Fishing out a tube of Ruby Woo from her purse, Panlam pursed her lips and coloured in her pout in time to W4’s Kontrol pouring from the speakers set into the ceiling. She fluffed her hair and checked her teeth for lipstick stains, all the while stealing glances at her phone. She sighed as her phone dinged for the third time and one of the names on her Whatsapp icon appeared at the top of the chat list. Dr. Kolupo, no way in hell she was going to reply his messages; he was the type who insisted on long drawn out conversations about nothing in particular. She picked up her Nokia Lumia and pushed her makeup purse into her handbag. It was probably time to give up and stop hiding out in the bathroom; her date wasn’t going to show.
She straightened her dress and gave herself one last perfunctory glance in the mirror and exited the restroom. She passed the security guards back into the haze filled lounge of Jade Palace and riveted as she noticed the handsome middle aged man seated beside the entrance. He slowly raised his eyes in her direction, cocked his head to the side and gave a lopsided smile. Panlam felt her disappointment melt into a puddle of excitement. He looked exactly like Tariebi had described and unlike the last three she’d sent her way, this one really did have the body of a twenty five year old. She couldn’t quite place it but there was something very familiar about him. He signalled for her to stay where she was and walked over to the bar.
Panlam contemplated waiting and then decided against it.
‘Start in the way you mean to go.’ She said to herself and navigated the tables scattered around the floor till she was standing behind him.
‘After an hour of waiting with no apologies or explanations, I don’t do very well with being ordered around.’ She purred.
The guy turned around in surprise and flashed another of his lopsided smiles. He gestured to the bar stool beside him and helped her climb onto it.
‘It’s a good thing you came anyways; you’d be surprised at how hard it is to guess the favourite cocktail of a girl as exotic as you.’
Panlam acknowledged his subtle flirting with an irreverent smile. He wasn’t the type to apologise which meant she’d taken the right approach by not playing the ingénue with him; it was time to cement that image. She asked the waiter for a shot of scotch on the rocks, matching his order and downing her glass in one gulp while he was still on his first sip, his wedding band catching the strobe lights that lined the bar.
‘Meks, we should find a proper table and get down to the meat of why we’re here.’ She said casually, trapping five one thousand naira notes under her glass and pushing it to the barman and gesturing to both their drinks. Emeka Anyanwu, son of oil magnate Fidelis Anyanwu raised an eyebrow, unsure whether to be amused or insulted by Panlam’s antics. Panlam started for the only free table on the other side of the room, not bothering to check if he was on her heels. He picked his glass and followed, decidedly amused.
Panlam heaved an inward sigh of relief, watching Meks follow her through the mirrored bar, she wasn’t in the mood to grovel to anyone. She manoeuvred her seat so that her back was to the entrance doors of the Jade Palace but could still steal glances, that way she would have to entertain any sudden surprises. Meks reached the table and dropped into the other seat and lit up a cigarette.
‘I asked the barman to send waiters with drinks every twenty minutes, that way our meeting will be well greased. I also put it on my tab; I don’t like being upstaged by teenagers.’ He waited to see if Panlam would try to correct him about her age, and barely hid his increasing amusement when she didn’t. ‘So why did you ask to meet me baby girl.’
‘Panlam,’ she corrected, irritated by the pet name. ‘My name’s Panlam. I’ve heard a lot about you and your interest in dabbling in the entertainment industry, particularly the Nollywood new school. So I asked for this meeting so I could sell you on my ideas.’
He sloshed around the ice cubes in his glass. ‘And here I was thinking you didn’t want my money. Pitch, I’m listening.’
Panlam sighed in relief and fished out a manila envelope from her handbag and put it on the table. Meks picked it and shook out the bound document inside and began to thumb through it.
‘My partner and I have been working on the script in your hands for almost a year. It’s our idea for a medium budget short film with heavy potential to gain attention in the international film festival circuit. It’s a contemporary story about a group of friends in the different creative industries in Nigeria struggling to make it to the zenith of their respective fields and how their lives intersect. Set across Nigeria and with absolutely no need for any fancy graphics or CGI, just good, clean innovative, gritty story telling. The exact kind of thing you’d want to be associated with as your hobby or side project, philanthropic gesture, whatever your PR people decide to spin your financing as…’
‘So, this partner. Is it a he or a she?’ Meks cut in, eyes still trained on the script in his hands.
‘What?!’ Panlam replied, completely thrown by his lateral question. He started to repeat himself and she stopped him with a flurry of words.
‘Oh, my partner. It’s a he, He’s the one who wrote most of the script and will consult through most of the pre-production and filming process. I will be taking administrative head and doing most of the directing.’
Meks gave her a funny look. ‘I’m really impressed. Your script is surprisingly good plus you and this partner have clearly figured out who does what, and he’s letting you pitch your idea alone. That’s the kind of girl I like, a girl with balls.’
‘Thank you?’ Panlam ventured.
He wagged a finger. ‘I have reserved a room at the Eko. I really hate the smell of places like this, can’t really think. We should retreat there and finish this discussion and then maybe we’ll see about me writing you a cheque.’
‘Oh, my manager and agent Fidipo Lawal feels it’s better for me to meet possible sponsors personally so they know who they’re giving their money to.’ Panlam replied almost immediately. She hid her satisfaction watching Meks Anyanwu blanch as she mentioned her agent’s name. ‘Fidipo handles the actual business side. She’s on her way to meet us. In fact she should already be here by now but she’s probably giving us time to get ‘acquainted’. Can we just give her like ten more minutes or should I just message her to meet us there?’
Meks stared blankly at Panlam for a few seconds and then took his phone out of his pocket and fiddled with it before turning to Panlam and fishing out a couple thousand naira notes and thrusting it into Panlam’s hands.
‘Regina, it was nice meeting you, but I have another meeting in a couple of minutes. I’ll keep your script so I can read it properly. Have your agent call my office on Monday.’
Panlam’s eyes widened in mock surprise, she’d been expecting this. She rounded the table to Meks and planted a kiss on his cheek in full view of everyone.
‘Thank you so much.’ She whispered sweetly in his ear and walked out of the lounge, hailing a cab outside.
‘Where to Madam?’ The cab man asked.
‘Just head for Ikoyi, I’ll tell you where to stop.’
Tariebi spotted Panlam as she sauntered into Terra Kulture’s restaurant and waved her over. She’d never seen Panlam so put together, with her black Louboutin heels, high-waist pencil skirt and cap-sleeved blouse she looked like she’d walked right out of a Tumblr post. Panlam tottered over and settled herself into the adjacent seat, completely ignoring pleasantries and the Caesar salad Tariebi had already ordered for her before she launched into a diatribe.
‘Tari, is this what we fucking agreed on? This is the fourth guy you’ve set me up to meet who has literally tried to drag me into his bed. Like jeez, I’m not averse to fucking for what I want but at least I wouldn’t mind being treated like little more than a heifer in the interim. Besides you know I don’t fuck married men.’
Tariebi didn’t even know when she startled to cackle.
Panlam gave a pained look. ‘Stop it jor. Even people who fuck their friend’s boyfriends have to draw the line somewhere. Principles and what not.’
‘Thank God you brought that up yourself. I don’t know what you want oh, Panlam. You can’t go and meet these hot blood millionaires wasting away in unhappy marriages looking like fucking Marilyn Monroe and then act surprised when they try to taste your box. Like I don’t even understand.’
Panlam rolled her eyes. ‘Please all these fuckers are perverts. I took your advice with that Kolupo guy and dressed deeper life. Till today that nigga hasn’t stopped calling me talking about how he likes my ‘innocence’ and wants to be the one to ‘show me the world’. ‘
Tariebi shuddered. ‘Ugh! That sounds filthy no matter how I try to spin it in my head. So what happened with Meks?’
Panlam hissed. ‘That one, He didn’t even listen to a fucking word I said, just kept turning the whisky in his shot glass and licking his ridiculously hot lips. When he got tired of me trying to keep things professional, the nigga just asked out right that I follow him back to Eko hotel. I sha, sprung Fidipo Lawal on him and he literally kicked me out with his tail between his legs.’
‘Who is Fidipo Lawal again?’ Tari asked.
It was Panlam’s turn to cackle. ‘You don’t know who she is and you’re a model? Just think Linda Ikeji but much more discreet. She owns a law firm and handles celebrity divorces and entertainment law. She helped some mobile phone millionaire’s wife get one hundred and fifty million Naira in a divorce settlement last year, got a hefty commission too. Her nose is always on the ground, looking for the next cheating millionaire.’
‘AHHHHHH! Father be a Fidipo Lawal, so I can rest from this modelling gig.’
‘Hahaha! Me I don’t want all that stress, God should just give me an Olu Kanye. See as that Iyawo chick is flexing. Babe is twitpic’ed two thousand dollars loun loun that bros gave her just because and tensioned every single girl on twitter.’
Tariebi clucked her tongue. ‘Na wa sha. So what are you going to do about Meks?’
Panlam sighed and stuffed a forkful of salad into her mouth. ‘I don’t know oh. I was actually starting to crush on him before he pulled that stunt. He already has my Whatsapp. So I’ll call him on Monday and see if I can arrange another meeting. I just really don’t want to have to ask my parents for money.’
Tariebi suddenly got serious. ‘Don’t fuck it up this time Panlam. I’m running out rich millionaires to set you up on meetings with who’ll even bother to meet without sex in the equation.’
‘I know.’ Panlam replied, the realisation of how futile it was to succeed without having to compromise with sex heavy in those two syllables.
Tariebi reached groggily for the source of the sound intruding on her sleep. She tapped around to her left and felt for the slim curves of her Blackberry Torch. She jerked awake and looked around in the darkness, suddenly aware she wasn’t in her room or her bed. She pressed her phone to light up the screen and used it as a wand and felt her anxiety ease as the light rested on the curly hair and almost yellow skin of the man lying next to her. Jeremiah Lawson. He’d wined and dined her then invited her to sleep over. Her phone vibrated in her hands and she slipped out of bed and tiptoed to the bathroom en suite and locked the door behind her.
Tariebi clacked out the last message with her nails and put off her phone. She felt drained after the conversation and a little remorseful for being so cold to Xhiz. He used to be her charismatic wing man once, but now he was just a whiny apologetic little bitch that hung on to Farhad’s coat tails for validation and pissed her off. She opened the door and gave a little shriek when she saw Jeremiah standing outside the door in nothing but his tented boxer shorts.
‘I woke up with my little man very excited by the prospect you in bed with us but you seemed busy.’
‘Yeah, I had to attend to a friend in crisis, didn’t want to wake you up.’
He reached forward and pulled her to himself, cradling her in his arms. ‘Lord, you smell amazing even this early.’
Tariebi responded with a gentle kiss to his chest.
‘So I received a call from Meks late last night. He wasn’t very happy.’
Tariebi buried her face in Jeremiah Lawson’s chest and gave a muffled reply. ‘I’m trying my best. But it’s taking forever to soften her up. She’s stubborn.’
Jeremiah sighed and put a hand into Tariebi’s hair. ‘I know she is. Just like her father. Stubbornness is a quality they both share. And if I can’t break him, I will break his precious only daughter.’
His grip suddenly turned firm and he pulled Tariebi’s head back till her eyes met his. ‘You promised me you’d make her amenable to an affair with me or one of my friends. That she is desperate enough. I hope for your sake you were right.’