I’ve woken up in many strange beds before but it’s always been next to a strange man who has paid me to be in his bed. Waking up alone on the bed in Rotimi’s beautiful comfortable guestroom felt strange.
I’m one of those people who can go to sleep at 4 am and still wake up at six. I always wake up before my alarm. School and needing to get out of a man’s house before it’s light outside has trained me so.
I was wide awake and unsure what to do. If he was next to me I’d have either woken him up, or if matters had been settled the night before and I knew my way out, I’d be getting dressed and I’d only wake him up at the last minute just to tell him I’m leaving. But I was alone in his guestroom and I didn’t know what to do. Do I wait for him to wake up and come check up on me? Do I go to his room and knock his door? I decided to wait, but I soon found that I couldn’t do even that. I reached for me phone and switched it on. Messages started beeping away. My battery was low so after checking that no one important had called, no call from Johnny junior, I switched the phone off and tried to go back to sleep.
I was just dozing off, I think, when I heard him knocking. It had to be him; we were the only two people in the house.
“Come in,” I said.
He was in a pair of boxers and nothing else. I was naked under the sheets. He had a glass of what looked like orange juice in one hand and a mug in the other.
“Good morning you,” he said. “Did you sleep well?”
“Yes. Good morning.”
He walked over and sat on the bed.
“How do you feel this morning?”
“Cool. I didn’t know if you’re a coffee person or a juice person so I brought both.”
He handed me the glass of juice and he sipped out of the coffee.
“It’s almost seven,” he said. “If we don’t get out of VGC now we’ll be stuck in traffic all morning.”
“Remember? We’re going to my clinic?”
“The bathroom is the second door on your right when you come out. Meet me downstairs in fifteen minutes?”
He smelt of soap but I still asked. “What about you?”
“I’m ready. I’m just going to get dressed. Please, don’t be one of those women who take one hour to get ready.”
He smiled to let me know he was joking then he got up to leave.
“Thank you,” I said.
He stood by the door for a while looking at me and smiling. He looked as if he wanted to say something, then he left.
I wanted to impress him so I got ready superfast but even at that, when I got downstairs he was fully dressed in a black suit, a white shirt and a red tie, standing by the dining table and sipping coffee, as if he had been waiting for me forever. He looked like a banker; a rich banker.
“I’m ready,” I said.
“Cool,” was all he said and he grabbed his keys off the dining table. I don’t even think he looked at me.
We didn’t get out early enough to beat the traffic to VI and nothing could have been worse than being stuck in traffic alone with him in his car. We spent the entire hour and a half in awkward silence. After we passed the first roundabout he switched on his stereo and asked me if it wasn’t too loud. That was all the talk we had till we got to his office at VI.
Now, I’ve been to many hospitals before but never one inside a block of luxury flats. At first I didn’t get out of the car when he parked because I thought he had stopped over to see someone.
When we entered the flat that he called his clinic, we entered a normal living room. There was a lady at the dining table working on a laptop. She didn’t get up when we entered. She greeted him and smiled at me as if she knew me.
He turned to me. “Would you like some breakfast?”
I was hungry but I’d not known how to tell him.
“Yes please,” I said.
He told me to sit down then he gave me the remote for the flat screen TV on the wall and he told me I could change the station if I wanted to. Then he disappeared into a room and next time he came out he was with a short man in a chef’s uniform.
“Sunday will sort you out,” he said.
He disappeared again, this time through a corridor that should lead to bedrooms if the flat was still being used as a home. Sunday told me had had English or Continental breakfast. I didn’t know the difference so I asked him for English. He asked me if I wanted coffee or tea and I told him juice.
The lady at the table looked my way and caught me looking at her.
“That’s a lovely dress you have,” she said. She spoke funeh.
“Did you make it?”
“Wow. You must give me your tailor’s information. But I’m sure it won’t look as good on me. It’s like seeing a hair do on someone and going to get the same, never mind that the girl you copied it off has a perfectly shaped head.”
She spoke as if we were friends. I didn’t know her and I wasn’t comfortable speaking to her about my Boubou or about hair styles or anything. But she continued chatting away in her funeh even when I only responded with nods and yeses and noes.
Sunday placed my food on the dining table. I was apprehensive about sitting next to the woman to eat but she unplugged her laptop and picked it up the moment my food arrived.
“Bon appétit,” she said.
I said come and join me, and spent the next fifteen minutes as I ate cringing over saying it. Thankfully she left through the same corridor Rotimi had left through.
Sunday must have called him to say I had finished eating, because the moment he cleared the table and returned to the kitchen Rotimi emerged and asked me if I enjoyed my breakfast. I nodded that I did.
“Will you come with me now?” he said.
His office looked like a normal business office, not like a clinic at all. The lady wasn’t there.
“What kind of hospital is this?” I asked.
“It’s not a hospital, it’s a clinic.”
“You know what I mean. What kind of clinic is this?”
“I know exactly what you mean. It’s a long story. I only treat a certain type of clientele. I actually inherited the practice from my father.”
“You father is a doctor too?”
“Yes and my mother. And I have a sister who’s a doctor too. I guess doctors tend to breed doctors.”
“Where is your father now?”
“And your mother?”
“In prison in America.”
He smiled a laughing smile. “She’s doing a research on how diseases spread in prison. She’s in America with my dad.”
“Oh, I see. But how come this place doesn’t look like a hospital?”
“Like a clinic. Because it’s not. My clients are people who want absolute confidentiality. I see maybe two or three patients in a day, my partner and I. You met her, Joyce. We see people who have problems they don’t want people to know about, if you understand what I mean.”
“I think I do. People like me.”
“Not really. But one of my clients referred you and his picking the bill.”
He smiled again.
“How old are you?” I asked him. He looked too young to be so together and have such a good life and even to be a doctor.
“I’m not going to tell you,” he said.
“Because it’s good to keep secrets.”
He called someone and another lady came to take me to another room where she took my blood. In all, I spent about two hours in his clinic and not once did I see another patient, nor did I see Joyce again, or Sunday.
He came to meet me in the parlour and asked me if I was ready to go. I felt embarrassed because I’d been sitting there waiting for him to come and give me medicine or something.
“I can go now?”
“Yes. I don’t have any other appointments this morning so I’ll take you home.”
Another silent ride to my BQ and for the first time I felt embarrassed for a man to see where I lived.
Before I got out of his car I thanked him again for everything, then I asked him the question that had been on my mind all morning.
“So, am I going to be ok?”
“Of course you are.”
He reached out and squeezed my shoulder.
“Don’t worry about a thing. I’ll call you soon as I have news.”
“But you don’t have my number.”
He brought out his phone and gave it to me. I saved my phone number on it and handed it back to him.
“Thank you for everything,” I said.
“Thank you for thanking me,” he said.
We looked at each other. He was smiling that his unreadable smile; I’m not sure what my face was doing. I opened the door to get out.
“What are you doing later tonight?” he asked.
“What?” I was already out of his car.
“What are you doing later tonight? I’m free. I could take you out to see a movie. You can bring a friend.”
“Ok.” He smiled, I closed his door and he drove off.
Mama can like to disgrace me. If Rotimi had not asked me to bring a friend, and I still don’t understand why he said I should, I wouldn’t have told her to come with us to Silverbird.
She always feels the need to say something whenever she meets someone new. We had just entered the gate of Silverbird. I saw he raise her nose to sniff the air then she squeezed her lips and nose together.
“Mnn, I smell pomp corn,” she said.
I wanted to enter the ground.
Rotimi had been walking in front of us. He turned and also sniffed the air.
“I smell it too,” he said. “We’ll get some when we get inside.”
“I don’t like pomp corn unless it’s the one with sugar,” she said.
I wanted to shout at her or pinch her or slap or something. I was trying to give her eye but she was too busy putting up a show for Rotimi that she didn’t even notice. Before I knew what was happening she was walking side by side with him and they were talking about popcorn and hotdog. He was telling her how cinemas really make their money off the food they sell and she was listening like a student enthralled by a fantastic teacher. I walked behind them watching them and thinking how so different he is; how it’s ok to say pomp corn in front of him, or be a runs girl, or be raped by a policeman, or be introduced to him by an aristo. Nothing seemed to be a big deal to him. He had offered to take me out and even asked me to bring a friend. And when I slept in his house he didn’t try to sleep with me. Or was that because he thought I had aids?
Thankfully Mama really wanted to see the movie, she chose the one we saw, and she was silent through it. Sitting in darkness next to each other, he occasionally looked at me and me at him and he would smile and I would smile back. If you ask me today to tell you what happened in Iron Man 2, I can’t. I was so deep in day dreaming and other thoughts that I didn’t even realise when the movie ended.
Mama wanted to go and get Shawarma, but to be fair to her he did ask if we wanted to get something to eat. I was successful at giving her eye this time and I thanked him but said we had to get back.
He drove us home and Mama from the back seat gave him a hug and a peck before thanking him and getting out. I was just thankful that she left us alone then she returned and tapped on his window. He wound down.
“She’s my sister o,” she told him, “And she’s very dia to me. You must treat her well because she’s golden.”
“Mama, go and sleep!”
He laughed and he let her hug him again through the window. My face was in my palms as she left.
“Do all your friends think you’re golden?” he asked.
“Mama is just a fool.”
“She’s your friend.”
“Yes, but she’s just a fool.”
“Yes, but she’s your friend.”
I didn’t get the point he was making but I sensed that it was one I should be glad he was trying to make.
“Babes, I’ve had a lovely day with you,” he said.
“And I’d like to do it again. Can we see tomorrow evening? Hope I’m not rushing you?”
“Tomorrow? I’m not doing anything.”
Then my phone rang. I wanted him to continue with what he was about to say but he stopped and waited for me to take the call. I was sure it was Mama calling to tell me I should follow him home or something stupid like that. It was John junior. My heart leapt when I saw his name. It had to be about Johnny. Johnny had been released!
“I’m sorry, I have to take this,” I said.
Straight away I knew something was wrong. “What happened?” I asked John junior after the way he said hello.
“Nothing. Where are you?”
“I’m at home. Where is Johnny?”
“He wants to talk to you.”
“Is he out?”
“No. He’s going to call tonight and he has to talk to you.”
“He’ll explain to you. I’ll send the driver now.”
“No. I’ll come immediately.”
I ended the call and took in a deep breathe. I was acutely aware of Rotimi looking at me.
“What’s the matter?” he asked me.
“I have to go to VI.”
“Why? What’s wrong?”
“It’s a long story.”
“Where in VI? I’ll take you.”
I liked the way he never asked too many questions. I told him where and he drove me there.
All through the ride I kept trying to think what might have happened. I kept replaying the phone conversation with John junior, trying to see if it was only me and there had really been nothing in his voice to suggest something was wrong. If something was wrong, what could it be? I just didn’t know.
We drove into Johnny’s compound and John junior was waiting for me outside, and smoking.
I got out of Rotimi’s car so quick that I didn’t get a chance to tell him to wait for me.
“Who is that?” John junior asked.
“He’s my friend, my doctor.”
Before I could explain, Rotimi was by my side extending a handshake to John junior.
“Hi, my name is Rotimi,” he said.
John junior shook his hand.
Awkward silence dropped between us.
John junior looked worried. “Please excuse us,” he told Rotimi and he took my hand and led me into the house. I only had enough time to turn my head and give Rotimi a pleading look.
“Who is he?” John junior asked again once we were in John’s living room and the door was shut.
“I told you, he’s my doctor.”
“Your doctor how? Never mind. Does he know about my dad?”
“Good. I hope you know you can’t talk to anyone about it?”
“Ok, you know? Or OK you haven’t been talking about it?”
“You didn’t tell me not to talk about it.”
“So you’ve been talking about it.”
“No, you haven’t? So why didn’t you just say that?”
“Why are you asking me these questions? What happened? What’s going on?”
“Did you tell that guy about my dad?”
“Are you sure?”
“You want to ask him?”
“I’m going to call me dad now and he’s going to explain something to you.”
His phone had been in his hand all the time. He made a call and waited until it was answered.
“Dad? She’s here.”
He handed the phone to me.
“Amaka Omoge! How you dey?”
“Johnny! Where are you?”
“I still dey here o, with my new friends. They are treating me fine though.”
“They haven’t released you?”
“No, they haven’t o. That’s why I want to talk to you.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Baby, we have half of the money but I’m going to have to sell my house to get the other half. They have agreed to release my friend and his wife if we give them the money, but I need your help.”
“You need my help? How?”
“Baby, they want you to bring the money.”
“Yes, sis. I’m sorry to drag you into this but they insist that you should be the one to bring the money.”
“Me? How do they know me?”
“Me too I don’t know o. But please, just do this for me.”
“Johnny, but how do they know me?”
“Amaka, I really can’t stay long on the phone. Just tell me if you can bring the money.”
“I don’t know. They will call later to tell you. You just have to agree to bring it first.”
“Johnny, I don’t understand what’s going on. Why do they want me to bring the money? Who are they? How do they know me?”
“Baby, I can’t talk for long. Please, I’m begging you, my life depends on this. Can you do this for me?”
Tears were rolling down my cheeks. I was crying silently and I couldn’t answer.
“Baby, it’s gonna be alright. I won’t ask you to do this if I didn’t have to. It’s not just my life that’s on the line. I have to get me friends out. Please, Amaka, please help us. Help me. Will you do this?”
I was sobbing when I said yes but he heard and I heard him telling someone I said yes then the line went dead.
John junior took the phone from me and wiped my tears off it.
“You have to stay here,” he said.
I gave him a questioning look.
“They are going to release his friends tonight. You have to stay and wait for the call.”
“I don’t know. You have to tell your friend to leave. And you can’t tell him what’s happening.”
“No, you don’t understand. You can’t tell him anything. My dad’s life depends on it.”
“Ok. I understand.”
I cleaned the tears off my face and gathered myself. Before I left to face Rotimi, John junior reminded me not to tell him anything, as if I’d even know where to start if I wanted to tell him something.
Rotimi was leaning on the bonnet of his car. He saw me come out the door and he started to walk towards me.
“I’m staying her tonight,” I said. “Thanks for bringing me.”
“I’m staying here.”
“You’re staying here? Who is he?”
“I can’t tell you.”
He was standing in front of me, holding his key in both hands, playing with it in a twisting motion. I avoided his face but I couldn’t help looking. I wish I hadn’t. He was smiling as usual, but this time it was a different kind of smile. It was that kind of “I didn’t know you were an ashewo like this” kind of smile.
“Goodnight,” he said and he turned to leave. I turned away and the tears returned and this time they were for Johnny, for me, and for Rotimi.