BITTER PERCEPTIONS: CHAPTER TWENTY

Jide’s sitcom is cancelled after his behaviour at the TRI nominations makes the headlines


The removal men lifted a table I recognised as the one from the Effiong Eight opening credits. The same table Maria placed those flowers on without my approval, leading to that massive row with the director and cameraman. Maria had left Bass TV for Colgwé Productions where she put her initiative to good use, and the press paid closer attention to her talent after Coleman hailed her as “the new Lola Fani-Kayode”. What a joke—why did the industry need two LFK’s? Maria now worked for Penfold while I languished under Chief Bassey’s extreme supervision without the option to resign. Why hadn’t I given the matter any proper thought before signing those papers? After turning down Shirley’s orders to escort her to another ghastly all-night celebration, she meant business when she promised to deal with me, and now my punishment had begun. Effiong Eight hadn’t received a TRI nomination, but did Chief Bassey have to pull the plug on my show?

I’d suffered like a maniac to get my creation on the air, writing and re-writing my own script, stubbornly refusing assistance from professional writers. I’d grown weary of people dismissing me as the son-in-law of a media mogul who also happened to own Bass Communications, and my reluctance to submit the script for revision did not impress Chief Bassey. Countless TV sitcoms across the country landed on the scrapheap due to low ratings or no sponsors, but Effiong Eight would never reach that category. Sooner or later Chief Bassey, Shirley, and others would decide whether they liked their humble pie with a sprinkling of humility or an extra helping of apologies. Or both. The day Bass commissioned my show marked a joyous moment tinged with melancholia. Why did I get the impression Chief Bassey had given me a chance to fail?

Effiong Eight had proved popular with viewers across the country, but failed to compete with the sponsors, ratings, and accolades Dream Boyz boasted. The glory days of Nigerian Hairways had long disappeared. End of an era.

I closed the blinds, and leaned over my desk to snort a long line. Did Shirley have something to do with her father’s rash decision? A spoilt child-woman with no career destroying mine? Why couldn’t I spend time with my own son after those hours trapped inside the studio? God forbid Isaac grew up believing money grew on trees—I had to lead by example, and he had to learn hard graft led the way to success. Not that success had moved in my direction recently. I opened the letter lying on my desk and read the contents for the ninth or tenth time that afternoon:

     Following a decision to take our marketing in a new direction, and after much consideration, DZ Breweries have decided not to renew your contract. We would like to express our gratitude for your valuable three-year service as the voice of Dazzle Malt, and wish you good luck in your future endeavours…

Dazzle Malt…getting rid of me? I’d signed a three-year contract with them, and my tongue-in-cheek voice overs were said to have helped boost their sales. What other direction could they possibly have in mind? I hadn’t voiced any Nollywood trailer in nearly a year, and feared my side career had come to a sudden end. Who masterminded this blacklist, the Basseys or the bloody press? Damn those bloggers, especially that Indigo Lily whore—to hell with her. How people without an atom of creativity managed to earn a living posting poorly sourced, appallingly-written, and often recycled material remained anyone’s guess. I’d cried with laughter when Shirley made Indigo Lily’s Ten Worst Dressed Nigerians list though, and still rubbed it in her face every time the two of us locked horns. Now my turn had come, my own face on the pages of gossip mags, one headline proclaiming “THE FACE OF JEALOUSY…TRI PUTTING A LID ON IT!” How creative, although no-one who had witnessed my childish behaviour at the TRI nominations could blame them. Sources had described me as the boss from hell with a long list of overworked employees who quit their positions, but labelling me a gold-digger when I never wanted to marry Shirley in the first place? Did they know what I faced in a mansion where not even a mere clothes hanger belonged to me? I earned enough to support my family, but nothing qualified as grand enough for Her Majesty’s castle. For every single item I bought Isaac, Shirley and Chief Bassey would surpass my efforts with some ridiculously overpriced replica. Not content with destroying the bond I shared with Isaac, they’d gone a step further and ruined my future as a top producer—no doubt the remaining production team members who for months had borne the brunt of their boss’s temper clinked glasses in jubilation while I languished in desperation and regret.

I muttered a curse and a prayer in the same breath. If there was ever a moment I needed another miracle…


© Okoro Dedeh, Tami, 2019 All rights reserved

End of Part II

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We Need to Talk: Nigeria’s Mental Health Crisis

    

Photo Courtesy Canva

A 300-level University of Benin student identified as ‘Christabel’ has succumbed to the deadly poison Snipper following the sudden breakup of a relationship. Again?

How often are we tempted to throw in the towel when doors slam in our distressed face? You use every trick in the book after watching your peers reach greater heights, wondering why their glory never seems to rub off on you despite your own tireless efforts. Like a wealthy tycoon pumping funds into a lucrative venture expected to yield abundantly, you’ve invested your dreams and hopes into that long-term relationship, only to watch your future crumble into fine dust when the love of your life ditches you for greener pastures. Hours spent poring over textbooks and handouts while your mates paint the town red don’t pay off, leaving your cash-strapped parents furious at having to fork out for yet another academic year. In a strife-filled world where reliable shoulders to lean on are few and far between, you imagine life would have been better if you hadn’t existed before you take drastic measures. Friends, family, and well-wishers gather round your lifeless remains, asking why a person with all the potential in the world made a deadly decision. Too late—once you’re gone, you’re gone.

As a second year university student, the pressure to maintain my grades and hold down a job affected nearly every aspect of my life. Add to this the stress my then-landlord heaped on me—the bloated hemp-smoking, nose-poking Jamaican layabout disapproved of tenants eating salads at night and sneezing in their own bedrooms, I kid you not. And don’t get me started on the obsessive ex who constantly stalked me on the phone after our breakup. Why did I have to put up with all his raging tension when I’d done nothing but stay out of trouble whilst refusing to walk down the aisle with a man I couldn’t love? True, others faced even bigger issues like homelessness and expulsion. Sure, our planet dealt with bigger issues including earthquakes, cancer, and bomb attacks in Iraq. And me? I stood on the platform at Barnes train lonely and sad, my endless tears freezing in the November cold.

Thank God I’d since left that God-forsaken hemp den for more decent accommodation, but even this stroke of good luck did nothing to lift my dark mood. I stared at the train tracks stretching across, wondering who the hell would miss me if I jumped onto those high-voltage lines. I’d always viewed suicide as the coward’s way out, describing anyone who succumbed to this method as a hopeless wimp, but as I shivered in the blustery wind I hated myself. Until I remembered my mother and father back home in Nigeria praying for my success. And the efficient lecturers who worked hard to teach me. And the course mates who supported me whenever I found myself stuck. And my prayer group who prayed for my progression after years of struggling to gain admission into a higher institution in my homeland before I returned to my birth country…

Life sucked, but someone cared.

Nigeria has once again hit the headlines for the wrong reasons. Countless men and women dying, including UNN student Chukwuemeka Akachi; church pastor Michael Arowosaiye; UniPort undergraduate Hikmat Gbadamosi; polytechnic graduate Charles Orji; former student Tejiri Direia; Kogi University student Rebecca Michael; Chemical Engineering undergraduate Olaitan Gbadamosi; medical doctor Allwell Orji; polytechnic student Joseph Mayowa; Uniben student Christabel… Well-established/promising citizens hiding their own personal anguish instead of sharing their burden. Failed relationships and infidelity served as the reason in most of these cases. As Nigerians, we are afraid to discuss depression, fearing ridicule from a society that expects us to ‘man up’. Prior to university, my mother discouraged me from attending counselling sessions as recommended by my doctor, claiming a mental health entry would tarnish my health records, thus labelling me unstable for life. Only the intervention of a lecturer who encouraged me to pay the university counsellor visit a few weeks after my train station episode helped me on the right path to normality.  A few more sessions at the local hospital followed, and I cursed myself for not trusting my own instincts in the first place. In a nation where living standards are dangerously low while stress levels are on the increase, what steps has our government taken to spread mental awareness as opposed to pumping millions into a national football team yet to claim full victory at the World Cup?

Mental health issues often evoke images of straitjackets in psychiatric hospitals, but as celebrities such as Prince Harry, Adele, Kendall Jenner, and Robin Williams have proved, no-one is immune – the latter ended his own life despite a reputation as a renowned comedian. As a society, we need to destroy the stigma associated with mental issues by ditching our judgemental attitude, thus saving several lives. My own story could have ended differently if I hadn’t taken a minute to realise I had a life worth fighting for, but many others aren’t as fortunate. For every bunch of haters who bring you down, there’s always at least one person who believes in you, but self-belief is always the first key.

We need to talk. Will you listen?  

© 2019 All rights reserved

BITTER PERCEPTIONS: CHAPTER NINETEEN

Doris attends a function where she bumps into none other than Jide.

Doris

“Yes, what do you want?”

He still regarded me with utmost disdain after six years. How would I have guessed the tall guy leaning over the lustrous black Mercedes in a grey designer suit was no other than the unrepentant Jideofor Okoroafor? I’d shown concern at the sight of the brooding figure repeatedly shaking the head he kept buried in his palms while bent over his car’s roof, and his consistent sighs touched me. Now I wished I hadn’t bothered. Me, showing concern for a dirty rapist?

“Don’t pretend you don’t know me, you know very well who I am. So this is where you ended up in life after you nearly ruined mine?” I hissed, asking myself how a human being could act unbelievably barbaric. “Do you think what you did to me was funny?” Jide laughed at my distress, and I went berserk. “I’m talking to you! Have you any idea what you put me through? You raped me, for goodness’ sake, do you know what you did was criminal?”

Jide stared blankly, and I wondered what exactly was going on behind those Top Gun-style sunglasses. Had my heartfelt cry touched his heart, if indeed he had one, revealing the error of his perversion? Had he sensed the anguish I still harboured deep inside, the pain time could never heal no matter how many years passed? I braced myself, waiting for the overdue apology. A girl could dream, couldn’t she?  

“Yes, I remember you, you’re the whore who warmed my bed,” he snorted, taking his car fob out of his pocket. “I paved the way for your current boyfriend, if indeed you have one. Are you still with that Rivers boy who was in Pharmacy? Oh, wait a minute…dumped you, didn’t he? Instead of bringing up memories you shouldn’t dwell on, why don’t you leave me alone, and cry on some other unfortunate guy’s shoulder? You asked for it that night, and you got it.”

How, in the name of all things sacred, did any woman ask to be raped by a man they detested? “You’re a very wicked human being, Jide. You raped me, you humiliated me, and you’re saying I asked for it?”  

“You heard me. Boys being boys, boys will be boys, and let me tell you, boys will always be boys.” The activated keyless system beeped, and he climbed inside, poking his head through the window. “Were you the only girl on that campus who worked as a part-time model? Are you the only person whose parents work in the oil industry? Somebody from that stupid Enugu Echo interviewed you, and you let fame go to your dumb head. That’s why we taught you a lesson that night, no regrets whatsoever.” The engine started, but Jide still hadn’t finished. “It happened, deal with it, and whether you hate me or not, I don’t care. Now get the fuck out of my sight if you don’t want me to run you over.” Before I could match his savage statement with my own response, he drove away, tyres screeching loudly as I stood there in dismay.

Dear God, did that actually happen?

“Excuse me madam, do you know that man, the one who just drove away in that black Mercedes?”

Two breathless men rushed forward, their journalist’s ID lanyards swinging round their necks, and one clutched a voice recorder. Flashy Mercedes, sharply tailored suit, designer sunglasses, paparazzi in hot pursuit… Jide Okoroafor, now a major celebrity? I hardly watched TV these days, and neither his face nor name had cropped up on any PC or newspaper since my move to Lagos. EU had expelled him in disgrace with no prospects…maybe he now earned a living as an online fraudster living beyond his means. Very likely, since he had had ‘deceit’ and ‘crook’ etched across his heartless soul, even after six years.

“Never seen him before in all my life, sorry,” I blurted, curious as to why the press saw him as tabloid fodder, but decided I couldn’t care less. “Don’t know who he is, but he’s rude, and I only wanted to know if he was alright.”

“Okay, and yeah, he is very rude. Thanks, anyway.”

I returned to the white marquee on the lawn outside the theatre’s main entrance where several guests had gathered for Cherry Blossoms’ fundraiser/awareness campaign, a handful of high-profile Lagosians already in attendance. Our limited budget hadn’t allowed us to host the event indoors, but a mention of the theatre on the invites always guaranteed a number of important guests. All that remained were prayers above, hoping the heavens didn’t open and drenched us senseless. We’d already received an impressive number of pledges, but behind the colourful bouquets on the high table and the cheery balloons volunteers had spent nearly an hour blowing, several dark stories lurked. Stories paralleling my own sordid experience, only ten times worse. Stories that had to be told because enough was enough, and I admired their bravery. One of the girls, a former university student who dropped out after falling pregnant with her rapist’s child had brought me to tears as she bravely narrated her own tale. That could have been me six years ago. Unable to bear it any longer, I’d rushed outside to pull myself together, only to relive my nightmare yet again when I discovered the identity of the depressed man standing by the car…

“Dr. Duru, can I have a word?”

A robust woman casually dressed in a loose t-shirt, dark blue jeans and a paper visor bearing the newly-unveiled Cherry Blossoms logo, tapped me on the shoulder, and I nodded, grateful for my sunglasses shielding any revealing signs. Her laid-back designer dress sense, combined with her resounding voice, commanded an air of great importance, immediately gaining attention despite my miserable mood. The lady smiled, and extended her hand which I accepted.

“May I introduce myself? I’m Olivia Ntuk, and I just wanted to say you were fantastic up there, such a moving speech you gave earlier, really moved everyone. I can’t believe none of the major TV channels agreed to cover this, despite the invites Remi extended. Their loss, but you were really good.”

“Thanks, really appreciate it.”

 “Are you sure you’re not in the wrong profession?” Olivia asked. “You could have been a lawyer with all that eloquence.”

“Pretty sure it takes more than eloquence to solve legal issues in front of a judge, and besides there’s already a lawyer in the family—my brother’s fiancée Juliet. I already like what I do for a living, wouldn’t have it any other way, but thanks for the compliment,” I rattled on, praying this pleasant but unwavering lady would take the hint and keep walking, but her next question took me by surprise.

 “Well, perhaps not law, but I do have another suggestion. I watched you deliver that speech, and it occurred to me you’d be perfect for the project I’m currently developing. And I’d really love to have you on board.”

I stared at her, stabbing my chest with my forefinger in disbelief. “Me?” Olivia nodded assuringly, and I shifted uneasily on my feet. Was she offering some kind of dodgy deal? “Sounds good,” I replied, feigning interest. “What’s the project?”

“Well, here’s the thing—my company has just been awarded the rights to…” she began, stopping when another volunteer interrupted.

“Liv, it’s time, they want you in front of the mic,” she whispered. Olivia nodded, and turned to me again. “Wow, I almost forgot my company is among the sponsors, what am I like? Listen…” She thrust a gilt-embossed business card in my hand and scurried off, but not before attempting to convince me yet again. “Please give me a call, we have so much to discuss. And you’ll be doing so many people a favour, believe me. You have a gift, use it to reach out to everybody, but on a much larger platform. Take care.” I watched her take her place at the makeshift podium where she gave her own speech, and frowned. Who was Olivia Nkut? Was I even in a position to reach a larger platform with a few lousy words describing the plight of downtrodden girls society had rejected?   

My cell phone vibrated in my pocket, and I read the message. “Still mad at me? I’m sorry. It was ages ago, let it go, and let me take you out again. That way we can start again. Name the place. A.”

He clearly wouldn’t give up. How many ‘no’s’ would it take before he backed off once and for all? Damn it Doris, maybe the girls at Anna’s pool party had a point, you are judgemental. Andrew Amadi was no Mr. Perfect, but again, how many men fit that description perfectly? At least he kept it real, unlike Harrison, the fairytale prince who turned into a viper and spread those poisonous campus tales. At least Andrew knew what an apology was, and maybe he did deserve a third chance. Not all men behaved like Harrison, or indeed Jide. Considering this notion, I simmered down and texted a quick reply.

Tomorrow evening?”  

© 2019 Okoro Dedeh, Tami. All rights reserved

BITTER PERCEPTIONS: CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

Jide clashes with a rival at an awards nomination announcement ceremony

Jide

“And the nominees for Best TV Sitcom are… ”

Two announcers stood at the podium, ready to name the lucky few. Photographers repeatedly clicked their cameras at the tall lady in the white trouser suit, an A-list Nollywood actress whose surgically-enhanced milk industry regularly overshadowed her on-screen performances, but what about the tall young man next to her? My set designer Agatha mentioned his name, and I did a double take. Who could have predicted Dream Boyz multiple nominations that afternoon? Okay, maybe I shouldn’t have rejected the man’s script without even opening the pages when he tried pitching his sitcom revolving around a group of aspiring football players from Ajengule, but I hadn’t seen any potential in a sports-based comedy. The show’s popularity would eventually spread across the continent after MNET aired a subtitled version, and an Ivorian TV network were said to be in talks with the independent Colgwé Productions to film their own version. Man, how I loathed Coleman Igwe, the short and bald asshole hell-bent on rubbing his shit in my face at every single opportunity…

Whoever said awards didn’t matter needed their brain examined. I’d worked in TV and radio for the past six years, rising through the ranks to produce sitcoms, but no matter how many hours I put in, no matter how high the ratings rose, I still hadn’t achieved the recognition and status I deserved. Had those showbiz reporters any idea how disheartening I found their articles describing me as ‘Hogan Bassey’s son-in-law’ every single time? Effiong Eight had thankfully made the shortlist at the annual Television and Radio Industry Awards shortlist that year, but I only cared about that plaque/statuette/trophy. A TRI award would finally silence those critical big mouths with the poisonous pens. Coleman Igwe grinned with confidence on the other side of the room, no doubt expecting Dream Boyz to receive another nomination. Dream on, loser. I observed his group closely, and frowned. Why did some of them look familiar? I thoroughly racked my brains for answers until the thought struck me like a thunderbolt, a renewed bout of hatred for Coleman blazing through my loins as the pieces came together.

Maria had slapped her resignation letter on my desk shortly after I reprimanded her for using her initiative on the Effiong Eight set. “You’ll come crawling back, little girl!” I mocked, watching her march out of my office. How had she managed to gain employment with Coleman’s production company within a short period of time? That meddling film director who told me off in front of my team had probably put in a good word for her and two other former Bass employees. Whatever happened to the timid girl I’d restricted to the back of my set for acquiring ideas above her station? My former production assistant now exuded confidence, undoubtedly revelling in this new chapter.

Bitch. Of all the baldies you could have worked for…

“…and finally, Dream Boyz. These are the nominees for the Best TV Sitcom category!” Coleman and his crew applauded upon hearing their programme mentioned yet again. Surely that fool realised the actual ceremony wasn’t until the following month?

“Look at those losers over there, rejoicing like demented monkeys,” I growled. “Just wait till the night of the awards, and we’ll thrash their sorry asses.” Agatha simply shook her head without a word, and the realisation hit me. Effiong Eight hadn’t made the list? We’d already reached our second season, and once again we still hadn’t made the list? My knuckles pulsed with pain from clenching them hard, and I jumped from my seat, drawing stares from other hopefuls in the hall as I made my way to the gents where I locked myself in a cubicle and snorted a few lines.

Stupid TRI board. I’d just wasted three hours sweating my pores out in a hall full of malfunctioning air conditioners, waiting for a nomination that didn’t exist, only to hear my rival’s name/show/actors/company mentioned a gazillion times? I waited thirty full minutes before I left the cubicle, making sure no visible traces lingered around my nostrils. With any luck, I’d slip out of the theatre unnoticed. Fat chance. 

A large crowd stood in the hallway, offering congratulatory words to the proud nominees, including Coleman Igwe and his crew. Agatha exchanged pleasantries with her former colleague Maria, and my first instinct was to lash out, but I changed my mind. There were other methods of dealing with traitors, and I’d see to it Agatha waded in deep shit the next day, the same way I’d dealt with Maria in the past. The same Maria who now worked as part of a production company headed by a TRI award nominee. Bitch. Maria gaited past in celebratory mode without acknowledging her former boss, and I did lash out, unable to keep my emotions in check.

“That’s it, prance around me like a snob just because of one lousy mention,” I barked, and she turned to face me, her eyes darting up and down before letting out a long hiss, but I grabbed her shoulder before she could walk away. “You seem to forget the person who took you under their wing when…”

“Excuse me? Don’t you dare grab me like that! I no longer work for you, what gives you the right?” Maria’s voice screeched through the crowd’s murmur, and everyone paused to witness the scene unfolding in front of them. “You never allowed me to speak when I worked with Bass, always your way or the highway. If I remember correctly, you once told us we could leave if we didn’t want to work for you anymore, so I left. Happy now? And for your info, Dream Boyz received seven nominations, not one.”

“Oh, so the incompetent studio runner has finally grown wings?” I jeered.

“Why don’t you just grow up? We received seven nominations, you didn’t, deal with it,” she screamed, drawing snickers from everyone present, until a deep voice boomed.

“Well Titus, I can see you’re still stirring the pot, no changes there.”

Coleman Igwe. The follically-challenged/vertically-challenged Emerson graduate had made a name for himself after spending years working for various American TV networks before returning home. In the last three years, his shows had received several honours at the TRIs, but his latest work, Dream Boyz, triumphed as icing on the cake with countless cherries on top, boasting ratings even Bass TV would have killed for given half the chance. In a fit of jealousy during an interview with The Punch, I’d publicly described Coleman as an ‘unworthy Penfold’, a reference to his uncanny resemblance to the bumbling sidekick in Danger Mouse. That 80’s British cartoon with the one-eyed bomb-dodging rodent and a catchy theme tune. Showbiz writers and bloggers ensured the name stuck which, to my delight, infuriated him further, especially now he couldn’t go about his business without some cheeky individual whistling the song. The war raging between us was now well and truly established.

“Can’t you go one day without yelling at people?” he snapped.

“Well well well, if it isn’t poor little Penfold? Good to see you here, shame the rest of your hair couldn’t make it. Danger Mouse…Danger Mouse…” I sang the cartoon theme, Coleman’s eyes shooting daggers at the chuckles emerging from the sea of reporter pressing for the juiciest headlines.

Danger Mouse!” A few imprudent bystanders finished the chorus, but Coleman remained remarkably calm.

“You must be a very desperate man if you resort to stealing my staff,” I jibed.

“Very mature,” he tutted. “Didn’t your mother ever tell you jealousy was an evil trait?”

“Why would I be jealous of you, you bald loser?”

“Who are you calling a loser?” Coleman’s veins popped out of the side of his shiny scalp. “Nwoha Mbachu was there when he directed the intro to your show, and he confirmed you’re a nightmare to work with. I gave Maria the job because Nwoha saw heaps of potential in her, something you never appreciated when she was at Bass. I employed her just in time before the TRI eligibility period passed, and I can honestly say her expertise helped us. This young lady…” He waved towards Maria, and the crowd listened earnestly. “…is the new Lola Fani-Kayode, you heard it here first. Call me Penfold all you want, Titus, but Nwoha was spot-on about you. Sort out the problems in your own life before you attempt to set foot out of your house, and things just might improve.”

“You were given Dream Boyz first, but you rejected it, and Mr. Igwe produced the show after he saw the script. Your loss, deal with it. And besides,” Maria added from a safe distance before I could smash the stars out of Coleman’s four eyes. “I did my own little research, and as it happens, Effiong Eight is not an original idea, you stole it from The Brady Bunch. Am I lying?”

“Shut your dirty mouth before I shut…” I exploded, but Maria was taking no prisoners. Coleman must have trained her well. Or maybe she’d learned from the best. Me.

“Or what? You think I’m afraid of you?” she shouted back. “Why don’t you be honest for once?” Her voice rose a few more notches as she delivered a bombshell. “Everybody, he stole Effiong Eight from an American sitcom called The Brady Bunch, it’s on YouTube if you don’t believe me. I wasn’t even born when the show ended, and I still know that.”

“Is it a crime to seek inspiration from other classics?” I challenged.

“Inspiration? Don’t make me laugh, even those squares in your opening credits are total and utter theft, and I’ll be surprised if the creators don’t sue. Do you think the TRI judges would ever honour a copycat? If you hadn’t frightened some of the actors half to death, they probably would have given the performance of a lifetime, but none of them received a nomination either because of the shit everyone in Bass has to put up with whenever you’re around.”

“Whatever…” I whinged, unable to defend myself satisfactorily. I had stolen the idea from a 70’s show I’d discovered on YouTube during a browsing session, but come on, hadn’t NTA Network’s Second Chance!, the sitcom about an adult education class with various stereotypes copied Mind Your Language? How many people complained? Even Ijeoma had confessed Nigerian Hairways had taken inspiration from Crossroads Café and Friends, both American-grown series. How many viewers had batted an eyelid?

“Mr. Okoroafor, did you really steal an idea from another sitcom when you’ve publicly claimed you only produce original material?” A reporter shoved a voice recorder under my nose, and cameras flashed intermittently. “And are you jealous of Colgwé Productions’ success when you are still with your father-in-law’s TV company?”

“Get that fucking thing out of my face, and find a decent job!” I roughly pushed a media pest aside and stomped out of the theatre, the sun dazzling into my eyes, and I fished my aviators out of my breast pocket. Maybe I shouldn’t have counted my chickens before they hatched, but no nomination? None? Chief Bassey expected the best, and I’d managed to convince him my self-written script meant the real deal. Now I had to explain to him Effiong Eight hadn’t garnered a single nod at the TRI announcement ceremony, and I could picture him calling me every single unprintable noun, mocking me for failing to live up to the Bassey dynasty. As long as I lived, I’d forever remain the ghetto boy in a Bassey world.

Why hadn’t I controlled my temper in front of those media guys dying to splash details on their pages? Everyone would regard me as a childish loser after the press wrote my obituary the next day. And Shirley? Shirley would never let me forget TRI Awards snubbed me, especially after I’d described her as a talentless TV presenter, and she’d rub my misfortune in at every opportunity, claiming without the Bassey connections I was nothing. Was she right or wrong? One thing for sure: I couldn’t continue like this, but how could I leave Bass when I was still under contract?

“Excuse me, are you alright?”

Who was disturbing me when I needed time alone? Ignoring the female voice behind me, I stared into space without a word, but the persistent woman called out a second time.

“What the hell do you what?” I snapped, turning round to come face-to-face with the woman bothering me.

 No, it couldn’t be. No way…

 Doris?

© 2019 All rights reserved

BITTER PERCEPTIONS: CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

Doris and Nurse Charles visit women’s crisis centre Cherry Blossoms.


Doris

     No-one understood why Mr. Nnadi made school life unbearable for his students, and Juliet knew better than to get on his wrong side, taking every measure possible to avoid crossing paths with the cane-brandishing sadist. All to no avail. How come he never graded any work she submitted, and why had he harshly ordered her to get out of his sight when she brought the matter to his attention? He even warned he’d fail her entirely if she ever copied her answers again. Absolute rubbish—as if a girl as highly intelligent girl as Juliet would participate in ‘combined service’.  Hardly a day passed without Juliet suffering under his bullying streak for the flimsiest of reasons, and other teachers began to notice the stress taking its toll on their favourite student. On a dull Friday afternoon after most of the students had vacated the premises, Mr. Nnadi sent for Juliet who had stayed behind to catch up on some reading, and he made his intentions clear.

   “Yes, I’ve punished you, it’s school life, get used to it,” he sneered, sprawling across the stairs leading to his teacher’s quarters. “You want to pass this exam? Fine. Speak to your father, and ask him to see me. I hear he works for Shell Nigeria, he has money. Actually, forget that…” He reached out to grab Juliet’s hand, cunningly scratching her trembling palm. “You could cooperate with me instead, and life will be sweet for you as long as I’m your Maths teacher in this school—either that, or you repeat the whole year.” Juliet snatched her hand away, and the teacher heaved with laughter. “You don’t know what I mean by ‘co-operate’? Come on, you must have had a few boyfriends in that Shell Camp where you live, don’t act all naïve.” He rose to his feet and whispered in her ear. “You’re a smart fine girl, figure it out. And make sure you come back here this time next week, or you’ll have me to answer to, and I’m not making idle threats. Breathe a word of this to anybody, and I’ll show you real ‘pepper’, you hear me?”.

      Mr. Nnadi had transitioned from devil dwarf to paedo pervert within a fraction of a second, totally bent on sinking his sick claws into a 12-year-old who not only strayed from trouble, but actually had a brain? And that wasn’t all he planned to stick into her either, rotten man. I struggled to breathe freely when Juliet called me aside and tearfully described her ordeal at the hands of her brutal teacher. What a phoney—thirty minutes of his allocated teaching time wasted on dismissing his students as lazy, undeserving, and spoilt losers, those from wealthy families regularly at the receiving end of a cane taller than himself. He would bore the whole class to sleep when he reminisced on the golden era of education, a period devoid of luxuries when he’d trekked five miles every morning to attend his lessons. What a fake, hiding his rotten mind under a cloak of golden morals.    

    Mrs. Anyanwu screamed blue murder when Juliet finally narrated what had transpired between the Maths teacher and herself after I managed to persuade her, and Mum used every muscle to hold her friend back when the latter threatened to march through the school gates and bash Mr. Nnadi’s warped head against the nearest wall. Juliet’s father reacted similarly when he returned from work that evening, swearing the callous educator wouldn’t get away with his prolonged tyranny and paedophilia. No-one could prove the Maths teacher had attempted to drag Juliet into bed with him, but nothing would stop her father from storming into the principal’s office demanding answers.

    “Are you trying to tell me my child isn’t clever enough to pass that simple one-plus-one you give her?” Mr. Anyanwu demanded the minute his target stepped inside, throwing an exercise book into the teacher’s face. “Have a look at these Maths problems she solved, what exactly did she do wrong? And don’t tell me I don’t know what I’m talking about; I’m a petroleum engineer, I studied Further Maths, and I coached her. Why don’t you give her something to do in my presence right now, and we’ll see if she’s the dunce you say she is? Should we show her work to other Maths teachers here, and ask their opinion?” The principal assured him his suggestion wasn’t necessary, but Mr. Anyanwu ignored her. “There’s a difference between discipline and pure wickedness. How many other teachers here have a problem with Juliet, eh? Flogging her every blessed day for nothing, what gives you the right? Mess with my daughter, you mess with me, and believe me, you do not want to go there. Do I make myself clear?”

     Juliet, although embarrassed at her father’s interference, left the premises shedding joyful tears, but still shivered whenever she caught sight of the man who’d shamelessly made a move on her. Eventually she transferred to my school Archdeacon Crowther after third term, never to set eyes on him again.  Four years later, just before our WAEC exams, a suspicious teacher caught Mr. Nnadi in bed with a Junior Secondary I pupil after barging into his quarters. A riot broke out on the school premises immediately the news reached every ear, and grudge-bearing students who had prayed for the day they finally got their own back chased him away, chanting every fitting word used to describe the Oompa Loompa bully who had persecuted them for years.  

     Juliet narrowly escaped those paedo clutches, and had flourished as a legal eagle practising in a reputable law firm with the support of her strong family and a loving fiancé. In contrast, poor Mirabel faced an uncertain future, especially now her family had disowned her for leaving that so-called husband after they opened the door to statutory rape, their daughter still paying the ultimate price for their greed. All this torture and hurt for a bride price in the year 2006?

     Nurse Charles, the other charge nurse from New Aggrey, had invited me to tag along during her next visit to Cherry Blossoms Women’s Crisis Centre, and I gladly accepted. The small rundown bungalow stood behind a large uncompleted storey building on the outskirts of Ikeja, surrounded by overgrown ixora bushes and rusty water tanks no longer in use. The clammy walls inside with their brownish fingerprints displayed magazine cut-outs carrying various women’s rights messages, and I stopped to look at a large monochrome poster of a forlorn teenager with tear-stained eyes, the words “I WAS WEARING THIS WHEN IT HAPPENED” inscribed in red across her ripped hoodie. I knew how she felt—my own world lost its colourful vibrancy the day I left my student flat for that fake study session.

    Nurse Charles opened a door at the end of the corridor, and we entered the office where Remi Olusegun, a human rights lawyer in her early thirties whose sexual assault cases regularly made the headlines, welcomed us warmly. Next to her sat another woman, Nurse Charles’ church friend who taught at a girls’ secondary school. We’d barely taken our seats when Remi began to lament over the difficulties her charity had faced from day one.

     “Someone needs to speak out for these women, these young girls, but how many people stop to listen? When are people going to realise women are people too, people who have the right to go about their lives without the fear of attack?” Remi shook her head. “I’ve dealt with cases where the girl reports the victim, and she’s accused of lying because there’s no visible evidence, but the man continues to live his own life, even continues to mess around with other young girls…”

     “Tell me what I don’t know,” I agreed. “A teacher sexually harassed a friend of mine when she was just twelve. A grown man chasing after a twelve-year-old? She was lucky, her father had words with the man, and he never bothered her again. Instead, he found another victim, and when he was caught red-handed, he was fired. No court case, no jail sentence, just a mere sacking. And you know the worst thing? An old friend of ours spotted him teaching in another school in Bayelsa during her youth service—she would have recognised his shortness anywhere—but with a different identity.”

    “You see?” said Remi. “Another man getting away unscathed, but why didn’t the school investigate after your friend’s father confronted the man?”

     “That’s the problem, no-one would have believed my friend if she’d told them the whole story. Think about it—the strictest teacher in the entire school who never took nonsense from anybody? It would have been a case of ‘your word against mine,’ and the whole staff would have supported him. There was no way he’d tamper with an underage girl, right?” Remi nodded mournfully. “My friend’s father couldn’t prove the sicko had made a move on his twelve-year-old child, but she later told me her father had mentioned those sick advances to the principal in secret. Did the principal fire the teacher? No. Instead they caught him raping another girl inside his quarters. My friend’s father took action and informed the PTA that the principal was partly responsible. She knew she had a paedophile working in the school, but she sat back and did nothing.”

     “Lord have mercy,” muttered Nurse Charles.

     “What a shame,” said Remi. “Teachers are the very people we trust to mold our daughters into leaders of tomorrow, but now they’re messing up with them in private. In the UK and America, they’d ban him from teaching indefinitely.”

     “Yes, that’s true. Out of interest, why did you name the charity ‘Cherry Blossoms’?” I asked. “Interesting name, considering cherries aren’t grown in Nigeria.”

     Remi laughed heartily. “That’s what everyone says, and they’re right, no cherries here, although I used to love the black ones when I studied in Manchester. But no, the cherry blossom is a tree with green leaves in the rainy season, and there aren’t that many in this country, but when harmattan approaches, the tree sprouts pink flowers all over, and they fall in their thousands…”

     “Oh, I think I know what you’re talking about!” I nodded, envisioning the sublime pink sea outside our village church every Christmas. “There’s a huge tree like that in my hometown, and people always complain because sweeping the petals takes ages.”

     “That’s the one,” confirmed Remi. “Very beautiful petals falling off the branches, some of which haven’t fully blossomed, and society walks over them even though its not their fault. Yet you can’t deny their delicate beauty, and it’s our duty here to pick them off the ground and get them blooming once again, allowing the world to see their full potential.”

     “Wow, that’s really interesting,” I remarked. “And I agree with the part about blooming. Look at poor Mirabel. All she wanted was to live like a normal girl, but her parents had other plans, and look at her now. They really messed her up, hope they’re happy,” I added sarcastically.

     Remi studied my reaction. “Dr. Duru, may I ask why you feel such an affinity for Mirabel? I can hear it in your voice. Is it anything to do with…personal experience?”

     “Well…yes, I…I…” I bowed my head, unable to look the Cherry Blossoms founder in the eye.

     “Doctor, are you okay?” Nurse Charles asked anxiously.

     “Yes. I was just thinking about my mother,” I blurted.

     “Your mother?” Remi asked. “Was she…”

     “No, nothing like that, but still a similar situation.” I paused, wondering whether to proceed or drop the subject.

     “A similar situation?”

     “My maternal grandfather didn’t approve of women in education, and stopped paying Mum’s fees after she completed primary school. A wealthy aunt saw her through secondary, but he still made things difficult, interrupting her studies to hold her back. Just as she was about to complete her secondary education, my grandfather brought home some wealthy man who already had two wives, but she refused to even look at him.” I exhaled deeply, picturing the gloomy tale in my mind. “Mum grew up watching polygamy turn her father’s home into a battlefield—everyone knew everyone’s business, one child or wife was always jealous of the other. Mum had promised herself she would never marry like that, but her father didn’t care. At one point he tied her hand and foot, and locked her inside his storeroom—he was a tobacco merchant—ready to bundle her off to that man whether she liked it or not…”

     “What?” Nurse Charles’ mouth dropped open in shock. “Are you serious?”

     “Unfortunately, yes. No amount of tears or begging would move him—she was his daughter, and she had to obey if she knew what was good for her. Thank God for my mother’s friend who planned her escape. Both of them fled to Ibadan, and Mum stayed with her aunt there for a year before she won a scholarship to attend nursing college in London. It was tough, but her aunt and a few other relatives scrimped and saved, and Mum boarded the plane to the UK…”

     “Your mother is a nurse?” asked Nurse Charles.

     “She’s a midwife. My father will soon retire from Shell Nigeria, and she plans to start her own practice in our home state when they leave PH. Anyway, Mum met my father at an Independence day ball in London, and they got married, but my grandfather refused to accept Dad as his son-in-law. Even with all that distance between them, those evil vibes could have torn my parents apart. Mum’s father would insult Dad’s family, saying they were nothing but shit at the bottom of his foot—excuse my French—and that Mum had prostituted herself before the son of a poverty-stricken cook. When his tobacco business collapsed, that’s when he remembered his son-in-law worked for Shell, and he came crawling back. For money.” I pursed my lips and sighed. “Mum’s half-siblings followed his lead, and for months my parents never rested, it was always ‘I want this, I want that’, until Mum decided enough was enough. My grandfather even called her a selfish whore who had forgotten where she came from, but Mum didn’t care. Why was she expected to kill herself for him when he refused to support her years ago? Was it her fault he fathered more children than he could handle?”

     “You see?” said Remi. “What happened in the 60’s still happens to this day. There’s this guy who chopped off his underaged wife’s legs to prevent her from running away, and she died from the infection. They say it’s tradition, but why should tradition physically disable another human being because she has a choice? It’s so sad, I’ve represented a number of victims in court, but we often end up fighting a losing battle because rape cases are still regarded as minor offenses to a certain degree. Some of the girls even refuse to go to court because they fear the repercussions of their attackers. It’s such a shame.”

     “And there’s also the financial crisis. Most of our funding comes from generous members of the public, but the government have never contributed one penny towards our organisation,” Sister Charles’s friend added. “Show me the receipt, show me the invoice, and I’ll apologise. We try our best for these girls, we never turn away anyone who comes through our doors, but for how long?”

     “We’re thinking of organising a fundraiser and awareness campaign for Cherry Blossoms,” said Remi. “How much we’ll raise that day remains to be seen, but I’m hoping we’ll at least generate enough publicity, and maybe we’ll receive some funding.”

     “And we could hold the fundraiser at the MUSON centre…” added Nurse Charles, but Remi cut her short.

     “Not sure about that, I thought the MUSON only hosted musical events, and anyway, we don’t have the budget.” she pointed out.

     “Yes, but it’s all for publicity, and distinguished members of the public are most likely to attend if we choose a grand venue,” said Nurse Charles’ friend. “But we can’t host it in this cramped building, that’s for sure.”

     “Don’t worry, we’ll think of something,” Remi answered. “I don’t know how, but we will, I just need to arrange the dates first, then I’ll make the other arrangements, but we will do this, those young ladies futures depend on it. And I’ll work hard to spread the word if it’s the last thing I’ll ever do. Dr. Duru, I trust you’ll help us with that?”

     I had nothing but immense respect and admiration for Remi Olusegun, a woman standing up for oppressed women under her wing. Organisations like hers hadn’t existed during my own time, and with sexual violence on the increase, this charity needed support in order to get justice for Mirabel and others like her. My schedule at New Aggrey didn’t allow much flexibility, but from that moment I knew I had to get involved one way or another.

    “Count me in,” I smiled.

© 2019 All rights reserved

SHORT STORY: THE OTHER WOMAN’S WEDDING

Obiageli’s wedding day finally arrives after fifteen long years of wishing and waiting. Her one true desire is to say “I do” in the dress she’s long envisioned, but while the regal gown appears perfect, her reluctant prince is anything but charming…

  She unzipped the black protector bag to reveal a long lacy white dress, evoking memories of the day she popped into the posh boutique on Allen Avenue to try dozens of gowns before settling for this classy off-the-shoulder number with its fitted bodice and flowing layered skirt. Finding a headpiece suitable enough to support the matching veil had proved a harder task – sparkling crystals or fragrant flowers?

A coin toss as suggested by the shop assistant had helped her reach a verdict, and as she placed the diamanté tiara on her head they had both agreed Obiageli Eze had chosen the perfect bridal regalia, complete with glamour and grace, and right now, in front of her bedroom mirror, she released a deep sigh. She had waited fifteen long years for this date – November the 17th, the day she could finally say “I do” before God and man without any stress or baggage. She always seemed to suffer the consequences as far as their relationship was concerned, although her man seemed somewhat oblivious to how much she had been forced to endure. She had dreamed of donning a wedding dress for years, and this was her moment. She held the silky material towards her chest, breathing in the crisp fresh smell as blasts from her colourful past echoed through her mind.   

Obiageli and Ayo’s paths had first crossed at a high society Lagos party where she had served as a hostess to earn extra cash for university. She was young, single, and by no means looking to mingle, especially after the breakup of her two-year relationship with her university sweetheart. The cheating toerag had dumped her without the slightest show of remorse, and Obiageli had sworn to give men a wide berth for as long as possible; as far as she was concerned they were all filthy swine with dicks for brains. She was determined to obtain her degree in Banking and Finance, and sustain a lucrative career after graduation. Woe betide any bastard who stood in the way of her life. And then came Ayo, ticking every box she had long ignored. Oil merchant. Government connections. Highly intelligent. Devilishly handsome…for a silver fox. His heart had beaten rapidly for the tall light-skinned sizzler in the black ushers’ uniform who had led him into the main hall, but Obiageli had been polite yet reserved as he shamelessly flirted with her.   

“Thank you sir, but I’m afraid I won’t be able to meet you for a drink next week,” said Obiageli as she coyly fluttered her long lashes, praying this persistent guest would chase someone his own age. “I’m very busy at school with my final year assignments, and I already have a boyfriend. He won’t be happy if he hears about his girl accepting invitations from other men, even if it’s just a casual meeting.”   Ayo chuckled and shook his head with a twinkle in his crinkly eyes. His intuition told him she was fibbing, and as a man used to getting what he wanted he would not let her slip away that easily. Sources at Unilag confirmed the jealous lover she had professed her undying affection for was indeed non-existent; everyone on campus still gossiped about the fight they had witnessed with amusement the day Obiageli walked into her room to find Ibe pounding away at her promiscuous room-mate. Ayo had confronted her with this information and she finally gave in, secretly vowing to ignore him immediately after their drinks date.

Several more dates followed, and the campus forums wasted no time circulating gossip of an anonymous 400-Level student secretly dating a ‘silent millionaire’. She could barely make head or tail of the snide remarks until the truth hit her like a bombshell: (a) It hardly took an Einstein to figure who the student was (Tall, light-skinned, final year, part-time usher, big fight on campus…), and (b) Ayo Adetokunbo was married. Married? She had gone berserk upon hearing Ayo was someone else’s spouse, slamming down his desperate phone calls and promising to chop his rotten adulterous penis off if he ever approached her again.   

Obiageli slowly slipped into the pristine gown, taking care not the rip the delicate petticoat underneath the skirt. She had always imagined she would spend the rest of her life with a man who was young, handsome, and single…well, one out of three was probably not bad given all the men her age she had dated prior to Ayo had been stingy losers who only showed interest in her limited student funds whenever they were not fantasising over what she looked like naked, or indeed how good a lay she was. Ayo was mature and experienced, exactly what she needed, and his pleas gradually pacified her following the shock revelation. By now she had fallen deeply in love, a forbidden passion so intense she could hardly resist, and as she had already come too far it was too late to turn around despite the signs and warnings from family and friends, most of whom she fell out with on account of her dangerous liaison.   

“Obiageli. Obiageli. Obiageli. I know you hear me call you three times, so I’ll say it loud and clear.” Chinyere never minced her words whenever she spoke her mind, and her cousin with the questionable morals was not exempt from her fury. “A boyfriend who is hardly a boy himself, and a married one for that matter? Are you out of your tiny little mind? The man already has a family, and you’re breaking them up. How will you live with yourself if they find themselves with two addresses and two sets of parents rowing with each other? I don’t care if he no longer loves his wife, what the two of you are doing is wrong, or you wouldn’t be dating in secret. Polygamy is out of the question because you know our doctrines forbid it. Look at you – sleeping with a married man when only six months ago you nearly clawed Ibe’s eyes out when you caught him in bed with Bimbo? You’re such a hypocrite.”   

“Mind your own business!” Obiageli stood from her single bed in the girls’ hostel, her eyes flashing fire. “Hate to break it to you, but me and Ayo are in love, and he is going to leave that old hag eventually. Just because you’re pushing thirty and still single doesn’t mean you can judge me, you jealous bitch, so if you don’t have anything better to say, leave.”   

Chinyere promptly did as she was told, slamming the door behind her, but even her cousin had to admit she had a point. Ayo may have slowly but surely captured her heart, but her life as a mistress was a burden and with time she yearned for more. She grew wary of sleeping in her lonely bed while his wife provided him with comfort in his own home. She longed to call him on the phone before 9PM, and was often sleep deprived in the morning due to those midnight chat sessions. She often felt like yelling the truth when he introduced her as a friend to his own acquaintances. Her past record with men had taught her the road to love was not all snogs, champagne, and rose petals, but this?

A frustrated Obiageli had tried calling time on their affair several times upon realising their routine of dates, dinner, and sex would never progress to the next stage, and on every occasion he never accepted her decision, refusing to move on without her as he no longer loved his wife. Why was he still with her? Excuses, excuses, excuses…   

“Honey, you know I’d love to marry you, but my relatives won’t understand our intertribal relationship. They’ll need time to come round…”

    “Oby, you know I love you, but my wife has just lost her mother. She needs me. Let’s wait one more year at least… ” 

 “Obiageli, I’m sorry, but my children are aware of the situation at home, and it would kill them if I brought in another woman so soon. Maybe if they graduated first…”   

“Are you fucking serious? I’m too old to be a father again. How can you be so selfish?”    

Selfish? Selfish? Obiageli tightened the dress’s corset until it accentuated her slender waist. She had waited years for Ayo to make an honest woman out of her as her biological clock ticked louder by the minute, and she would never have aborted their precious bundle of joy, even if Ayo had refused to marry her. After refusing to accept her pregnancy Obiageli had turned around and left his office with tears glistening her eyes. If he truly loved her, why did he want to murder the seed he had planted and was growing inside of her? This time it was well and truly over, and a good riddance it was, too.

Her Catholic parents would never forgive her for bringing shame to the family, and she was sure to become a laughing stock within her circle of friends who had never approved of her older secret lover, but it was still a risk Obiageli had to take; she needed no-one else as long as she had her child. She remained alone without a soul to turn to for comfort and advice until went through a painful miscarriage. It had broken her heart, but it  was time to move on, a decision which did not go down well with her married ex-lover who demanded to know what she was playing at when he heard of her budding romance with Simon, the engineer she had casually bumped into during her lunch break at Mr. Biggs a few month after her miscarriage.   

“Found someone already? I guess you didn’t really love me,” he snapped when he called her at work. “Did you abort the baby so you could fuck someone else?”   

“Who the hell do you think you are?” Obiageli could hardly mask the venom boiling within; had Ayo been in front of her, she most definitely would have wrung his miserable neck. “Not only are you never going to leave the woman you say you’re unhappy with, but you denied our baby. You abandoned me when I needed you most, and for your own information it wasn’t ‘the baby’ – it was our baby. Do you understand me? Our baby. I was alone when I lost him…that’s right, lost. Not aborted, because even after you treated me like shit I still wanted to give birth to our baby. Our beautiful baby I’ll never see, and it’s all your fault. I was alone while you were playing happy families with your wife and kids, but here you are spewing rubbish after I’ve finally washed you out of my hair…seriously? What exactly have I gained from sneaking around with you for eight years when most of my mates are in proper marriages? Think you have the right to judge me? Hate to break it to you, but after everything you put me through I have every right to fuck a virile man, so do your worst.” Ayo expressed incoherent curses through his end of the call as the cruel remark sank in, but his angry ex was past caring. “Go back to your wife, and leave me alone. It’s not the first time I’ve said this. The only difference is this time, I mean it.”   

Did he have a nerve or what? And to think he had called her selfish. Comparing Ayo’s sexual prowess to her new man’s stamina was below the belt, but at least she had finally put her foot down, allowing her to break free and breathe a sigh of relief, and Simon was a refreshing breath of fresh air – caring and attentive, the type who held his woman in his strong arms all through the night as she lay next to him contentedly, a far cry from Mr. Wham-Bam-Now-I’m-Off-For-Round-Two-With-Wifey-Back-Home’s insensitivity. The same fuddy-duddy who blatantly refused to accept she had moved on, and like the devious snake he had always been, he cunningly attempted to worm his way back into her life.   

“Oby, I was so selfish, I know. I’m sorry I broke up with you after you told me you were pregnant. I don’t know why I said those things, and I’m sorry you had to go through that nightmare alone. I miss you everyday, and I really want you back. It will be different this time, I swear. I really do love you, please don’t say no.” Almost as an afterthought, Ayo delivered the cherry on top. “Do you really love that replacement? What do you really see in him?” He moved closer until Obiageli could feel his warm breath on the nape of her neck. “How does he make you feel? Is he anything like me? Can you honestly say you don’t still love me?”    

How could Obiageli ignore her history with Ayo who once again worked his wicked way back into her arms and bed, promising on his life – for the hundredth time – to make her his wife? All that stood in their way was his youngest daughter’s wedding the following year. Typical. Simon was heart-broken, and Obiageli felt guilty as he was in fact a wonderful man with a heart of gold who could have had any girl he wanted…and he had fallen for her, an ungrateful bitch. As the years passed, several potential love interests continued to approach the still-unmarried Obiageli. There was Ikenna, the radio DJ who had serenaded her at the end-of-year ball her workplace had organised, but he was too loud and outrageous for her tastes. Emeka, the film actor who constantly fought off attention from female admirers, was also turned away when he approached her. Even Ibe had rekindled his interest upon hearing his university girlfriend was still single. Over her dead body. Obiageli hated herself immensely as she questioned the feelings she fought with every time she rejected a man in favour of Ayo. She was a smart, driven, independent career woman who still attracted desirable suitors. Why was she unable to break the spell Ayo had cast on her? It could only be love, and no other man would do. As simple as that.    

An oval sapphire sparkled on her ring finger as Obiageli smoothed down her immaculate dress, casting her mind back to the afternoon Ayo’s long-suffering wife had burst in on her after hearing rumours about the shameless whore spotted around town with her husband and paying frequent visits to his office where the grapevine ran rife. Most of Obiageli’s colleagues had taken sides with the poor woman as the latter hurled fiery insults and unsavoury remarks about ‘husband snatchers’ reaping where they had not sown. Security was hastily required to tear Obiageli away from Ayo’s wife who seemed to possess the strength of ten men as she punched, scratched, and spat at her rival. The bank staff were less than sympathetic towards their colleague; she had brought it all on herself, and it served her right. Part of Obiageli was weighed with guilt and shame as her wounds healed, but the rest of her had beamed with glee as the exposure of those clandestine meetings meant it was now out in the open and no longer had to hide.

On the day the divorce papers were finally signed, she popped open a bottle of champagne which she drank alone in her luxurious duplex. She already had it all – her own house, a plush car, an enviable bank balance – all she needed was her man, and when Ayo finally thrust the long-awaited ring into her palm she was close to cartwheeling across her living room, even if it was far from the romantic proposal she had envisioned. Where was Ayo’s enthusiasm? Would it have killed him to at least smile if he was about to put a ring on it at long last? Not that she cared much at that point – Obiageli was to become Mrs. Adetokunbo, and all that mattered was the ceremony, the certificate, and the confetti.    

Obiageli stared at the wedding dress in her reflection deep in thought as she fastened on the old vintage-style pearl earrings Ayo had bought for her 30th birthday. This was the morning her sapphire was to be teamed with another rock, hopefully a huge diamond because she was worth it, but instead of picking up a bouquet, Obiageli reached for the copy of Hello! Nigeria her neighbour had excitedly slipped under her door the night before, and this morning as she frantically flicked through the glossy pages yet again she cringed with anger. Maybe she was crazy, but she had worn the dress in case she was dreaming, and the glossy spread in her hands proved life was anything but a fairy tale despite the princess-like gown she had been dying to wear for ages.    

Libby Thomas, Lagos’s highly-rated party planner, had duly pulled out of organising Obiageli’s big day, and it was no secret why she had made the decision. As a woman whose husband had left her for a younger home-wrecker five years prior, Libby sympathised with Ayo’s ex and refused to coordinate the other woman’s wedding. Obiageli had been furious with this decision, but if she wanted that ring on her finger fast there was no time to stew. At 38, she was getting on fast with no time to waste. The party planner drafted in to replace Libby had been adequate… and a traitor. Obiageli peered at the pages, instantly recognising the party arrangement in the magazine pictures, and bristled with rage.

Everything was an exact replica of what she had planned – same colours, same furniture, same flower arrangements, same settings…same everything. Everything except the bride. Men were filthy swine with dicks for brains. Filthy lying swine. Grabbing the dress with both hands she tore away at the fine fabric, pearls and ribbons flying everywhere, and stamped on her tiara furiously before she collapsed in a heap on her bed, hot bitter tears streaming down her face as she read the article for the umpteenth time:  

“Model/actress Sarah ‘Sekara’ Kanu has tied the knot with Lagos-based oil merchant Ayodele Adetokunbo in a ceremony held at the Ikoyi Marriage Registry after a whirlwind romance. Only a few guests were present, but family and friends were invited to celebrate with the newlyweds at a reception held at the Cassa Grande hotel. It is the 60-year-old Adetokunbo’s second marriage following his high-profile divorce from his ex-wife eighteen months ago. Sekara, 25, met her husband after they were introduced by mutual friends at an awards ceremony, and the stunning bride’s slinky wedding gown cleverly disguised the three-month pregnancy they both announced in front of the delighted crowd. Speaking to Hello! Nigeria at the reception, Sekara stated it was the best day of her life, and is looking forward to becoming a mother in her marital home…”

© 2017, Tami Okoro Dedeh, All Rights Reserved