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You should read Sally Rooney’s ‘Normal People’

Film and literature are different mediums, and I go to them for different reasons. As a person, my countenance is overwhelmingly stoic. While I have visceral emotional reactions to the actions of others, I am also capable, unfortunately of emotionally dissociating myself from my feelings while they are happening, sifting through them for veracity and discarding the parts of my emotional response to the actions of others that don’t benefit me. The few people who have experienced this in real time have described it as terrifying. But literature and film allow me to embrace the full range of emotions felt by the character, to immerse myself fully in their lives and feel as they feel. I am not particular about what medium I first encounter a work in, but more often than not adaptations pale in comparison to written work. 

I first encountered Sally Rooney on a Buzzfeed list. Her debut novel had received praise for its deft storytelling and Rooney’s peculiar ability to talk about normal life in ways that fully enthralled audiences. The last Irish writer who had received this kind of acclaim was Eimar McBride, and when I had read her debut novel, nearly a decade in publishing purgatory before it was finally picked up, I was sorely disappointed. Mc Bride’s story was compelling, but the prose was gimmicky and it took too much effort to read. A lot of the early praise around Rooney’s debut novel emphasized the ‘normalness’ of Conversations With Friends, rather than the compelling characters, or the unique circumstances of the plot. 

Then early 2018, buzz began to gather around Normal People, Rooney’s sophomore novel. The superlatives were trotted out, ‘Best Book of 2019’ among them. One thing stood out to me then, Normal People was about two young people, navigating an intense and somewhat dysfunctional relationship and how the power dynamics in their relationship shifts as each person grows and changes. I had struggled for most of 2019 with reading and writing original work, so I put her on my to-read list and tried to wade through the detritus that was my life that was year. Then in early 2020, Hulu released the first season of the film adaptation, 6 hours of torrid love. Fareeda, with whom I share many of my artistic inclinations, asked that I watch it, even though she warned she couldn’t get past the first 6 episodes. Then Mofe, with whom my interactions are more primal and present, also recommended it. He’d watched the show and was about to start the book. He insisted, so I found all 12 episodes and committed a weekend to losing myself in its dreamy, yellow tinted world. 

 

There’s something truly magical about Sally Rooney’s novel that is completely lost in adaptation. Granted, I watched the adaptation first, and I found its pacing torturously slow, yet too intense. I found myself forwarding through huge swaths of the conversations between Marianne and Connell, and then pausing to rewind and rewatch those huge swaths for context. Both actors do a fantastic job of bringing the characters to life and the chemistry  between Daisy Edgar Jones and Paul Mescal burned with the intensity of a supernova. But by the final episode when a major life event causes Marianne and Connell to re-examine the strength of their relationship, I weep for their relationship, but I don’t fully believe the turn of events that have led them there. 

There are many challenges with the scripting, directing and casting that damage the authenticity of the television series. The first is  ‘Adaptational Attractiveness’, a concept explained by Trope Anatomy. The basic premise of Adaptational Attractiveness is that film as a medium, is predominantly concerned with profit, and profit is determined by who you have leading your visual project. Daisy Edgar Jones is visually stunning, her dimpled jaw and almond eyes are utterly convincing. She seems to bristle with intensity she can barely rein in as protagonist Marianne, that we have absolutely no reason to disbelieve that Paul Mescal as an equally attractive Connell would fall deeply, madly, in love with her. As a result, Marianne is nothing like the character in the books, neither in her physical presentation or in her attitude. Neither is Connell, whose cruelty is softened by his attractiveness. We are never really repulsed by his actions, or by Marianne’s demeanour, neither stray too far from conventional attractiveness to truly embody the characters they portray.

 

There is also, the robust internal lives of both characters that are sacrificed on the altar of adaptation. Marianne and Connell are both in a state of constant flux, a state of being that is as much influenced by their perceptions of the world, as it is by their social standing in their small town. Their identities shift as their social dynamics change, but we understand why, because Connell and Marianne are always thinking, always debating within themselves, the merit of their actions, the authenticity of their convictions. All of this is lost in the film adaptation, especially the true nature of their collective social standing. By the final scene of the film adaptation, the many social barriers that inform Connell and Marianne’s decisions are erased, so the pivotal twist, a moment that changes that lives of one of the characters, feels as pedestrian as any of the other challenges they have faced in their relationship, rather than an irreversible moment widening the ever growing chasm between them. 

After I watched the show, I wasn’t motivated to read the novel. I feared that perhaps, because Rooney had been personally involved in adapting the book, Lenny Abrahamson (who directed the heart wrenching Room) had directed, and the show runners had twelve episodes to explore the many nuances of the source material, reading the book would be doubly disappointing. I couldn’t have been more wrong. 

I finished Normal People in two sittings of 3 hours each, taking a 6 hour break between my first and second readings because my heart hurt too much. The critics had been right. Rooney had written a book that was deceptively simple on the surface, but asked many pertinent, painful questions about the nature of youth, the power of obsession, and how our families shape us in ways we can never fully understand. Book Marianne and Connell wield cruelty with as much ease as they do compassion, to each other and to everyone around them. They explore consent outside of sexual situations, what is permissible and what is forbidden when sex, the barometer with which we traditional explore relationships already carefully negotiated. This oscillation between cruelty and compassion builds through the entire book, as does the emotional and social disconnect between Connell and Marianne. 

Marianne can never understand why Connell, while brilliant, is afraid to dream, to pursue ambition. She seems unable to truly understand why he constantly returns to the safety of Sligo, the small town where they grew up. For Marianne, Sligo only holds hurt, hurt amplified by the privilege that was supposed to protect her from hurt, but instead isolated her, at school and at home. Her privilege gave her safe passage away from Sligo to Trinity and eased her passage into her new life. But it was also the one tether to her old life that  her many reinventions of self couldn’t quite detach. Connell and Marianne are familiar to each other, but they also do not understand each other at all. That misunderstanding is simultaneously personal and cultural. They feel familiar to each other, so they fall into familiar patterns of sex and obsession and painful uncouplings that happen over and over, seemingly beyond their control. I don’t know if Sally Rooney ever listened to Mitski’s ‘Two Slow Dancers’, but the soupy, saccharine sadness of the Japanese American singer’s ballad seems to telegraph the doom that envelops Marianne and Connell’s relationship and the loneliness they both seem to feel together and apart. By the time they reach their final test, we understand why they choose what they choose, even though it is devastating to watch them come to their shared resolution.

 

A lot of African literary fiction involving young people revolves around characters either living with or trying to divest themselves of the consequences of events outside their control. A senior brother who goes missing, a civil war that warps parents, a political coup that causes an economic recession. I have always been fascinated with the point when our own choices, often in mid to late adolescence, forks that path that we and our families share and starts our own journeys into adulthood. The young adult characters in these novels often have their actions corrupted by or twisted to serve the novel’s looming central plot device, nothing they do can be attributed solely to them. The relationship between Marianne and Connell in the book is isolated in such a way, that their actions towards each other, kindness and cruelty, is motivated by their insulated relationship with each other and influenced by their complex internal lives. I envied this in her work, her ability to imbue these private moments with immediacy and intensity, to map out the long term consequences of each action on their collective life together. It affirmed that Anthems, the story I’d written of a teenage girl, trying to make sense of a life fracturing in spite of her best efforts, had an audience out there that would resonate with it, and her. 

I wasn’t quite sure what this would be when I started writing it. I am skeptical about reviews, and abstract essays seem like personal vanities. But I felt compelled to share how I felt about Normal People, because Rooney’s novel bears some kinship to many ideas I have about literature, especially about how we must learn to believe that the lives of young people, even ‘normal’ ones,  are complex and glorious enough to demand of our time and our ingenuity as writers. To quote Hillary Kelly, ‘it is the story of the moment when adulthood begins, and when choices start to matter’. 

Oloture will start conversations, just not the ones it desperately needs to

All revolutions are driven by stories. Stories that transcend the medium in which they are told and gain a life of their own, radicalizing and evangelizing everyone who encounters them. It is part of the reason I became fascinated with storytelling and why I spent years working in journalism. During my time in journalism, as a fashion and film critic, I have personally experienced how stories can elicit unexpected reactions and I have learned to be careful with how I craft them. I never want to be misconstrued, to have the point I’m trying to convey become distorted by the tools I choose to tell my story, or the choices I make in my delivery. This responsibility is even more urgent when a storyteller is adapting another person’s traumatic story or lived experience. 

A storyteller must juggle many elements to find a balance between the storytelling tools of a medium and the facts of the event or experience being adapted. This was the task put before Kenneth Gyang, one of Nigeria’s true auteurs, with Oloture. Adapted from a Premium Times investigation conducted in 2014 by T.O, a Nigerian journalist who went undercover into a prostitution ring to better understand the system that funneled desperate men and women from across the country into Europe and forced them into indentured servitude through violence and isolation. T.O details her personal experience in ZAM magazine and discusses the unforeseen complications that could have cost her a body part or worse. It is clear what her motivations are, what precautions she took, what her plan for extraction was, all standard practice for undercover investigations and she goes to great pains to emphasize that despite the meticulous planning by her and her superiors, things still went south. 

It is suggested that EbonyLife Films, the production company behind Oloture asked for and received permission from the Premium Times team to adapt T.O’s story and that she was allowed to see the film before it was shipped off through the festival circuit. This information is relevant because while there are many similarities between Ovuorie’s first personal narrative and Gyang’s adaptations, there are also many important deviations that warp the story in ways that lower the stakes and move many working Nigerian investigative journalists to comment on the film and its shortcomings. 

Gyang’s directorial eye is not one of those shortcomings. Since his 2013 Confusion Na Wa, Kenneth has impressed critics with his commitment to storytelling and his preference for gritty stories that frame the Nigerian condition in all its unvarnished yet glorious authenticity. Oloture continues in this tradition, with Gyang setting up one of the most impressive Lagos nightlife scenes ever created in Nollywood. From sets to costuming to tracking shots and a soundtrack that pays homage to Nigeria’s highlife legends, Gyang manages to capture the grittiness of Lagos without patronizing the audience. It is the familiar but alien world that Gyang creates that allows us to believe that his cast, many of whom are playing roles outside their own traditional stereotyping, are actually who they say they are. Omawunmi as a brothel madam is subtle but imposing, allowing Omowunmi Dada, Wofai Fada, Sharon Ooja and Lala Akindoju to shine as a motley crew of prostitutes with differing motivations. We are expected to empathize with their individual journeys, and we do for the most part. But we never quite reach the point where we can fully suspend belief and immerse ourselves in the story Oloture promises to tell because of glaring plot holes that weaken the foundational premise of the story being told. 

All of Oloture’s shortcomings can be traced to its writing. Yinka Ogun, a long time EbonyLife collaborator and Craig Freimond, a South African screenwriter, are tasked with adapting Ovuorie’s story for the screen, and from the very first scene, it is obvious that neither T.O or any of the journalists who worked on the 2014 case were hired to consult on the storytelling process. This is obvious because there is no depth to Oloture, the principal character they model after her. We are never informed of Oloture’s motivations for leaving her regular life to go undercover as a sex worker. It is never stated, explicitly or otherwise. We are never told what goal she is working towards, how long she has already been undercover and what the metrics for extraction from her undercover role are. Oloture simply shadows more experienced prostitutes, stealing their clients and clumsily handling compromising situations. 

There are no consequences for Oloture’s glaring gaffes, her madam simply rolls her eyes  and her fellow prostitutes, whom her behaviour puts at risk seem to shrug off the fact that Ehi (Oloture) never sleeps with the johns whose attention she works to attract. Ehi jeopardizes Linda’s investments towards Italy and puts her life at risk when she tails Linda to the front business of a pimp madam and is caught, yet there is no punishment and Alero, the ‘hardened’ madam who organizes Oloture’s trip to Italy simply accepts that Oloture spied on her and exposed her cover business. Ehi is only in any danger once in the entire film, when Chuks, a pimp character who only seems to exist to move the plot along and ‘show’ the dangerous side of sex work, threatens her for interfering in his relationship with Blessing, who is his only remaining girl.  

Oloture’s  inexplicable behaviour is used to set up the film’s one gratuitous rape scene. After months undercover as a sex worker, we are expected to believe that  she doesn’t understand what it means when she is invited by Alero, a pimp madam who has already threatened her with physical violence earlier in the film to a sex party. She has no exit strategy, and gullibly agrees to take a pill from the stranger she is assigned to for a headache she is faking. Her surprise at her violation is hard to take seriously and her decision to go to Italy rather than seek out therapy so impulsive, it beggars belief. In the same vein, the film goes to great lengths to set up a narrative where Chuks is contrasted with Sandra and Alero as the old school vs the new school. But the story itself does not support this ‘truth’, because we find out soon enough that like Chuks, Alero and Sandra are also pawns with tenuous power, on the lowest rungs of a more expansive crime syndicate. 

Oloture spends the entire film in a haze of entitlement, making decisions because she feels ‘compelled’ to, stumbling into avoidable situations and dragging others into those situations. The consequences of those impulsive actions lead to a violent death and increased danger for herself and everyone around her. This entitlement, which the writers desperately try to sell to the audience as naivete is hard to ignore, worsening as the film progresses. By the end of the film, with its ‘unconventional’ final twist, you are left feeling like the victim of a bait and switch, and the film you sat through, pales in comparison to the film you were promised in its first few scenes. 

Oloture will start conversations, granted, but at the expense of an already underrepresented journalism community hoping desperately that one of these days, a filmmaker will actually ask them for their stories and replicate them faithfully. 

LOFTICRIES

She likes when she’s pushed against the bed frame, the high headboard of her princess bed solid behind her. It provides a rhythm, something against which she can arch the small of her back and lift herself up to meet him as he greedily clutches her buttocks and drives into her. Her arms are around his neck, hands drooping to the down on his back, her small breasts dwarfed by his saggy pectoral muscles are taut as his chest hair rubs up against them, teasing to an almost unbearable sensation. She leans forward into him, her feet stretched out till her pointé is perfect just like she learnt in ballet.

Mold yourself to your partner, mirror his movements.

She pushes into him, meeting his thrusts with little ones of her own, her tiny pelvis grinding against the scrub on his groin, drawn out grunts of exertion escaping her as he pushes into her slowly, deliberately, each thrust starting from his diaphragm, travelling down in a slow wave of tautening muscles and finishing with finishing with a tip to hilt burial. She leans back and watches herself get invaded over and over, the fluidity of his technique fascinating to watch in her lustful haze, his feints hitting her in secret places and making her thighs tremble. His belly is a maze of indented lines and rippling muscle under his pale skin and in the delirium of ecstasy, she is tempted to trace them one by one, till she reaches the source of her pleasure. Her dancer feet find the swell of his buttocks and kneads them, a gentle urging to a faster, urgent rhythm.

 You are the delicate swan to his brusque stout lion, graceful.

“Sit on me.” He says and flips her off him.

She obeys and clambers on, the smooth insides of her hairless thighs mooring against the outside of his rough hirsute ones. She sinks smoothly onto him and settles. The tempo is hers now. She’s not a doll being used anymore. She imagines someone else, a prince, questing for her hand, fairly won and claiming his prize given voluntarily by her. He’s mewling under her. In this position, he loses all his masculinity and whimpers as she exceeds what he has taught her and shows him how much more she has learnt on her own.

“Luna.”

He says it once, softly and it throws her. She slows and her eyes flutter open and find his face, He’s still mewling, eyes tightly shut, pupils fluttering underneath. He has never called her by his woman’s name before. She contemplates this as her princely conjuring flutters away and the reality weighs down on her, threatens her sanity. In the swirl of emotions, she latches on the most irrational one and holds tight.

He comes to me because he cannot bear me with anyone else. I must show him I understand.

Her hips circle in half circles, clockwise, counter clockwise. She is too close to his groin, her buttocks are too delicate, she knows this but she continues to twist into him, pushing till he sputters and spasms under her. There is a rash of pain, small swaths of her buttocks have rubbed raw. She crawls off him and curls into a circle, her duvet cradles between her still trembling thighs.

He kisses her cheek, starts to shuffle off the bed.

“You were so good. I love you.”

He walks out of the room stark naked, briefs bunched in his hand. She doesn’t look as he leaves.

“I love you too, Papa.”

“What the fuck was he doing to you?” His anger is like hell, hot on her face. She tries for contriteness, but only barely.

“Have you ever fucked someone you didn’t like?” She asks offhandedly.

He pauses, looking at her cock-eyed. She has never used that word before in front of him before, let alone in a sexual context. How she knew he was fucking the neighbour’s ugly spinster sister, he had no idea, but she knows.

“Did not liking the person make the fucking any less perfect?” She continues, taking his silence as assent. He’s still silent.

“It’s the same, except that I hate him.”

He sits beside her on the stoop of their quaint bungalow, shoulders hunched in horrified defeat.

“Why doesn’t he fuck Luna? She’s his girlfriend, not you.”

She starts to cry, little patters that splat on the concrete step. Left, right, left, they fall in synchrony.

“He calls me by her name, y’know, when we’re fucking. He always calls me by her…”

He puts his hands over his ears. He saw his father saunter out of her room, penis dangling proudly between his legs as he snuck back to the master bedroom to rejoin his girlfriend, Luna. It had paralyzed him where he sat in the toilet at the end of the corridor, peeping through the keyhole, the smouldering roll of weed hidden between his fingers spilling ash into his palm. That vision was more than enough; he didn’t want to hear the filth pouring out of her fourteen year old mouth.

He slaps her flush across the mouth, knocking her into the concrete wall from which the stoop protruded.

“Shut it, I don’t wanna hear. Doing stretches and splits everywhere, flashing your pum, fucking ballet whore.”

The patter of tears become rivulets, the rain that accompanies the rumbling sobs in her chest. He pulls her to himself and she cries into his plaid shirt, soaking it. They were not different, him and her. Their father had a thing for messing around with black women and running off with the kids he could snatch. He hadn’t been so lucky since snatching their baby sister, Kee got him in jail for four years. Luna was one of them crazies that visited inmates, courted dangerous men. It was disappointing that she settled for a baby thief. It didn’t matter, no woman would stand for that, if he told Luna, one way or another it would stop.

“I’ll fix him up. Don’t worry, Bae.”

She sniffles and sidles her head into him, the left temple already swelling the force of his slap.

“I’m sorry.”

“You little shit.”

He hits the boy. Prison toughened him up, taught him how to kill a man with his fists. The boy groans in the chair. His right eye is swollen shut, his lip split, and his cheek is weeping blood where it was dragged against the floor.

“You want to send me back to jail?”

He hits the boy again. A flurry of punches to the gut, the boy hunches forward to protect his sides but his arms strain behind him, tethered to the back of the metal chair on which he was restrained. The boy has never seen death before, not like how it radiates from his father’s murderous eyes. He’d liked Luna, even though she was dumb for picking his father. Once he’d closed his eyes and imagined his mother with her eyes, and cheeks and smile. He’d felt a little bad after when he remembered his father had stolen him. She hadn’t helped them. She had listened quietly and when he was done, she’d turned and left them, taking nothing but her purse. They waited for her, but instead their father came home with a murderous rage. He didn’t want to die like this. He didn’t want to die for trying to do the right thing.

“You want to know something?”

“Please, no.” The boy manages to say through the spittle and blood clamming up his gums. No one’s listening.

His father has her by the hair. “What she never told you is how much she liked it. When I’m fucking her, she be whimpering cos she don’t want me to stop. She sit on it and ride me like they pay her for it.”

He looks away, ignoring the pain lancing through the side of his face. The older man is incredulous.

“You don’t believe me?”

He drags her down to her knees and undoes his fly.

“Get to it.”

She looks at her brother in the eye, whose head snaps back to them involuntarily. Wide, sauce red eyes, brimming as her lips tremble. The accusation doesn’t need to be said out loud.

‘you promised you would fix this’.

 She turns wearily and pushes her hand through the yawn in her father’s pants. Rage takes him and his mind clouds over, adrenalin immolating him from the inside. He roars and rears against the ropes that bind his waist to the chair and they snap and break. The metal chair soars over his head and bludgeons their father’s and the buff body, honed by prison gymnastics deflates like a broken accordion. She shrieks and scrambles away and continued to shriek as the metal chair still tied to his hands reverses and returns to their father’s crumbled body, each impact shattering bone and denting muscle, till all that was left is a puddle of spreading blood around a vaguely human island of fractured, shredded flesh.

The lattice that constitutes the back rest breaks unceremoniously, and his fugue clears. And they stare at their creation, lips unmoving for fear that a word will reverse the horror they’ve wrought and bring the man back.

“We have to get rid of it.” She whispers finally, pointing away from the mess.

 His eyes follow her hand and pick up the thing that has riveted her. It’s a wig of greasy black hair, some strands still slick and low, the rest dishevelled, the whole thing still attached to one third of a slick spongy skull.

He picks it up and it shoots through his spastic fingers and clatters to the floor.

The salt soaks up the blood nicely, each crystal swelling and losing its shiny translucent lustre for a dull maroon soul. He pats the red grains into a little mound and drags it across the floor, soaking up the coagulating residue of their father’s life. She sprinkles more salt as he works, periodically holding out a cellophane sack for him to deposit a patty cake of bloodied salt. The silence is powerful, as was the chasm that separates this second from the hour before. He looks up at her, and the words gurgle up. Instead he says.

“More salt.”

The shower blasts him mercilessly, it is 3am and the flow was strong. He pretends not to notice as his hands shake around the bar of soap and his skin already wrinkling around it. He wants to stay here, forever, till the blasts wash the colour out of his skin and left him bleached and empty. He feels her like a presence behind him, fidgeting on the balls of her feet, frightened by his rage but driven by an overwhelming need to comfort him.

She knows. He doesn’t have to tell her. She is afraid, maybe even more than he is. He is all that was left in the world for her now. She approaches him slowly, shadowing him till she is close enough to feel the droplets ricochet off his back on to her skin. The moment comes and she takes it and wraps her hands around him from behind. She holds him as he begins to sob, and holds him till they stop and holds him till he acknowledges her with a hand on her thigh. His penis hardens as her hand travels and strokes. He has their father’s libido, and his rage, and both she knows how to sate it and stoke it as needed, like she’d done when she told their father about his plan to tell Luna about them. He’d never seemed as powerful as the old man, but in those moments when that chair went to work, she saw that he was even greater. She’d promised him once; he wouldn’t have to share her with anyone. She made good on her promises.  

From the Archives: Falana reinvents herself with Chapter One

A little background…

Falana and I met for the interview for this profile at a cafe in Yaba. It was the second time I was physically meeting an interviewee for a profile, everyone I had done prior, I had done remotely, finding ways to make up for the lack of physical presence. Though I’d met her many times before, interviewing her was reintroduction, to the cerebral artist who spent years between projects and cared only for an honest, compelling story. She is still the same today.

(more…)

Simi; Unlikely Anti-hero

A little background…

It feels like a lifetime has passed since I went to a rehearsal studio in Ajao Estate to watch Simi lead her band through her set list for her first headlining show at Hard Rock Cafe. Since then she got married to Adekunle Gold, had a baby, got cancelled and somehow managed score two of the biggest songs in the country in the middle of a pandemic. But even then it was obvious Simi was at the helm of her own career and knew exactly where she wanted to take it.

Continue reading “Simi; Unlikely Anti-hero”

Niniola embraced her sexuality and gave us permission to do the same

A little background…

Ninola was chosen for the first batch of the Native 14, a decision that seems insulting in hindsight, considering the global strides she would make mere months after the second issue of the Nativemag hit the press. A once-in-a-lifetime musician, with a divine ear for feeling out the most lascivious innuendo, Niniola never needs to share a spotlight with anyone.

Continue reading “Niniola embraced her sexuality and gave us permission to do the same”

Amaa Rae: The woman with the whisper that steals hearts & spotlights

A Little Background….

I began writing this profile of Amaa Rae in late 2017. I’d discovered her through her feature on Aylø’s ‘Whoa’. The buzz around the single was unprecedented, endearing her an almost immediate Nigerian fan base. Ever the consummate artist, Amaa already had a project in the works, and solidified her position as one of the country’s most promising artists, with a debut EP, Passion Fruit Summers. I was commissioned to write about this exciting new artist and the otherworldly album she’d created. This is that profile, with a snapshot in time, preserved with minimal edits.

The featured image is from the photoshoot that was to accompany this profile, shot by Charles Lawson, you can find his work here.

Continue reading “Amaa Rae: The woman with the whisper that steals hearts & spotlights”

SEAMS S2: Where The Lines Overlap

A fleeting worry about how she looked passed through Panlam’s mind as she caught a glimpse of herself reflected in the passenger window of her taxi but it was quickly suppressed by more pressing concerns. She pushed it aside the same way she’d tried not to dwell on the events of the evening, even though thoughts snuck into her consciousness whenever she let her guard down and tormented her. She didn’t bother waiting for Tariebi and her brother as she crossed the street to Farhad’s house and banged loudly on the white gate. She heard the harried slapping of feet against the paved compound floor and the door swung open. A frantic gateman not older than twenty ushered her in, spewing rapid fire Hausa at her interspersed with Kike’s name. Panlam put her arms around his shoulders and pointed to the house. He took the hint and led her and the others in.

None of them were prepared for what was waiting inside. Kike was a dishevelled mess, laid out on the richly coloured rug that served as a centrepiece for the living room. Her eyelids were squeezed shut and the hem of her dress all the way up to mid calf was greenish grey with dried mud and spirogyra. She moaned deeply, legs pressed together as though she were trying to stay a full bladder. A beautiful middle aged woman knelt by her side soothing her, wiping her head with a wet towel.

“Kike!” Panlam cried and ran to her side.

Kike’s eyes flew open when she heard her name. She turned to the sound to see Panlam knelt beside her, visibly shaking, Tariebi and a strange man-boy standing behind her. She tried to push past the pain in her abdomen and sit up but all she could manage was raising her head and upper body. It felt like the lower half of her was being controlled by someone else. Other than the now rhythmic tug followed by the blinding flash of pain she felt numb. She tried to smile, convince everyone she was fine, but she wasn’t doing a very good job because the worry lines on Panlam’s brow only lengthened. It was then she realised that someone was missing.

“Where is Saanyol?” she asked, trying to hide the fear in her voice. “You people didn’t come with him?”

“What is wrong with your phone?” Tariebi replied. She was fuming. “He’s been trying to call you all evening. You just told them you had an accident and went into labour and then switched off your phone. They’ve been searching all the possible routes from Ikeja to Yaba looking for any cars that had an accident.”

Kike shook her head several times as though to order her thoughts. Her reply came in breathy bursts. “I don’t know where my phone is, I don’t know where anything is. I can’t even think straight, I thought cramps were terrible but this, this is hell.”

“Why didn’t you just go to a hospital?” Panlam asked, not unkindly.

“The man who brought her here said she was in shock.” Everyone turned at the new voice. They’d practically forgotten Farhad’s mother, Mrs Usman was there. 

“The taxi she was in before was trying to avoid a collision and careened into a gutter. The man said the other taxi man who was driving her helped her call Saanyol and put her into another car headed for the first address she remembered, which was here. I think her phone fell into the gutter during or after the accident. She obviously fell into it too.”

Tariebi joined them on the rug and tapped Panlam, gesturing that she give way. Panlam reluctantly obliged and Tariebi took her place, immediately checking her pulse and temperature. She turned to Farhad’s mother

“How many hours since her water broke?”

“About three and half.” The woman replied, sighing. “I’ve never seen anyone go into labour so fast.”

Tariebi nodded and turned back to Kike. “You went to an antenatal clinic right?” She waited for Kike’s response, a nod, before she continued. “Then you know what contractions are, thank God. Let’s measure how far apart your contractions are coming.”

The room went silent as Tariebi put a hand on the swell of Kike’s abdomen and waited as they counted the seconds between contractions. About three and a half minutes had passed when they heard noise at the gate and the gateman talking loudly. Panlam sighed in relief when she saw the gateman usher in Louise. Relief turned to horrified surprise as a very bloody Chibuzor came in behind her. The minute Chibuzor saw Tariebi and Kike on the rug he began to hyperventilate. Panlam had to drag him away from Kike’s line of sight and sit him down on one of the living room’s plush sofas, Louise following meekly behind them.

“What the hell is wrong with you?” Panlam hissed. “You come in here and start panicking, scaring everyone half to death. And what the hell happened to your clothes? Did you get into an accident too?”

Xhiz huffed. “I wish I was that lucky. But it’s a long story, one I’m not quite ready to tell. Saan left me like a million messages. My phone was off and Louise’s phone was silent. We came as soon as we saw them. What’s wrong with Kike?”

“What do you think? She’s in labour, idiot.”

“Then what is she doing on the floor here instead of being in a hospital bed, and since when did Tariebi become a doctor?” Louise interjected, a little too loudly.

Mrs Usman replied, her voice shaking with indignation. “She got here about thirty minutes ago. She said she’d called Farhad to tell him what happened and that they were coming to get her. The taxi man who brought her said they’d been driving around for nearly two hours because she couldn’t quite articulate where she wanted to go. I’m the only one here with two small boys under five, and as you saw there are no taxis around here after ten pm. It would have been imprudent to leave when I had no certainty of going anywhere.”

“…and my mother’s was an obstetrics nurse, so forgive me oh mighty Louise for knowing a thing or two about pregnancy.” Tariebi finished, glaring over her shoulder at the occupants of the sofa. 

She turned back to Kike and spoke to her very gently. “Your contractions are about thirty seconds long, three minutes apart between each contraction. We need to take you to a hospital right away.”

Kike tensed, using all of her will to raise herself to Tariebi’s eye level. “No! I want to wait for Saanyol. I can’t have this baby alone. He was the one who put it inside me; he has to be there to see when it comes out.”

Tariebi shook her head; the anxiety was making Kike irrational. “If we don’t take you to a hospital now, you’ll give birth to this baby right here, on this rug.”

Louise came over to them and took Kike’s hand. “We can go to my family hospital; it’s nearby on the island, just a twenty minute drive from here maximum. I’ll just introduce you as my cousin. I doubt my parents would mind.”

Tariebi gave it a second of thought and shrugged her assent. Saanyol and his pack weren’t coming any time soon and it wasn’t as though they had any other options. Tariebi saw Kike was still sort of adamant so she gestured to Panlam to come help her. Together they raised Kike to her feet and began to lead her to the front entrance of the house. Chechet stayed out of their way, skulking behind Louise and Chibuzor while Farhad’s mother flanked the rear, for once not bothered about covering the mound of curly greyish brown hair that fell down to her back. Kike mumbled something about not being able to find taxis to take them to the hospital and Louise piped up, her squeaky voice annoyingly cheerful, pointing to the dark blue bus parked in the compound.

“Thank God only the space van was available today. It should seat about four if Kike lies in the back.”

Mrs Usman shook her head. “No, you should all go. The girl will need people to hold her in a seated position and ensure she doesn’t get unnecessarily jolted during the ride. The car should take all of you. I’ll stay back with the twins and come with my husband when he arrives.”

Chibuzor nodded and took charge, banishing Chechet into the front seat after giving him a look of utter confusion. He helped the girls carry Kike into the car and sat her between Panlam and Tariebi before taking one of the middle seats while Louise took the other. The driver revved the engine and began to back out before Mrs Usman stopped them.

“Someone please remember to call my son and the others and tell them where you’re going. So they don’t come here in vain.”

Everyone in the bus gave a collective groan. They had all completely forgotten.

———————–

Louise was the only one awake, scrolling through the Omoge MuRa September issue when Saanyol and Farhad burst through the front door of the lobby. Everyone else was huddled on the steel benches in the eggshell coloured waiting room, trying to get some sleep. The boys headed for the reception desk, unsure of where to begin their search. Louise closed her phone and shuffled over to meet them, calling their names as loudly as possible without constituting a nuisance. 

Farhad and Saanyol had not been spared the frenzy of the day; their identical white kaftans were now overlaid with a patchwork of dust and sweat stains and their eyes were wild with anxiety. They abandoned the bewildered nurse at reception and ran over to Louise and began peppering her with questions. 

She tried to reassure them; yes Kike was alright, they’d just missed them wheeling her into the theatre, the accident hadn’t been serious enough to cause any serious injuries even though the doctors feared she might have some pelvic strain. Louise led them to the waiting room where she roused the rest of the gang, deliberately sidestepping Chechet. She wasn’t quite sure why but she didn’t feel she had a right to disturb his sleep. Panlam stood up from her chair and gave each boy a long hug.

“Thank God you both are finally here. Today must have been hell for you.”

“Describe hell, cos today might be worse than that.” Farhad replied as he took a seat. “Between me and Saan, I think we know every single side road that connects Ikeja to Yaba.”

“And meanwhile Madam was just chilling in his house, stopping my baby from coming out.” Saan added sardonically. “And of all the places you could have taken Kike to, you people chose frigging Reddington. Do I look like I have Dangote money?”

Panlam couldn’t suppress her mirth; it was just like Saanyol to always find the twisted humour in the most unpleasant of situations. She let herself sag for a second, looking around the room, observing everyone sitting around, gathered for Kike, an unexpected, and sometimes shaky support. Even she was surprised at how they’d rallied around a friend in need, putting personal beef aside. Her thoughts drifted to Kike and she wondered what it must be like, to be in that position and nothing she could think of quite matched what she’d seen that evening. She didn’t even realise Farhad was talking to her until he tapped her arm.

She started. “Huh?”

“I asked what happened to your face.”

“Oh.” She looked over at Tariebi. “I don’t still don’t quite believe it, but I was this close to getting raped today. I got slapped around a few times and throttled but at least he let me go before he could do any real damage.”

Saanyol shot to his feet. “What the hell?! When did this happen? Where? Who is the asshole?”

Panlam rolled her eyes. Chechet had woken up and was surveying all of them with a morbid curiosity. 

“This is frankly not the place or time Saan. Kike’s the only person that we should be agitating about right now, not some idiot who thought he could take advantage of me.”

She rubbed Saanyol’s arm to calm him, her eyes shifting between Tariebi and Chechet, willing them to keep quiet about the details of what happened in Jeremiah Lawson’s hotel room. Tariebi was all too eager to abide and she nudged Chechet with her knee to make sure he was on the same page. She could tell it wasn’t over; Panlam had this look, now that the initial franticness was gone, she was beginning to wonder what she and Chechet were doing in the hotel room in the first place. She pushed away her worry, the time would come for that and when it did, she’d handle it.  She was grateful when distraction came in the form of Chibuzor and his bloody shirt.

“Today wasn’t as bad as it was long overdue.” He said quietly. All attention moved from Panlam and refocused on him. It was then Tariebi noticed that Louise had been shadowing him all night.

“What’s up with him Louise?” She asked. “You guys came together from wherever it is you went. What happened there?”

Louise made a face. “He finally met Dexter.”

At that everyone perked. Farhad picked the thread. “What do you mean met Dexter? The Dexter that’s Lawrence and Pandorus and Luminous and all the other alter-egos?”

Louise nodded. “Everything sorta happened at the party Chibuzor convinced me to follow him to.”

“What is the great thing that happened?” Tariebi asked, curiosity getting the better of her.

Louise sighed. “He asked me not to talk about it but if you want an idea, not a drop of that blood on Chibuzor’s shirt and trousers is his.”

Panlam leaned over and reappraised Chibuzor’s clothes. There was a fair amount of blood on him, enough to soak through the fabric and drip onto the front of the pants. If the blood belonged to one person, then that person was probably in terrible shape. She’d never imagined Chibuzor as a violent person, that was an oversight she would have to correct,  along with her overestimation of her capacity to get out of sticky situations. If she’d been more careful, running into her brother in the company of the least likely people in the universe wouldn’t have caught her so unaware. She turned to Farhad and Saanyol, casually noting that Chechet seemed to have disappeared from his place by Tariebi’s side. The sneaky, conniving… she would have to reconcile that situation later. It definitely wasn’t over. Not by a longshot.

“We’ve told you guys about our shitty days. So your turn, what stupid thing did you guys do, cos I know in my soul that Saanyol did something spectacularly stupid to push Kike into unexpected labour. Oya spill.”

Saanyol bent his head to hide a sheepish grin as Farhad cackled. 

“Oh, Saanyol takes the cake. He basically tried to get Kike to accept an arranged marriage.”

Panlam’s eyes went wide. “What do you mean arranged marriage?”

Farhad howled. “He basically arranged the traditional introduction and brought both families together without Kike’s knowledge, then surprised all of us with the fact that Kike actually had never agreed to marry him. In his own words, ‘we’re having a kid together; it’s only natural that if I propose she’ll say yes.’.”

“Oh Saanyol.” Panlam sighed. “Forever the sanctimonious prick.”

“I was only trying to be romantic. This is why I’m a ‘take what I want’ guy, because romance is lost on you people. If I was…”

The words dried in Saanyol’s throat when he spotted a man in pale green scrubs walking briskly over to them. As a group they stood to welcome the man as he reached them. The man smiled when he saw Louise and waved her over for a hug. It was only then it became certain he was the doctor in charge of Kike.

“Who’s the father of the child?”

Saanyol pushed his way to the fore. “I am.”

The man frowned. “Where are your parents and the girl’s legal guardian?”

“We’re both above 18 and legal but our parents will be coming in the morning, they had a very traumatic evening so I made sure they went home to rest. Did something happen? Should I ask them to come?”

The man raised his glasses above his brow and rubbed his eyes. “No that won’t be necessary. Your…”

“Girlfriend.” Everyone responded at almost the same time.

“Ah, girlfriend. Your girlfriend was safely delivered of a child about twenty minutes ago. It turns out on examination, her labour had actually started this morning but she had dismissed the early contractions as cramps. She and the baby are ready to see visitors and please don’t ask the baby’s sex, I promised I’d let her tell you herself.”

#

The private ward was sunshine yellow with little suns painted on the walls, the bed sat in the centre of the room with a bassinet to her left and a drawer the height of the bed frame to her right. Everyone was huddled around the bed, beaming at a glowing Kike as she held the newborn to her breast. He was fair like Saanyol’s mother and had pink square fingers that poked out its swaddling and clutched Saanyol’s pinkie finger. Saanyol’s grin split his face in two as he watched.

“We have a boy, if it’s not obvious from how aggressively he’s suckling. I’m going to have sore breasts for the next two years.”

Saanyol turned to Farhad and pulled him into a bear hug. “You better thank me oh; I just gave you a nephew to spoil. Me, you and our little nigga.”

Kike gave them a wry smile. “See these ones, I always wanted a son. I don’t have strength to be plaiting anybody abeg.”

Saanyol raised an eyebrow. “Yeah right.”

Kike removed the baby from her breast and burped him. She made to hand him over to Saanyol but he declined, still grinning widely. “Let someone else hold him, I’m in no hurry. After all, I get to take him home.”

Kike rolled her eyes and turned to Panlam. Panlam blushed and leaned forward so Kike could put the baby in the crook of her arms, smiling as Panlam drew the baby close and nuzzled his tiny nose. She’d never seen any of her friends this soft and mushy, let alone all of them at once. Maybe having a baby really changes a person and the people around them. Louise and Tariebi hurried over to Panlam’s side and together the girls cooed and giggled while Kike rested her arms and back.

“Thanks. To all of you.” She said out of the blue. “I know we’ve had our falling outs this last year and there’ve been periods where I wasn’t sure where I stood with some of  you but today, you guys were there for me, in a way I’d never thought I’d need you.”

She looked around the room at the all faces grinning so hard they looked like chipmunks and felt peace. No matter what happened, she’d always remember today and remember she was always among friends.

“Panlam, can Chibuzor carry the baby for a bit?”

Chibuzor met Kike’s gaze to check if she was sure, then quietly crossed over to where Panlam stood. He quietly thanked his stars he’d taken the doctor’s advice and changed his shirt just before he came in. Panlam showed him how to crook his arm and passed on the baby and hovered beside him just in case. That brought another smile to Kike’s lips.

“You guys don’t even understand how cute you both look. Panlam, Chibuzor, I want you guys to be my kid’s godparents. I think you both know why.”

Chibuzor felt Panlam put a hand around his shoulder and squeeze and he felt a blush rise from the pit of his stomach. He didn’t need to say he accepted because Kike knew he would, and he knew why she chose him. The rest of the gang circled around congratulating the new god parents while they fussed over the newborn.

“So what are we naming the baby?” Farhad asked, to no one in particular. 

Kike stroked the sleeping boy’s head. “His names are Saanyol Adeola Olasinde Terwase; Saan after his big headed father cos this one has always wanted a junior, kept making noise about his name being unisex if we had a girl. Adeola after Farhad’s dad and Olasinde so he never forgets who his mother’s father’s people are.”

Saanyol leaned over and raised Kike’s chin so she met his eyes.

“I love you, mama Adeola.”

“Idiot!” she replied laughing as she raised herself up to meet his lips. “I love you too, baba Adeola. But you know this is just the beginning of our forever.”

“I know. I know.”

SEAMS S2: The Girls Are Alright

 

Panlam stood by her mirror, in nothing but a grey terry robe, held shut at the breast with her hands. From the window next to it, she could see out into the street. With ease that belied how often she’d done this, she let the terrycloth side onto the floor and stretched, her full body tantalizing displayed. She reached for her bed and took away a blue chemise with exquisite French trim and stepped into it, slowly pulling it up her legs and over her hips before settling its hem under her pectorals. She leaned forwards so her breasts would pour into the chemise’s cups and slid the thin silk straps up her shoulders. She knew no one was probably watching, but it was a small fantasy of hers, a talisman of sorts she employed when she needed to feel sexy. The final meeting with the financier the director had found for their film was today and he was hinging his decision on if her, the green scriptwriter and producer. She closed the window blinds and plopped on to the bed. She noticed her phone flash methodically, indicating internet activity.

—– ——————————- ——————————-

Panlam couldn’t hide her surprise as she stepped out of the cab she hired to ferry her from her house. She was in front of the building occupied by the address Emeka, the contact who’d reluctantly agreed to become her project manager and all around hype guy had given her. They’d met only twice before and had arranged this particular meeting over the phone. He’d told her to dress ‘slut formal’ and come prepared for anything. Even now, in one of Louise’s designer dresses and more make up than she’d worn in her entire life, she wasn’t quite sure she was prepared for anything. She took the walk from the gate to the lobby of the hotel in quick, long strides and smiled when she saw Emeka on the other side of the transparent glass, pacing anxiously.

He was one of those guys who always looked off unless he was wearing a pair of jeans and a tee shirt. He looked particularly uncomfortable now, his six foot three frame constricted into a sleekly cut evening tuxedo worn over a regular dress shirt. The lush beard that adorned his face in his social media profiles was gone, replaced with freshly cut buzz. He really was taking this meeting much seriously than she had.

He sighed in relief when he saw her and hurried out to bring her in. “I thought I told you the meeting was for five pm, I’ve been here waiting since four thirty.”

Panlam gave him a look. “Calm your tits Emeka. He said meet me up by five and here I am, at five on the dot. No point coming any earlier, we want to look punctual not desperate.”

“What the fuck ever, Panlam.” Emeka replied, “Now get your pretty ass inside, he’s already on his way down.”

Emeka didn’t wait for a response before threading his arm around hers and subtly but firmly steering her into the hotel. They went past the grand lobby with its beautiful colonnades and panelled walls, a grand reception leading into the visitor’s lounge. Emeka led Panlam to one of the sofas there and sat with her, fidgeting slightly as they waited. Panlam took out her phone and began to scroll through her social media timelines, looking for something to distract her from the nervousness slowly beginning to grow in the pit of her stomach. She didn’t know why, but suddenly she felt the urge to look up. It was then she noticed him coming down the stairs that led to the visitor’s lounge. Actually it was his shoes that caught her attention as the rest of him was still obscured by the landing of the first floor. They were genuine Giuseppe Zanotti’s; her father used to own a few pairs before he became what he became and gave them away.

“He’s here.” Panlam hissed at Emeka who was engrossed in his fidgeting.
They both rose to their feet as their mystery benefactor stepped out from behind the staircase and walked over to them. Emeka just stood there and fidgeted while they waited for him to say something. Panlam rolled her eyes and put out her hand, flashing a wide smile.

“Thank you so much for meeting us sir, my name is Panlam Nok and this is my project manager and the person who’s supposed to be doing the introductions, Emeka.”
The man took her hand in a firm grip and let out a mega smile of his own.

“Hello Panlam, I have heard a lot about you, my name is Jeremiah Lawson.”

—— —————————————- ——————————-

Tariebi froze when she heard Jeremiah Lawson’s smooth baritone sail through the waiting room. She and Chechet had come to the hotel nearly two hours before and had waited in the very same space where Lawson, Panlam and her associate were now. They’d quietly left when the guy had arrived and had watched from the relative safety of the nearby bar while Panlam came. Her heart had skipped when she saw him come down through the mirrors but hearing his voice….

Tari felt a sharp pain in her side and turned towards a very displeased Chechet. 

“Cut it out.” He drawled.

“What?”

“That shameless mooning. You’re drawing unwanted attention.” He mouthed.

She reluctantly leaned away from the conversation and waited for Chechet’s cue while Panlam and Lawson got to know each other. Tari could hear snatches of conversation and the occasional nervous giggle from the third wheel as they stood and talked and Tari’s tighten around her glass of Club Soda. It unnerved her, this unexpected jealousy she was feeling over a meeting she practically orchestrated herself. Sure the sex with Lawson was great and he was dangerous enough to keep her titillated but this, this was unexpected. She stole a glance at Chechet to see if he was watching her but his eyes seemed firmly glued to the mirror at the back of bar, watching Lawson and his sister. Eventually Lawson shifted stance and turned to the other guy who had come with Panlam, her manager. He said some words to him and the man practically bowed at the waist before curving around the older man and leaving the lobby.

“Let’s go.” Chechet announced, just as Panlam followed a beaming Lawson out of the visitors lounge and into the restaurant at the far end of the hotel’s ground floor. Chechet led Tari up three flights of stairs before turning right and stopping at the 10th door. He slipped a card from his front pocket and slid it into the card slot set into the door and pushed it open after the mechanism clicked green and the hydraulic lock gave.

“After you.”

Tari slid past Chechet into the room, a look of wonder mixed with genuine fear on her face.

“How did you get Lawson’s card key.”

Chechet gave a malicious smile. “You’d be surprised how much an accent and a little flirting will get you. We only have about an hour, let’s get to it.”

Tari subtly angled her face away to hide the tightness that now pulled against her cheeks and focused on the task at hand. Chechet had gotten her to weasel information about his meeting with Panlam out of Lawson the last time they’d been together. That was how they knew that he’d planted a camera in the room of the hotel he was going to meet Panlam in.

They were here to one up the older man by finding and destroying the camera. Tariebi didn’t think that was a very good idea but she kept her opinions to herself. Chechet was usually a selfish viper to people who couldn’t offer him anything, and him deciding to do something in Panlam’s favour probably served some plan he was hatching. She’d slept over in this room once before so she led the search, carefully avoiding the bed as they checked the rest of the room, scouring the wooden headboard and the fake wood panelling that went around the walls. They searched the light fixtures on the ceiling and scoured the cabinets and appliances set into a corner of the room all the while Chechet’s displeasure simmered into rage. His voice wafted to her from the other end of the room where he was dismantling one of the bedside lamps.

“So, I’ve been dying to know. What really happened with your friend Saanyol’s girlfriend and her Houdini pregnancy? Panlam told me about it, but then Saanyol said she wasn’t pregnant anymore and now she obviously is. Help my weak brain solve the ‘mystery’?”

Tari sighed.

“Actually all of that was my fault. Kike came to me and wanted advice on what to do with it. ‘It’ being her pregnancy. So I took her to some guy I’d overheard the other models talking about. How was I to know the machines weren’t always accurate. He misdiagnosed her and I told Saan the truth and here we are. At least she should be grateful she didn’t let him stick anything inside her, otherwise we’d be having a very different stor…”

“Tari?”

A dangerous edge had crept into Chechet’s voice, so Tari kept quiet and continued searching. She stopped when she realised he was standing behind her.

“Tari,” he repeated, touching her hem of her jeans, “When you guys ‘did it’ here, what was his favourite prop?”

“Chechet…” Tari growled, but Chechet was undeterred. He put his hand on her neck and slowly bent her over the bed, pushing his appreciably engorged groin against her behind.

“Did he press you down like this? Feel your slick back with filthy rich fingers while he took you?”

He began to slam his clothed groin against her, starting slow and working himself into a frenzy as he slurred his little ‘questions’. Tari didn’t make a move to escape his grip on her neck even though she could have easily; she liked the role play, the illusion of powerlessness. They both started as the door knob clicked loudly and murmuring came from the other side of the room. Chechet flew off Tari in an instant, rushing over to the bedside to fix the lamp. He gestured to the en-suite bathroom and hurried Tari into it, following behind her. They pulled the door almost shut just as the door to the hotel room finally clicked and fell open, spilling Lawson with his arms around Panlam.

It was a miracle and a curse that the door to the bathroom was in full view of the bed. They could monitor everything that was going on without having to open the door anymore than a sliver but they were also very, very trapped. None of that seemed to be of any concern to Chechet, he was more interested in the thing he was rifling through his knapsack for while Tari held the door in place. He dug through the contents and drew out a non-descript ballpoint pen. Then they switched positions and he pressed a barely concealed button on the shaft of the pen and pressed it into the sliver the opened door created.

“It’s a pen camera.” He whispered to Tari who rolled her eyes.

They watched together as Lawson and Panlam flirted some more and the older man reached over and pulled her to himself. He was deft, and before long they were unbearably close, lips locked and Lawson’s hand running across Panlam’s thigh. Tariebi watched intently, unsure which was stronger, the revulsion she felt towards Panlam or the arousal that grew for Lawson. After about ten minutes of kissing and fondling Panlam pushed herself off Jeremiah Lawson and put distance between them.

“You said we were just coming up for celebratory drinks?” The question was evident in her voice.

“We both knew that was a lie yet here you are.” Lawson replied smoothly.

“Well, I came to see you to negotiate a deal, you might have signed the papers but that doesn’t mean you’ve given me the money I need to make my film. Until the film is made, I don’t think I have the luxury to call you out on your lies.”

Lawson gave a little laugh. “Very articulately put. Yes, until the film is done, I might own you but I’d much rather prefer a pet that comes willingly than one I have to use a leash on. Which one are you?”

Panlam kept her eyes on Lawson as she walked towards the door. She stopped beside it and her right hand disappeared behind her. Tari’s smile bloomed from within her, a sunflower opening to morning light. She felt her smile fall when instead of the door handle turn, she heard Panlam unzip her dress. It was then she realised Chechet had been bristled beside her the whole time and that he just relaxed. He began to click the camera pen as Panlam gave a walking strip tease, stopping right in front of Lawson and dropping her chemise. She began to lean forward to give a sprawled Lawson a kiss when the silence was rent by the blaring of Davido’s Skelewu. Panlam’s hands flew over her breasts.

“Oh God! That’s my mother.”

Lawson couldn’t hide the disappointment on his face as he waved Panlam off to take the call. She leant over to the room’s worktable and fetched her bag, pulling out her phone and putting it to her ear.

The room’s acoustics were good enough that everyone could hear Panlam’s mother’s howling through the phone’s speakers.

“Panlam, get home right now! First we find out today from immigration that your brother is back in the country, after everything we did to make sure he didn’t come back….Now your father is asking me what you have been up to. He’s been following us for weeks….I couldn’t lie to him. I’ve managed to calm him down and buy you a few hours but you need to get home and face him right now, you hear me? NOW!”

Panlam whispered into the phone, pacifying her frightened mother as she slowly stepped away from Lawson and squatted to pull up her chemise and dress still pooled around her borrowed Louboutins. Lawson sat up and watched her lazily as she tried to reorder herself.  He pulled himself to his feet and grabbed her arm, announcing with cold disinterest.

“That was quite amusing but we’re not quite done here.”

Panlam looked up at him with frightened, saucer wide eyes. “You know I would never jeopardize my movie getting made. I’m already yours; please you can have me any other day.”

Lawson shook his head like petulant child. “That’s the thing, I want you right now.”

With that, he hefted Panlam by that single arm and threw her onto the bed. She howled in pain and Tari felt her blood go cold. Lawson crawled onto the bed, taking care to pull off Panlam’s shoes so she couldn’t cause any damage with them. He trapped her flailing thighs with his haunches, pressing his weight on top of her. She struggled against him, scratching at him with her fingers and he gripped her neck with his left hand and dealt her a series of heavy slaps across the face. Her thrashing quieted immediately after that, replaced with a defeated whimpering. Tari tried to leave the bathroom but Chechet put a leg in her path. She looked up at him and he scowled.

Tari turned away from the door, listening in horror as Jeremiah Lawson peeled off Panlam’s dress and fondled her roughly, all the while whispering filth at her. It was too much even for Tari and in a split second of instinct she pushed Chechet out of the way and flung the bathroom door open. Lawson turned at the sound, surprised by Tari who clambered on to his back and tried to pull him off Panlam. Lawson flailed defensively, landing a glancing blow on Tari’s jaw. She felt her jaw shift a second before the rest of her face did. That, not everything had happened before, finally woke Chechet. He sprung to action and ran out of the bathroom, fists clenched. He sent two well aimed rabbit punches to Lawson’s sides, knocking the wind out of him and Lawson fell off the bed. Before Lawson could rise to his feet, Chechet drew out a pocket knife and pointed it at him.

“Man, don’t fuck with me,” he said. “I’ll shank you before you take your next step.”

He turned his head back at the bed. “Tariebi, help Panlam get dressed.”

Tari climbed onto the bed ignoring her jaw which was beginning to swell, helped Panlam off the bed and into her torn chemise and rumpled dress.  Panlam cooperated, seemingly oblivious to her swollen eye and torn upper and lower lips. The bruises on her shoulders were visible and there was a scratch on her chest, Tari quietly inventoried, surprised that such damage could be done so fast. Chechet directed Lawson into the bathroom after making him empty his pockets and then locked the bathroom door on him. He turned to the girls.

“We have one hour before someone comes looking for him, get a move on.”

Tariebi and the siblings snuck through the floor and the staircase, both girls averting their faces as they passed the reception. As they left the lobby and entered the cool early night air of the street beyond, Tari felt herself finally release the breath she’d been subconsciously holding in. Panlam just stood there, looking at Chechet with blank eyes. Something about the way she looked must have unnerved him because his hand slid back into the pocket that held the knife.

“Are you going to just keep looking at me like you’ve seen the devil or are we gonna get you to a hospital?”

Panlam ignored him, it was taking all of her sanity to not snap at either of them. She pulled off her heels and hobbled to the road. It took them nearly ten minutes to find an empty cab and they piled themselves in, Panlam and Tari in the back, Chechet in the front. The driver began to move, driving in the general direction of the island. Panlam pulled her phone out of her handbag and began to scroll frantically. Chechet, irritated by the gesture leant into the back compartment.

“Are you going to direct us to a hospital or are you going to stay there pressing your phone?”

Panlam looked up from her phone, ignoring Chechet and tapped the driver.

“Please turn the car and head for Ikoyi.”

This time Tariebi was the one who asked.

“Ikoyi? What the hell is happening in Ikoyi?”

Panlam shut her phone and sighed. “Kike is in labour.”

SEAMS S2: Counterbalance

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.

“What?”

“Down.”

“Down what?”

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.

“Saan!”

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.”