The cigarette burned between his lips unaided. A long ash hung loosely in the air, waiting for the slightest movement to be blown away. But Mahmud was immobile; his gaze was held by a budding mango tree in his backyard. It was the only slice of nature in his compound and it often offered him solace. Today he needed that solace as all hell had broken loose. He was about to confirm that Wura’s life was on the verge of being turned right on its head.
This mess began when he returned home and found her crouched in one corner of his bed in tears.
“Wura, what’s wrong?”
The first response was a pillow landing hard on him.
“Shey you’ve won your bet! I hope you’re happy!”
“What are you talking about?”
“I’m pregnant!” she cried.
“You’re pregnant,” he repeated slowly; but he already knew. “Okay. You went for a test?”
“No. I was feeling really weird when I was cooking and it got so bad I had to rush outside to throw up! That was when it all hit me – the mood swings, the constant need to pee and my breasts, they’re paining me! It’s all your fault! Your stupid, expensive pills did not work!”
And she was inconsolable after that. He suggested a blood test at a lab nearby but she declined. He tried to hold her but she pushed him away and told him she was irritated by his touch. He was left with no option but to sit outside and smoke cigarettes to ease the burden that was weighing him down, which was mostly his conscience. She was right about the pills not working but it was only because he had given her nothing really. The morning she took them, she had woken up with guilt and couldn’t stand the sight of him. On her way out, she remembered she was yet to take the pills he purchased the day before. When she returned for them, he walked into his bathroom where his medicine cabinet was located and acted on the first impulse that hit him.
He was in love with her. He wanted her. He couldn’t dare let her go. Her church and family were bound to tear them apart. He wasn’t going to let that happen. His past couldn’t repeat itself.
So he took two Vitamin B complex pills and shoved them in her hands with a glass of water. When she reminded him that both drugs were to be taken twelve hours apart, he objected and used the ‘I’m the doctor; I know best’ line on her. He watched her swallow the pills with a sense of satisfaction. He was almost a hundred percent certain she was going to get pregnant as he had noted that she was ovulating on that first day they had sex. Nothing was going to separate him from Wura. Not religion and certainly not contraceptives.
He heard her in the kitchen and he turned his eyes away from the mango tree. It was time to confirm if the pregnancy really took or he had shot blanks.
“Tokunboh, are you okay?” she asked.
Mahmud studied her carefully. Her eyes were swollen. He felt sorry that he was the cause of her pain.
“I’m good. You?”
She pressed her lips together and let out held breath. “I’m pregnant out of wedlock, for a Muslim… I’m walking on sunshine, Tokunboh.”
Her sarcasm made him smile. “I’m sorry.”
“I have to go to church.”
He put his cigarette out. “Let’s go do the test.”
“Not interested. I calculated and even with my irregular period that could sometimes have a 45-day monthly cycle, I’m late. I don’t know how I didn’t see the signs. It was those drugs. They deceived me.” She hissed. “4k nonsense! Postinor 2 wouldn’t have done this to me.”
“Can I just check if you’re really pregnant, doll face?”
She angled her head to the left and fresh tears spilled. Mahmud entered the kitchen, she let him hold her as she cried.
“I’m so sorry.” He meant the words but not for the reason she thought.
He took her hand and led her to his bedroom. After she sat on his bed, he stood before her and knotted his brows. “When was your last period?”
“Your last period. When?”
“Erm… it was on the second.”
“Just lie down and take off your underwear let me confirm it.”
Wura hesitated and sat motionless on the bed.
“I’m not trying to have sex with you. Geez! Lie down.”
She still didn’t move. Mahmud sat beside her. “No matter what comes of this, don’t be scared. I’m here. Nobody will give you hell as long as I can help it.”
“This is not how I planned my life, Tokunboh. I wish I hadn’t…”
“Hey, it has happened. Let’s move on because that’s really the only option we have.”
He gave her a peck. “Lie down. You know the drill.”
Mahmud entered his bathroom and reappeared with gloved hands. When Wura was ready for him, he got about his business. After he withdrew his fingers, he found her sobbing but ignored her. He discarded the gloves, picked a pen and a notebook and ran some calculations.
“You were too tense and it seems too early to tell but I felt something. Sex for getting pregnant occurred on the second and the third. You were ovulating on the second, I remember clearly. So by my calculations, you are four weeks, six days pregnant. Roughly five weeks.”
“How is that possible? We had sex only three weeks ago.”
“Yeah, the thing is we start counting from a specific time before the sex occurred as a general rule since we’re not sure when the actual conception happens. So our baby is coming in November, mami. You should be happy.”
His words upset her further and he went to the bed to calm her.
“Shey you finally won your bet.” She tried to push him away. “It’s all in your plan. See how you’re smiling.”
He laid her head on his laps and took to playing with her hair.
“My life is finished,” she cried.
“It is not.”
She cried for a long time and stopped to blow her nose in some tissue he offered.
“My brother will kill you and me together. And my church… Ah God! I’m done for.”
“Can you stop acting like this baby is a bad thing?”
“I knew you’d say that.” She pushed him away and stood up from the bed.
“I have to go and meet these marriage committee people.”
“And tell them what?”
“I just want to hear what they’ll say.”
“Keep the news of the baby to yourself for now. And tomorrow, we’ll do a scan. No alcohol, no rigorous work, no running after clients under hot sun…”
“What is wrong with you?! You’re not even bothered that my life is turned upside-down! You’re just there acting like everything is cool! And I don’t want this baby. I’ve been saving money for my masters and now I can’t go. I don’t want this baby!”
Mahmud’s expression transformed and he got hold of her hand as she leaned over the bed to pick her handbag.
“Don’t do what I think you want to do.”
Wura shook her head at him. “You’ve forgotten that this relationship in the first place is a joke–”
“What the hell is wrong with you?!” Mahmud roared as he sprang up and towered over her. “Just because you see me trying to be positive all the time, you conclude that you can just keep tossing me away and taking me back anytime you feel like?! You think I don’t have my own fears?! My family knows about you already and they don’t want you! So don’t think I don’t have issues of my own!”
“Mahmud, my hand is paining me,” she squeaked.
He hadn’t realized he was still holding her. He let go and she stepped away from him.
“This thing between you and me is a big mistake.”
“Wuraola, I don’t want to hear that you were walking or sleeping or in a taxi or even breathing and you miscarried! That type of story will not go down well with me! You don’t want to see my other side!”
“In short, I’m dropping you off. But let’s go for a scan first.”
He took her hand again and led her out.
She felt him press against her from behind. His left hand reached beneath her nightshirt and found her waist. He held unto it as he tickled her earlobe with his lips, then his hand traveled all the way up in slow, small circles until it rested on her breast.
“Nick, stop.” She wriggled.
“Your wahala is too much, madam. I have to start begging you this morning abi?” His breath was hot on her ear. She was a touchy-feely person and that alone could have sparked something in her but she was far from that frame of mind. She moved away from him and lifted her weight off the bed and into a comfortable sitting position.
She shrugged and lied. “Nothing.”
She hadn’t been herself since the previous day when she met Bashorun in his office. They both had shared a look, one that she was grateful Dominic didn’t catch. He also wasn’t aware that Bashorun had stopped by at her office in the nightclub to have a word with her before he left the mall. The moment Bashorun walked in, he went round her desk and turned her chair in his direction. A pair of cold, frightening eyes assaulted her body until she felt naked under his scrutiny. He inched closer; haunting memories from the day she was raped barged into her mind but she held herself and mirrored his stare.
“I don’t know what you’ve done to him but it’s working a little too well. And I don’t want that. That is not what I paid Mamisi for! I wanted him financially ruined not loved up and richer! Tell her I am disappointed and I will pay her a visit soon. But while you’re still here playing Juliet to his Romeo, make sure you let him know that the event center would be a huge mistake. He must not go ahead with it. Do your job and use your lady parts well, sweetheart. Don’t engage his intellect; you are not his business partner.”
Bashorun’s eyes lowered to Genesis’ breasts. “Maybe after everything you and I will have dinner?”
Genesis forced out a smile as she watched him leave her office.
Prior to that moment, she was oblivious of whom the clients were that wanted Dominic’s head on a platter. It was a shock to discover that Bashorun was one of them and he was Dominic’s close friend. He was a regular at Mother’s monthly beach parties that often turned to orgies for a select group of wealthy men. Not that Genesis participated in any of those parties but because they always fell on the days of their cyclic sacrifices at the beach, she was often there. Bashorun was one of the lewdest amongst the men, sleeping with two to three girls at a time. He was nothing like Dominic.
After Bashorun left her office that evening, Genesis wrestled within herself. There was a struggle over what to do. Was it the best time to pick sides? The best time to find her wings and say goodbye to Mother? Was Dominic a man worth sticking out her neck for?
He was still a mystery to her. On the surface she knew him, his desires, his outward visages; but there was no locating his core or knowing his intentions. They were shielded by a stony heart. Sometimes she was lucky to have it turn to flesh briefly, only to have it steel up before she got the chance to reach him. But she had fallen, taken a deep plunge into him. Her dive carried emotions she could neither control nor explain, and it came to her at startling moments of the day. She could be in the middle of a business meeting and the thought of him would just cross her mind, forcing her to blush uncontrollably. Or something on television could conjure up an image and she would begin to long for him. Sometimes, all alone in her room she strutted around aimlessly, recalling times they spent together and replaying them in her head until she wore herself out with excitement. She was like a giddy school girl with him and he, like a silver fox, sly and mysterious but nonetheless, a compassionate lover. It was a good fusion; she just wasn’t sure how long it was going to last.
“Since you don’t want to talk, I’ll be in my study.”
Dominic’s voice in her ear brought her out of her contemplation. He planted a kiss on her shoulder and walked to the adjoining room.
The morning was still young. Birds were in a chirping mood and Dominic’s favorite doves had perched on the railing of his balcony for their morning feed. Dominic was having one of his good moments. The soulful strings of John Mayer’s acoustic electric guitar coming from his study told her it was best not to disturb him but she just couldn’t do away with the niggling state of her conscience. She pushed her feet into a pair of gold slippers and went to him. The sheer woodiness of the study somewhat calmed her. She could perceive the faint whiff of what he had told her was Cedar of Lebanon in the air and it blended with his signature Oud wood perfume. Careful not to disturb him in the middle of a business phone call, she lifted her weight up quite lithely and sat on his desk. His hand immediately reached for her thighs and stroked them gently.
As she heard him nearing the end of his conversation, her pulse began to quicken. This was the most difficult confession she had ever had to make in her life. She was strongly considering the option of not getting through with it.
“Hi.” He kept his phone on the table, swung his chair towards her and aimed for the buttons of her nightshirt.
“Nick, stop.” She held his hands. “I have something to tell you. A confession.”
“A confession. Hmm… Sound serious.”
She swallowed but her breathing only got worse. “It’s about….my pa-past. No, not my past. About my life. I…”
Dominic stood up and pressed his weight on both hands, over the table’s edge, leaning into her. “Gen, you’re hyperventilating. Breathe easy and talk to me, baby. Whatever it is, I can handle it.”
She looked into his eyes. They were focused, serious, and she got scared. She wiped the sides of her nose where sweat was forming. He turned on the air conditioner and shut the door to the study. When he got back to her, she put her arms and legs around him and began to tug at his boxers.
“Make love to me,” she requested. It was a distraction. She wanted an escape but he caught on.
“No.” He moved away. “Speak, Gen.”
Her eyes couldn’t follow him as she needed them to concentrate on a birth mark on her thigh. There she kept her focus and drew strength to tell him all about her life, bit by laborious bit. Surprisingly, fiery tears stinging her eyes stayed back. The bitterness and pain couldn’t be done away with, though. They spiced each sentence she uttered and Dominic stood in a corner, leaning on a bookshelf, listening to her with concentrated eyebrows.
She was spent when she was done and the apprehended tears fought their way down but Dominic let out a hoarse laugh from nowhere that chilled her right to the bone.
“Mami Wata? Mermaid?” He laughed again but it carried an angry undertone. “I’m supposed to believe everything you just told me?”
“Genesis Raymond, I am not a man who plays around…”
“You think we’re a joke!”
She covered her face and tears filled her eyes again.
“I told my daughter about you, I got into a disagreement with my friend because of you. I am serious here but you’re making me look like an idiot with these ridiculous stories about mermaids! Tell me something believable!”
“What I told you is the truth…”
“That you’re a mermaid?”
“No, Nick, I’m a normal person. Look…I told you about my life because you deserve to hear the truth. You always asked to know my past and I just shared it with you.”
“I’m sorry Gen. It’s just so hard to take in. It’s like my life has become a soap opera. Mami Wata? Those things even exist?”
“I’ve never seen one, though. It’s believed that they sometimes come in human form.”
“I see. So are you… are you using charms on me right now? Anything in my food, under my bed or in your…” He let his eyes rest between her legs. “Any voodoo or black magic there? Not that I believe it works but are you using anything on me?”
“No, Nick.” She looked at him with honest eyes. “I swear, I’m not.”
“How long have you been this person?”
“I was born a Mami Wata child. My mom, my grandmom were Mami Wata followers. They died in a fire incident and Mamisi took me in. Mamisi and my mom were friends. My mom was also a Mamisi before she died.”
“So you’re not a Christian?”
Genesis wiped her nose. “I’ve been to church many times but no, I’m not a Christian.”
Dominic walked to a minibar in a corner of the room and poured himself a drink. He asked if she wanted some but she declined. He sat on a wing chair, away from her. With the way his brows were pulled together, she saw that he was in serious thought. The disappointment couldn’t also be hidden.
“So you believe in some half-human, half-fish mumbo-jumbo?” He came back to earth after what seemed like forever. She didn’t reply his question.
He refilled his emptied glass and walked to her. “What is the end game? To see me financially destroyed or dead or what?”
“Mamisi’s clients are hardly ever killed. Some of them have committed suicide, though. The end game is just to ruin their lives. My job is usually to make the men I’m assigned to less than they are. I studied in the art of seduction and I was taught how to emasculate a man while letting him believe he is in control. It’s pure manipulation of the mind. He feels he is constantly in heaven although he’s in hell. He realizes it only too late.”
“And the dance you did at the club?”
“Mamisi taught me. It’s called the Dance of the Seven Veils. It’s spiritual.”
“What the heck is that? Do I need to call a priest to cleanse the place?”
“Yeah, maybe you do. Maybe I need a priest too…I don’t know. When I danced that night, I was asking for your soul to be tied to mine and I also consecrated the club, opening seven doors of success.”
“Who were you asking?”
“To be honest, I don’t know. I was taught to do all these things and I never questioned; I just did them. I learned about demons and spirits and angels and all that but seriously I don’t know who or what Mamisi actually worships.”
“But who are you, Genesis? Is your name really Genesis?”
“Who are you?”
“I wish I knew but I don’t. You don’t know what it means to just wake up one morning and discover you’ve been on a journey to nowhere, that your life has had no direction because someone else wrote out the script for you. But I met you, Nick, and started to see that my life could have meaning. I started living for something and it feels like freedom because you let me be myself. I don’t even try to impress you or reel you in; you just take me as I am.”
“Before you go all lovey-dovey on me, let’s clear this out. Baby, I’m not bothered that you were sent to destroy my life or whatever it is your mother person thinks she’s doing. What bothers me, Genesis, is that in this time and at your age, you actually believe in some sea goddess. Have I been making love to an airhead? I mean, your business acumen is way up there but all this doesn’t sound…”
“Not anymore, Nick. I don’t believe anymore.”
Genesis bit her lip and put her head down again. “I got raped…by five guys, ordered by Mother. And from that day, I stopped believing in a higher power that was supposed to be there for me yet turned away when I needed it most. I lost my faith that day, Nick. It was the worst day of my life.”
Dominic’s expression softened. He placed his drink on the table. “When did this happen?”
“The day after my birthday. Mother drugged me and…they raped me…”
“Why would she do such a ruthless, barbaric thing?”
“Because…” Genesis lips trembled as a new wave of tears consumed her.
“Because of you. She said I was in love with you, that my feelings could weaken me…”
“I am so sorry, Gen.” Dominic held her and her weeping got worse. She hung on to him tightly. “Oh Genesis, you poor thing. You’re such a smart but foolish girl. Why did you let me get intimate with you after what you went through? What were you thinking?”
“I wanted to heal, to be strong.”
“No, no, no. You don’t heal like that. Who misled you into thinking that way and who is this Mother sef? I want to meet her.”
Genesis released herself from his grip.
“No, Dominic. You cannot touch Mother. She knows people. She knows the president…”
“I don’t want to do anything to her, Gen. I just…” He went pensive. “You know what? Let’s do it this way. Don’t leave her yet. Keep doing what it is you do with her until we both figure out a way to deal with the issue.” He kissed her hand. “But you know what this means, right? You’ll have to be totally committed to me now.”
“We have a common enemy and she’s going down. Can you remember the faces of the men that raped you?”
“No,” Genesis lied.
“Don’t worry, we’ll get them when the time is right. So sorry, baby that you had to go through all that.” He hugged her again and rocked her slowly to the slow rhythm of the song playing at the moment
“Nick, there’s more.” Genesis sniffled.
He stopped his movement and she untangled herself from him.
“It’s about your friend, Bashorun.”
“He knows Mother.”
Dominic’s face tightened and she saw his eyes lose their light. He reached for his drink.