“OH WOW! What do we have here?”
Tari towered over him in her stacked wedges and floral patterned jump suit, the screen of his Android pushed into his face. He could see where she’d highlighted Lawrence’s message, the one where he’d called her a whore. Panlam stood apart from them in a pastel yellow chiffon sundress bare from the bust up, one hand weighed by her carry-on bag and the other at her hip. If he could blush visibly, his cheeks would have been crimson fountains. He flew to his feet and swiped for the phone but Tari was faster than him. She danced out of his reach and almost bumped into one of the older guests doing a slow shuffle to the band’s cover of Sir Victor Uwaifo’s Joromi. The man turned sharply and glared at the three of them and Tari stopped, mumbled an apology, walked back to her friends, Xhiz’s phone still securely behind her back.
“Give me back my phone!” Xhiz hissed at Tari.
“So that you can go back to insulting us with your Twitter boyfriend. No thank you.”
Xhiz turned to Panlam. “You see what she’s doing abi? Tell her to stop this nonsense and give me back my phone.”
Panlam side-eyed Xhiz, insulted that he was trying to make her moderate their foolishness.
“What happened to your mouth? Abeg, It’s bad enough that I’m here literally standing out here, looking like someone who dressed for a club night at funeral. I’m here to network and make connects so I’d like to be excused from whatever you both are doing.”
Tari gave Panlam a hurt look and Xhiz made a face at her, pleasantly surprised that Panlam had tongue lashed the both of them. Tari saw his smirk and made a show of putting his phone into the deep recesses of her hand bag.
“I don’t care what Panlam says, I’m not giving you back your phone. At least not until we see Saanyol. You will just have to survive a few hours not talking to Pandorus.”
Xhiz gave feeble protest. This was Tari, short of forcefully taking the bag from her; he had no other hope of getting his phone back before she was ready. Defeated, he asked the girls to come with him to the Saan’s SUV so they could drop their stuff. Along the way Panlam told him how one of Tari’s friends had been gracious enough to bring them to Benin on his way to Abuja and even go as far as dropping them at the street. Xhiz nodded gratuitously, punctuating every sentence Panlam uttered. He’d heard the rumours about their extracurricular activities.
By the time they reached the car and he’d relieved the girls of their bags, he’d managed to push his anger at Tari out of his mind. They strolled back to the funderal party, arms entwined. By the time they got to their table, one of the young stewards was beside it, looking around frantically, searching for something. He smiled when he spotted Xhiz and walked over to them.
“Are you Uncle Sheez?” he asked.
Xhiz cocked his head. “Yeahhhh, Is there a problem?”
The younger boy’s smile widened into a grin. “Uncle Iwobe sent me. He said I should make sure you and all his other friends are well cared for.”
Panlam stepped in front of Xhiz and took charge. She patted the boy and drew him close.
“What’s your name?”
Kike murmured the name to herself, getting a hang of it. “Ohiole my man, you know what you’ll do for us?”
The boy shook his head. She smiled and pointed the table beside ours, occupied by some mid forty patrons.
“See that their jerry can of palm wine, you go bring one like that for us. One of the smaller ten litre ones oh and make sure it’s full, and bring three tumblers as well. But first ehn, bring us three plates of pounded yam two wraps each. Make sure it’s Egusi for me and ogbono for them.”
She patted the steward again and sent him off. She turned back to see a very bewildered Xhiz.
“You and who is eating two wraps of pounded yam?” he asked incredulously.
Kike winked conspiratorially. “I don’t know about you, but I have never attempted finishing ten litres of palmy on an empty stomach, and I have no intentions of starting now.”
Before long, they were playing their favourite game of ‘spot the old pervert’ with the guests, drowning themselves in 20l black jerry cans of overnight palm wine.
The crowd had thinned to just a handful of stragglers when Saan and Kike finally extricated themselves from Saanyol’s mother and her army of cousins and uncles and aunts, all wanting a little time with him and the ‘Yoruba girl with whom he was having a baby’. As they exited the house and searched the canopies for Xhiz and the girls, he wondered why it mattered that Kike was Yoruba. He’d even overheard one of them tell another how grateful he was to that God at least she was not Igbo. His uncles kept pulling him aside to talk privately and advising him to be careful, never actually bothering to state plainly why. The tribalist old men. They were all civil to her out of respect for his grandmother’s memory but underneath that he could sense the undercurrent of distrust. They didn’t have to look for long, the riotous laughter coming from the furthest canopy alerting them to Panlam’s presence.
“If it isn’t the lovely couple?” Panlam announced as she spotted them. She sat up from the plastic chair, tumbler of palm wine in hand and hugged Kike, completely ignoring Saanyol. Saanyol waved to Tari and found a seat for Kike before taking one for himself and snatching Xhiz’s tumbler. Xhiz made a face and Tari sucked air through her teeth.
“Please ignore him, it’s not as if he’s been drinking it anyways, He’s distracted by other more pressing matters.”
Saan looked over to Xhiz and he just shrugged his shoulders and looked away. Saan knew he was supposed to worry Xhiz into telling him what was happening but he was too tired and hungry for any of that right now. Instead he concentrated on his glass and emptied it in slow savoured gulps. All four went a second round, with Xhiz and Saan passing a glass between themselves much to Tariebi’s amusement. As Saan reached for a third fill, Kike stopped him.
“You still have to drive us all the way to the house, plus I don’t think I’m comfortable with you drinking any more on an empty stomach.”
Saan frowned. “I guess you’re right. Since we’re all here, I might as well treat you guys. You up for Pizza?”
Night had fallen proper and lightning was streaking the sky when Saan finally turned off Sapele road into the expansive parking lot of Kada Plaza at Ikpokpan junction. He found a parking space close to the entrance and they all piled out, tottering into the eatery proper.
“You guys go find a table, Xhiz and I will take the orders and bring them.” Saan offered.
Panlam nodded and led the girls away to one of the three empty tables beside the floor to ceiling glass panels that consisted as a section of the far wall looking out into the lawn. They took their seats and dragged two more for Xhiz and Saanyol and sat in silence, each girl waiting for the next to start the conversation. Kike, cranky and frustrated from an entire day of kowtowing to strangers spoke up.
“At least I know I don’t have friends on this table.”
“Huh?” Tariebi perked up.
Kike turned to her, glad she was the one who’d taken the bait. “I said, at least I know I don’t have friends at this table, seeing as neither of you have called me in months. You know, now that I upped and got myself pregnant.”
Tari rolled her eyes. “You know you could have just said that straight up right? See you know I don’t have time to coddle anyone, when you cut me off and stopped taking my calls, did you really expect me to keep calling?”
“A ‘hi’ on twitter would have been nice, at least. Oh, that’s right you were bullied into leaving twitter.”
“Girl please, I just got tired of seeing you guys embarrass yourselves day after day.”
Panlam leaned forward and put her hands on the table. “Me, I’m not even going to delve into this with either of you. You guys are the ones who all had epiphanies on me; Xhiz turning into a Muppet and changing handles, you turning into Sheena the warrior princess, Tari quitting twitter altogether for whatever reason. All because some brat said shit about us a few months ago. The good thing is we’re here, now and everything is in the past? Can we keep it that way?”
“Keep what which way?” Xhiz asked, appearing behind them with the Pizza boxes stacked on his arms. Saan appeared a few minutes later, drinks in a plastic bag.
Tari replied sarcastically as they set everything out on the table. “We were just talking about we should leave everything that happened in the past and enjoy each other’s company, here and now. And maybe finally address this disturbing issue of Xhiz and his boyfriend.”
Xhiz gasped. “Tari, what is your own now?”
She cackled. “What is my own? Really Chibuzor, what is my own? Wait, guys give me a second let me give you people a few reasons why it is not just my own problem but our problem?”
She dug Xhiz’s phone out of her purse and started to read from his conversation with Pandorus. With each screen page of messages she read, the faces around the table squeezed into disapproving frowns. By the time she reached the twentieth screen page Kike had had enough.
“You told that… that… stranger what I told you about the school trying to force me to defer a session? God! Are you stupid?”
“Lawrence won’t say anything to anyone, I swear. I trust him with my life.” Xhiz railed.
“So how do you know that Chibuzor?” Saan countered. “Do you know this Lawrence, personally? Have you gone to his house, met his parents? Interviewed any of his friends to see how he is with them? Cos from what Kike told me, you haven’t met him. After everything that happened with that Louise’s boy, you still haven’t learnt anything?”
“And what if I haven’t met him? You all have people you’re close to that you haven’t met. Why is it that when it’s me, you all start splitting hairs? Besides I told you, I know what he looks like, he sent me pictures!” Xhiz was raising his voice, the hint of defensiveness very obvious.
“Okay.” Saan said.
“Okay what?!” Xhiz spat, his eyes slit in defiance.
“Who has a smartphone here, something with good internet, my Blackberry is shit and I can’t go back to my car and get my tablet.”
Tari reached into her handbag and handed over to Saanyol a sleek iPad 3. Saan raised an eyebrow as he handled it, the tablet was so new, the email hadn’t even been configured, and all it had on was an Instagram account. He opened his email with it and asked Xhiz to forward the pictures Lawrence had sent him. He fiddled around suddenly snorted.
“Aha! Xhiz, is this your Lawrence?”
Saan cleared a place on the table and dropped the tablet so everyone could see it. The screen displayed a Facebook account, the profile picture enlarged. It was a spitting image of the boy Xhiz had said was Lawrence, only the name of the facebook account wasn’t Lawrence, it was Preston Oluwatola Adekunle. Xhiz snatched the tablet off the table and scrolled through the pictures on the profile, his confidence waning into an overwhelming uncertainty and then morphing into a betrayed look.
“How did you find this person?” He asked to no one in particular, his eyes still focused on the screen.
“I just did a back search on the pictures with Google. Every single one of the pictures he sent you led back to this account. The wonders of modern technology.”
Oh My God! This Preston is mutual friends with me and you! He’s online.”
“Ask him for his twitter account.” Panlam goaded.
Xhiz tapped out the message on the tablet and after a few seconds his face fell even more. “He doesn’t have a twitter account. Doesn’t even know how to operate one.”
Xhiz slid the tablet onto the table and hid his face in his hands. Everyone watched him, half sad that he was so betrayed; half satisfied that the mystery of Pandorus had been unravelled.
“What are you going to do now?” Kike asked.
“I don’t know.”
“Well, you have to do something. You have to confront him about him find out who he really is.” Panlam suggested, her curiosity getting the best of her.
Tari gasped. “Oh shit! I just hit me that he might be that Luminous idiot.”
Xhiz sat up, the possibility suddenly becoming very obvious, almost too convenient even. Everything made sense now; the slightly suspicious interest in his friends lives, the constant ‘inane’ questions. The constant interest and weird reactions when he was ignored even though he swore had no interest in him sexually. Xhiz felt stupid, used. He just wanted to lie down and never wake up. He stood up and took Saan’s keys from the table and headed out of the eatery alone.
Saan sagged in his chair. “I guess that means this outing is over.”
Xhiz raised his head off the pillow and glanced at his phone. It was almost three am. He’d barely caught a wink of sleep since he excused himself and gone to bed at ten. Too many scary dreams about the person he’d thought was Lawrence. He slipped out of bed and headed for the kitchen to get some water to wet his parched tongue. As he passed the guest bathroom he heard muffled noises. He stopped and drew closer to the door, afraid it was a burglar or something. Then he heard the low unmistakable moan followed by hoarse whispering; Saanyol.
“You have no idea how much I fucking missed you.”
The person behind the frantic reply sounded nothing like Kike, yet her voice was all too familiar.
“Saan, just shut up and fuck me.”