”
“You want me to abort?” There was a stolidness to Felicity’s voice that was out of her character.
“You’re pro-choice now, you can do this.”
“I’m not doing it.”
Seun paused, stunned. This couldn’t be happening. “Are you doing this to trap me?”
“Don’t be stupid. I’m not doing anything, we did this and we should live with the consequences of our actions.”
“We’re talking about a human being here, Felicity. I’m not ready. Please, abort it.”
“I might be pro choice on twitter and in my circle of socialites, but I’m not a fool. I know abortion is far more traumatic than our politically correct platforms are willing to admit. I’ve seen my girlfriends live with a part of them dead and struggle to convince themselves that there’s nothing to be mourned. I’ve seen and heard of people with indelible scars from abortions. Seun, I won’t let you push me into this.”
Seun cursed aloud. “I’m not ready!”
“The baby isn’t coming tomorrow. You have time to get ready.”
“You dirty hypocrite! So much for being pro choice.”
“Idiot, if you had half an ounce of sense you’d know that being pro choice includes getting to choose to keep the baby if I want. My body, my rules.”
“Felicity, what are you trying to prove? This isn’t just about you and your stupid, flabby body! Is this a sick joke?”
“If you want to play the coward and run from your responsibilities, I would neither be shocked nor thrown into dismay. I am able to take care of my child all by myself, I just thought it was fair to let you know in case you want to step up. Goodnight, Seun.”
“How do I even know the child is mine?”
“The loser’s last card. When the child is born we will carry out a paternity test.”
“It can be done before birth.”
“No doubt about that. The question is, can you afford it?”
To Seun’s silence, Felicity said, “just what I thought.”
Seun ended the call, seething. He felt faint. He was reliving his father’s mess.
This can’t be happening.
Goke jumped off the window, cackling.
“Wizi boy, make we dance. Daddy yo, make we dance. Star boy, make we dance. Daddy yo, make we dance.” He hopped around as he sang, both hands behind his head. He hopped in circles around Seun.
“Straight shooter. I hail oh!”
Anger exploded in Seun’s head. He had to release his pent up frustration and irritation especially at Goke. He threw a fist at Goke’s face. It connected with a crunch. Goke’s smile died.
“You dey craze?” Goke bellowed, eyes burning. He pushed Seun roughly. Seun pushed back and gave him another punch. Goke swept Seun off his feet with a swift kick. Seun landed on his back. Goke straddled him and riddled his face with punches. Seun turned over, wriggled from beneath Goke and stood over him. He kicked Goke’s side with a force aimed at breaking ribs.
The brawl continued amidst blood, frantic blows and a cascade of snot from Goke’s broken nose.
While Folake waited for Seun to arrive, Tope, her brother and last sibling, crossed her mind for the second time that day. She had awakened with his image on her mind. His oily face and tall body with the thin-muscled build of an athlete. She smiled. Tope was dear to her. He was an ambidextrous clown. He evoked laughter wherever he went but when he wasn’t making others laugh, his face was always drawn.
Tope wasn’t born ambidextrous, he was born left-handed but Folake’s Mum made it a point of duty to reverse what she perceived to be an error in creation. By cultural standards, being left-handed was an anomaly. She ensured Tope kept his left hand permanently fixed in his pocket while she made him use his right hand. His coordination was clumsy at first, he often wrote off the lines of his book, the letters jagged and lopsided. But with time and a lot of whipping, his right hand learned to function. Folake remembered how he often sulked and cried in those early years of his life; how his left hand twitched in his pocket while he tried to make his right hand work. Folake pitied him then, she bought candies to placate him, but now he was better for it. Now, he could use both hands efficiently, a rare quality he wore on his sleeves. Whenever Folake called him, she’d say “hello baby bro.” And his reply would always be, “hey there, you’re talking to T-boy, the ambidextrous epitome of wonder.” And every time Folake laughed. It was an old joke, that really wasn’t even a joke, but was evergreen nonetheless.
Hey there, you’re talking to T-boy, the ambidextrous epitome of wonder.
Her mind replayed the words in Tope’s newly acquired baritone, adolescence’s gift to him. A gift that came all too suddenly. Folake called her brother one afternoon and his “hey there…” came in a deep voice she couldn’t recognize.
“Is this Tope?”
He laughed and said. “Baby bro’s growing up. Remind me to show you my precious three strands of beards.”
Folake had laughed and laughed. Soon after she laughed, Tope started hinting at a need for a new gadget. Unlike Erinayo, her immediate younger sister, who had a spine of steel and was independent, Tope was the typical last born who never passed up on a chance to ‘bill’ her. But Folake didn’t mind. She indulged him often, too often, in her Mum’s opinion. She was fond of him. This boy that was born before her very eyes, while she was nine years old. She was like a second mum to Tope, and since there was scarcely a soft bone in his first Mum, she gladly supplied all the softness.
But she was bothered about Tope’s academics. He was taking WAEC and JAMB for the third time. His academics had suffered decline for as long as Folake could remember, yet, she remembered his first term in Nursery school. How his teacher sang his praise, how is report card glowed with high scores. How he emerged first in his class. But somewhere along the line, he started struggling. What went wrong? Why was her smart-mouthed brother struggling in school? Lesson teacher after lesson teacher, their mother kept on hiring and firing, yet there was no improvement.
Cutting through her thoughts, Seun walked through the doors of the restaurant, with a bandage over his knuckles and a bruise on his cheek.
“Not very gentlemanly of you to keep me waiting, sir.”
Seun smiled and held his hands together. “I apologize. Traffic was something else, plus, my boss held me down with extra work.”
Folake smiled, taking a swig from her cocktail. “It’s good. So, what will you have?”
They waved the waiter over, placed their orders and did a bit of small talk before Seun dived into his obviously premeditated speech on how a good inward drive was the best thing one needed to surmount any challenge.
“If I wanted aspire to maguire, I’ll be on YouTube. There are a lot of motivational speakers there. Seun, I just want to know what things you did that made you stand out. I just want to reach you and glean from that. Can you do that for me?”
Seun swallowed and leaned back. He felt raw and aching. Perhaps this was a good place to vent. “I have a father who was never really pleased with my existence and he didn’t keep that a secret.
You see, my father went to serve in Imo state and there he got a secondary school girl pregnant. Her folks insisted on him doing right by her and marrying her. The baby, the marriage, came and disrupted his plans. It upturned his life. It was his excuse. And so, I had to labour to get as much as a nod from my dad. I’ve learned to live with the pressure. Always having to outdo myself at every task and outdo my efforts in the previous task.” He sighed and looked through the window near their table. “You asked how I manage Mr. Ekweremadu’s demands.” He scoffed. “You should meet my father.”
A thick silence fell thereafter. Folake didn’t know what to say. At the root of Seun’s efficiency was trauma, a compulsion birthed by a yearning for acceptance.
Seun laughed, trying to lighten the mood. “It’s not that deep jare. So tell me, are you applying for the promotion?”
Folake let him change the subject. Yes, she was applying for the promotion and that was why she was out with him, spending money on measly portions of overpriced food. They laughed.
“Let me tell you about a man I know of. His name is Sol. This man had money, I’m talking about heavy, internationally-high-ranking money. This man was also given over to enjoying life. He sought to sate every desire he ever had. It’s safe to call him a number one member of the chop life crew.”
Seun smiled, catching the quip. “Jaiye times two. So you know powerful people like this and you’re slaving under Ekweremadu?”
“Well, Sol’s dead now. When Sol wasn’t eating the life of his head, he was something of a philosophical poet. He was a deep thinker and a sage. But don’t forget, he was a man given to pleasure. You’d be staggered if I tell you how many wives he had.”
“Hit me.” Seun said a sipped from his glass.
Seun almost choked on his drink. The duo laughed.
“I have so many questions right now… how big was his home? How did he keep up with the children in the house? How did they cook? And yo, did he even know the names of all his wives! Bruh, we weren’t even up to seven hundred in my secondary school!”
Folake loved that Seun was totally absorbed in this story. “I don’t have the answers to these questions o. But, it gets juicier. Asides his 700 wives, he had 300 side chicks.”
Seun leaned back. “I can’t believe this. You’re making it up.”
Folake laughed. “I’m not. I promise, I’m not.” She chewed on her meal slowly, enjoying Seun’s anticipation.
“He died of AIDS, didn’t he?”
Folake scoffed. “He didn’t. But in some of his writings, he made some interesting observations. He said, “I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and indeed, all is vanity and grasping for the wind.” This well-versed, well-travelled man came to this somewhat despondent conclusion.”
Seun rubbed his chin with an index finger. “Grasping for the wind. What an expression. It’s so simple yet so… so profoundly relatable.”
“Repeated all through his writings are such statements. Under the sun, there really isn’t much at the end of the day. What we think is worth living for soon becomes bland; what we think is a beautiful reality worth pursuing turns out to be a mirage.”
Folake’s words struck Seun. This was indeed his life. “This Sol dude, do you happen to have his book? An autobiography or something? Or where can I access his writings?”
Folake smiled. “In the Bible. Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and songs of Solomon.”
Seun’s eyes widened. “A freaking Bible story!” He chuckled. “You are a piece of work, FK. You had me there for a minute. I should have caught on to the tale at the point you mentioned his wives. My Sunday school teacher must be embarrassed.”
Folake leaned closer. “Seun, the real fulfillment and meaning of life can only be found in Jesus. Because of you, Jesus came into this world. He died in your place, he died for your sins and on the third day he rose for your justification. His love for you kept him on that cross and he did this just so you can have hope beyond this life. He did this so you can have eternal life if only you would come to believe. Paul says if we only have hope in Christ in this world, we are of all men most miserable! How much more the man who doesn’t even have any hope in Christ? Hope is in Jesus in this life and in eternity. Accept him, Seun. Please welcome him into your heart.”
Listening to Folake witness so passionately, Seun literally felt his heart burn within him. But he didn’t want to accept Jesus. He wasn’t willing to part with the life of sin he had come to love even though he hated. He rose in a fit, scraping his chair backwards and hurried into bathroom.
“I need to ease myself.”
In the toilet, his fingers were shaking. How could the word of God put all his life before him so clearly? Why did he talk about his Dad? Why was FK taking him to places in himself he loathed to visit?
Folake let her head drop, a sinking feeling rising in her chest.
Her heart ached for Seun. She wished she could reach over and smooth his pain away. Compassion flooded her heart. Her phone started ringing. It was her mum.
“Folakemi, I am finished.” Her Mum cried over the phone.
“What happened ma?”
“Tope is missing.”
Folake jumped to her feet. “What? Since when?”
“He went for drama rehearsals since yesterday evening. I haven’t seen him since then!”
Cold sweat was breaking out on Folake’s face. “Have you called him? Have you called his school?”
“I’ve called everyone I know. Folake, I am finished.”
Folake wanted to say something to encourage her Mum, but she had no strength. Her phone slipped from her hands and clattered to the ground, snapping her out of her reverie. She picked her phone and her bag from the table and hurried out of the restaurant.
After pulling himself together, Seun stepped out of the bathroom. He stopped at the entrance. Folake was gone. A downward spiral started in his heart. He went back into the bathroom. He had never felt so raw before neither had he felt so alone.
He looked into the mirror but he wasn’t paying attention to his reflection. What filled his mind was one of his earliest memories in life. His mom told him to rinse meat at the sink. He went ahead to squirt dishwashing liquid into the water to make the meat very clean. His mum was mad at him. She slapped his face and yelled but that wasn’t what was etched in his mind. When his dad came, and he learned of the mess Seun had done, he simply shook his head and said, “you just have to ruin everything for everyone. It’s all you ever do.” And then he walked into his room.
Seun thought about Felicity, about the pregnancy. His child was coming. He couldn’t afford to mess this up for the baby. He had to get his life in order before the baby comes. He had to get a life.