The deathly silence of the room was something Kike never thought in a million years that she would savour. From her seat, set on the teacher’s podium she could see the rest of her course mates, heads down and sitting in orderly rows that stretched out to the end of the hall. It was such a culture shock from the usual rowdiness and disregard for authority they usually had. But this was Prof. Arigbede’s course and the woman was notorious for holding people back an extra year or two or ten. Kike surveyed her paper, she’d already written three pages in, another surprise for her as usually she’d still be sorting out her thoughts and fretting over her lack of preparation. But now she felt at peace.
She watched the lecturers trolling the aisles, hawk-eyed and eager, she wondered what her university’s academic board hoped to achieve by giving financial rewards to teachers who caught students cheating. It made no sense to her, to watch them literally come alive during invigilation when they had spent the entire semester disinterested in even trying to teach. It made no sense, when financial benefits could be given to lecturers who produce the most graduates and first class students each session. It all seemed very…
“Olasinde, you look as if your head is not here with us, are you fine?”
She turned to her right, where Professor Arigbede stood, framed by the lecture room’s doorway. Behind her low drawn glasses her usually stern face was coloured with concern.
“I’m fine ma, thank you.” The words came in a stutter.
Arigbede gave her a lingering look and then stalked off to monitor the other lecture halls where the assessment tests were holding. Kike put her head down and focused on her paper, arguing the finer points of philosophical thought.
“Twenty Minutes Left!”
Kike’s head sprang up as the rest of the class erupted into frantic murmuring. A little louder than the din was this persistently loud, almost dangerous whispering. Kike followed the sound to its source and rolled her eyes. Jane, her friend from the year before leaned forward over her desk, her ears practically at the lip of the boy in front of her. Kike cringed, last year that would have been her. She turned away and summarily scanned the room and felt a pang of all consuming sadness growl in the pit of her belly. It had been three weeks since Farhad just upped and left Lagos and this was irrefutable proof that something was really wrong with him. Kike tried to write some more, but the paper blurred before her eyes with the tears that were clumping her lashes. She turned in her paper a full ten minutes early, hefting her satchel on to her shoulder and headed for the door. As she passed the threshold, she heard the lecturer beside it grumble.
“I hope they don’t think these exams will mean anything if the strike starts next week.”
Kike emerged out the Keke Napep that dropped her off in front of her house and stood immobilized on the far side of the gutter that separated the street from the garden that framed the garage and her father’s studio. Saanyol’s SUV sat her driveway, its driver’s seat reclined enough that his self congratulatory smile was all she could see as she leaned in for a look. He gave her a theatrical wave and beckoned and Kike reluctantly crossed over the gutter and walked over to the passenger window. They stared at each other for almost a minute before Saanyol gave in and spoke first.
Kike rolled her eyes. “Wind your window down.”
Saanyol reached over and opened the door instead, holding it ajar so it wouldn’t hit her. “I thought you realized I was waiting for you to come in.”
Kike rolled her eyes again as she exaggerated her climb into the car. “Why won’t you just come inside? It’s not as if you’re staying here out of respect. You’re literally parked in his living room already.”
“Trust me,” Saanyol replied, flashing his new Gold Rolex watch, “Your father isn’t at home, I would be inside if he was.”
Kike arched an eyebrow and frowned when she noticed he was unusually dressed up in a white kaftan, Hugo Boss dress shoes and a gele cap pulled down on his head.
“So why are you here?” she finally asked. “It’s not as if you ever dress this good to come and see me.”
She watched Saanyol’s hand slide up to his watch. “The expectant grandfather and current controller of my mother’s family fortune has finally requested me to summon you. He has asked you to today’s family dinner and in case you didn’t get the hint, no isn’t an option.”
Kike’s shoulders sagged. “What will this ‘dinner’ entail?”
Saanyol’s voice was devoid of inflection. “I wish I knew.”
Kike removed a small purse from her satchel before turning with some difficulty and throwing the satchel into the back of the car. She pulled down the passenger mirror and touched up her makeup then glanced over at Saanyol.
“I will go with you, one condition. This is not your grandmother’s burial where I get blindsided with information you could have easily told me. If I am going to meet your parents, then we are going to find somewhere private and you are going to tell me everything I need to know. Understood?”
Saanyol rubbed his eyebrows and put his head down as he said, “Yes.”
Kike gripped his arm, jerking his attention back to her. “Saan, I’m not fucking around. It’s not just two of us anymore. If I need to raise this child on my own, I will and I will fucking cut you off and never look back. Do you understand?”
The “Yes” was much louder the second time around.
The only thing that truly made Kike stop and mope as Saanyol led her through the new Ikeja City Mall was the tastefully Grey Velvet flag ship store. She refused to budge and Saanyol tried to lead her away, her attention riveted on the moss green dress into which a single peacock feather had been embroidered. She reluctantly left the storefront, following the aisle down to the food court where she took a quick pee break and picked a big muffin before heading up on the escalator to the upper floor. Saanyol took her out to the balcony and gestured with both hands.
“BheerHugz on the left and Rhapsody on the right. Your choice mademoiselle.”
She turned right, circumventing the randomly arranged tables to the one at the extreme end of the balcony. Saanyol started them with a beer for him and a virgin cocktail for her.
Kike pointed at his frosted glass. “I hope you know you’re not taking another of that if you want me to follow you to your father’s.”
Saanyol returned with a momentary scowl before reclining into his chair.
“So we’re here, as you wanted. Can we get to this?”
Indignation rose to her cheeks, making Kike’s face hot with angry words. She sipped her drink and took a second to swallow them before speaking.
“Something happened to you, or rather was happening to you while we were together. Something that was big enough that after what happened with that Luminous boy, your parents took you away, and when you didn’t get better they put you in rehab. I want to know, everything.”
Saanyol rubbed his eyes as if to clear them. “Long story short, I dabbled in substance abuse, I got addicted, and I got clean.”
There was no surprise on Kike’s face, just resignation. “I was your girlfriend. Of course I knew you were using stuff. The glassy eyes, your constant horniness, and how you always went from not eating for days to gorging on everything in sight. I mean what happened in those six months.”
Saan raised an eyebrow. “’Was’ my girlfriend?”
Kike waved dismissively. “Saan, please let’s stay on topic.”
Saanyol sank into his seat and wrapped his head behind his hands. “ Okay, I never told you this because I was already getting enough slack from my parents and I couldn’t deal with any more but I dropped out of college in the US. It was out of rebellion and partly because I realised I wasn’t going to waste a chunk of my life pursuing a degree in medicine that was simply not useful to me in the real world. We all knew I was being groomed to take over the businesses from both my grandmothers. My paternal grandmother understood my reasons but my parents were livid, which led to me being returned to Nigeria until I could get a business degree elsewhere. Then all of last summer happened. My parents dismissed it as me acting out and shipped me back to the US. There I met Chechet, Panlam’s brother. And everything went to hell.”
Kike’s eyebrows were raised so high they looked like clown caricatures. “Panlam’s brother is real?”
Saanyol laughed, a bitter oily sound. “Chechet is very, very real. I really don’t blame Panlam for finally cutting him off when she did. But that was when I got back to the US, after the weekend we spent in my father’s house in Ajah and Tari led me to believe you were faking your pregnancy. He helped me get a shit load of money off my gran for a new business school, scammed me out of sixty percent of it and disappeared. By the time Kike and my parents found me, I was down to thirty three dollars and a fistful of prescription pills. Hearing my gran suffered a heart attack made me get my shit together. And so, here we are.”
There was an uneasy silence between them as Kike contemplated everything Saanyol had just told her. Eventually she leaned forward and wet her tongue with her drink. She didn’t even complain when Saan ordered a second beer.
“Saan, I get that a lot has happened and we’ve both changed, and while I love you I am no longer top priority in my life anymore. This is why I have to tell you that I want you to be in this boy or girl’s life but I won’t hesitate to cut you out if you dabble again. I will tolerate many things, but a junkie father I will not abide by. Understood?”
“Understood babe, Understood.”
Saanyol’s phone began to ring. He picked it up and saw his father’s name. He answered, looked at the screen and pushed out of his chair.
“It’s my father, time we got a move on.”
The occasional road bump was all that was keeping Saanyol from falling too deeply into the mellow state that the beer and having no more personal secrets from Kike brought. As they tore tarmac and the car purred he wondered what she meant by her declaration. There was a time when he was able to discern which of her threats he could bluff but now, he didn’t quite know. Something in her had shifted, and everything he used to know about her shifted with it. Right now the child she carried was more important to him than anything, someone he could correct all the mistakes he made with his parents and raise like his paternal grandmother raised him.
He looked over, they had just turned into his street and even from the end he didn’t think anyone could miss the massive Hummer 3 jeep that sat out in front of his house. Internally he groaned.
“Yeah, Kike what is it?”
Her voice came stringy with surprise. “That’s Alhaji’s car outside your house. Alhaji as in my mother’s second husband Alhaji. What the hell are you up to?”
“My father said a family dinner,” Saan replied, super focused on his driving now, “It wouldn’t be a family thing if at least some of yours weren’t there.”
Kike glared and smacked him on the arm with her purse, but he kept his eyes ahead. They drove past Alhaji’s car and into Saan’s family compound. It was then she realised why her mother’s brother had parked outside, the compound was littered with SUV’s. Saan drove up to the main house and came over to let her out, as she alighted, she spotted her father’s modest Peugeot sandwiched by two Toyota Priuses.
“Saan, what are you up to?” she asked, this time softly.
He led her into his house, intertwining his fingers in hers. The opulence of the foyer and the living room beyond bowled her. There was so much gold leaf delicately worked into the interiors of the house. The lights above were built into the ceiling’s extensive plaster work. She took in Saanyol’s uncles and aunt and her mother’s brother the other Alhaji in her life; all dressed immaculately and seated in front of what she could only describe as tapestry. She felt completely under-dressed in her simple grey dress and sandals. Just then she heard footsteps echoing from her right and she turned to see all three of her parents flanked by Saanyol’s mother and father.
Her parents were traditionally attired same as Saanyol’s and laughing loudly. Her confusion was suddenly lifted, when she spotted Farhad, by the tastefully decorated buffet tray of food, dressed near identically to Saanyol,. Turning around, she delivered Saanyol a swift backhand.
“You thought you could just write me into a wine carrying ceremony? You want to tie me to yourself without even asking me?” She screamed, drawing attention to them.
“Kike, calm down, it’s just symbolic. Nothing more.” Saanyol pacified, dreading the confusion on the faces of their families.
Kike spun like a tornado. “Farhad!!! So this is why you’re missing tests? To help him plan my arranged marriage.”
Farhad tried for a guilty smile. Kike was not pacified. Saanyol crossed the space between them and put his arm around her.
“I’m sorry love, I just wanted to do something nice for you, and I wanted to show you I was ready to raise our child with you. What better way to show you I’m ready for this than a betrothal?”
Kike’s face darkened and she shrugged him off her.
“Never in a million years, did I imagine you would do something so thoughtless, and you would get my family to join you. All of you, well done. If Saanyol wants to marry me, he should ask like a proper fucking man cos I have no problem with us raising him or her as single parents. Ugh! I just….”
She backed away from all of them, angry tears already beginning to wet her cheeks and made for the door. Saanyol started to follow but Mr. Olasinde, Kike’s father stopped him.
“Let her go. She’s too angry to listen to anything you have to say right now.”
The backlight that illuminated Farhad’s face as he confirmed his flight ticket back to Kaduna for the next morning dimmed as a call came in. Farhad took in a heavy sigh as he swiped and raised the handset to his ear. All the blood drained from his face as he heard the frantic voice on the other end of the line.
“Come quick Farhad, bring Saanyol, just get here right now, we just had a car accident and I think my water broke.”