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“We are not signing that ghetto rat, Ayo! We cannot.”

“Why?”

The calmness and innocence with which he asked the question confused her, why did he not see the clear reason they could not sign the Slum Queen they witnessed her performance an hour earlier?

Was he blind to the negative effect it could have on the Label’s image?

Was he not aware of the dangers of signing someone like that?

“Ayo, she is going to be a star in that place and that place alone. We cannot take a gamble with someone like that right now.”

“And I ask why?”

She sighed, suddenly irritated by his reluctance to see what she felt was glaring.

They were back at the Penthouse that housed his office on the Top floor, she got down from his Range and walked to her car, her red bottoms adding the poise that was known with her.

Ayo watched her get into her sleek automobile, He was tempted to call her, pull her into his arms and kiss her silly but he decided otherwise.

He needed the night alone anyway, he needed his mind to be clear of the nagging and sarcasm ‘Detoun’s words would bring and as much as he needed the body of a woman near him, he knew better than to have one on a night like this.

He watched her get into her car, kick the engine and speed out of the compound.

She was mad and he knew that, but she would come around, that he also knew.

The night was young – they had returned from Apete early and there had been little traffic on their way back.

He started the engine, tipped the security men at the gate and drove out of the compound.

♡ ♡ ♡

‘Detoun had changed into one of Ayo’s old T-shirts.

She had numerous T-shirts she had picked at one time or the other when they were a couple for five years and during the numerous occasions she had passed the night at his place in recent times.

The shirt she was wearing was one a new band had gifted Ayo in Ghana when he’d gone for an award ceremony where he was a presenter and it was one of ‘Detoun’s favorites because it had scribbled boldly on it, the situation her and Ayo were in with their relationship.

On it was scribbled, complicated.

She sat on the sofa, picked her remote control and turned on the TV.

Christiane Amanpour’s face appeared on the large screen on the wall, ‘Detoun reduced the volume of the TV and toyed with the idea of speaking to Ayo’s mother.

In the past, the woman had come in whenever Ayo was about to do something silly but ‘Detoun dismissed the thought, what Ayo was about to do might be silly but it was not dangerous or risky… not yet.

She dialed his number and waited for the phone to ring, “Ayo, please tell me you have changed your mind.”

His laughter was loud, “No.”

“Okay, I will give you till tomorrow morning.”

“I’m giving you till tomorrow morning, ‘Detoun. Please, reconsider this. You know how much your opinion on these things matter.”

She could not promise him that so she just muttered a “good night” and hung up.

♡ ♡ ♡

Ife nervously paced the corridor of the only clinic Apete had.

Her eyes darted back and forth the entrance, hoping to see the nurse who had asked her to stay outside earlier and who would give her update on her mother’s health.

Her mother had suddenly started throwing up early in the morning and together with Amanda’s help, she had brought her here to the Clinic.

Tender hands suddenly held her and she paused, turned around sharply and came face to face with her boyfriend, Lanre.

He smiled at her, a boyish smile that made him handsome and revealed the innocence she always saw in him.

“Don’t worry, she would be fine.” He assured.

She nodded weakly, her eyes returning to the entrance of the Clinic where she expected any medical personnel to emerge from.

Lanre’s words might have been convincing but his voice wasn’t, neither were his quivering hands.

“How is School?” She inquired, trying to distract herself from the bad news she felt was coming.

“Fine. We are starting Exams next week.” He replied, referring to his final year examination.

“Why did you come home then?”

And she knew the answer even before he told her, “For you.”

He loved her insanely, not because he told her all the time but because she could see it and feel it.

He was vulnerable, she was his weakness.

Whatever she wanted he did and he constantly defied orders and authority for her.

He worshipped her, worshipped the ground she walked on and lived for her.

A nurse emerged through the door, stopping just spaces away from them and in front of a part of wall where the seemingly cheap paint had begun to peel.

Ife abandoned her boyfriend and hurried towards her.

“She is fine, Ife.”

Ife nodded as if expecting more, expecting her to say her mother might be fine but her life was still hanging in the balance.

When the nurse assured her that everything was normal, she burst into tears and as she collapsed into her boyfriend’s arms, she wondered what happened to the little flicker of hope she had strongly held on to a few years before.

Her world had darkened, someone had taken the light away and now she was like a night without stars.

♡ ♡ ♡

‘Detoun drummed her finger nails on the table, her eyes glued on Abiola, expecting him to voice his opinion on the signing of the new act.

“You people know me na, anybody that brings millions into this company is what matters to me. I don’t care if you bring her from Mars.” He said nonchalantly, his hands in the air as if to surrender to the current situation and to register his neutrality on the matter so nobody could question his allegiance.

“This girl cannot bring in millions” ‘Detoun said calmly, Ayo eyed her, he knew what that meant.

She was not yelling, she was not trying hard to make them see the point and she was not looking riled up.

It was her manner whenever she was adamant on something.

But Ayo was ready for her, he was signing Ife and that was going to be the case.

“She can and she would.” He muttered.

“How?” ‘Detoun dug her hands into her designer bag and withdrew a big brown file.

She slammed it on the table.

“This girl has zero musical talent and can barely sing her way out of a paper bag!” she pushed the file towards Ayo who was sitting at the edge of the table opposite her and Abiola in the big office, “See for yourself what my Assistant got on her.”

Ayo refused to open the file.

What his two partners did not realize was that he knew way more than he was letting out.

He knew Ife well and he had known her for a longer period than his Partners and even Ife herself, knew.

“Maybe we should invite her over first and see her strength.” Abiola suggested, he was always open to anything as long as there was peace and money.

Ayo pushed the brown file back to Detoun and said, “I already sent a driver to go and get her from Apete. He should be here any minute.”

“You what?!” ‘Detoun gasped.

♡ ♡ ♡

Ife was sitting outside her house, Amanda near her, an old copy of Complete Fashion in her hands when Ayo’s Range pulled over.

Ife had seen the sleek black car first but Amanda had spoken first, “Jesus Christ! Who is the person that this blessing has come to meet?” she exclaimed, tossing the magazine in her hands aside in seconds.

There was a look of amazement and wonder in her eyes as she stood and ogled at the car and the driver that stepped out of it.

“Range inside Apete! Ha something good is happening today.”

The driver walked up to them and smiled warmly, “Please who is Ife…”

Amanda pointed to Ife immediately, “Look at her.”

The driver faced Ife who looked uninterested in everything around her, “Madam, I have been asked to bring you to Banana Island immediately.”

Ife frowned, “Who?”

“You”

Ife and Amanda exchanged dazed glances.

“You have missed your way.” Ife said and then proceeded into the house.

The driver, realizing that he might be losing her and fully understanding what danger that posed to his job, hurried after her.

“Madam, I am from the CEO of Gidi Music, Ayobami Balogun, he said you are the new act on the label.”

That didn’t slow Ife down, neither did it stop her from entering the house but it made Amanda’s interest to be further piqued.

“Who?”

“Ayobami Balogun.”

“The biggest Record label exec in West Africa”

The driver nodded.

Amanda’s eyes widened in surprise.

The name Ayobami Balogun was power – it opened and shut doors in the entertainment Industry all over West Africa.

And it was no news that the entertainment industry in West Africa was fast ruling the whole entertainment world in Africa.

“But why does he want her to be on the label? He does not even know her.” Amanda said, hoping it was true that her friend’s life was about to change.

“He knows her. If he did not, he would not have asked me to come and pick her.” The driver was getting desperate, so he added, “Please help me talk to her. I swear that I am not lying. I have to take her back to the Office or I will be in trouble.”

Amanda nodded and rushed into the house.

Ife was tucking her mother into bed when she entered the cramped one room Ife and her sick mother shared.

Amanda created space on a worn out chair crowded with many clothes and sat.

“Ife, we have to go.” She whispered, careful not to raise her voice and then, Ife’s mother’s suspicion.

Ife expressed her reluctance by slowly shaking her head and sitting near her mother who was now sleeping.

Amanda pulled her out of the room, towards the parked car, a few spaces away from the driver who was staring at them with eyes that clearly showed he was pleading.

“This is too good to be true.” Ife mentioned when Amanda tried to convince her.

“Many bad things have happened to you and I understand why you feel that way but please, let’s try it.” Amanda could see the hesitation in Ife’s eyes, so she tried harder to convince her.

“Your mother needs the money that will come out of this and you don’t have anything to lose by going.”

Ife was about to hesitate when Amanda said, “I will go with you.” then she faced the driver and added, “She has to be back in nothing more than an hour because her mother is sick.”

The driver’s face broke into a smile. He was visibly relieved.  “No wahala. I will personally bring her back here.”

Amanda smiled, she pulled her phone out of the back pocket of her only pair of jeans and dialed Lanre, “Hello, Lanre. Ife and I want to quickly reach somewhere. Please come and help us take care of her mother.”

Then she pulled Ife towards the car.

♡ ♡ ♡

She had only seen the other life through the pages of glossy Magazines and Nollywood films.

All her life, the fancy cars, expensive clothes, bags and shoes, beautiful mansions were simply an imagination – they only belonged in a world where she dreamt them or built memories about them.

But now, sitting in the back seat of an expensive automobile, the AC on full blast, being driven by the driver of one of the richest men in Africa, gave her a little taste of the world she never imagined she would be in.

Her fingers felt the cold leather on which she sat absentmindedly and she smiled despite the confusion and puzzlement building inside of her, she’d never sat on real leather in her life.

Her eyes fell on the foot mat which was clean, neat and shining, a sharp contrast to her Harmattan beaten legs and toes that carried chipped red polish.

She looked at her best friend who was smiling at her and was grateful that this moment when everything seemed so confusing and scary and exciting all at the same time, she was sharing it with one of the closest people to her.

Amanda put her hand in hers, “Your life is about to change.”

Ife was not going to hold on to the optimism Amanda was holding on to, she was just going to wait.

And so she did as they joined the beautiful Ikoyi bridge, another sight she’d never seen but only always imagined.

♡ ♡ ♡

She had seen Ayobami Balogun’s picture just once in her life and it was the day Amanda saw him on Instagram, started following him and started gushing about how handsome and manly he looked and how much of a resemblance he bore with American music exec and millionaire entrepreneur, Diddy.

Ife had been unperturbed by everything she said, Amanda was the one who followed and chased the life they couldn’t have, she was barely interested in building Castles in the air.

Now as they stepped out of the Range and walked towards the entrance of the Penthouse, Ife tried hard to remember what he looked like in those pictures she could vaguely remember.

Nervous, she held Amanda’s hands as they stepped into the reception.

“Oga is expecting them upstairs.” The driver said simply and the receptionist eyed them both, refusing to do anything for minutes, giving them a look that said “For what?”

That made Ife more nervous and suddenly, she felt out of place.

Her faded knee length wrap dress which she had washed too many times and her slippers which had witnessed a shoe maker’s thread and needle somehow reminded her how out of place she was.

“Aunty, please we don’t have all the time in the world. Please do what you have to do.” Amanda snapped, clearly reading the Receptionist’s hostility.

The Receptionist picked the office landline and confirmed their appointment, then she waved them towards the elevator.

As Ife walked past a fountain that sat in the middle of the large reception towards the elevator, her heart began to race.

They were in Gidi Music headquarters for real, what if like Amanda said her life was changing forever? Was she ready for it?

Was this even what she wanted to do?

As they stepped into the elevator with two other people, Ife glanced at Amanda who gave her a reassuring smile and a tight squeeze on the hand. Ife managed a smile.

As the doors to the elevator pulled close, she somehow felt it was symbolic – the door to an old life was closing and a new one was opening soon enough.

♡ ♡ ♡

Gidi Music Office was breathtakingly beautiful.

When they reached the entrance, Ife stood near Amanda, her hand still in hers and watched as the driver fished for a card in his pockets.

They were standing before a transparent glass door, on it Gidi Music was boldy written in black and by it, Ife saw something she thought resembled a POS machine because of the numerous keypads and different numbers.

The driver finally retrieved a card, pushed it into the small machine, quickly punched in a few digits and stood right in front of the red light above the door which turned green immediately his eyes were recognized.

The door opened, the driver held the handle made of steel and ushered Ife and Amanda in.

The receptionist there was graceful unlike the one they had encountered on the ground floor and she smiled and welcomed them in a voice that made Ife wonder if she laced it with honey because it was sweet to hear.

She sat behind a large white marbled desk and in front of a wall that had Gidi Music on it.

Ife and Amanda sat and the driver left them.

“This place is so fine” Amanda muttered as she took in the paradise that was an office to one of the biggest labels on the continent.

But all Ife could do was nod, she was momentarily mesmerized by the view before them.

Glass walls separated the different departments Ife could see from where she sat and she could see a door somewhere on the far left that had A&R boldly written on it.

Her eyes fell on the floor, it shone and Ife felt if she looked harder, she would see her reflection.

“Hello.”

Ife looked up, standing before her and Amanda was a young blonde girl Ife guessed would be in her early twenties.
Her very high heels elevated her, her skin reminded her of gorgeous white women she had seen bikini shots of them on expensive products she couldn’t afford and her hair, her hair which cascaded down her shoulders looked like she had dedicated several days to straighten.

“My name is Jen.” She said simply, her eyes unsmiling.

Ife found herself standing and nodding to everything she said.

She did not like this place, it made her feel like a fish out of water and it made her want to run back to her home in Apete and hide under one of her mother’s large faded wrappers.

“Please come with me.” Jen said and turned to leave immediately.

Ife stood there, her legs rooted to a spot, afraid to move, afraid to even breathe.

Amanda noticed her discomfort and stood up. “Ife, you are obvious.” She whispered and draped a arm around her quivering shoulders.

“We shouldn’t be here, Mandy.” Ife whispered back.

Jen was almost disappearing into view now, she had not even turned to see if they were following her.

“Let’s just see where this goes and return to Apete if it is not good.” Amanda said gently and Ife decided she would hold on to the last courage she had and follow Jen.

“I thought I told you guys to come with me?” Jen had an accent Ife couldn’t place and an attitude that made the freezing AC in the room seem like it wasn’t working.

She nodded towards the direction she was headed and then added, “Now.”

As Amanda and Ife started towards her, Amanda muttered, “I don’t like that bitch.”

“Me too.” Ife replied.

♡ ♡ ♡

They stopped in front of a door that had his name scribbled and a drawing of his face on it in gold and Ife wondered if it was real gold because everything in this place screamed wealth, so much wealth.

Jen opened the door wide and they stepped in.

“Thank you, Jen.”

The voice was the first thing that grabbed Ife’s attention in the spacious office.

It was deep, rich, with a resounding feel that made it echo even long after the owner had kept quiet.

It had that baritone feel that belonged to a singer and the smooth feel that belonged on radio or Voice Overs.

Her eyes found him at the end of the table, blurring out the other two people sitting closer to where her and Amanda were standing and who were both sitting opposite him.

He was relaxed in the seat, his eyes on her.

He was not strikingly handsome to her but he was clean and fresh, his dark skin glowing like he paid extra attention to cleaning it.

He looked confident, he looked appealing and yes, he looked like Diddy.

“Hi Ife. My name is Ayobami Balogun, you can call me Ayo.” He said to her, his gaze unflinching. “Here are my partners, ‘Detoun Sam – Dickson and Abiola Osinowo.”

The unwelcoming atmosphere that she had sensed since she walked into the premises some minutes earlier seemed to become more unwelcoming that moment.

‘Detoun barely acknowledged her presence, eyeing her and returning her gaze to her digital tab.

But Ife preferred that to the gaze Abiola sent her way.

It was a look she knew so well, too well.

She flinched and looked away from him as a knowing smile formed on his face.

“I was captured by your vocal abilities yesterday evening at Nightingale…”

“You came to Nightingale?” It was more of a shocking revelation than a question.

People like Ayobami Balogun did not cross bridges to come to places like Apete.

If they did, it was probably because they needed a dirty job to be done for them by one of the most dangerous criminals who inhabited the slum.

Learning that someone of his calibre had come to the slum not to get a dirty job done but to sit in the old beer palour and listen to her sing was unbelievable.

He nodded, then continued, “We are looking to sign someone new and we would love to sign you.”

The rest of the words he spoke were lost on her.
She stood and watched his moving lips, his words a distant echo and stared into nothing like she was in a trance.

She did not notice when he picked his office phone and summoned Jen, she did not notice Jen walk into the office and she did not notice the forced smile Abiola kept sending her way.

“Ife?” It was Amanda calling her.

Ife turned mechanically and faced her.

“Ife, let’s go.”

She left the office with Jen and Amanda, a thousand thoughts running through her mind.

They were ushered into a smaller office, with a small plasma TV hanging on the wall and music playing on MTV Base.

Tiwa Savage was wriggling her body while she sang Wanted but Ife sat on the cushioned sofa, realizing she’d never felt more unwanted in her life.

“Ife are you okay?”

Amanda was concerned.

A tray containing two bottles of branded Gidi Music water and two plastic bottles of chilled coke was placed on the glass table separating the only two sofas in the room.

Amanda joined Ife on the sofa she was sitting on, “Ife this is good news but you don’t look happy.”

“Did you see him?” Ife asked her best friend

“Which of them?”

“Abbey.”

Amanda nodded, “I did.”

“We have history, Mandy. And it is dirty, very dirty. I shouldn’t be here.”

Ife stood immediately and walked towards the door.

Amanda watched her and slowly what Ife was talking about began to slowly occur to her, “Wait, Is he the guy from that time I was away from Apete for one year?”

Ife nodded, then tried to open the door, the door opened and Abiola stepped into the room, his attention immediately drawn by Ife who was now rushing to get past him.

He grabbed her roughly and shut the door behind them.

Ife avoided his piercing gaze, he could still hurt her, he always knew what to do to hurt her.

“Tell your friend to excuse us.” He said calmly but there was nothing calm about the way he held her and the way his fingers dug into her flesh.

“Amanda please go outside.” Ife pleaded then added, “Please Amanda. Please.” because she knew her best friend would not leave her.

Amanda eyed Abiola, pushed him aside and stepped out.

“Listen to me and listen carefully, you dirty little bitch. You are not going to be signed to this Label not as an artiste or worse as a cleaner, understood?” his words were harsh and so was the way he now pushed her against the wall, his hand tightly gripping her neck.

“Yes.” She whispered.

“I will get Ayo out of this stupidity as soon as possible but you know what I want to happen sooner?”

He waited for her response and when he did not get one soon enough, he tightened his hand on her neck.

He always did that to her; put her in a physically and mentally uncomfortable place and then expect her to still respond to him.

She managed a nod even though her head was hurting badly now and she was having difficulty breathing.

“I want you out of this premises. Never to return.”

“Okay.” She muffled.

Only then did he remove his hand and leave the office.

Ife ran to the sofa she had been sitting on earlier and broke down in tears.

-Tomilola Coco Adeyemo

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