The last thing Greg heard his wife say over the phone was “…okay, sugar, yes yes,…awwwn, that’s so sweet, yes, thank you so much, I will…” The words receding as he stepped out of the house. He did not have the time to ask questions. He was running late for a meeting with some clients.
At the meeting he was absent-minded but he was good at his job, the clients didn’t notice. In fact, he was commended. Only a few of his colleagues knew a smirk was what he had on his face and not a smile. What was the matter with him today? They wondered.
Greg was about to call his wife to meet him up for lunch when his phone rang. It was his wife’s favorite distant cousin-“Fredrick aka Fred the clown” as he was fondly called. Honestly, in all the nine years I’ve been married to my wife I’ve never heard or seen Fred say or do something that would elicit even a chuckle from me. Ha! the things men tolerate from in-laws because of love, na wa! If comedy is indeed the path Fred has chosen to success then he is on a forlorn journey. He mused. He did not pick the call.
The phone rang again still Greg ignored. I’d rather be like the lazy and foolish men in the book of Proverbs than be like Fred. They have more hope than him. The phone rang once more and he picked.
“Hello! Greg said aloud trying to sound cheerful.” I’ve been so busy…you say? No, I think it’s the network. My wife? You mean your cousin, yes? Sugar…Sugar is his what?…meet where? Hello…can you send a text?.. hello… ? ” Greg repeated just before the line went dead.
Greg tried to call back but the line was unreachable. But he could almost swear he heard most of, if not all what Fred said. Yes indeed, he’d overheard his wife calling someone sugar just this morning but he’d let it pass only because he was in a hurry. The phone rang again and he picked even before the second ring. “Yes, yes you were saying… Hello? Why don’t you just send a text then? Hello.. why, of course, I know you like me…hello, yes, yes I know it’s because I married your favorite cousin…Please go straight to the point! where did you say you saw her? why are you telling me this and for gawdsakes why can’t you tell me here and now? ” Greg yelled into the phone. But the line had gone dead again. He tried calling his wife but her line was busy so he texted her. He waited a few minutes and called back, still busy. He tried once more but it was unreachable.
What exactly is happening? Who was she on the phone with for over six minutes? I thought that aside her folks and her dumb distant cousin, only I called her that long.
His phone vibrated. He quickly checked and hissed. He thought it was a text from his wife but It was from Fred. He read it and frowned. Fred had sent an address of a place they could meet which only meant he was serious. In the text, he had added that he was travelling the next morning so they had to meet today. Greg sat up and loosened his Gucci tie. This was serious.
Could Anne be cheating on me? No, never!… But she had done that before. Yes, but that was in the past..and long before we got married and she swore they only smooched; besides the past is past, it has no life…Rubbish! How does that stop her from doing it again? After all, she’s human and she even had excuses back then. Did she not accuse you of neglecting her? Of letting your feelings for your first wife come between you two? What if you’ve not been giving her the attention she deserves? Have you not mistreated her before? What if you’re falling short in your manly duties as a husband…? But am I?
Greg picked his car key and left the office.
He decided he would take a cab to the address instead. He was in no mood to drive.
After telling the driver where he was headed, he closed his eyes and tried to relax but soon dozed off.
An hour and a few minutes later, the driver tapped him. Greg looked around, alighted and almost screamed at the driver.
“But oga, is here you talk say you dey go now…” the driver said exasperatedly.
“Who? do you see any eatery around here? Greg retorted.
“bu… But oga you say Ajegunle and I ask weda is for along IKorodu and you say ma frend will you muuv dis car am in a hurrry and I muuv,” cried the cab man.
Greg knew he was at fault. He ought to have looked closely at the address. He got back into the cab, brought out his phone and re-read the text. He looked at the sky. It was bluish grey. The kind that tells you here in Lagos, Nigeria, it will rain cat and dog soon.
“My God, am I going blind or what? But it says Ajegunle here. Could there be another… “
The cab man looked closely at the somewhat strange passenger who had started to sweat in this cool weather and began to contemplate calling the police man standing nearby for help.
“Me I never carry dis kind of man before oo. Abi no be mad man dey ask God whether him is going blind? Or shall I tell am make him come down even if he not want to pay?” The cab man soliloquised.
The cab man took a closer look at Greg.
“Nothing do dis man now, it is like say him just come from Oyibo land but he miss his road. God I beg o, I be a honest person o make my good not turn to bad o.” The cab man soliloquized in a whisper.
Greg, after reading the text thrice over, sighed in frustration. The cab man asked for the phone to read the text. Greg gave it to him reluctantly. The cab man read slowly and frowned.
” Ah! Oga, is the other Ajegunle nah…number 69, Adetabi Jona street. Is the longest street for Apapa na, ehn! Is the one dat is for Apapa, is there that eatery plenty well well.” He exclaimed happily.
So he can read. Just then Greg’s phone rang but he ignored it. It was Anne.
“How soon can we get there? it’s almost dark.” Greg frowned.
“Oga, road free, sharp sharp we don reach, if it not free for front, we go use corner corner. Kpatakpata Onehawa.” He said happily.
“Okay, move it then. I’ll double your pay.” Greg said.
“Yezza.” The cabman smiled as they zoomed off. Greg was wide awake this time.
True to the word of the cabman they got there in exactly one hour. But it was dark already. Greg settled his bill and went to the address.
Not a bad place but how come I’ve never heard about it? He rang the doorbell. No response. He was about to ring the bell again when he heard a deep drawl from behind him. He turned to find it was a beady-eyed thug on whose neck was a baldhead the shape of a large apple, for there seemed to be a kind of division at the centre of his forehead. A result of a bad fight? He had on a red jumpsuit on a body as skinny as he was black. Greg did not know how to react so he braced himself.
The thug had a bandana with which he dabbed at a slimy trickle from his wide mouth and Greg was quick to notice his short, withering fingers. Perhaps he had suffered a severe case of Paronychia. Who cares?. He was a head taller than Greg but somehow his height made him look like a walking pole and the way the saliva trickled non- stop reminded Greg of a premature imbecile he had seen on T.V whose channel he couldn’t remember now.
The thug moved closer as if to touch Greg and Greg ran, full speed the way he had come. Still on motion, he hid his designer wristwatch in his underpants. But he did not run far because the thug’s ‘colleagues’ were in front of him. He should have known they never walked alone. He stylishly felt his pocket for his phone. Damn! I ought to have hidden it. But what if it rang? He knew they would take it. Silently Greg prayed they did not hurt him.
They did not.
He felt more than lucky, he felt favored.
Their ring leader, Greg assumed, held Greg across the shoulder like an old friend and ambled towards a secluded area. He took a good look at Greg and made as if to sucker punch him. Greg flinched and the others roared with laughter. He knew they were playing with him, frustrating him on purpose. But when they stopped laughing, they just stared at him as if waiting for or daring him to do something funny. But it wasn’t Greg they were waiting for. It was the ‘imbecile’ Greg realized as he turned round. Not again.
The second he stood in front of them, Greg heard the others salute him in a strange language. Is he their ring leader? Greg did not want the thug and his slime near him at all. He had started shivering and it was not just from the cold.
From where they stood, Greg could see people passing by but they could not see him. Except I scream or… The thieves were smart. They made it look like they were having a normal conversation. Greg cooperated.
“Na wai yu no waan mek I touch yu, ehn? wai yu de run from me? you fine paas me? ” The thug drawled as he hit Greg hard on the head and face with the slime sticky bandana. Greg almost threw up. “Oyaaa mek uuna liten the gai ann tekam eazee oo, I like diis wan na fine bobo.” The thug drawled and immediately they began to search and take things out of his pocket.
Greg understood what he meant by ‘liten’ there and then.
Greg nearly cried when they brought out his I-phone X. The one Greg had thought was the ring leader passed the phone to their ‘imbecile boss’ who then passed it to Greg. Greg put his password and passed it back to him. There was no word exchange.
The thug frowned, looked Greg over, looked at the screen saver picture again and returned the phone to Greg. The picture was one of Greg with Prince Chime and Xiga, smiling to the camera like overfed kids at a pool party. Greg was shocked.
“Ona doon take hin woolet an weetin consign us?” He asked his boys.
” Yeh! Sa Davoz! ” They chorused as they flung out Greg’s cards from his wallet. ” Wetin Oona see go carry us fo the wik? ” Again they chorused ” Yeh! Sa Davoz!”
The imbecile boss gave Greg a parting punch on the head with his left fist which was decorated with large, ugly rings and the next instant, they were gone. Greg picked up his cards and put them back in his wallet. They had taken $200 and #7,500. He was cashless, angry and had started to regret coming here and he desperately needed to wash the slime off his face quick.
Greg trekked all the way back to Fred’s house and rang the doorbell again and again. I’d be damned if another set accosts me again.
It took several minutes before ‘groggy by sleep’ Fred opened the door.
It had started to rain.
Greg stepped in but it was dark inside. Was Fred asleep or what? It wasn’t even 9 pm yet.
”Can I get some water to wash my…”
“Give me a few seconds please.” Fred interrupted in a whisper as he tried hard to stop himself from laughing. Greg reluctantly sat in the living room and tried to nurse his already swelling face.
” Is Greg for real or what? All the way from work or home? And at such hour …to hear what? ” Fred laughed as he rinsed his face. Oh, I’ll crack this ‘true joke’ at that new pub in town this weekend. He mused, trying hard to look all serious and sad as he went to the living room.
” How’s my favorite cousin and pretty wife of yours?” Fred asked cheerfully. ” I hope she’s doing…”
“…You know better, I guess.” Greg interrupted. What was it you wanted to tell me over the phone that you couldn’t? Who is this sugar you said you saw Anne with and where? ” Greg asked desperately.
“You mean the sugar I …” Fred went on.
“Yes.” Greg interrupted.” I overheard her this morning talking to someone by that name and… “
“Yes, yes, it’s very sad and that’s why I plan to leave the country right after telling you. You know how close Anne and I are. She would know I told you the moment you…” Fred went on.
Greg sighed, rubbed his temple, then held his head for a second and sat upright on the sofa. ” Jus… Just say it man, I promise I’ll be calm about it.” Greg interrupted.
“and you wont take it out on my poor cousin or divorce her…? Fred asked worriedly.
“No. I.. I.. Promise.” Greg said quietly.
“Okay, okay ,erm…the thing is the packets of sugar I and Anne bought at the supermarket were not the ones we took home and the shop keeper had called to tell me they were fake and that one could tell by the way they melted as soon as they are put on a hot, flat surface. That’s the sugar I was talking about. It’s not really a human being. No, it’s not a man and…”. Fred stopped and began to laugh so hard his stomach hurt. The look on Greg’s face was so ridiculous.
When he was able to control himself, he looked fixedly at Greg. ” Oh, come on man, it’s the first of April, remember? Fool’s day.” He said and winked. ” but I caught you, didn’t I? and you always thought I’m not funny dear brother in -…” He did not finish the sentence. The next instant what was splattered all over the wall behind Fred was blood from his nose after Greg’s fist had connected with it.
Fred was unconscious so Greg had to wait for him to come to. It wasn’t until past 10pm that he woke which was too late a time for Greg to go back home.
The moment Fred stirred, Greg left him on the floor and locked himself in the closest room. He felt dizzy. But luckily for him there was a bathroom. Quickly, he washed the slime off his face. He felt better but still couldn’t believe how the day had turned out.
What kind of a relative is this? What kind of sick joke is this? I mean, who does this? All his life he had never felt so foolish, stupid and so angry.
He checked his phone again. 16 missed calls from Anne, 7 from colleagues and 5 from his mother. He was about to drop the phone when he saw the text messages. He had forgotten all about the meeting with the MD and branch managers. Damn! He tried to call a colleague but the line was not reachable. Fred knocked repeatedly. Greg ignored him.
Now what do I tell Anne? What is wrong with me? I trust her, don’t I? Then why was I so bent on finding out what never happened? Is this some kind of test, revelation or warning? Greg mused.
Fred knocked again, still; Greg ignored.
He thought of calling Anne to say where he was but changed his mind.
Do I tell her her dumb cousin played a dumb prank on me? What if she asks me what the bait was that made me come all the way, waste so much money and at such time of day? What was I expecting to find out?. Oh! Anne would see right through me, even start to cry and say things like ‘I never forgave her that one time she cheated’ …or do I say erm…Anne dear, your dumb cousin said he saw you cheating on me with someone by the name sugar at so so and… Gosh! I really fell. Fred really got me because replaying it all in my head now…arrggh! I was stupid. Indeed, I must be the most foolish of fools this April. He almost cried.
Fred does not know yet the gravity of this joke and I pray for his sake things don’t escalate because I’m sure he’ll be flown abroad for treatment if… “
Greg didn’t know when he started laughing. But when he eventually stopped, he was surprised to find tears in his eyes.
Fred the clown was funny after all; although in an odd way but I’ld be dead before I admit that.
On the other side of the door, Fred was saying he was sorry but Greg wasn’t hearing any of that.
Then the text came in.
It was from a colleague who attended the meeting. They had appointed a fellow colleague – Austin as Asst. Manager of one of the branches in Port Harcourt.
Greg could not contain his anger. He was over qualified for that post and Austin was not even as good and efficient as he.
“…personally, I know you deserve the promotion but I think your absence at the meeting was a minus. And you didn’t even call or text. What’s happening man?” the text read.
Greg sighed deeply. He sent Anne a text. After a few minutes, he tried calling but she dropped the call. Greg rubbed his temple as he often did when he was upset. He tried once more, same thing. She was pissed.
Again, Fred knocked and mumbled some words.
“That’s it! I’m going to a hotel to lodge before I kill someone,” Greg said exasperatedly.
He would find a way to explain all to Anne.
He opened the door and almost bumped into the ‘already bruised and sorry looking’ Fred. Had the idiot been eavesdropping or what? He had to get out. Fred followed, still pleading like a lamb. ” I’m sorry man. I… It’s the first of April and…and I was just fooling around. I…I…didn’t think you’d fall for such a…” Fred was saying even though he knew Greg wasn’t listening.
At the door Greg turned and gave Fred the warning of his life which ended with “I don’t want to ever see you anywhere around me and heaven help you if you mention any of this to her or this gets any worse. You know what I mean, don’t you?”
” No.” Fred answered weakly.
Greg brought out his phone and tried to call his wife again but she dropped the call. It was the third time this morning. He knew she was furious but it would be worse for Fred if she had begun to doubt his fidelity.
” Do you understand what I mean by worse for you now”? Greg asked angrily.
” Yes.” Fred replied.
Greg walked out. He had learned his lesson or lessons alright. But down, deep inside him, he knew this was far from over and it would be a very long day tomorrow.
The rain had stopped, temporarily.
**** **** **** **** ****
Fred walked slowly to his fridge and picked some ice cubes which he wrapped in a clean cloth and pressed against his swollen cheek. He still found it hard to believe how the day had turned out. Slowly, he walked to his favorite sofa which was directly opposite his flat screen TV. and tried to think but he couldn’t. He looked at the blank TV screen in front of him and picked the remote to turn it on. The moment he did, his eyes strayed to the picture of him just beside the TV and he couldn’t stop looking at it. It was a picture of Him with Yanju, Anne and Cassandra at the christening of Romanda. Just before he went home, they had gathered to take a selfie and it was so beautiful he decided to enlarge it.
Slowly, like one in a trance, he looked from Yanju to Anne and Cassandra and then back to Anne again and frowned. What exactly did your husband come all the way to hear? Why was he desperate to hear about an imaginary lover you’re seeing Anne? Have you ever cheated on him?
**** **** **** **** ****
Greg was new in the area and soon it would be midnight. He had seen the fancy sign board advertising a hotel or motel upon entering the street. It must be close he thought as he tried to remember the number.
59 or 51. But the tuneful but quite loud music from somewhere close was all the answer he needed. He paused to listen to the lyrics of the song and was taken aback when he realized it was a meaningful song, then he looked ahead and saw activity. People were coming and going as if it wasn’t almost midnight. He could almost swear he had never seen some of the exotic cars parked right outside the place.
Greg paused and looked around. He couldn’t blame them. The place was beautiful. The lights were bright and of different shades; making the place look attractive at night; the trees, making it appear cozy and serene too. The building looked oddly familiar and somehow, it beckoned on him. Whoever built this must be very thoughtful and creative but not very security conscious. He shuddered as he remembered his ordeal with the thugs. He saw an ATM machine nearby and joined the short queue to withdraw.
Greg did not want to be seen so he tried to look for another entrance to the reception. He could not explain why he felt there must be another entrance other than the one he saw other customers using. He banged on the gate closest to the hotel’s main entrance and waited. He banged at it again, loudly this time, still no response. It had started to drizzle.
Greg was about to try the third time when the gate was swung open so suddenly he almost fell forward. The young girl looked at him. She was angry. He regained his balance and straightened to his full height. The girl just folded her arms and looked him straight in the eye. Greg was speechless.
“What, Mister!? Missed your way? I’m certain you’re among the few who smuggle strong drinks into our bar. What’s the problem now? Are you so drunk you can’t read? ” She pointed at a sign and arrow that showed the way to the hotel’s main entrance. ” and don’t you know how to use a doorbell? She pointed again.
“Of …of course I can read.. buh. but…” Greg stammered. Who is this young girl and what is it about her that’s making me nervous and why in the world am I smiling?
“Who is it, Honey? ” Greg heard someone call the girl from inside and took that as his cue to leave.
” I’m so sorry to disturb you young lady and… and…never mind, I’ll just go”. He said and was about to leave when he heard his name. The name ‘Meyan only one person other than his paternal grandmother calls him – Helen.
” Is…is that you , Meyan? ” The woman repeated almost in a whisper. And he turned and saw her. And she slumped.
…to be continued in episode 2
As written by Kimberly Afolayanka