Gentlemen of the Bar – 20
I am surrounded by soft leather, notes of citrus from Naden’s cologne and a serenity that makes plain yellows glint with the perfection of gold. Voices, low and controlled sift through cracks that eyes cannot see. I listen to them, straining to catch disembodied vowels and consonants until they fade into corporate silence. I go back to the yellows, to the long, sweeps of vertical lines cutting into black squares and triangles.
“You like the painting?”
My lips turn before the words come.
“I don’t know…I guess.”
His clear brown eyes brighten and a smile accentuates the bow of his lips.
Lowering his head, he resumes his writing. I withstand the silence for a few minutes, going back and forth between watching the painting and watching him. I am on my fourth round of portrait watching when a small squeak comes from his end of the table. I look at him. He is relaxed in his seat and his right hand is extended to me.
I look down at the open file where the applicant’s face is captured in a two by two inches passport photograph, nose slightly turned as if offended by foul air. The smirk on the face staring back at me is highlighted by bold red lipstick, the eyebrows framing it drawn to high arcs so that they give the applicant a look of perpetual surprise.
Feeling guilty at my not so kind assessment, I close the file, run a hand down my skirt and then rise to my feet. He straightens up in his seat when I meet him, adjusting slightly to create room for me on his lap. The citrus and musk of his cologne is strong when I settle into his lap. I inhale much of it, burying my face into the left side of his neck while my left hand creeps up his chest to hang on his shoulder.
“What do you think?”
“She is okay.”
His eyes drift away from me to the door as he grows thoughtful.
“If she makes it past this interview, we will be looking for an office for her.”
I remind him that we have two offices to choose from. He nods in agreement.
“True.” Looking down at the low neckline of my white peplum wrap top, he raises a curious brow at me. “What are your plans for the evening?”
I begin to reply but a knock at the door cuts me off. I steal a kiss from his lips and slip from his knees to my feet.
It is Ugonna. She is dressed in one of her many patterned chiffon tops over a black knee length skirt. Her eyes sweep over me briefly, searching, probing and drawing conclusions.
“Good morning Ugonna.”
She turns to Naden and announces the presence of the passport woman.
“Okay. Please send her in.”
I pick the file where her documents are as soon as Ugonna leaves the office and hand it over to Naden who collects it with a smile. He opens the file the next minute, the smile disappearing from his face. He is the boss again and for a moment I am reminded of my father. The thought brings a smile to my face and I turn on my heel to begin my walk out of his office but the sight of the door swinging back stops me in my tracks.
“Hi,” the woman we have been expecting says, crossing the room in four-inch heeled pumps. I see Naden look up from the file from the corner of my eyes, but my limited vision makes it impossible to see the expression on his face. The skirt of her short belted skater dress swaying with the movement, Miss Applicant meets me for a handshake.
I take the well manicured hand, give it a perfunctory pump and tell myself I must like her.
We end the handshake. I stand back to watch her lean across to take Naden’s hand. She introduces herself again. Naden returns the favour and points her to the chair beside me.
“Naden. Please sit down.”
She sits. We grin. I make a decision. Planting myself at the edge of Naden’s table, I pull Biola’s file to the center of Naden’s table and open it.
“So let’s begin.”
Biola’s lips curve, causing dimples to appear in her cheeks.
Suddenly, I realize just how much I hate dimples.
THE OYELOWO MANSION MARTIN OYELOWO’S STUDY
The phone on Martin Oyelowo’s desk rang, interrupting his lone game of chess. His eyes narrowed and focused on the pieces on the chess board, he picked the receiver off the cradle.
The voice that greeted him was cold and official.
“Am I talking to Barrister Martin Oyelowo?”
Martin did not answer. His attention still on his game, he moved a white bishop two steps diagonally on the board until it reached the square where a black rook sat. He lifted the rook from the square and replaced it with the bishop. His hand stilled after that.
“Who are you?”
“Officer Timothy Akaigbe…”
“So why are you looking for Barrister Martin?”
“Sir if you are Barrister Mar – “
“You have not answered my question.”
The pause from the other end of the phone told Martin all he needed to know. The caller was a bringer of bad news. His fingers lifted off the table and lowered again, short sharp beats filling the room as he began his usual tapping.
“I am from the EFCC sir and you are wanted for questioning.”
Martin smiled and looked back again at his chess board. This time he picked the black pawn and twirled it around his fingers.
“I am wanted for questioning over what?”
“You will need to visit our office at Ikoyi first.”
The pawn in Martin’s hand finally lowered and it moved two steps forward before taking a sideways detour to capture a white pawn.
“What do you say your name is again?”
“Timothy Akaigbe…Officer Timothy Akaigbe.”
“Officer…Timothy…Akaigbe,” Martin Oyelowo said, rolling the name around his tongue as if testing its worth.
“I am afraid I won’t be visiting your office.”
The man spluttered his surprise and indignation, baffled voice sounding whiny when it reached Martin’s ear.
“I – I am sorry – what – do – do – you mean – “
“I mean exactly what you heard. Good day.”
Ending the call with the EFCC officer, Martin called one of his long time friends and business partners.
“I need you to run a check for me at CAC, FIRS and NIPC- Svetovid Nigeria Limited. Yes. Spelling? S-V-E-T-O-V-I-D. Twenty minutes.”
Martin Oyelowo continued his game of chess while he waited, moving pieces around with deliberate precision. He was ready when the phone rang again.
“Your man has not paid taxes in like five years,” his informant said, a smile in his voice. “Saw about eight directors – two Nigerians, the rest Russians. The quota positions for all six Russians have not been renewed since fifteen years.”
The corner of Martin’s lips turned upwards. He picked a white bishop and moved it sideways to claim a black rook. His smile grew.
“Thank you Soji.”
Martin made another call. It was to a close friend. He made small talk and laughed at a joke before telling his friend why he had called.
“I received a call from a certain Timothy Akaigbe a few minutes ago. I believe he is one of your men – Oh good.”
A few seconds later and Martin’s mission was completed. He rung off and settled back to his game of chess. His hand swept to the other side of the board to pick a white king. Pushing the king forward, he went after the black king until it was cornered at the extreme end of the board.
AKINWUMI MANSION LEKKI PHASE ONE
Olga Akinwumi sat in the midst of rich brocade, organza and dark burgundy leather, glass of vodka in hand. She was expecting a call. It had been an hour since she spoke to her man at EFCC. A slight throbbing had begun at the back of her head from the anxiety of waiting for his call. She rubbed a clammy palm against the armrest of her chair, eyes moving past portraits of a smiling interracial couple and a wide floor to ceiling sliding door that opened to the back garden where she grew cabbage, potatoes, beet roots, onions and turnips.
The wall surrounding her garden was painted in the golden yellow of the late afternoon sun. On normal days, Olga found the sight of the sun rays bathing her garden fascinating but today was not one of those days. Her nerves taut like live wires, she swallowed two large gulps of vodka, bloodshot eyes monitoring every notification on her phone.
It finally happened.
The soulful stirrings of popular Russian folklore song belted by a once popular Russian singer erupted from the speakers of the phone beside her.
Kalinka, Kalinka, Kalinka moya! V sadu yagoda malinka, malinka moya! Akh, pod sosnoyu…
Olga’s sigh of relief was cut short when she saw the name flashing boldly on the screen of her phone. A slightly shaky hand disposed the now empty glass. She glanced at the phone again, caution written all over her face. Pushing the anxiety away, Olga lifted the phone to her right ear.
“I got the call.”
Alarm rang in Olga’s head, causing her heart to accelerate.
He said nothing. Olga imagined him smiling. The picture did nothing to calm her.
“That was a wrong move on your part Olga.”
“What are you talking about?”
There was a pause again. Olga’s blood pressure level surged dangerously.
“You made a man lose his job today.”
Lines marked Olga’s forehead.
Martin laughed. It was a dry humourless chuckle.
“I wonder,” Martin said, drawling in the way that had always gotten Olga to forget her wedding vows. “What fabrication you came up with to get that poor man to call me.”
Realizing that the game was over even before it had begun, Olga drew in a steadying breath. “You are saying the man…you removed the man from his job?”
“Actually someone helped with that.”
“And you think you can get away with this? Don’t forget I know you Martin.”
Martin’s voice dropped an octave. “You know nothing about me Olga because trust me, if you did, you would have known I am not an easy man to intimidate.”
“Oh that is what you think? I will surprise you.”
Martin laughed, but said nothing.
“You don’t scare me Martin.”
Martin sighed this time. “I am not the one you should fear Olga. The authorities…the ones you have cheated for some time now, they are the ones you should be afraid of.”
Perspiration marking her underarm area, Olga sat straighter in her chair.
“Your company Svetovid, Olga. You owe tax now, don’t you?”
“What is this Martin?”
“And then there is a matter of your quota being exceeded.”
Rivulets of sweat ran past Olga’s pores and drenched her halter dress.
“You shouldn’t have gone there with me Olga,” Martin said, his tone taking an almost paternal quality. Olga briefly considered begging before her pride took over. Her jaw tightened, along with her grip on the phone she held. After seconds of seconds of listening to her own breathing, Olga knew Martin had hung up. Hand slowly lowering to her side, she stared ahead, lost in trance. It was the soft patter of feet on fine polished Italian marble that forced reality back on her. She turned slightly to see her cook Francesca standing with hands clasped beside her. The slightly stooped Beninoise woman flashed Olga a smile, anxiety on her face.
“Ma, want to ask if serve food,” she said, dark brown face shining with a lubricity that rivaled the marble under her feet. Olga’s answer was a mumble of incoherent adjectives and interjections. The cook stood in bewildered silence, her limited vocabulary hampering her expression of confusion. At last she managed three words.
“I not understand.”
“Uhodi!” Olga said, her distress causing her mind to retreat into the familiarity of her native tongue, right hand waving the cook frantically towards the kitchen.
The cook mumbled her apology, slightly bowing as she rushed out of the living room, the kitchen door closing quietly behind her.
Across the city, the sun dipped beyond the horizon, its rays now golden red and vibrant as it painted the tired but pulsating land. Olga’s unseeing eyes focused on the white lace curtain with delicate openwork designs on the window. Her mind was a mish mash of flashing cameras, stern looking policemen and filthy prison cells. In the chaos, a quiet voice said, Stupid, stupid.
SAFFRON RESTAURANT LEKKI LAGOS
The place was crowded with the hubbub of conversation emanating from well preserved humans sporting expensive jewelry and imported fashion. Clinking glasses and clattering cutlery merged with voices to create a buzz of activity. On a flat screen television at the end of the room, a woman with Middle Eastern features was talking beside footage showing men in hazmat suits carrying a body on a stretcher. Few people paid her attention. The crowd tackled a variety of subjects with the majority discussing politics.
“The rally was okay. In the end, what matters is the election.”
“I have given up. If NFF like they should bring Westerhof back. I don’t understand why anyone would think of bringing Amodu back.”
A few others concerned themselves with conspiracy theories and deadly viruses.
“Is that not how they brought AIDS to Africa?” said a particular young man wearing a three quarter sleeve shirt with horizontal stripes in alternating white and navy blue. His partner, a fortyish looking man with a handsome face and a missing incisor merely smiled before reaching for his drink on the table.
“I am telling you man, this Ebola thing is manufactured by these guys. After all, they have a patent on it.”
A smaller percentage of the crowd made up mostly of couples, occupied themselves with quiet conversation and affectionate love gestures. Lydia and Boma were part of that smaller percentage.
In her shell pink waist pleat dress and well styled bop that brushed her cheeks when she moved, Lydia was a picture of elegance. Occasionally sipping from the straw bopping in her cucumber cocktail drink, she listened to Boma reminisce about their life in Benin. Their short stint as kidnappers conveniently left out of the conversation, they laughed and enjoyed the past.
“What do you think he wants?”
The smile dropping from his face, Boma shook his head in confusion at his girlfriend.
“The man…Naden’s boss.”
Understanding chased confusion from Boma’s face.
His lips turned in a half smile and his left hand traveled up the sculpted right arm to tug at the sleeve of his black Polo shirt.
“I don’t know. I guess he is just being nice.”
Her lips thinning slightly, Lydia shook her head.
“It doesn’t make sense. He must want something.”
“Well, I don’t know.”
Appearing to give up on her investigation, Lydia gave a one shoulder shrug and concentrated instead on the greenish liquid in the bowl of her glass. Boma watched the top of her head for a few minutes, mulling over her words.
It doesn’t make sense, he must want something.
Lost in his thoughts, he did not see the woman weaving through the arrangement of chairs and making a beeline for him. It was the slight turning of Lydia’s head and the questioning look on her face that made him notice the tall shapely figure beside him. Heavily lined eyes moved from Boma to Lydia.
Quirking her lips in a half-hearted smile, Lydia nodded before shooting Boma an inquisitive glance. Boma’s answer was a small shrug, and then he faced the woman again.
“Do you remember me?”
Boma shook his head.
From the periphery of his vision, Boma saw a man looking in their direction. Inclining his head slightly, he gave the man his full attention and stared into eyes hooded by gray eyebrows. Jewel’s date.
“I came to your house some time ago,” the woman said, voice low and lacking inflection. Boma’s eyes narrowed and he forced his mind to become quiet. Sifting through memories accumulated in the past few weeks, he searched for the woman in the throng of faces that faded in and out of the screen of his mind.
“I came to look for your brother.”
Nails, so long they appeared to be talons wrapped around the bars of a gate and a woman’s voice squealed her surprise.
Really? That’s nice. He didn’t tell me he had a brother.
Can I come in and wait for Naden?
“Jewel,” the woman said, nodding slowly as if confirming the accuracy of Boma’s recollection. “My name is Jewel. I came to your house to look for Naden.”
Boma nodded. “Yes. I remember.”
Jewel gave her date a brief backward glance and waved her apology.
“Good,” she said, turning back to look at Boma again. This time her brows met together in an unhappy V. “Please tell him I have something to tell him and that it is urgent.”
Boma and Lydia watched Jewel walk away from their table, her large buttocks jiggling under the sequined fabric of her purple mini dress.
“She is your brother’s girlfriend?”
Lydia laughed softly. “You don’t like her?”
The frown cleared from Boma’s face and he gave a shrug of indifference.
“I have nothing against her. It’s just…” Boma sighed. “I don’t know.”
“You are just looking out for him.”
His lips twisting in a wry smile, Boma looked in Jewel’s direction. Now involved in a conversation with a waiter wearing starched white shirt over solid black pants, she made half moons and jabs in the air. Her date watched her converse with the waiter with what appeared to be a smirk. Bowing slightly when it was over, the waiter walked away from her with a leather bound menu clutched tightly to his chest. By then Jewel’s date was receiving a call and Jewel’s head had swiveled in Boma’s direction. Dark, troubled eyes stared into Boma’s own.
Boma faced his girlfriend and saw her left eyebrow floating inches away from her hairline. It asked a simple question.
What are you looking at?
“Sorry,” Boma said, picking up his drink and gulping a sizeable amount of alcoholic liquid flavoured with tangy sweet fruit.
“I was just thinking about something.”
The closed look on his face meant Lydia was not going to find out what that something was until he was prepared to share his thoughts with her. She changed the subject.
“So, have you heard from Cletus?”
I lie under the weight of old files and resurrected cases, mentally capturing the dignified baritone of the judge who had delivered his ruling on a case of debt recovery involving one of the firm’s clients.
The claim by the defendant in his Affidavit that it was the bailiff that sold the tractor to the plaintiff is no defence at all as same is not borne or supported by any evidence. The law requires a defendant to show a defence on the merit and not just a defence. It is a notorious fact which this court has taken judicial notice of that whenever the bailiffs of this court sell any property by public auction, they issue the buyer with their official receipt…
The letters on the page merge and blur so that I move my attention to the man at the opposite end of the room who is half lying, half sitting beside a sixteen inches black Dell laptop while tapping studiously on the keyboard of the laptop. Dressed in a gray T-shirt and comfortable red joggers, his face is scrunched in a serious frown as he works. I watch him pause his typing to push the bridge of his rimless glasses up his nose. Studying his handsome profile, I fight the urge to go to him, the itching of my fingers to trace the strong jaw where the shadow of stubble is visible. His fingers still and hover above the keyboard every now and then, but his concentration is unbroken. I go back to the ruling.
This is so however not so in the instant case. From Exhibit “A”, it was the defendant that sold the tractor. Received the sum of N2,500,000.00 (Two million, five hundred thousand naira only) being payment for the tractor and issued exhibit “A” which he has not denied.
Losing interest in the rest of the ruling, I uncurl my legs and dump the sheaf of papers on the open file beside me. Heaving noiselessly to my feet, I find my way to my male companion. The tap tap tap of his fingers against the keyboard grows louder, more urgent as I draw nearer.
He does not stir when I drop beside him on my hands and knees. Sighing, I press myself against him, waiting for the invitation to invade his space. Reprieve comes in mere seconds when his right leg lifts to accommodate me before clamping possessively over my body and holding me in place.
“You’ve been working forever,” I tell him, raising myself on my elbow to kiss his jaw.
“Yeah,” he says, fingers filling out words on a blank page.
Tap, tap, tap, tap.
“Won’t you take a break?”
Knowing the futility of waiting for soon to end, I lean in to cover his face with kisses, inhaling much of him as I do.
“Hmm,” he says again. I pull away to look at him. His eyes are still fixed on the screen of the laptop but there is a smile on his face now.
“You like me a lot, don’t you?”
I roll my eyes and fight a guilty smile. “Please!”
Chuckling, he performs a series of taps, pulls his laptop shut and reaches for me.
In a fluid motion, he lays me on my back and hangs above me, eyes traveling down my face to my breasts.
“You know we are both going to get sacked if we don’t meet your father’s target, right?”
I begin to answer him but the feel of his hands creeping past the sides of my breasts forces back the cheeky remark down my throat. Inhaling deeply, I enjoy the flush of warm sensation as soft thumbs graze my nipples lightly. His eyes meet mine once again, flirty and suggestive.
“I like your breasts.”
I bite my lower lip and wriggle my brow.
Throaty laughter filled the room.
“At least I am honest,” he says, pinching my nipple right lightly.
“I am not?”
He performs a one shoulder shrug, pulls off his reading glasses and drops it on the laptop. Returning back to me, his mouth locates my left breast, circling my left nipple with a sensual tongue, one hand caressing my face while the other explores my body. I arch my back and cradle his head until he breaks contact to continue the conversation.
“I am honest. I have told you things.”
Pushing deep into his body, I let my hand travel to his lower back and past the band of his joggers. A flicker of amusement crosses his face when I grab the firm flesh under my fingers.
“Yeah…like how I like your ass.”
He laughs and lowers his head to give me a deep kiss. Retrieving my hand from his joggers, I let my hands roam his back, arms and everywhere I can reach. The world is a warm paradise of brown hard flesh and liquid dark eyes until we are interrupted by the high pitched tone of a phone lying nearby. Pulling away, he mumbles an apology under his breath and twists backwards to pick his new iPhone.
“A message,” he tells me, squinting at the phone.
I nibble his ear. “Okay.”
“From the new lawyer.”
I freeze. “Oh.” I pull back from him and lay on my back. His eyes narrow as he reads whatever is on his face.
“She completed the review already,” he tells me, a half smile on his face. I try to breathe normally as I watch respect dawn on his face. Thoughts dark and vicious cross my mind. I ball my fists and try to ward them off.
Calm down Angela, it’s just an innocent e-mail. She is not trying to warm up to him.
I hear the loud snickering of my inner voice.
Is she not?
Translation of foreign words in story.
1) Kalinka, Kalinka, Kalinka moya! – Little cranberry, cranberry, cranberry of mine
V sadu yagoda malinka, malinka moya! In the garden, (there is) a berry – little raspberry, raspberry of mine
Akh, pod sosnoyu… Ah, under the pine… (Popular Russian folklore)
2) Uhodi (oo ah dee) – Leave/go away (Russian)
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