Downstairs, the receptionist was attending to a pot-bellied Lebanese man so Chatt had to take her queue.
She sat on a lounger and scanned her surroundings. There was the walls made with marbles, colourful long curtains adorned the windowpanes, the floor tiles reflected the chandeliers, flowerpots dotted about the spacious bar, and a mini fountain completed the elegance. The wall bore various works of arts and sculpture thus giving the bar a look of a museum. Chatt noted the cheapest food item on the neon-lighted menu list was N5,000. She seemed lost in her admiration of the hotel bar as the chilliness of the air-conditioner smeared her body. When she turned around, the Lebanese man had gone.
She walked briskly to the receptionist’s counter. With a brief glance, she noticed the wide board of indicator buttons and electronic key-cards of every room that laid just behind the receptionist’s seat.
“Hello, Farida.” She had seen her name on her tag.
“Mrs. Chatt Ideye-Adeife?” She inquired.
Chatt felt she was too attractive to be a receptionist but she was glad her exquisite voice stood toe-to-toe with her light blue eyes, with her sun-tan complexion, with her beauty.
“Your key card, please.”
She tossed it to her.
“Thank you, ma’am.”
Farida opened her drawer and brought out a manila envelope. She pushed over a register book to her. “Sign there, ma’am.” Chatt signed.
Her heart pulsated the moment she collected the enveloped. A chilling coldness arouse inside her; she felt her heart stopped for a moment. What is happening to me? She tried to contain her quivering hands. She wanted to ask Farida who delivered the envelope but she held herself back. That’s a lousy decision, she thought.The caller had said he had a message for me and this definitely has to be it since he’s yet to call. She tried to convince herself.
“Is that all, Farida?”
“Yes madam.” She regarded her with a smile and added, “Have a wonderful day.”
“And you too.”She scanned the envelope; it was blank. No trace-back address? Could it be from the same person who gifted us N3,000,000?
She shoved it in her handbag as she managed a sly walk across the lobby. She was accepted by the roller-door. Outside, she’d barely waited for ten seconds on the beautiful wide landscape when a taxi pulled up in front of her.
She bent over and said, “Elizabeth Street, Bodija.”
The taxi driver was bald-headed with high cheekbones and tobacco stained teeth. Chatt figured he couldn’t be more than forty-five years old but suffering had made him look sixty.
“Enter make we go.” He answered in a hoarse tone.
She hurriedly opened the back seat door; thrust her bag in first before she entered and slammed the door. She jerked backwards as the taxi driver started along the tarred road.
In the taxi, she agreed with herself that the envelope was from the caller. Except that she wondered if the caller was the same with the mysterious person that gifted them N3,000,000.Then she asked herself what could be in the envelope. She was nervous. She couldn’t even bring herself to open it. Her heart quivered and her hands trembled whenever she thought of opening it. Somehow, it frightened her; its unseen content terrified her. She finally convinced herself it wasn’t the right time to open it.
She tried to divert her mind from the envelope, away to something else. So she stared aimlessly out of the window, admiring how the hat trees appeared to move in the opposite direction of the taxi – something she fancied as a kid. She remembered when she was a kid, how every car that overtook whichever one she sat in made a deep humming sound. At first she’d always thought the sound was peculiar to certain cars until she realised otherwise. But none of those mattered today. Her face was hard and fierce like a wounded lion. She pouted her lips and swelled in distress as though she wanted to burst.
She regretted shunning the idea of inquiring who delivered the envelope from Farida. Perhaps it would have given her some clue and she won’t have to be so tensed as she was now. She lamented.
She opened her bag, peered into it, and weighed the idea of opening the envelope. Her heart thumped. It terrified her again. Something, she knew not of, held her back.
“I’ll open it when I get home.” She said aloud to herself as though to help her resist the enticing idea of tearing the envelope.
Workers at Wiki Arts met Benjamin Adeife with greetings of ‘good mornings’ and ‘Happy married Life’ as he walked through the gallery. He replied cheerfully and even stopped to shake some of them.
He entered into a small lobby that served as an office to his secretary and a path to his office.
“Good morning sir and Happy Married Life,” greeted his secretary.
“How are you Latifah?” he tucked his key into the knob hole.
Latifah was a Fulani girl, light complexioned, and slim. She had shifty eyes, a hollow nose, thin set of lips, and an oval face.
“I’m doing great sir,” she replied in her low-pitched voice.
“Look behind you; there comes your wedding.” Ben teased, pouting his lips.
She laughed shyly.
“Where is Bob Carpenter?”
“In his office, I suppose.” She answered with full seriousness that one wouldn’t have believed she had just laughed.
“Get him over to my office.” He opened his door and entered.
Benjamin’s office was well fitted with padded rug, had a wide mahogany table with an executive swivel chair and two arm chairs. On the wall were the paintings of Wole Soyinka, Fela Kuti, and the Nigerian President.
He walked to the window and open the glass. Rays of the morning sun slashed through the office and perched on some of the wall paintings. He’d barely sat when Bob Carpenter entered.
“Ben the new man,” he hailed.
They shook hands rigorously and embraced each other.
“Carpenter, the old man,” he joked and they both laughed.
Bob Carpenter was a white man, tall and huge with hairy and freckled skin. They met at the Wynwood Exhibition Center in Miami, Florida and Ben was enthralled by his great skills. Benjamin discussed the vast untapped resources of the African art culture, the igbo-ukwu art and the idea thrilled Bob. Though it took a lengthy persuasion, he finally agreed to work as a curator at the Wiki Art Gallery.
Ben sat on his chair and let out a sound like a punctured tyre, his face breaking into fragments of smirk. “You know what amuses me most about you?”
“Except you tell me,” He knew Ben was back with his silly jokes.
“The names you white people give to yourselves.”
“What about it?” he fumbled with his thick eyebrows.
Benjamin stared at his piercing green eyes. “You have last names such as Champion, Stone, Table, Tailor, Pillar, Woodwork, Artist, Sand, Goodman, Goodspeed, and I’ve even heard someone named his son Johnny Sorrow. They don’t seem to make sense.”
“How do you mean? I still don’t get you,” he retorted.
He chuckled. “Take for instance a Nigerian adage that says, ‘we examine the homestead before we name a child.’ Meaning we look at circumstances and situation around us before naming ourselves. So over eighty percent of Nigerian names are meaningful; take your name Bob carpenter as a case study. Were your fore-fathers carpenters or what?”
“You ask Google.” He laughed. “What about you? I can as well say the same thing about Nigerian Christians who seem to find solace in naming their children after biblical names. Why is that? Take your name too as a study case. Did your mother die during child-birth?”
“Don’t get things twisted, man. This is not about Nigeria here. It’s about yours.”
“Then forget it.” He waved his hand. He didn’t seem ready for his jokes today. On other days, they would have gone arguing and laughing for hours. “You look funkier and chubby.”
“Don’t be an idiot; it’s just a week old marriage.” He relaxed well into his seat.
“The hell you need just a night, young man.” Bob sat on the arm chair.
“I’ll take that as an advice from the old geese.”
They both laughed as though Ben’s response was indeed funny.
“Well, congratulations and best wishes to the new family.” He stretched out his hand to him again.
“Thanks.” He shook his hands. “So how’s Mrs. Bricklayer, your wife.”
“Stop that nasty attitude. Mrs. Carpenter is fine. She wants a vacation in Paris.”
“To see the Eiffel tower, I suppose.”
“Maybe, and I can sculpt the tower as a feature resource for the plateau hills model work. I think the Eiffel sculpture will adorn the painting. Just a notch, though.”
“Good one then. So what has been up at work?”
“Everything good has been up,” he tugged his heeled nose. “But you should make a guess, first.”
Ben closed his eyes with an effort to think, and then said. “That Chatt is carrying a twin in her stomach.”
“Stop that nasty attitude. The winner of the paint-the-president project will be announced in two months. Didn’t you read the morning newspaper?”
“Newly married man won’t think of newspaper so soon. That’s great news though.”
“A great one indeed and a nice wedding gift, I guess. I just hope we win it.”
“Much of the stake is in our favour and you know that.” He raised his eyes and his forehead furrowed.
“That’s real.” Bob brought out a cigarette and lit it.
“So how much is in it for us?” he asked.
“A billion naira!”
“Leaving us with an excess of eighty million naira profit?”
“Exactly, and watch your tongues so that you don’t put yourself in the media trap-net.” Bob warned.
“That’s big deal.”
“Yes it is. But this is government money. So don’t count your eggs yet till they’re hatched.”
“Well, I think I need a drink for that news. Don’t you think?” He moved over to the cellarette, produced a bottle of brandy and filled two glass cups. They toasted and took a brief gulp in silence.
“You know I somehow have faith in Nigeria.” Ben broke the silence.
“Why won’t you. You already have a billion naira check coming your way.”
“Not that Bob. Can’t you see the changes going on? Take the Power Holding Company Deregulation as an instance. Isn’t that a good step towards solving the countries epileptic power supply?” He drank the liquor to emptiness this time.
Bob dragged on his cigarette. “Yes it is. But what do we say about peace? The administration hasn’t done much to curb the terrorist insurgents in the northern part of the country.”
“That’s a fat lie. I’ll agree if you admit you’re blind to the valiant steps the administration has taken.”
“Steps fully immersed in governments selfish interests?” he sipped the remaining liquor.
Ben sat up straight. “Look, you don’t talk about my country in that manner and I mean it.”
“Then let’s forget it. After all I’m not a politics man so drop this discussion, please.” Politics was one thing they never agreed on.
Bob gulped the brandy at once, stubbed out his cigarette then stood to leave. “I’m going back to the studio. Happy married life once again.”
He returned the bottle of liquor to the cellarette, left Ben’s office and shut the door behind him.
Ben was now alone. He relaxed in his seat, locked his fingers and rested his chin on it as he slid into thought: Now the winner of the contract will be announced in a month time. Bob thought the stakes are in favour of Wiki Arts yet we can’t just sit and watch. Something needs to be done. His ambition of being ranked as the most successful artist in Africa by Forbes Magazine shadowed his thoughts again. A billion naira contract will not only help him make the cut but also make him stay top for many years to come.
He adjusted himself in his seat, and stared at the ceiling. But what about Pastor Dan’s remarks, he thought. That lean Pastor had warned me about the painting contract, he’d tagged it as the devil’s bait and a mirage. Suddenly it nudged him that if he was to win the contract and achieve his dream of making the Forbes Magazine most successful artist, then he needed to do something to avert Pastor Dan’s remark. He’d known Pastor Dan for precise prophecy and he didn’t think his own was an exception. But what was he to do? The paint-the-president project was a political affair and he had no political connections that could help him pull some strings if it’d help.
He placed his elbow on the table and buried his face in his palm, trying to figure out what he must do to avert Pastor Dan’s remark when his table phone rang.
With the sharp reflex of a goal-keeper, he snapped up the receiver and yelled into its speakers, “Hello.”
The unexpected voice of his caller made his hand quiver and for a brief moment he wished the call had come in a little later.