“I really don’t think they have anything good enough to wear to go see a movie director here. We should have just gone to The Palms.” Panlam griped to her mother as she put yet another washed out green dress against her frame.
Mrs Nok side eyed her. “Please sit down somewhere, is the man Steven Spielberg?”
“But you have no idea how much I worked to get this interview. Momsie, this is like everything to me.” Panlam replied petulantly.
Her mother didn’t deign to give her another response; she merely turned to the rack of dresses and began to peruse them, her fingers deftly shuffling the hangers like a practiced gambler. Panlam swallowed her disappointment at being ignored; she knew her mother even offering to pay for a dress for her was a big coup. That was her practically offering her blessing, which knowing her mother was a very big deal. They searched through the clothes in silence and when Panlam didn’t find anything she particularly liked, they left the small boutique, the fifth one they’d browsed and headed for another of the many boujie boutiques that littered Ikota shopping mall. The next one they found was about two streets down from the last one. A beautiful floral bodycon dress on a mannequin set by the shop window had caught her eye. They entered and Panlam asked the attendant if they had the dress in black. She took the dress and picked out four other similar styles and made her way to the small changing cubicle tucked into the corner of the shop. As she pulled off her yellow jumper, her mother spoke up from the other side of the curtain.
“I would have gone to the Palms with you, but you know how your father is about these things. While I want to support you in this your new dream of making films, I’m not ready to get on your father’s bad side. So this place is a good compromise.”
“I understand mother.” Panlam replied wearily. “Don’t take all my complaining seriously, I just wish he would understand that his company is his dream not mine.”
“He just wants you to comfortable and cared for. And he doesn’t want his empire to fall apart. You know the man’s ego is as big as his sex drive.”
Panlam gagged. “Ewwww! Momsie, I did not need to know that.”
Her mother’s smirk was obvious in her tone. “See ehn, you need to understand that for him, there’s dignity in textile production, so he wants you to share in that dignity. Besides you were the one who told him you wanted to do your Industrial Training with the company in Lagos, what did you expect him to think?”
Panlam sighed as she zipped up the dress. “Mom, I talked to you about this. I needed to create contacts in the industry so when I’m ready, I won’t be starting from scratch and this felt like the perfect opportunity to do it. You know once I graduate he’ll not even let me serve before he traps me with a job.”
She stepped out of the cubicle and did a twirl, her mother frowned and shooed her back into the cubicle to try another dress.
“But you sef, what did you think would happen? You know how your father is about work ethic. How many times have you gone to the office since your IT started? He was really proud of you for being a good friend to that Louise girl and trying your best to save her from falling with a bad crowd, even though she eventually got herself almost kidnapped. You want to now spoil that with this.”
Panlam stifled a chuckle inside the cubicle mid way through pulling the new dress; an A-Line Aztec fit and flare dress over her head. She’d forgotten about her spin on the Luminous debacle. She sold them the idea that Louise had come to her for advice about the boy and she’d tried to show her the right way, even going as far volunteering to follow her on her outing so she could ‘discourage’ bad boys. Of course Louise was unavailable to tell her own side of the story and by the time she resurfaced no one wanted to hear what she had to say anyways. She straightened the dress and exited the cubicle so her mom could appraise.
Her mother frowned. “The neckline is somehow on you, makes your tits look too big, try something else.”
Panlam reluctantly put her current choice aside and swooped up the last dress, a demure, knee length sheath.
“What of your brother Chechet? When last did you talk to him?”
“What?” Panlam stuttered. Her mother’s scathing laugh came loud and clear from beyond the cubicle.
“You two think you’re so smart. You people think I don’t check my account balances and all the transactions made in my name? I know you steal my money and send to him, so when was the last time you spoke with him?”
Panlam stood in the cubicle, the untried dress still cradled in her elbow and tried to compose herself.
“Err… I haven’t tal- called him in a while. He stopped replying my messages when I came home and stopped sending him money.”
“Yeah, I don’t know where he is anymore. But his domiciliary account is still active so they could probably track his transactions if I asked.”
“There’s no need for that. I just wanted to know he’s alright.” Her mother replied, her expression soured.
Panlam looked down at the dress on her arm and sighed. She exited the cubicle still dressed in her day clothes and made for the sales counter, placing the dress and her mother’s black credit card. The shop assistant’s eyes widened for a second before she took the card and swiped it before packing the dress and handing the package back to Panlam. Panlam strolled over to her mom and hugged her tightly before dropping the card back in her palm.
“Thank you mom.” She said, and it was obvious to all three of them in the store that the gratitude was for far more than the dress.
As Panlam and her mother crossed the mall’s lane to their car, neither of them noticed the nondescript BMW parked behind them. The same one that had been trailing them all morning. The occupant in the back seat watched as Mrs. Nok cleaned off the lipstick, blush and eye shadow that had accentuated her eyes and cheek bones as she told Panlam she’d only be able to cover for so long before her father found out about her ‘movie’ career. He bristled visibly as Panlam tied her hair up and pulled a hoodie over the spaghetti strap vest she’d worn all morning replying her mother about them crossing that bridge when they came to it and cringed as their car started, pulled into the lane and rode out of the complex. Yes, he’d suspected, but seeing his suspicions validated by cold evidence broke Mr. Nok’s heart.
After nearly three hours at the new Tanah Styling shoot and one hour of drinks with the photographer and the other models Tariebi was more than eager to slip out and head home, but she waited as was customary, until the designer waltzed in with her entourage and ‘hung out’ with them. Everyone always made it out like it was this huge honor when really all that was happening was the designer talked about nothing in particular and the models pretended to look interested. After an extra hour, she air kissed a few of the models and pocketed the photographer’s card before slipping out through a side door at Ikeja City Mall’s BeerHugz and going to pick up her car at the parking lot. As she crawled along the single line of lights headed towards Yaba, she found herself thinking about how scary things had become with Jeremiah Lawson. He used to be such a happy go-lucky guy when she first met him nearly a year ago, before he found out she was friends with Panlam. Now every time they met or talked on the phone, Panlam’s name somehow crawled into the conversation. She had no illusions as to how influential he was, and how dangerous it would be to cross someone like him. The whole hopelessness of the situation exhausted her and she sped up, suddenly feeling claustrophobic in her small Toyota Carina.
Relief washed over her as she finally turned into her street and drove into the little space between two SUV’s waiting just for her. She exited the car, leaving her work bag in the back seat and took the stairs leading up to her floor two at a time. She faced her flat squarely, feeling the unnatural urgency to open the door and shut it behind her as fast as she could.
The voice from the dark stairs that led to the floor above startled her so badly her keys slipped through her fingers and fell to the floor. She stood in shock, keys long forgotten as the person shrouded in the dark stood up from where he sat and walked down into the weak moonlight coming from her balcony. She gasped as she recognised the curve of the jaw and the alert, piercing eyes though the body the face was sitting on was much bigger and spry than she’d imagined, much more perfect.
“Chechet?” she ventured.
The stranger broke into a smile. “After all the delays, I’m finally here.”
Before she could even check herself, she flew into his arms and let him raise her off her feet and crush her against himself. She didn’t understand it, but somehow finally seeing him in the flesh brought her to tears.
“You’re here, you’re finally here.” She kept whispering into his shoulder as he stroked her hair with his left palm.
“I promised you I’d come.” He cooed back.
Finally Tariebi was let down and she fumbled awkwardly for her keys, taking twice as much time as usual to open her door. She flicked on the living room light switch and stood aside as Chechet walked in first, ogling every inch of his sinewy six foot three frame, nothing like his far more diminutive sister. She also noticed in passing that all he had with him was a medium sized knapsack, and it worried her a little that the only thought she could conjure in response to that was how much fun it would be to take him shopping. He dropped his bag beside the biggest sofa and stretched himself atop it, a yawning majestic feline. Tari cursed herself for not cooking something before she left. She started for the kitchen but he stopped her in her tracks with a raised brow, summoning her over with a wordless pat on the sofa. She changed direction and wiggled onto the couch with him, snuggling into his chest.
“Thank you so much Tari for everything you’ve done for me, most especially for not freaking out and kicking me out for just appearing at yours without a word.”
She smiled and sniffed his shirt, he smelt of musk and sweat. “It’s nothing Chet, after all the time I’ve waited to meet you; this was like Christmas came early.” A small part of her wondered how Chechet knew where she lived seeing as she couldn’t remember ever telling him but she quickly suppressed it, it just seemed petty now that he was lying beside her. She however couldn’t suppress the other question. “Does your sister know you’re here?”
She froze when she felt his body stiffen beside her. When he finally spoke, his voice came out shaky.
“No, Panlam doesn’t know I’m back. Neither do my parents. How could I tell her I was coming back to the country when she finally decided to abandon me like my parents did and leave me to the American legal system without a dime to fight to stay in America? My deportation was finalized yesterday morning. They literally put me in cuffs and marched me on to the first plane headed for Nigeria.”
Tariebi loosened her rigid spine and with a now submissively pliant body, melded herself more into him. She raised her head so he could look into her eyes as she spoke.
“Chet baby, how could they dehumanize you so? I feel so bad right now, for everything you’ve gone through. I’m just so happy you messaged me all those months ago, and that this ‘thing’ we’ve created came to be. At least if you don’t have anyone else, you have me. And everything I have is yours. I promise.”
Chechet’s pained scowl straightened and expanded into a toothy smile that shone down on Tariebi. She felt her body flood with joy as he unexpectedly found her lips and kissed her deeply. It was like her body went into shock and she was watching herself kiss him with almost a year of pent up emotions. They finally broke the kiss, Chechet breathing heavily and Tariebi light-headed from the intensity of it all. Chechet planted a light kiss on her forehead and drew her closer even still, his vacant eyes trained above them.
“So what about the things we discussed?”
It took Tariebi a while before she was sufficiently in control of herself to sort through all the thoughts in her head and retrieve the one that answered his question. There was only one thing important enough for him to have brought it up after something so intimate. One person actually; Panlam.
“I’ve done what you asked, I-“
“What we agreed.” Chechet interjected.
“You have done what we ‘agreed’ not what I ‘asked’.” He replied, patiently enunciating every word.
Tari sighed. “yeah, what we agreed. I suggested to Jeremiah Lawson what you said and he was all over it. All that is left now is to get Panlam in place so that it will happen and then we will get what he promised. Ten Million Naira.”
Tari felt Chechet’s body shake with a deep chuckle that erupted into laughter filled with happiness, the kind that she hadn’t felt since she was a child. He dragged her on top of him and slid his hand down to her buttocks, grinning as he held her in place with his eyes.
“Tariebi Sayani Nok, has a nice ring, doesn’t it?”
As Louise walked past the massive dog house that housed their guard breeds, she felt uneasy and stopped to let the slobbering dogs three hours earlier than the guards usually would. The Rottweilers howled and bounded off in the direction of the gate to worry people who passed by and Louise felt some measure of peace return to her, just as much as the peace she’d felt when she’d gone to the Palms with the driver and spent nearly three hours between the three mobile network service centres ditching her old numbers for a set of new ones. She slipped into her house and tried to speed past the living room and her mother who had taken an interest in what she did and where she went.
“Louise.” Her mother called, even though her face was buried in a novel and she had her back to her.
“Ma?” Louise crossed her arms over her chest.
“How was your day?”
“Fine ma.” Louise replied, her voice a flat monotone. “I went to the Palms and saw a movie, among other things.”
“Hmmm.” Her mother replied. She chose to interpret that as a dismissal and resumed the sneak towards the staircase and the relative safety of her room when she heard her mother clear her throat and turn over.
“Ehen Junie, some boy called Lawrence called my phone today. He said he’s been worried about you since none of your numbers go through anymore. That I should tell you that boy who was harassing you at your old school, Dexter or something like that has left the school too and you should look out for him. So that…”
Louise’s mother halted mid-sentence, the rest of the sentence suddenly trivial at the sight of Louise crumpling to the floor.