Chatt Ideye and Benjamin Adeife lodged in Rovans Resorts, a hotel that played host to the wealthy ones in the city of Ibadan. While today, Monday was the last day of their seven-day fun-filled honeymoon; it was the beginning of misfortune in the life of Chatt Ideye.
Chatt was the proverbial pap from a black pot. She witnessed times when her father would be at a pool house or a lotto kiosk from morning till noon, hunting for a jackpot; how he’d later go on to a palm wine joint in the evening and he’d drink to stupor. She wasn’t so heartbroken when she heard the news that her father was hit by a drunk driver. She felt he deserved it. Amaka, her elder sister too was to her as boil under an armpit is to a man. She persuaded her to stop skipping school, to face her education so that they would help their mother but she never listened until she dropped-out. Like their father, she knew every pool-house in the neighbourhood and it was there she got impregnated by a gambler. The gambler rejected the pregnancy; Amaka bore twins two days after he was convicted and jailed for the rape of a five months old pregnant woman. The incident turned Chatt to an object of ridicule among her friends. She was always thankful for the fortitude that helped her overcome those period. It was her mother who kept the family going on with the meagre salary she received as a staff of the Nigeria Telecommunications; it was her who gave Chatt a little reason to grip on to life.But the distress came when after her mother quit her job to join the prayer warrior group of a Cherubim and Seraphim church claiming she’d been called by God to dish out fasting and prayer sessions to spiritually tormented Christians. Chatt saw nothing but pure laxity in her mother’s decision and she bemoaned the day she was born into such family.
Nevertheless, Chatt grew up with tenacity against these thorny backgrounds. She had an obsession for success. She desired a glistering world, strewn with fame and fortune. She could sit in a place for long imagining herself speaking on TV, and signing autographs at public functions. Her desire to live for something inspired every step she took right from the time she learnt to count her teeth with her tongue. Because she just couldn’t lead a life like her father’s, or settle for mediocrity as her mother, she did everything to achieve her dreams. Everything!
She voluntarily developed a habit of reading since she was a kid.She was nine years old when she wrote a synopsis on Chinua Achebe’s Things fall apart that it featured on a radio station in Enugu.At sixteen, she won a NGO scholarship to study mass communication at the University of Ibadan; she was among the three students that graduated with first class honors. She further enrolled at Haws school of languages to study French, Spanish, Mandarin, and Nigeria’s three major languages. After her NYSC she was employed as a news correspondent for the Nigeria Television Authority. And within a year she aired her own TV show ‘chat-with-Chatt’ which was a huge success; likewise her gossip blog. And now at twenty-nine, she was famous. She seemed fulfilled and soon realised that everything she did turned magic; that even climbing the ladder of life was magic too.But she felt something amiss.
She met Benjamin three months ago when she was assigned to interview the five nominees of the paint-the-President project.She was granted a rare privilege of interviewing him in his well-furnished office.
Benjamin was immediately stunned by her dainty appearance. He esteemed the fact that she wasn’t vain in her dressing a sleeveless wine colour ankara with a lumber jacket and a stiletto as other journalists he’d met. Benjamin noticed her pony-tailed cornrow, her large rim-like earrings, and the absence of make-up on her face. Her appearance made an impression on him: simplicity. Her chocolate complexion radiated with an ambience of love. He figured her dimple was affixed on her oval face to grace her smiles. He appreciated her height, her long legs and her delicate hips. To Benjamin, she was the definition of beauty.
In the course of the interview, he told her he was thirty-one years old. Again she learnt he was the founder of Wiki Arts, the second largest art and sculpture exhibition centre in Nigeria. She also learnt he’d been consistently ranked third most successful African artist by Forbes Magazine in its last three editions and that his obsession was to be ranked first in the coming edition.
After the interview, Benjamin couldn’t resist the temptation of asking her for a dinner neither did it take Chatt eternity to agree. It was that simple and easy just as in the movies.
They conversed at the dinner like friends, as though they’ve met for long. She was spellbound by his confidence and composure, by his dreams and ambition, and by his artistic view of everything. She was quick to conclude that he befitted her status, and that he was the missing piece. Somehow her dreams bore flesh and her journey to perfection became lucid. And after series of night-outs and get-to-knows, they got married seven days ago. What more could she ask for now that nothing seemed amiss. Nothing. She was complete; likewise her world.
Chatt sat on the king-size mattress with her legs folded, watching her husband as he dressed for work.
“I can’t believe you’ll be so hasty in returning to work.” She said with her exquisite and rhythmic voice.
“It’s been a week, dearie. Fun is over, and it’s time for me to start thinking of how to put food on the table.” He tucked his shirt into his trousers.
“So how do we get our…” The doorbell interrupted her.
“Come in.” Ben snarled as he reached to tap a button that opened the electronic door.
A tall willowy man entered and regarded Chatt then Benjamin.
“Pack those stuffs into my car trunk,” pointing to two large travelling bags. “Have the keys.” He tossed the keys to him.
The service man picked the keys and carted away the luggage. The electronic door slid open as he approached it and shut behind him as he exited the room.
“How do I look, dearie?” Benjamin stretched out his arms.
She stared at him and remembered when they met three months ago, how she’d admired his ebony black complexion, his tall stature, and his hypertrophied body. She remembered how she adored his fairly large eyeballs, how she cherishedhis African-size nose, how she fancied his puffy lips gave him an artistic look, and how easy it was for her to assent that he was merely presentable rather than handsome. And she’d forever remember how the aura around him stroked her with pleasure and made her conclude he was the missing piece.
She thought her husband looked gay in his outfit: a pink T.M Lewin Shirt tucked in deep brown Chinos, and a brown moccasinto match it.
“Perfecto!” she said, raising her right thumb.
“I love you baby.” He leaned over and planted a kiss on herlips.
“I love you more.” She let those words slip out of her mouth like honey.
“You know what surprised me about our wedding?” he asked unexpectedly.
She shook her head as she fiddled with his maroon tie.
“That N3,000,000 cheque.” he replied, almost like a whisper.
“It perplexed me too. I mean, how would someone give such a huge amount of money without any trace-back address?” She wondered.
There was a brief silence, as though to afford them some time to reflect on who could have gifted them such a huge amount…
“Did you notice anyone in the crowd you think might have done such a thing; maybe you friends or…”
“Everywhere was crowded. I could barely notice myself.” He said and added as an afterthought, “Perhaps it’s one of your fans; maybe a secret admirer.”
She wanted to tell him to stop been playful but she realised there could be an iota of truth in what he said. “I’m not sure I have any secret admirer. I can’t be certain, though. But if there is one, it still doesn’t warrant such an outrageous act. It’s a bad omen.”
“Just let it be for now and don’t get yourself worked-up” Ben wiggled her shoulder. “We’ll get to that later. So what do we do with the money?”
“Well that’s a conversation for another day.” She answered slyly, with half of her still focused on sketching a mental picture of who could fit into the role of a secret admirer her husband had mentioned. There was none, she thought. And I will let it be like my hubby had advised.
As Benjamin leaned over to lace his moccasin, a thought nudged him. “Hey, dearie I just keep forgetting.”
“What is it, darling?” She reached for her phone and switched it on.
“Where were you on the bachelor eve night?”
The question caught her unawares. It sent her heart throbbing. She swallowed a big lump of saliva before she rephrased the question as though to discern its clarity. “Where was I on the Bach eve night?”
“Yeah, I came to your apartment to tell you my best-man and I would sleep at the Doran Hotel. But you weren’t there. I’d always wanted to ask you but it kept eluding my thought.” He said purposely to help her recollect what happened that night.
Her absence that night really bothered him. He didn’t expect she’d go anywhere on the night of their traditional wedding. It almost made him sleepless. But it skipped his mind whenever he wanted to ask her. Perhaps it was because they’d never been a moment of monotony in their honeymoon spell – from bathtub sex, to swimming pool romance, to candle light dinner, to gaming, debate over the number of children they wanted, and more unnecessary arguments he couldn’t tell.
Chatt stared aimlessly at the giant mirror, stroking her cornrows. Droplets of sweat settled on her nose and some trickled her armpit. She knew it would be a lousy decision if she feigned pretense or ignorance; it would be a dumb act if she kept mute at the face of such a direct question. Yet she had to reply, she had to say something.
“Umh… that night? Yes I was with the Collins.” She lied.
Benjamin widened his eyes. “The Collins, you said?”
His response sounded more like a query to her. Could it be that he’d visited the Collins to ask of me? Or could it be that he came with one of the Collins to my apartment? There was no much time for debate. She’d started out with lies; she had to see it through with lies too. So she shrugged and nodded, spicing it with a faint smile.
“Ok then. It’s Just a thought, nothing serious.” It was serious but it didn’t matter now. At least she’d said something even if it didn’t convince him.
He patted her back, buried a kiss on her chin and walked over to the parlourfor his car keys.
Chatt sat still and stared sullenly into the empty: Why did he choose today to ask this question? Did he believe I was really with the Collins? Will he see the Collins and ask them if I was with them? It’s just seven days after marriage and I’ve lied to the man I took an oath with on the holy altar, Chatt, Why, maka gini?
Her Blackberry Q10 rang to punctuate her thought. Asa’s ‘be my man’ was her ringtone.
“Arethey waiting for you to switch on your phone?” Benjamin bawled from the parlour, referring to her fans as they.
“Abi o,” she mumbled.
She picked up her phone sluggishly and glanced at the screen. A restricted number, she thought. No one had ever called her with a restricted number since she’d became famous, at least that she could remember. Who then could be calling me with a restricted number?
She cursed under her breath as she punched the receive button. “Hello there.”
A Spanish accented voice answered, “Is that Chatt Ideye?”
“Chat Ideye-Adeife, yes” she said and wished Benjamin was close enough to hear how she’d affixed his surname to hers. “And who are you?”
“You’ll know real soon. I’ve got a message for you and I’ll get back to you in fifteen minutes. Comprender?”
“Hello, hello…” The line went dead.
She was anxious. She looked around as though to be sure Benjamin wasn’t listening to her conversation.She knew something was unusual about the call and strange about the caller. His voice was shrill and terse. Spiky and insolent. You’ll know real soon sounded authoritative. It made her wonder what a gut he had, who he could be, and what sort of message needed to be postponed for another fifteen minutes.
“Who was that, dearie?” asked Ben, his dangling keys noted he was approaching the door.
“It was Amaka, she sent her regards.” She didn’t think twice before she lied. Though she didn’t see a reason to lie; instinctively, from the caller’s tone, she realised the exigency to keep their conversation secret, at least for now. It could be the person that gifted us three million bucks, my secret admirer as Ben had mentioned.She thought.
“Say me hi to her then. I’m off. Kiss kiss…” the closing door sucked up the rest of his talk.
She sat still and wondered who the caller was and what sort of message could he have for her. Can it be from my place of work? That can’t be because I’m on leave. Perhaps it’s from my mother? Well why would she need someone to deliver a message for me when she has my number. Then who could it be? It must the mysterious man that gave us N3, 000,000? She was curious. Suddenly her heart skipped; then it began to race from an instinct she didn’t know. She looked at the wall clock and it was 09:30 a.m. The caller had said he’ll get back to her in fifteen minutes. 09:45 a.m.She was nudged by the urgency to get prepared before he called back.
She got off the bed, dashed into the shower for a quick wash. When she stepped out of the bathtub, she reached for a towel to mop herself. Applying neither cream nor perfume; she slid into her ankara gown.
Then she stood in front of the mirror to see her appearance.She always wanted to look good and simple. She turned round; it was beautiful on her. It flayed from waste to toe. And she felt it made her look like a queen. On other days she would have spent eternity admiring her outfit but not today. Subconsciously she was aware of the terror in the caller’s voice. More so, she was curious about the message.
She dragged a stool closer that it made a screeching sound on the tiled floor and sat to apply hair-cream to her cornrows. After which she tended her eyebrow and powdered her face. She was about to apply a lip-gloss when the intercom phone rang.
At first she froze but she regained herself within a twinkle. She was short of breath. She dropped the lip gloss and peered at the wall clock. It was 09:47am. Her mind flashed back to her conversation with the caller:I’ll get back to you in fifteen minutes. But why is he calling through an intercom phone? Could he be that he’d lodged in this hotel?
There was no time for any mind-debate. She hurtled to the bedside drawer, upsetting the stool, and snapped up the intercom receiver.
“Is that room 306?”
It was a relief to hear the receptionist’s voice.
“Sure it is.” She answered.
“Mrs. Adeife?” She verified.
“I’ve got a message for you, please.” She said with the courtesy of a well-trained receptionist.
“I’ll get it right away. Thanks.” And she replaced the receiver.
Anxiety crept in just as fast as the relief did. Her heart raced faster, like an Olympic athlete. She was confused. She was caught in the dilemma of the mysterious caller and the receptionist’s call. Then she did the maths. The caller said he’d call in 15mins and the receptionist’s call came a little later. She felt it was plausible and that it couldn’t have been a mere coincidence. But her maths did little to raise her confidence, it did little to help her decide on which of the calls she needed to take serious. Yet one of them must be answered, one of them must be the real one. She decided to go for the receptionist’s. After all she had nothing to loose.
She hurriedly packed her belongings into her hand bag and made for the door, muttering thanks to God that Ben had helped with their luggage. The electronic door opened to collect her.
The composed manner with which she walked the long corridor that led to a staircase belied her curiosity. Inside of her, she couldn’t just wait to see the receptionist, to receive the message. And she couldn’t help but wonder what sort of message needed so much effort to be delivered? It puzzled her.