Obiajulu sat in the hotel lobby, a cigarette pencilled between his fingers, and dialled Aduke’s number twice, and just before it rang he cut the line.
‘Sir, more tea?’ the waiter asked, lowering his small frame in a gesture of deference.
‘Yes, please.’ Obiajulu said, wondering at the spring in the man’s steps at four in the morning. He reclined his head on the velvet cushion of the arm chair he sat in, allowing his gaze idle off into the nothingness before him.
‘Sir.’ the waiter said as he returned with another pot of tea. ‘Shall I set it down or pour it into your cup?’ He looked up, his eyelids fluttering like a pair of Monarch-wing butterflies.
‘No wahala; I’ll fill it up myself. Thank you.’ Obiajulu said. The waiter recoiled once more, with feline purposefulness, into some part of the dim dining area. Obiajulu shut his eyes and wondered what Aduke looked like. Not that he had not been following her every update on Instagram and Snapchat, he just wanted to see for himself what she actually looked like besides what he saw on his mobile phone screen. It had been two years since he had set eyes on her. He managed another long draw of smoke, tapped off the terminal ash from his cigarette and went up to his room.
A few minutes had gone by when Aduke heard the knocks at her door. She stirred, sensing that her cover had slid off her body and that her body had become frigid in the dense mist of the air conditioning. She glanced at the lights coming from the alarm clock on the dressing table. The knocks came again, but gentler. She robed and walked to the door, knowing who it would be. She had asked her personal assistant, Louisa, to wake her at seven.
‘Good morning, Aduke.’ Louisa said.
‘Hi Louisa, good morning.’ Aduke said stretching. ‘I hope you slept well.’
‘I really couldn’t. I have been so excited I could barely shut my eyes.’ Louisa said, rubbing her knuckles together. ‘It’s quite chilly in your room. I hope you covered up.’
‘I thought I did. I’ll meet you downstairs for breakfast.’
Within minutes Aduke was at the dining table. ‘Have you spoken with the people from InfraBank?’ she asked, knifing a glob of marmalade across a slice of rye bread.
‘Yes I spoke with Ronald only a few minutes ago and she says all is going as planned.’ Louisa said.
‘Good. What about the media, have you checked on all our contacts?’ Aduke said.
‘All good with the media.’ Louisa said.
Aduke nodded and flipped the pages of the newspaper in front of her. ‘Can you believe the Super Eagles will actually make a tour of the country? It would be nice to do a documentary on their Nations Cup win you know.’
‘I thought the security forces advised against any movements across the country to avoid Boko Haram.’
‘I can already see a title for that one: Play in a Time of War.’ Aduke said tapping it into her phone’s notebook. ‘Maybe the government wants to send the message to investors that it’s alright to come back to the country now. You’d better start working on that for me.’
‘Sure thing, Aduke.’ Louisa said bringing her cup of coffee to her lips and noticing a man who had walked up to stand behind Aduke. Aduke followed Louisa’s eyes and turned to see him.
‘Hi Obi’ she said, not noticing that in that instant she had spilt some coffee on her jacket.
‘Hello Aduke.’ He said. ‘Please sit.’ as Aduke made to rise.
‘What…what…a surprise. What brings you here?’ Aduke said.
‘I would have liked to say it is business but it really isn’t.’ Obiajulu said, drawing a chair out. ‘I heard about your latest project. I thought I’d find you here.’
‘I haven’t been too difficult to find, have I?’ Aduke said. ‘Lagos is only forty-five odd minutes away from Abuja.’
‘You look well.’ Obiajulu said.
‘Thank you. As do you.’ Aduke replied, pouring more honey into her cup. ‘This is my personal assistant, Louisa. Louisa, this is Obiajulu.’
‘Pleased to meet you’ Louisa said peering at Obiajulu through her glasses.
‘Enchanted.’ Obiajulu said.
‘Please excuse me’ Louisa said, rising to leave.
‘Kindly see to it that the hall is ready for the press conference.’ Aduke said.
‘I could not believe that you would just leave me. Leave what we had, so suddenly in the midst of a relationship.’ Obiajulu said, squinting at Aduke. ‘I could not believe it.’
Aduke kept her eyes fixed at the content of her china, as if the answer to Obiajulu’s remark lay somewhere in the small swirl of tea within it.
‘For months, I could not summon the courage to come to terms with what you wrote to me in your letter.’ Obiajulu said.
Aduke took a few deep breaths and allowed some moments to fleet by. ‘We were dying. Our relationship was going nowhere and I needed to make quick decisions with my career, Obi.’ She managed to say, letting the words come off her tongue in a slow, measured pace.
Obiajulu wanted to reply but he looked out of the window instead to watch clouds sail by. It would be better if he did not appear angry, he thought. Aduke fidgeted with a pen that she had been writing with. She wanted to reach out to touch his hand but she did not know for sure what had become of his feelings, how he would react. Silence prevailed for a time, then her phone rang. It was her film editor.
‘Hi Folajimi. Yes, yes I’m at the hotel right now.’ She said into her phone, dropped it and turned to look at Obiajulu’s face for the second time since he sat down.
‘I know you have to get to your press conference soon.’ Obiajulu said fixing his gaze on her face. ‘I came to get you, Aduke. I came for our love.’
‘Obi, I’m conflicted.’ Aduke said, hoping to find strength to match what she saw in his eyes. ‘We’ll need to talk.’
He rose from his seat and leaned forward to kiss her cheek. ‘I’m in room 304. Let me know when you are free.’
An intemperate Sun hung over the placid Abuja skyline. Obiajulu sipped from a glass of orange juice as he stood overlooking the hotel’s swimming pool from his balcony. He had resented the thought of Abuja. He resented it not because it was not a city he could live in and enjoy; he resented it simply because the one woman he had been faithful to for the most part of his dating life had chosen it as a stronghold from which to rebel against him. He returned to the hum of the air-conditioning inside his room and turned on his laptop. He ended up looking at pictures of Aduke on Facebook and wondering at the many male admirers who liked her posts. Surely many had propositioned her secretly. The dangers of the direct messaging phenomenon, he mused to himself. He had to regain her heart before someone stole her from him for good. She was his, that’s why fate had kept her from marrying someone else after all.
A phalanx of knuckles rapped gently on the door. He was not expecting any guests and did not ask for room service.
‘Hi, Obiajulu.’ It was Louisa.
‘Hi, Louisa.’ He said holding the door in an arc that let some of the cigarette haze from his room billow out into the hallway.
A moment lapsed and Louisa laughed. ‘I hope I did not interrupt anything.’
‘Oh, no. No. I was only admiring pictures of your Madam on Facebook.’ He chuckled.
‘Please come in.’ Louisa followed him through the corridor that branched out to his bedroom. He sat on a sofa opposite her in the living room. ‘Is there a drink I can offer you?’ he asked motioning to the fridge.
‘No, I am still buzzing with the coffee from this morning.’ Louisa said. ‘Aduke asked me to personally hand you this note.’
‘Oh, I see.’ Obiajulu said, a furrow forming across his forehead. He took the note from her hand but did not open it.
‘I’ll be on my way. We’ve just completed two interviews. We are about to kick off the press conference and have to join our investors at a lunch in Asokoro district.’
‘How did those go?’ he asked, eyeing the serpentine groove that her frame made in the navy blue gown she wore. A crystal-decked ring glistened from her finger, distracting him.
‘It was successful, thank you. We’ll be premiering our film All The President’s Mentors in cinemas starting next week.’ She laughed. She laughed like no one else had ever laughed in his presence. She laughed like the time when Jupiter sidled over to Venus and made a star turn. He laughed at himself. He’d wanted to say that line to someone for a while.
‘We’re starting to prove that not only can documentaries be seen as an art form but also as a vehicle for getting authentic information around. Wish us luck.’
‘I don’t believe in luck but I trust that when all the right elements are in the mix then good things can happen.’ Obiajulu said. His eyes taking in her ebony face as she laughed again.
‘I must go. Aduke expects me soon.’ She said smoothing the sides of her blouse and showing her ring again. Obiajulu rubbed his chin. He wanted to shave off stubble that he felt was there.
She paced herself to the door. ‘Thank you for the offer of a drink.’
‘You are always welcome, Louisa.’ He wasn’t sure she heard him as she strode down the hall.
Aduke sat in the middle of the row with a large backdrop of her company logo and its newest product splashed for television camera crews to pick up. InfraBank executives and officials from the Federal Ministry of Information and Orientation sat on either side of her.
She had just finished announcing that the film would premiere at the West African Film Festival and was taking questions from journalists when Obiajulu walked in to find a spare seat behind some pressmen at the back. Louisa stood at the far left corner of Aduke, well out of camera shot. She recognized him and smiled. After a few minutes of questions and answers the press conference was declared over.
Aduke walked out of the room amidst a bubble of journalists, leaving the room empty. Obiajulu ambled behind for a few minutes and allowed himself to get lost in the hotel’s maze of halls and lobbies until he stumbled upon the dining room. The Jazz music soothed his mood and he wondered what he could have for lunch. He decided that he would like some grilled barracuda fillet, buttered vegetables and mashed potatoes as he joined the queue at the buffet table. The maitre’d sauntered over to see if wanted assistance with anything.
‘Send a bottle of your finest Sauvignon Blanc to that lady on table twenty-eight.’ Obiajulu whispered.
‘Hey you.’ Obiajulu said approaching table twenty-eight moments later.
‘Hey you.’ Louisa smiled. ‘Are you the gentleman to whom I owe thanks for this bottle of wine?’
‘Maybe.’ Obiajulu said. ‘How’s your day going?’
‘Swimmingly.’ She said breaking a chunk of scallops into morsels. ‘Yours?’
‘Eh, not a bad day to watch people. I’m on a self-imposed holiday so I reckon I’m getting the rest I need.’ Obiajulu said.
‘Fortunate man.’ Louisa laughed. ‘Have you been about town then? Not that there’s a terrible lot of things to see in Abuja.
‘Not really. I think I already like the mellowness of it.’
‘You’re not with your Madam.’ Obiajulu said.
‘She messaged to say she had a private meeting to attend somewhere in town.’ Louisa said.
‘Is this your first visit here then?’ Louisa said, bringing the conversation back on thread as Obiajulu poured her some wine.
‘Yes it is. I suppose you might ask what brings me here.’ Obiajulu said. She didn’t, she only smiled to reveal a set of exquisite white teeth. ‘And before I answer that I’ll have to ask if you’re married. I wouldn’t want to wine and dine another man’s bride.’
‘Yes, I am.’ She said. His crest fell and the smile that played around the corner of his lips turned into a crimson crease as the wine found its way out of his mouth.
‘No I’m not. Just kidding.’ She laughed and passed him her bib even though he had one set to his laps. ‘It’s my talisman for keeping Abuja men and boys off me, especially the married ones. The married ones are only married in their minds.’
Obiajulu seemed relieved. He didn’t want to smile. He didn’t want to seem relieved.
‘So, what brings you here then?’ She asked.
‘Aduke, business, the need to cure myself of the resentment I feel for this city but mostly Aduke.’ He said.
‘Funny, I used to feel that way for Lagos. I grew up there you know, family is all there. I even thought I would end up living there for the rest of my life but how fate changes even the best laid plans.’
‘So what brought you here; how did fate interfere?’ Obiajulu asked.
‘My boyfriend and I-we promised to stay celibate until you know…at least until we had exchanged rings at the altar.’ Louisa laughed ‘I came to Abuja to oversee a work project for two months and within that time he’d been exchanging bodily fluids with another girl, and it just wasn’t saliva.’
Obiajulu laughed with her. It was a laugh of shame. He poured himself another glass of wine.
‘So?’ he said.
‘So, she got pregnant and I got to make the decision not to go forward with our engagement.’ Louisa said.
Aduke sat in the car staring out of the window, letting her eye lashes bat the warm salty spring cascading down her face.
‘You were supposed to be at the press conference. You promised, Ben.’ She said,
Ben sat silently; his face fixed onto the vague happenings a few metres in view. A few seconds went by then he began to spin a plastic pen through his fingers.
‘You’ve suddenly become non-responsive to my feelings, Ben.’ Aduke said, heaving down a volcano of other things that erupted within her.
‘I’m pregnant, Ben. I’m six months pregnant.’
The pen stopped its orbit in Ben’s middle finger. He turned to look at her, the wide arches of his temple contorted like a scrum of rugby players seeking the ball.
‘You’re what?’ he screamed, his chest filling out with air that his lungs seemed to have over compensated for in his bid to find calm. She kept her eyes on him, the thin line of her lips pursed together as her palms caressed the fabric of her trousers.
‘You idiot!’ Ben hollered. ‘You scheming idiot!’ He grunted and stabbed the pen into the dashboard, breaking it into several shards. The entire car appeared to quiver in response to the sound and motion of his fury. The warm blue ink of the pen ran down his wrist onto his white pin striped shirt.
Crystal clear trails of tears made their way onto Aduke’s tongue. She steeled her fists into a ball, clenched her jaws and looked away through the window next to her.
‘I told you, I am not ready to have a baby.’ Ben said amid thunderous thumps of blood-speeding heart beats.
‘You told me…you told me you loved me.’ Aduke said, her chin quaking. Spams of her sorrow engulfing everything in her: her femininity, her power, her principles, all of mortal being.
‘You told me you loved me.’ Ben mimicked. ‘Why didn’t you tell me this earlier?’
‘The doctor said it is a cryptic pregnancy.’ Aduke said, allowing her breath linger in her air pipe. ‘It…it is a rare occurrence in women.’
‘Get out.’ Ben said. ‘You liar.’
Aduke allowed breath escape her. ‘I cannot understand why you do not believe me, Ben.’ She peeled the door open and felt the warmer temperature outside the car dry her teary face.
Walking in a slight zig-zag fashion she made her way to her car, not sure she could manage the drive back to the hotel after such a busy day.
Obiajulu raised Louisa’s hand to his lips and kissed it to make her laugh as they sat in the piano lounge watching a pianist tingle a piano’s ebony and ivory keys.
‘Louisa, I promise, this is the entire truth about my relationship with Aduke.’ He said with a hint of solemnity in his eyes. His eye thick eye lashes raised vertically like flags hung from a window.
‘You mean she left you because she thought you had no ambition.’ Aduke said.
‘No drive.’ Obiajulu chuckled. ‘She thought I wasn’t taking the opportunity of making my name in the family business.’
Louisa ran her thumb over Obiajulu’s knuckles, her face lowered in the aura of his presence.
‘To be fair, she had a point.’ Obiajulu said. ‘Which makes this: my feelings for you all the more incredible. I mean, there I was thinking that I would fly over here pick my woman up and marry her but here I am at one in the morning basking in the love of a woman I just met.’
‘Wooing your woman’s assistant.’ Louisa laughed. ‘Truly incredible.’
Obiajulu did not know whether to laugh or cry. He knew, however, that he would find a meaning if he kept his gaze in the oval-shaped eyes of this woman whose laughter seared his consciousness like lightening and whose silence struck him like the after-effect of thunder.
‘It is well.’ Louisa laughed, mimicking a pastor.
By Nnamdi Christopher Iroaganachi.