The tone of the text message was formal “The Case Management Conference has been fixed for Friday, that’s tomorrow. They’re playing hardball. You need to find a way to leave work that day. We can shift it to evening, giving travel time as a reason, but Friday it is. We’ll leave together at two”.
Derin read the text again and again. He had already made elaborate plans of how he would be able to escape from work on days he had to appear in court. While his employer wasn’t obliged to let him go and appear in court, he could not be denied health reasons. So he had gotten his doctor to prescribe trauma treatment with a psychiatrist along with his wife and he would carefully doctor appointments with the psychiatrist to coincide with court appearances. While he would like to threaten his boss with “my lawyer will be reaching you if you don’t let me go”, he knew it wasn’t the best way to handle the matter. His boss could conceive a thousand and one ways to relieve him of the job, so he would rather play it this way.
In another office, Arinze was reading a text message too. It was from Rasheed. “We’ve fixed pre-trial for tomorrow. Please let him come, and let’s see if we can still end this. If he doesn’t agree, the first of my strategies would start immediately.”
So when Derin asked to see him, Arinze knew what he was coming for. He wondered what the young man would resort to – brute force or subtle deception. This would be interesting.
Derin came in and handed the doctor’s prescription over to Arinze silently. He watched his boss scrutinize the report for minutes that seemed like hours.
“Fair enough,” Arinze finally said and he saw Derin visibly sigh in relief. He preferred the subtlety and would humor him, plus Rasheed had said to allow him anyway. “When is your first appointment with the psychiatrist,” he asked.
“Tomorrow sir, at 1pm,” Derin replied. He saw a glimmer in his boss’ eyes he would have thought was a smile if he didn’t know better.
“Okay. Make sure you turn in the sales proposal before you leave and let’s review it together.”
Derin could not believe his luck. As soon as he was out of earshot of his boss’ office, he let out a whoop! “Cunning man die, cunning man bury am. I’m a very bad sharp nigger!”
Now to prepare for his wife.
If one had entered Ope’s room without knowing what she was preparing for, confusion would have set in. But she was preparing for two things that were of equal value. One, she was going head to head with the SAN for the first time in this case, and as they say, first impressions cannot be remade. In the legal battles, the first engagements matter a great deal. So on her bed was an assortment huge law books, cases she was studying and papers scattered all over.
The second thing she was preparing for, as she hummed her favorite Whitney song was to seduce a man. And so, in the midst of all the books and papers were strewn all manner of female things. Lingerie of different shapes, most of the type that lifted the boobs and gave masculine eyes a promise they could hardly resist. Then came gowns and then her nighties. She had gleaned from Derin that he wasn’t talking to his mum so he wouldn’t be staying there. In fact, Ope intended to make sure he didn’t stay there.
Awazi had just finished a conversation with her aunt, Aunty Jamila. She was not really a sister to any of her parents, but she was the closest thing Awazi had to an aunt.
“Aunty, he’s not even eating my food, he’s not even talking to me again, that woman has taken my husband!” Awazi had said, exasperated. She had chosen not to call her mum, because she knew that the only conclusion her mum would draw was to remind her that she had kicked against her marriage to a Yoruba man – “they are not trustworthy, and their men and women are known to be promiscuous” her mum would have said. She didn’t need all that now
“Awazi, calm down. Look, men have ego, and you do not deal with issues with them by hitting that ego head on. You will only cause him to defend his ego and drive him away from you”.
“Aunty, are you blaming me for what is happening fa? Awazi said, piqued.
“No my dear, your husband is being pigheaded, selfish and stubborn. But how does pointing that out to him help you? Do you want to be right, or keep your home? The choice is yours. If its right you want to be fighting for, keep doing what you’re doing. But if your home is what is important to you, you will listen to me. You still have this your temper, you this girl”
Awazi calmed herself down “Aunty I’m just at a loss. I’m also suffering here, I lost my son!”
“And you haven’t told your mother about this yet. What kind of thing is that? I’m calling her right away after this call, gaskiya. But you, you must do the difficult thing.”
“Aunty, you know she’s hypertensive, I don’t know how she will take it if I tell her. I don’t want two casualties on my hand, plus this Derin matter, it is too much for me.”
In characteristic Aunty Jamila way, she ignored what Awazi said and continued what she had been saying, in spite of pausing to allow her speak.
“You must support your husband in this case, in spite of not agreeing with him pursuing it. You must make the decision, your home or your rights. Anyway, I’m coming into Lagos next week. We will talk.”
With that, they exchanged all the pleasantries and rounded off the call. She checked the time – ten thirty. It had become Derin’s pattern to come back home so late she would have slept. “Well, the weekend is almost here, we’ll iron this out on Saturday” she said out aloud to herself.
When she woke up the next morning, as usual, Derin was gone. it was a routine he had established to avoid talking to her – get home too late and go out too early.
It was when she stood before the mirror to brush her hair that she noticed the note under her perfume. She quickly reached for it, muttering “what is this one again o?”
The anger welled up within her as she read its contents.
She walked up and down, sucking in air noisily as she did, saying repeatedly to herself
“Calm down Awazi, calm the F down.”
After a couple of minutes, she felt calmer. She unfolded the note again.
“Off to Ibadan, issues with the case. Didn’t want another row, so didn’t bother to tell you beforehand.”
Well, if he didn’t want a row, he wasn’t going to get one. She would ignore him.
Derin had been expecting a deluge of phone calls from Awazi, so when he didn’t get a single call, he began to wonder if she had seen his not at all. Well, if she hadn’t noticed it, all the better for him. At least he had tried to tell her.
The day flew past and as it approached 1pm, his nerves began to fray. He kept half-expecting his boss to call him in and tell him he couldn’t go again. At about 12:30, he got an email from the MD. He had been sent in the sales presentation earlier and hadn’t been called in yet. He thought that would be it, and patted himself on the back for allowing an hour buffer between when Ope told him to meet her up, and when he told his boss he had to leave. When he opened the email, he let out a long hiss. The man had even travelled. It was only then he went to the MD’s secretary to inquire about him.
“Oga didn’t come in today, he had to go to Abuja on urgent business,” the foolish girl said with an air of importance that nearly got him laughing. Oga was probably rendezvousing with another omoge in Abuja and this one was here forming territory.
He quickly dialed Ope’s number.
“Can I pick you up thirty minutes earlier? I have to escape from the office now now,” he said once she picked up.
“No hello or good afternoon from you, Mr.” she responded coolly.
“Wo, sorry, oya good afternoon, her Excellency,” he responded, rolling his eyes.
“Yes, I’ll be ready, but you’ll have to pick me up at home.” She responded.
“Okay fine.” He said. There was no danger of anything happening in her house when they’d be in a hurry to leave for Ibadan anyway, so yes, he could pick her at home.
He left the office almost immediately, and there wasn’t traffic getting to her Ikeja G.R.A residence. It took him forty five minutes and he decided to chill in the car for the fifteen minutes it would take to reach 1:30 before he called her that he had gotten there. While he waited, he put his favorite Yanni on repeat and allowed the AC caress his body.
Five minutes later, his phone rang. It was Ope. The moment he picked it up, she said with a chuckle “Derin, you look ridiculous sitting in your car. I can see you from my window and if you were in the UK, people would have called the police on you for loitering. Oya, come inside, I’m nearly done.”
He laughed and cut the call. Her mallam was already opening the gate and so he just drove the car in. He still remembered her flat, so he didn’t need any directions even though the mallam still pointed it out to him.
He knocked lightly and her voice called from inside “come in, the door is opened and I’ve locked the dogs up.” He laughed at the joke. She knew he couldn’t stand dogs and when he used to visit her in their school days in U.I, he always insisted the dogs were locked up before he stepped into the compound or out of her flat in into the compound.
He let himself in, and went through the small hallway into her sitting room. Many things in the flat brought back memories. She now had more money and so had indulged in her love for sculpture. Beautiful pieces of different sizes were arranged all over the living room. The room itself was decorated for one thing – cozy comfort. From the chairs, to the deep soft rug, and even the collapsible chair in the corner. Arranged along the walls were Ope’s pictures at different ages, right from when she was a baby till date, showing how she had grown. He was looking at these when she cooed from the doorway to her room “do you like what you see?”
He didn’t turn back immediately. He knew she was playing on words, asking about the pictures, but asking about something else. She was particularly gifted at double entendres and one of the reasons they bonded initially was the same gift in him.
“Yes,” he said and then he slowly turned around.
“And Yes,” he said, answering the second question she had asked. His voice was huskier this time. She looked gorgeous. For a few moments, they didn’t say anything, as if any movement would cause them to end up in each others’ arms. All that was said was said with the eyes, interlocked for those minutes. The she laughed softly and threw her head back. “Derin, let’s go o” she said. She picked up her handbag and then another bigger bag. He guessed that would have clothes and her laptop in it.
“I hope you have at least made my sleeping arrangements o. Even if you no dey pay me, you will sha not make me do sufferhead to Ibadan and come back today at this time?” Ope said.
Derin went to her and helped her with the bigger bag. “Madam, rub it in o, you hear? Where you will sleep is not an issue. And no, it is not my mother’s house.”
He waited as she turned off all the electrical appliances in the house and then they went into the small passage. That passage. Memories of sexcapades in the place flooded his head, mixed with her fragrance filling the place. It gave him a heady feeling.
She fiddled with her keys at the door and said without looking back “we sure made some memories here, en Mr. Banwo?”
An alarm went off in Derin’s head, and he knew they had to get out of the flat and fast. Standing behind her and looking at the outline of her booty in the gown she was wearing, he could feel the blood flowing from his head, and in its place, pictures of memories she just referred to found a place.
Ope didn’t need to look back to feel him tense up. She suddenly turned around and with the movement said “damn, I forgot my notes…” and then ran smack into him in the same movement. His free arm swung around her to balance her in an involuntary movement and she allowed herself linger in his arms for a while longer than necessary. She felt his hardness against her and she smiled. She made a halfhearted attempt to pull away but his arm tightened around her. He kissed her full on the lips with a raw hunger that took her breath away for some moments. He had dropped the bag he was carrying and his free hand reached for her boobs. She got carried away in the moment and then her senses returned with clarity. The plan, she thought to herself, the plan. With some force, she pulled herself away from his grip and shook her head. “Derin, no!” she said.
Derin would have gone red if he was white. He was the married one, the one who was supposed to be fleeing from Ope and keeping his wits together, and here he was, with the slightest of provocation, almost devouring her. And it had been her and not him that had come to her senses and called them to order. “I’m sorry,” he said sheepishly.
“It’s hard for me Derin, but I want to keep this strictly professional, helping a friend. Help me here,” she said.
“I’m sorry,” he muttered again.
“No worries,” she said, and then went past him into the living room to get the documents. The moment she went past him, the smile she had been struggling to suppress filled her face. She knew Derin, and she knew she had him now.
“You are not going to be at this thing today, and that is final,” Doctor Ajanaku thundered. He was exasperated by this boy. How his son couldn’t get it into his thick skull that Derin would be aggravated by his presence and therefore he should stay away, the doctor could not understand. His final outburst had ended it, but he knew Hakeem would be seething somewhere. He sometimes dreaded when the time would come and he would be too old to have his way like this. This boy would be the end of him. Rasheed came in with the judge he had carefully gotten to moderate this meeting. Even though the man was a judge, it seemed he was Rasheed’s junior at the bar and he respected the SAN.
“Is everything set?” Rasheed asked.
“Yes my friend, be ni” Doctor answered.
“And Hakeem?” Rasheed asked further.
“He won’t be attending. While there is some hope of resolving this matter without going to court, I would like to explore it and won’t have Hakeem be the reason we eventually still go to court, even if he started it.”
“Good,” Rasheed said. “we wait. If I read this his lawyer well, they will be on time.”
They arrived at Omega Clinic about five minutes before five. There had been some traffic, but it had been light as he had anticipated. He fought back the memories of almost a week ago when they had run up this driveway with a living, kicking Isaac in their arms. He growled, more to himself than anything else “I will get justice for my son.”
“Ah, your first words since we left Lagos have been spoken, finally. Now let’s get on with it, shall we?” Ope said and got out of the car.
Derin turned off the ignition and also got out and then they made their way to the reception. The two killer nurses were no longer there, and in their place were a smiling pair. Apart from that, the place was much the same as he remembered, all manner of people sitting down, waiting for their names to be called out aloud by one of the nurses so they could see the almighty doctors.
Ope had a few words with one of the nurses and the lady’s eyes lit up and then she quickly rushed out from behind their table and led them up a flight of stairs and then through a winding passage. Suddenly, as if out of nowhere, they came before a huge mahogany door. The lady told them to wait and then went in. seconds after, she was out and right behind her was an old distinguished looking gentleman in an impeccable white shirt and tailor made grey suit. Ope stretched her hands forward and said formally “Barrister Sanda sir.”
He took her hand and shook it firmly. “Pleased to meet you, Barrister Ope. I prefer to be called Rasheed though, my father owns that Sanda name too much, and I don’t want to be confused with my father at my age,” he responded with a benign looking smile. Still smiling, he turned to face Derin “and you must be Mr. Derin. Accept my sincerest apologies for your loss.” Derin did not smile back.
He turned around and led them into the conference room. Seated already were three people. He led them to each person and did the introductions. Ope had whispered to Derin as they went in “shake their hands, you knucklehead.” So when Rasheed said “you must have met Dr. Ajanaku,” to him, he shook the old man’s hand when he was offered. Then they went on to meet a simple looking lady who was introduced as the chief matron. Ope was not fooled by her simple look. She was probably the real brains behind the running of the hospital. She would not be here if it were not so. Finally, Rasheed introduced them to another distinguished looking gentleman. “Judge Jinadu will be moderating this meeting,” he said. Ope noted the slight bow the judge gave as Rasheed passed him. Old boys’ association things, she thought. She made a mental note to make sure that if by any chance they got Judge Jinadu when they went to court, she would write to request that the case be transferred to another judge.
After all the introductions, they all took their sits, Derin and Ope on one side, the hospital’s team on the other.
“Shall we begin, ladies and gentlemen,” Judge Jinadu said.
The door opened and all the heads in the room turned towards the door. Ope noticed the slight panic that ran through the Doctor, the matron and the lawyer. They must have thought it was someone they had not wanted to come. It was then she realized that Hakeem was not here. She smiled, realizing he had come against his father’s wish. Good for her. Then she saw who it was and cursed beneath her breath.
“I’ll be joining the proceedings,” Awazi said from the doorway.