Twenty-four year old Toni paid attention to the gossip that was coming from the next table. Three girls sat over meals of jollof rice, beans, plantains and plain vegetable salads. They were girls Toni disliked and on their side the feeling was reciprocal.
They were not her type. She considered them airheads, the caliber that would sleep their way to the top in their careers as advertisers. They were all interns at a top advertising agency called DFL Creative. She had just started interning there while they were two months old in the agency. She was practically new to the profession but boasted of the best credentials with a Masters in media and communication. She knew she could have easily gotten a better position in the company but she chose to apply as an intern to start from the bottom to the top, a decision that didn’t resonate well with her boyfriend, Mark, who also worked at DFL. He felt it was better if she worked elsewhere; it would help strengthen their relationship if they didn’t see too much of each other.
Toni had her own dreams. And maybe she spent too much time away from Mark, pursuing them. The result was him seeing someone on the side. Leticia had shared with her the rumors of him and some Nkechi chick, but Toni never believed her. To her, Mark was a good guy, loving, sweet and principled. He promised his future to her. The people who went about calling him a cheat were just jealous of his wealth and status. Mark was faithful.
However, the girls on the next table thought otherwise. They were accusing him of impregnating Nkechi who was also a colleague at DFL Creative.
Having heard enough of the unpleasant tale, Toni left her table and marched straight to the girls. They stopped talking when she approached them. Revolting glares hit her from different angles.
“Did you say Nkechi is pregnant for Mark Ebute?”
She met silence.
“You were just talking about it, loud enough for me to hear!” Toni’s temper rose. “Now I’m asking and y’all keeping quiet!”
“Ha-ahn!” One of them bit back. “Who is this one? What is your own with our gist?”
“Mark is my boyfriend!” Toni revealed. Mouths flew open.
Her relationship with Mark was private. It was the compromise she fell into since she wasn’t planning on leaving DFL Creative. On the other hand, Mark’s parents did not approve of her. They were conservative Christians and Toni came from a family that thought little of religion. For four years, Toni and Mark kept their relationship behind closed doors and were now adept in pretending nothing existed between them, although it was always difficult for Toni to watch girls flirt with him at work; Nkechi especially. She had never imagined that the seemingly harmless flirtations would lead to something serious.
“Is Nkechi really pregnant for him or not?” Toni was desperate for the truth.
“You said Mark is your boyfriend?” the girl that had spoken earlier asked, giving her a full scan as if to say she was not good enough for Mark. He was rich and attractive while she was just plain Toni, as much as they knew. Flaunting her parents’ wealth had never been her thing. In reality, if she was to go by inheritance, she was far richer than Mark. Back in Port Harcourt, everyone knew the Braithwaites. Here in Lagos, the name meant nothing.
“Mark is my boyfriend.”
The girls somehow found her insistence funny, and having healed from the initial shock, they let out laughter that almost brought Toni to tears.
“My dear, Mark is Nkechi’s boyfriend. I know you fantasize about him as we all do but he’s been dating NK for almost a year and they are expecting a baby. NK has not been coming to work because of morning sickness and all.”
“Their baby will be so fine,” one of the other girls said dreamily.
Toni’s eyes couldn’t hold back the tears.
“Aww, she’s crying.” The first girl held her hand her as the other two laughed on. “I don’t want to believe these tears are from mere fantasy. Mark must have kept you on the side. Pele. You’ll sha get over it. It’s not like you’re his type anyways.”
Toni pulled out her hand from the girl’s grip and gifted her with an impressive slap that almost knocked her off her chair.
That same day Toni quit her job, dumped Mark and swallowed sleeping pills to kill herself. If it hadn’t been for Leticia, she would have died. She spent five weeks in the hospital and while she was recuperating, Mark married Nkechi. When Toni got news about their flashy wedding, she attempted to kill herself again.
Recovery seemed like it was going to take a lifetime, but months later, she began to piece together parts of her that were lost to the pain. She took a trip abroad to gain back her figure under a surgeon’s knife. She also endured counseling sessions with a life coach provided by her parents, and made a deliberate plan to cut love out of her life.
When Toni returned to Nigeria, she was changed. She applied to work for Covet Advertising, a firm just new off the ground but competing with the best. She chose them because of their fresh ideas and cutthroat approach. Their greatest competition was DFL Creative. Toni saw pleasure in filling in for a post in the public relations department at Covet. It was the same post Nkechi was handling at DFL Creative.
Nine years later, Covet and DFL Creative were still going head to head. Mark now owned a major stake in DFL. Nkechi was managing partner. They had two adorable kids.
Mark had tried on many occasions to meet with Toni, but she always turned him down. He would persist still, especially during the holiday periods like the one that had just passed. Today, she was staring at an email message from him. It was way past Christmas and Valentine’s but he had sent in a poem in his audacious manner. At the end of the poem was an invitation for dinner, followed by three X’s. This was the way they ended their texts to each other back then.
Gist had it that his marriage to Nkechi was on the rocks. Nkechi was cheating on him. Karma was being ever faithful to her nature. But Toni wasn’t elated by the news. She actually felt sad for Mark because as much as she lied to herself and everyone else that she hated him, she still felt something for him. Nine years away from him only tampered with her feelings a little. Every time she had slept with another man, it was Mark that was there.
However, Andre was trying to break the spell. And he was not even a major feature in her life yet. How he managed to do it was still a mystery.
Her date with him on Christmas Day had actually turned out great. The first part of it, that was. She had had fun. He was amazing company. He knew how to make her laugh, something only a few men could accomplish. He broke down her defenses with no difficulty. It was as if he knew intimate parts of her and how to stimulate them.
Yet he was unromantic. Maybe it was something with Ivoirian men. He was more African than French. In the middle of conversation, he broke and said, “You have the hips of a woman that can bear many kids and yet you waste your fertile years with taken men. Age is not on your side. You know that, right?”
He had left her speechless, but it hadn’t bitten much. She was getting used to his jarring manner.
His smile too… It always came off as if he was mocking her with his lips.
She also liked the way he easily veered off into French when speaking, as if English was too much stress. At such moments, she would snap a finger and bring him back. But then there were those eerie intervals when he left unreadable eyes on her for an uncomfortable stretch. It made her lose focus and at the same time, turned her on.
But the best thing about him was his ability to stimulate her mind. She found it more enthralling than the promise of what his body could do to hers.
She wanted Andre, only because in her estimation, sex with him would be the easiest way to control him. If she was to leave things on a platonic level, it would mean something more was waiting for them. She didn’t want more; she wanted him under her thumb. It was dangerous the way she liked him already.
She was somewhat glad that their date that night had gone wrong towards the end.
Just as they had concluded their dinner, he disappeared into the restroom and took quite some time. The waiter brought their bill and when Toni looked at it, she panicked on his behalf.
“Twenty-seven thousand?” she asked the waiter.
“It’s all there in the list, ma. The food, peppersoup, drinks and service charge.”
The bill was nothing to Toni, but she didn’t want an embarrassing episode. She felt it was better to help Andre out before he returned from the restroom.
“Get me your POS.”
The waiter disappeared and came back with a POS device. Toni paid the bill, and just as she was about taking the receipt, Andre appeared. His steps lost vigor as he approached her.
“Thank you.” She dismissed the waiter hurriedly.
“Did you just pay?” Andre questioned.
“Why?” He remained standing, hands in his pockets.
“Why not? We’re both on a date together. You’re handling the transport and I’m handling this…”
“I never asked you to handle anything, Tone. I brought you here. It’s my job to take care of you.”
“Okay. No need to get angry. The money was a lot…”
“And hence, you concluded I couldn’t afford it.”
“Calm down, Andre. It’s no big deal. If you don’t have the money…”
“And who says I don’t?”
Toni felt uneasy. He was calm, and yet she felt uneasy.
“Can we go?” she requested.
“With all pleasure.”
Andre started out without her. She followed him, trying to catch up with heels that wouldn’t let her move as fast.
“Okay, that was rude!” she said to him. “You don’t just walk out on a woman like that!”
“I just did. What will you do about it?”
Toni couldn’t come up with a quick answer. She kept calm until they were in the backseat of a cab headed to her house.
“Are you always this egotistic? All I did was help out with the bills–”
He faced her. “You do not help a man out with his responsibilities. You only do so if he asks. What you did back there was embarrassing. And the fact that you concluded that I didn’t have the money was even more humiliating.”
“But it was you who told me the other day that you couldn’t afford Shaunz Bar…”
“So? My money, my problem. Not yours.”
She shrank back. “You’re mad at me.”
“You caused it. You did wrong, and instead of apologizing you put up an attitude. You’re the egotistic one.”
“Yes. Flaunting your money in my face, making me feel inadequate because I didn’t come to pick you up in a posh car, acting snooty all evening.”
Toni was hurt at his words. She had enjoyed her time with him. She didn’t recall ever being snooty.
“But I had fun, Andre.”
“On your own tab, abi? Tomorrow you’ll go telling your friends that some delivery guy took you out and couldn’t afford to pay the bills and you came to his rescue. You Nigerian women irritate me always.”
Wow. The man certainly had issues either with himself. She sensed there was a needy man inside, cloaked by the manliness and self-importance he exuded. She felt a need to reach out to that man. But it was a passing need. She corrected her reasoning faculties.
“Thank you for a wonderful night – on my own tab,” she muttered in sarcasm. If he was looking for an apology for what she just did, he was poking in the wrong hole.
He gazed at her for a moment. She held his gaze, surprised to find that he wasn’t carrying a frown.
“There’s just something about you, Tone. I don’t know what… But I want it. I want all of it, all of you.”
Toni turned her face in another direction. “I can’t give you what you’re looking for, Andre.”
He scoffed. “Exactly. You have nothing to offer asides your body.”
Toni was aghast. Her palm itched to assault his face, but for the love of her pride, she held back.
“Driver, stop the car.”
“Ehn?” The cab driver slowed.
“Stop the car!”
“What are you doing?” Andre asked.
“Going home. Oga stop this car immediately.”
The cab came to a stop. Toni stepped down, got out her phone and dialed another cab. As she did so, she expected that Andre would come out to her and apologize for his rudeness, but all she got was a mention of her name. When she didn’t answer, the cab fired up again and drove away, leaving her stunned to her bones.
“For real?” she asked out loud in the silence of the street. No man had ever treated her that way. They usually begged; even when she was at fault.
Andre was clearly in error here. He had been ungentlemanly and disrespectful to her. He owed her a thousand apologies, and it wasn’t only his statement that irked her so much. It was the fact that he actually stood his ground by leaving her out on a lonely street. She could not wrap her head around his behavior.
Two months had passed since that night and she was yet to recover from his actions.
“You should probably reply his text.”
Leticia was having a salad lunch in Toni’s office. It was lunch hour and Toni had stepped out to her balcony for a smoke.
“I’ve told you a million times that I don’t respond to apologies that come in text messages.”
“Facebook inbox nko?”
Toni turned sideways. “How does ‘okay, I screwed up. Let’s have lunch’ qualify as a proper apology?”
“He said he’s sorry.”
“He couldn’t even call!”
“He called twice, Toni.”
“And stopped? He’s supposed to call and call and call until I get tired of refusing his calls and then answer him.”
“Wow.” Leticia picked a lettuce from her salad and flagged it left and right as she spoke. “You have issues. I don’t know why you won’t admit that you’re crazy about the guy.”
“I am not.”
“I rebuke that feminist in you. Depart from her this minute! Bitch be gone!”
“Have you Googled him?”
“Why would I Google him? I’m not the one who wants his dick.”
Toni made an expression akin to rolling her eyes. “I don’t want his dick.”
“Then why is it disturbing you that he hasn’t called?”
“Don’t distract me, aunty. As I was saying, I checked him out on Google and discovered that he has accounts in Google Plus, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, all of it. But when you click on them, there is absolutely no info about him. Nothing!”
“So I’m thinking that Andre is actually richer than he’s letting on. Babe, his perfume is Great Britain by Roja. You know how much that costs?”
“Almost two thousand dollars. How does a delivery guy afford a perfume that costly?”
“Maybe it’s an imitation fragrance or a gift from someone?”
“How about the clothes he wore on our date? They were all designer labels.”
“What about the wine? How did he know about such an expensive wine?”
“Yeah, I haven’t forgiven you guys on that one. You both owe me.”
“How did he know about the wine?”
“Em…he schooled in France?”
“And then everyone at the lounge bar was calling him ‘sir’.”
Another lettuce went into flag mode. “We’re in Yorubaland, sisi. They would call even an ant ‘sir’ in this town.”
“No. Something does not add up.”
“Wait… Let me get this clear. You’re mad at him because…what exactly? That he’s egotistic or that he is secretly rich?”
“Wow.” Leticia ate the lettuce. “That’s my second wow over this issue and it means I’m officially worried about you. Have you seriously considered giving your life to Christ, Antonia Braithwaite?”
“If Andre’s rich and he’s pretending, then it means he is lying to me.”
“And you know I can’t stand that.”
“Yet you teabag old crinkling men, but wetin be my own? Let me just Kermit.”
Toni eyed her. “And leave too. Lunch break is over.”
She clomped on her half-smoked cigarette and returned to the office, shutting the balcony door.
“Just call him and agree to that date.”
Toni dabbed on some oil-based perfume on her wrists to mask the cigarette smell.
“I’m back with Sylvester.”
“Toni, that man’s explanation as to why he drugged you still makes no sense to me.”
“It’s his fetish.” Toni took her seat. “He loves to drug women.”
“And that doesn’t spell danger to you, Antonia?”
Leticia was upset. In fact, she had been that way since Toni got back with Sylvester a month ago.
“Sly is harmless. He’s just a weirdo.”
“No! He’s a rapist or serial killer or worse! Why would a man drug a woman if he doesn’t want to do something sinister?!”
Toni laughed. “You’re really so cute when you’re worried about me, but seriously, Sly is harmless.”
“He’s not slept with you yet.”
“Maybe he can’t. Or he’s gay. Totally not my problem. The money is good and he engages my mind, plus he’s brought a client our way. So it’s all win-win for me.”
Leticia put a lid over what little was left of her lunch. Her appetite was gone. “Just be careful.”
Leticia stood. She clutched her food pack to her tummy. “Izu is getting serious about us. He suddenly wants to start coming over to the house.”
Toni who was in the process of typing out an email, stopped.
Leticia sighed. “Okay, on Saturday while talking on the phone, he was like he was in our area and was wondering if he could come over for lunch.”
“Is he insane?”
“I told him I’ll ask you about it for next time.”
Toni sprang up, hurled herself over the table and grabbed Leticia by the collar of her shirt. “Do not bring that filthy thing into my house.”
“Our house, Toni.” Leticia made a pout as she moved backwards. “I paid for my own half.”
“I don’t care what you paid for, just don’t bring Izuchukwu into my house. Jeez! Tish, he’s someone else’s husband. He doesn’t love you.”
Leticia took another step backwards. “Whatever. Just leave my blouse.”
“It’s a shirt. H&M shirt.”
“Um…” Toni stared behind her. “I can’t, actually. I think I stretched too far. If I let go, I’ll fall.”
“Good for you.”
“Ouch. Tummy muscles killing me,” Toni squeaked. “Please help.”
Leticia put her arms around her and helped her down. Toni hugged her. “Please keep Izu away. Far, far away.”
Leticia pushed away. “That’s the difference between me and you. I don’t give you stress over your decisions or threaten our friendship. Like this Sylvester thing. I am very worried but you don’t see me going ‘if you continue with him, you’ll lose me’. I let you make your decisions. So, just leave me with Izu. We’re both keeping each other company. His family is in the US and my fiancé is God-knows-where. Izu and I get lonely, so why can’t we both help each other?”
Toni exhaled. For Leticia, that had been a long speech. It meant she was speaking from a place of hurt or she was probably on her period. Toni decided to stop aggravating her. They would talk later.
“Fine. Just be careful.”
Leticia turned away. “That goes without saying.”
The door shut in a hostile manner. Toni went back to her seat just as her phone began to ring.
She picked it. The caller was a friend from DFL Creative. In the past they had been intimate. She did it purely for business, benefits of which she was still reaping three years after.
She listened to the guy relate a detailed account of unsavory news she was not supposed to know. Her anger rose with each word he spoke. But she stayed quiet until he was done.
“Are you there, Toni?”
“I am. So you’re saying she used pussy to snatch that campaign from under us.”
“I am so mad right now. So mad.” Toni kept her voice short. “You have no idea how my boss worked hard to bring those guys in. She has been pursuing that campaign for more than six months. Because of it, she had broken her leg and was stuck in a wheelchair for a whole month.”
“Well, what can I say? Bottom power is clearly at play here.”
Toni let out a sigh. “Thank you, jare.”
“How are you these days, though? I miss you.”
“Go back to work, oga.”
She heard a snigger.
“Talk to you later.”
The line went dead and Toni marched to Christie’s office. Raji and Izu were there.
“Afternoon, bosses. Sorry for barging in like this, Christie.”
“We were having a meeting,” Izu mentioned, his eyes regarding Toni’s body in a barefaced manner.
“No, it’s fine,” Christie replied. “What is it, Toni?”
“I have bad news.”
“Nkechi is at it again. She snatched our client right under our noses.”
“What client, Toni?” Christie sat up; so did Raji who was comfortable on a couch by the door.
“The phone company guys…”
“The ones from Finland?”
“They had a meeting yesterday, apparently. While everyone was enjoying the Sabbath, they began making negotiations with DFL Creative.”
“This cannot be happening. Toni, tell me you’re joking.”
“I am not, Christie. Nkechi slept with their marketing manager to snatch that campaign. I got this from a credible source. That’s why they have been stalling.”
“No, this is not happening. At all. What is wrong with this Nkechi person nau? Does she have a personal vendetta against us or what? What did we ever do to her?”
You are not her problem. I am.
“It’s just competition, Christie. And I think we’ve been playing with kids’ gloves for too long. This is a new year. We have to get nasty again. We’ve gone soft over the years. No ad agency survives by playing nice.”
“She’s right,” Raji concurred, leaning forward and resting his elbows on his knees. “And I think they have a mole here who tells them everything we’re up to. That’s why they are always one step ahead.”
“What happened to the inside person we had with them?” Christie asked.
“Dead,” Toni answered. “HIV-related.”
Christie made a face.
“And we don’t have another person?” Raji questioned.
“Well, thank you for this info, Toni,” Christie rubbed her nose. “I will call and confirm. Can’t believe I hurt my leg for those guys.”
“Would you want me to handle them?” Toni asked. “Because I totally can.”
“Yes, she can. She has her…ways,” Izu commented, his eyes coming to rest on Toni’s bum.
“No, just leave it to me,” Christie replied.
Raji rose up and got to the door before Toni did.
“In my office, Antonia.”
Toni followed him. They entered his office, a grey space with little to inspire any form of extracurricular activity. It was different from Christie’s, which was feminine and warm, with soothing colors.
He shut the door.
“I need you to get back into DFL again.” Raji rested his butt slightly on his desk.
“Just as Izu said, I know you have your ways. I don’t want to know what they are, I just want you to get in there and do your thing. We need to bring them to nothing.”
“By all means, sir.”
She loved Raji. He was the most ruthless of the three. One could easily be deceived by his calm looks.
“Remember that whatever you do, it can’t be traced back to us.”
“Don’t worry sir. They won’t see me coming.”
Raji nodded. “Do it and you’ll make senior partner.”
Toni smiled. He angled his head at the door, dismissing her. Keeping her smile, she walked out. When she entered her office, she revisited Mark’s latest email and reread it. She toyed around with the idea of calling him but her pride wouldn’t let her. Eventually, she typed out a reply that was quick and plain.
Frendz Bar, tomorrow. 8pm.
The mouse floated over the send button for a long time. When she finally clicked it, she let out a heavy breath.
Nkechi… Unless my name’s not Toni… I’ll ruin you.
Raji returned to Christie’s office and met her in the middle of a phone conversation. It was with her nineteen-year-old son, Cyrus Junior. The boy was a pain these days.
“You want to go to Covenant University?! You want to?! Because I am so ready this moment to have your father take you there! Just push me, Cyrus!”
With a long hiss, she dumped her phone on the table.
“Easy,” Raji commented. “You’ll spoil the phone.”
“CJ gets on my nerves! God!”
“What’s it this time?”
“He wants to throw a party and he’s asking Folarin for money.”
“A party for what?”
Christie spread out her hands. “He says he didn’t throw a Valentine’s party and it’s blowing his rep. He needs to fix it.”
Raji laughed, making his way to her desk. “Maybe Cyrus Junior wants to be a socialite at the end of the day. Like his father. How is that one these days sef?”
The image of Christie’s ex-husband’s angry face the last time they met flashed in her memory. He had just discovered Cyrus Junior was abusing marijuana and Christie was nonchalant about it. That meeting had not gone well. Not for her, and especially not for Cyrus Junior who had been shoved in the backseat of his father’s car and driven over to his house for some discipline.
“Cyrus is fine.”
“Is he ever thinking about getting married again?”
“I don’t know.”
Christie didn’t like talking about Cyrus. He was one heck of a complicated man and their marriage had been a joke, having both been tied to each other by a teenage pregnancy. It wasn’t that the marriage was bad; it was that both of them became more of friends than lovers, and eventually ended up in a platonic arrangement. Divorce came on amicable grounds.
“Don’t stress yourself over CJ. He’ll come out good. And stop stressing over DFL as well.”
Raji had gone round Christie’s desk and was now standing behind her chair. He rotated it to have her face him.
“You need to calm down, Christie.”
“Where do you want to go today? It’s way past lunch hour but I’m thinking we could have an early dinner before we both head home.”
“I have a meeting in church by six.”
“So, we leave here by five…after management meeting.”
“Raj, what’s going on between us? It started with the kiss, and then that night in Amsterdam happened and now we’re having lunch almost every day and I have all these gifts from you that I can’t even show Folarin. What is going on?”
Raji put out an innocent face. “Nothing, Christie. Just two friends hanging out.”
“Just two friends hanging out?” Her voice went low. “Raji, in case you forgot—because somehow you’ve been acting like it never happened—we had sex.”
He smiled. “I’ve not forgotten and I’ve not been acting as if I have. We’re both adults. We got carried away by a single moment. Am I supposed to start avoiding you because of that?”
“It will never happen again.”
“It was wonderful, Christie.” He adored her with his eyes. “One of the best nights of my life.”
“It was wrong,” Christie murmured in annoyance, fighting the part of her that agreed that their one-night stand in faraway Amsterdam a month ago had been amazing.
“For that moment I was jealous of Folarin,” Raji confessed.
Christie spun her chair back into its former position.
“We cannot have an affair, Raj.”
“Who said anything about an affair?”
She looked at him. “We have to stop going down this path. It’s wrong.”
“Let’s take that night out of the picture and see it this way. I make you happy. You make me happy. Ever since we started hanging out platonically, our relationship at work has been awesome and this has a positive effect on business. You have your creative hat back in full gear, so why do you want to suddenly distance yourself from me, your friend of fourteen years, just because you want to prove that you’re faithful to your husband?”
“Honestly, I don’t want you to cheat on him again because I don’t want to betray my friendship with him either. But Christie, honey… the chemistry between us is mad.”
“But like I said, I won’t do anything. Just allow me fill in the spaces Folarin misses. Allow me bring back the old Christie who was full of excitement and zest. Consider it a favor I’m doing for your marriage…”
“And you, what do you gain from it?”
“A woman who appreciates me. A friend. Salma took all of that away.”
He rested his back on the wall.
“I miss her. We live in the same house and yet we’re stuck in different time zones. It appears she’s moved on without me. I regret what I did to her, to the kids but I’m tired of being punished. I just want to experience love again, to be able to love someone else and be appreciated with no drama.”
“I can’t take her place and you can’t take Folarin’s.”
“I know, but can’t we keep ourselves preoccupied, find a cocoon where the stress of everyday cannot touch us?”
Christie thought about Folarin. People believed she had everything going for her with a fairytale marriage. And maybe they were right, if marriages were to be defined by love and great sex alone.
But she wanted more from Folarin who was the textbook definition of a perfect husband. He was faithful, loving, kindhearted and a stud in bed. The type of guy you wanted to ride off into the sunset with. And she had done just that with him at the age of twenty-five. Or rather the version of him she fell in love with eleven years ago.
At the present, she didn’t know who he was. The adventurous, free-spirited man she knew was taken over by a person she found hard to comprehend. He now lived with a limited dose of adrenalin and settled for the basics life threw his way. As an executive of one of the leading ad agencies in the country, she as a woman, wasn’t expecting anything less from her man, but Folarin had chosen a safe, rudimentary life that saw him answering to bosses above him and earning less than twenty percent of what she made monthly. Coping with that reality was hard. She wasn’t in love with the present version of him and he wasn’t willing to revert to the man he used to be. Hence, their marriage was stuck in the great sex and wonderful parents zone. That was all he could offer.
But not Raji. Raji was audacious beneath his quietness. Alive. Enterprising. A leader. A spearhead. The type of man she had desired when she fell for Folarin. She would tell no one how much she struggled with thoughts of him. Only God knew. He alone heard her pleas at night for salvation, and the silentm yet racing thumps of her heart each time Raji walked past her or gave her that knowing smile.
It was a battle she fought every day, but she was weakening by the second. Raji didn’t help by being around her a lot and knowing so much of her person.
“I’m not asking for sex, Christie. Just you. Your friendship, your mind, your time. I’m a very needy boy. And you know me. I am not like this. You know how much of a cold fish I can be, but Christie three years is too much. The hate I see in Salma’s eyes whenever she looks at me – and I’m like madam, free me, let me just go. But I think of the kids, and I know that’s why she’s staying too. And I respect her for that. They’re too young to see us fight; much less, divorce. We’re both afraid to hurt them…”
“So, you’ll keep pretending.”
“Managing. That’s the word. We manage our situation.”
“So what you’re essentially asking me to be is the human version of a sex doll.”
“I said I don’t want sex.”
“Okay. A love doll. A cuddle bear. I’ll just be there to cushion your emotional needs.”
“How is it different from what we’re already doing? What have we been to each other through the years? Folarin, hurts you, you come and cry on my shoulders. You feel down, you leave your office and come to mine to talk. Same with me. When I was cheating on Salma, only you knew. When shit hit the fan three years later, I came to you for help. So Christie…darling, I am not asking you to do anything out of what we’ve been doing as friends. I’m simply begging you not to break the connection because that is what you want to do.”
“Raj, you and I know that it wasn’t just sex. You felt something. I felt something.”
Christie hated to admit the truth. “I did. And it was wrong. Raji, you are my business partner. My husband is your best friend…”
“You’re overthinking things, Christie. Stop.”
“I haven’t been able to pray since that night. I’ve asked God to forgive me but I still feel guilty.”
“Then let me help you feel better.”
He came down on her lips unexpectedly and just like the first time they kissed, she made no move to stop him. There was hunger in her, familiar and pleasurable. It pulled down the shaky fortifications she erected against her desire for him.
“This is an affair, no?” she asked, eyes in his.
Raji groaned in exasperation as he straightened up. “Okay, I’ll be in my office, Christie. If your answer to an early dinner with me is yes, we’ll go to Debonaire’s for pizza by five after the management meeting. But no pressure. And no, this is not an affair.”
He placed a peck on her forehead and left the office. Christie felt helpless. She felt betrayed by God. He was supposed to help her fight off her temptations.
Before sleeping with Raji she had prided in being a strong, devoted Christian and a faithful wife. An affair had never crossed her mind. Not ever. So why was it that she easily gave in to Raji’s advances in that hotel suite in Amsterdam? Why had she been unable to stop him? Why had God abandoned her when she needed him?
Her phone beeped. A Whatsapp message came in. It was from Raji himself. He had sent an intimate picture of her. It was captioned:
Just reminiscing… You’re beautiful, Christie.
Christie shut her eyes. “Lord, please help me.”
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