“Farhad I’m almost there.” Tari cooed into her mobile, making an amusing attempt at running in heels towards the Unilag main gate where Farhad was waiting in exasperation.
Her Carina had developed a flat tire the morning before and she’d been forced to resort to public transportation. She’d dressed down in a plain tee and jeans but wore her five inch stilettos to add some edge, no point looking like a mannequin in a molue. She paused to pull off a spent pure water sachet that’d been spiked by the tip of her heel and waved as she caught sight of Farhad shaking his head as he walked down to meet her. He wore his hair straight nowadays, since the Laundromat shoot he’d begun to bother with his hair a lot more. They shared a hug and he hailed a red cab, the driver checking his clock and starting the meter before he asked where they wanted to go.
Kike turned on her phone and cleaned off the thin film of dust on the tiny screen. She grinned as she turned on the internet and booted up her Twitter and Facebook clients. Her father looked at her sternly, his fingers and the front of his rolled up jeans stained with the lacquer paints he was using on his latest commission. The phone began to whine as a flurry of delayed messages from different platforms poured in and she looked at her father in panic. His forehead creased even more as she frantically tried to silence the phone. Eventually she pulled out the battery and palmed it in case her father suddenly changed his mind again about returning her Blackberry to her.
Mr. Olasinde pulled a slim paint brush out of his halo of salt and pepper hair and poked Kike in the chest with repeatedly, speaking in a slow enunciated growl.
“Young lady, you are the first of four children, minus your two young cousins. You are as much a mother to those ones as you are my child. I don’t appreciate seeing you glued to that piece of plastic these capitalists have used to brainwash your generation. I will confiscate it for a month if you force my hand Kike.”
He poked her one final time to ensure the message sunk and ambled back to his studio, his wiry back glistening with sweat in the sun lit backyard. Kike hissed and put her battery back into her phone. In that moment, she couldn’t blame her mom for leaving her father, she didn’t see how anyone could stand this man who had sired her. White digits announced the time as she plugged her phone up to charge in the small bedroom that she’d ‘inherited’ from her mother. She hit redial and called up the first number on her call log.
The black leather seats felt uncomfortably warm against her back as Panlam drove. Saanyol had parked the car outside her house again and let his seats bake. She had the visor pulled down against the yellow light of the evening sun but the rays still managed to obscure her vision. She sighed. Apart from the music from Cool FM blaring from the stereo the car was unusually quiet. She stole a glimpse into the rear view mirror and chuckled. Saanyol’s face was buried in his phone and he was doing an excellent job of ignoring Xhiz, who was leaning in and whispering while his hand surreptitiously inched its way towards Saanyol’s thigh. Xhiz looked so forlorn, his pupils wide as saucers, like he was about to cry. She wondered what Xhiz had done to Saanyol to make him withdraw into his another of his mostly annoying sulking fits.
Well, she thought, I’m not having any of this rubbish and hit the brakes suddenly, causing the car to jerk as it chassis responded to the sudden command to stop. Xhiz flailed, grasping for support, falling into Saanyol’s crotch.
“Oops!” Panlam said and continued to drive, pretending not see Saanyol push Xhiz away and Xhiz’s face scrunch as he tried to hold back a sniffle.
Just a couple of streets down was the mall and she could buy herself a bottle of vodka and not have to pretend not to see Xhiz embarrass himself so thoroughly. If only he’d trusted her enough, she’d have told him Saanyol didn’t need to be seduced when he could be taken. They pulled into the lot of the Mall and Panlam sighed in anticipation. She glanced at the bright green dashboard display as she turned off the ignition.
Tariebi’s phone rang as she waited outside the Ouch! studio where Uche Nnaji was holding impromptu auditions for two male and two female models for his new capsule collection. There were about thirty of them who’d received the summons, a healthy mix of veterans and amateurs. Uche wanted a fresh face with an old hand so the fifteen veteran models had brought a fledgling along. The boys were having test shots separately, she and the other girls were already done.
“Hey bitch girl, its Xhiz.”
Tariebi rolled her eyes. “I thought I told you to stop calling me that.”
“Whatever. I just called to make sure you were still coming.”
“Yeah I am, and I’m bringing Farhad as you asked.”
“Thank you! thank you!! thank you!!!You never let me down.”
“Ugh! Chibuzor, just stop with the grovelling.”
“Your grovelling is even worse than when you call me bitch.”
“Oh sorry, Miss feminist gangster nigress!” came the snotty reply. Tariebi couldn’t help her grin.
“See you later bitch boy. Saanyol’s place right?”
Tariebi cut the call and frowned. She respected Xhiz’s bravery but she couldn’t help but worry that he was doing the wrong thing. The doors slid open and Farhad popped out, flushed from the heat of the studio lights. Tari looked at her watch to see how much time had passed.
“You’re ready to go?”
“The tits on the Jamaican chick gave me trips for days, Definitely, cheers to that!”
Saanyol raised his glass to join Panlam’s and Xhiz in a tipsy toast. They had worked their way through two thirds of the first bottle of Grey Goose, sharing a hookah pipe as Saanyol regaled them with stories of the previous summer he’d stayed back in New York. Panlam had mixed her glass with tonic same as Saanyol while Xhiz guzzled down cranberry juice with his between bouts of frantic texting. Panlam looked over and shook her head. Xhiz was scrolling through Louise’s instagram. The boy was nothing if not relentless.
They all sat on the carpet, surrounded by a cove of throw pillows, Saanyol’s ‘Morrocan’ experience. She wanted to smack Xhiz, he wouldn’t give the girl a break either. Everyone had noticed she’d been out of it the last few days, her tweet count had reduced drastically and she only surfaced to tweet her playlist and give the occasional reply. Usually that happened when people acquired new DM buddies. Who knew, she might be moving on.
They all paused when they heard a key click as it was slid into the front door. The lock jiggled for a little while before the the door yawned open and Kike stepped in, wearing an incredibly tight dress. She walked over to Saanyol and kissed him full on the lips.
Farhad slouched to hide his awe of the decadent luxury as they climbed the stairs to Saanyol’s apartment, Tari was disinterested, she’d been there many times. Farhad knocked and got his first surprise as Kike opened the door for them.
“I thought you were in hiding?” He asked as he took in Kike’s borderline slutty dress.
Kike shrugged. “Saanyol asked me to come over.”
Farhad slid past her into the living room of the apartment and smiled as he noticed the absence of furniture and the hookah sitting in the middle of a semi-circle of throw pillows on the carpet.
“Finally, fun that isn’t Haram.”
The three seated in the semi-circle turned to glare at him before turning back to nurse their drinks. Farhad and Tariebi joined in and began to pass the hookah pipe around, blowing smoke circles as they ribbed each other gently for their sartorial and relationship choices. Kike sat outside the circle, watching but not indulging. They played a couple of drinking games with Farhad having to take two extra long drags of the pipe in place of a shot, each person bringing a game and everyone else having to play for at least one round. Eventually it got to Xhiz’s turn to bring up a game and in spite of Saanyol’s reluctance to play they agreed on ‘Darkest Secret’. Everyone had to guess what the player’s secret was and if they got it wrong they drank a shot.
“I’ll go first.” Xhiz offered. “My is secret is this, I am….”
Tari smirked. “A slut?”
Xhiz threw her a side eye in response. The guesses that followed grew wilder and wilder as the fact that they were all starting to get buzzed became more obvious.
“No you guys!” Xhiz exclaimed in exasperation. “I’m not an astronaut, I’m bisexual!”
The room went silent as everyone waited for Xhiz to laugh and joke it off. He didn’t. Instead he said it again, more seriously this time.
“I’m bisexual. I like both boys and girls.”
Kike snorted and burst into full out laughter, everyone else but Farhad quickly joining in.
“My guy, is that your ‘secret’? Hahahahaha! Abegi! With the exception of Farhad and Louise who brushed us off, everyone else knows you like dick.”
Farhad spoke up. “Actually I knew. I saw him at Tari’s last party making out with someone who looked like…”
“My turn!” Saanyol cut in. He took Kike’s hand and glared at Farhad. Point made, Farhad shook his almost imperceptibly.
Saanyol stood up and urged everyone else up. He circled around the cushion to join Kike, put his hand on Kike’s belly and beamed.
“You guys should be the first to know. This beauty here is giving me a baby.”
Panlam squealed in delight and hugged the couple, everyone else began to mill around shaking and smiling. Tariebi gave Saanyol and Kike hugs and slipped out for a smoke. She couldn’t stand the deception.
She was half way through her second stick when she felt her phone ring and she pulled out the phone and answered the call. The voice on the other end of the line was frantic and started chattering the minute she said hello.
“Oh My God! That your Louise friend. Some green streak person just flushed her reputation down the toilet.”
“Wait, what? Who’s this?” Tariebi asked, a scowl on her face.
“Mzz Jeanae, Insured Legs’ friend?”
“Oh! I see your handle every now and then. What did you say happen?”
“Your friend; this dude just tweeted the most embarrassing stuff about her. That she’s a cheap needy slut.”
Tariebi rolled her eyes. “How do you know its her that was being talked about?”
The response was gleeful, too gleeful. “He insulted Kike and the rest of you people too.”
“The fuck? Did he call my name?”
“No, he didn’t but anyone who knows you people will know immediately the story on his TL is about your crew, He even called you an ‘illiterate model’ or something.”
Tariebi spat out the cigarette stub from between her lips.
“Thanks for the heads up.”
The room was silent as death as Tariebi read out the TL she’d just opened to her friends, each person cringing as they heard their private issues presented in the most derogatory, demeaning manner. Xhiz cringed more than most as they read out a tweet about him hooking up with Saanyol. He turned to plead with Kike who was standing next to him, and froze as she slapped him flush across the face.
“And you, this fucking bitch!” She screamed, lunging at Panlam. It took Farhad and Saanyol physically restraining her to keep her from hurting Panlam.
“Tariebi? Where the fuck did you find this rubbish?” Saanyol bellowed, veins popping out on his arm from the exertion of holding his girlfriend in check.
“Please redirect your tool shed bile away me. I’m obviously as much a ‘semi-literate’ victim as you are.”
Kike snatched Tari’s phone from her and slunk off to a corner to reread the tweets herself.
“Dude, that isn’t the point. Who the fuck is this? And why is he doing this? How does this benefit him?” Saanyol asked.
“I obviously didn’t do it and Farhad’s been at a model casting with me all afternoon. No way he had time to create this thing. Ask your ‘fuck friends’ if they have any idea about what’s going on?”
Panlam bristled. “Next time, address me directly before you accuse of knowing anything. If I have a problem with a person I tell them to their faces. I’d at least thought you were smart enough not to believe stuff you read off the internet, especially when its clearly malicious like this.”
“Which part?” Tariebi said, as she laughed in Panlam’s face. “That you’re fucking Saanyol or that Xhiz gave Louise an STD? Or the part where he accuses Xhiz and Saanyol of hooking up? Which part, I want to hear.”
Xhiz sighed from his corner, his palm over his now swollen cheek. He had just come out to them, there was little he could say in his own defense. Panlam had no such remorse.
“And you wonder when people call you ‘semi-literate’. You’re more stupid than they give you credit for.”
Kike gasped and pushed Tariebi’s phone in Saanyol’s face. “Oh God, I just recognised that handle. Remember, I told you I was freaked out cos he kept following and unfollowing me. Did any of you check his favorites?”
Tariebi snatched her phone off Kike and started to scroll the page that was on the screen, her eyes growing wider with every swipe of her track pad.
“What the fuck? Like seriously, the entire favorites in that account are our tweets, all of us are there, as far back as two years ago. Where the fuck is Louise?”
“I’m trying Louise’s number to tell her what’s happening but I can’t reach her phone or her iMessage.” Farhad replied. Saanyol fished out his phone from under one of the pillows on the floor and tried her number himself a couple of times all to no avail.
“That fuckeress. I tried her numbers already too, both her phones are off. I will fucking strangle that girl when I see her, what fucking joke is this?”
“Just tried following the @Lvminovs account with my profile but I’ve been blocked. I think its all of us.” Xhiz said in worry.
“Me too, me too, me too.” Came the chorus as everyone in the room tried to follow as well. The fear tinged worry was now very palpable in every voice.
“Search for the handle and see. The person only follows thirteen people and he follows Louise and she follows back.” Tari said.
Panlam picked Saanyol’s keys off the rack near the door and stepped out.
“Is this a frigging joke? Nah, B. This idiot cannot be reached and all of a sudden, this happens? Fuck this abeg, I can treat fuck ups better than this.” She poked her head back into the house.
“What the fuck are you all waiting for? Fuck out! Louise has got some answering to do!”
Panlam floored the accelerator along the normally busy Lekki – Epe express way, manoeuvring lanes as she sped towards VGC. The entire car was dark and quiet save for the pockets of plasma illuminating the four faces intensely focused on their phone screens. Thankfully that night was somewhat uneventful and the wide roads were empty bar the occasional private vehicle. Saanyol rode shotgun, fiddling with his phone fielding the barrage of bad jokes and snide accusations that were pouring into his notifications.
It was barely 8pm and Louise and Xhiz’s handles had already trended as more and more people found and retweeted the account that had turned their private lives into feed for some Saturday night drama. He was beginning to consider a change of handle to shut up the unwanted comments but decided against it, doing that would mean he was involved and he wasn’t ready to give up sitting on the fence on this one.
Xhiz rested on the back door, slightly inebriated. His phone was off and with Kike so he couldn’t start a drunken tweet spree. They breezed past the checkpoint as the guard recognised Panlam and saluted her, letting the car pass unchecked. They made a bee-line for Louise’s house; taking a minute to park the car a street down and walking up to Louise’s house in the very off-chance that her parents had gone to visit Louise’s parents. Saanyol and the crew followed Panlam’s lead into the compound and stopped in his tracks when he noticed two Toyota 2011 SUV’s parked. From what he knew, Louise’s parents were never ever around during working hours. He felt a pang of worry in his chest and dismissed it promptly. They needed to get to the bottom of this person that slandered them and Louise was the closest lead to an answer.
Saanyol rapped on the glass doors.
The door was quietly opened and a svelte, regal looking woman in native attire slid the door open. Her eyes were bloodshot from crying.
“Can I help you?” She asked in a hoarse whisper.
Panlam stepped out from behind Xhiz and drew out a tiny half smile from the obviously distraught woman.
“Ma, my friends and I came to say to hi to Louise, is she in?’
In response, Mrs. Adegoke slid the door closed behind her and held Panlam’s outstretched hand.
“Thank you for caring,” she said. ” but we haven’t seen Louise for more than 24 hours now. She went out to meet a friend and hasn’t come back.” her voice began to quiver.
“Louise is missing.”