Talent to him was not to be mixed or diluted with anything else.
When someone was a star or on their way to becoming a star, they had to be recognized solely for their talent.
“I am not trying to sell a Kim Kardashian or Selena Gomez here, I am trying to sell a Beyonce, a Whitney, a Rihanna!”
He was still irritated by Jamal’s claim on Ife two days before and he was not concealing it.
Detoun said nothing, she continued to scroll through her digital tab, on which she had learnt in the last forty eight hours, the increase in Ife’s popularity.
Tobi looked at Ayo and said, “She is becoming popular, it is what we want and it is what will help us sell her brand faster.”
“Kim and Selena are more popular for the men they are with than whatever it is they do. I am not going to watch Ife become popular because of who she has sex with rather than her talent.” He snapped and Tobi got the message.
“Fine. She would spend the next days in the studio working her ass off on a single and she would stay away from public appearances and interviews, that would stop this current Jamal and Ife buzz and remind the public that she is a talented artiste.”
“Thank you, Tobi.”
Tobi stood and grabbed her things, “I have to go. I will see you guys later.”
“Bye” Detoun said simply and watched Tobi slam the door behind her. “What exactly is biting you?” she asked once Tobi was gone. “You are too angry about this and I know something is wrong. What is it?”
Ayo was tempted to share with her the real reason he was riled up, he wanted to pour it all out and relieve himself of the burden it weighed on his mind but he couldn’t.
Somehow, Detoun was not the person he wanted to share the burden Gbenro’s blackmail caused, with.
“Nothing. I have a meeting now. I will see you when I get back.” He rang Jen and asked her to get ready to leave with him in a few minutes.
“It is Aunty Fola’s birthday this weekend. Are you coming with me?” For the first time since she met Ayo and since they got together, she was suddenly nervous he would decline.
Her Aunt Fola was her favorite family member and one who was very fond of Ayo and the relationship they shared.
Detoun and Ayo had always attended her birthday parties together since they met but for the first time in years, she worried he would turn her down.
He had somehow changed into an unrecognizable version of himself in the past few weeks that she was almost certain he would not want to mark this tradition with her ever again.
And then, there was that creepy man who claimed he had killed his brother years before.
“I would. Please remind me.” He said to her, placed a soft kiss on her cheek and draped an arm around her shoulder, hoping that would in a way calm him down.
Ayo told himself nothing was different about him, that he still wanted to do the normal things he used to do in the past – hang out with his ex, have constant sex with her, be selfish, be a ruthless business man and worry about nothing.
But somehow, he knew there was nothing normal about the man he was at that moment. Now he worried about someone, didn’t look forward to hanging out with his ex and certainly didn’t want to have sex with her.
He told himself it was stress and that it would pass.
But he knew better.
Lanre eyed the man in front of him with contempt. He did not try to hide the disgust he felt for him.
Left to him, he would be with his friends, mapping out a strategy for a job they had been contracted by a local businessman in Ibadan but none of this was left to him.
He had been summoned here by Ayo, the latter had subtly threatened him into showing up by reminding him of his kidnap of Ife’s mother and how he was sure he did not want Ife to learn about it.
Ayo watched him carefully and saw beneath the bravado and the forced confidence, a man who was nothing but a coward on the inside.
He had met with hundreds of people like this one and they amused him rather than intimidate him. And most times, they wanted to achieved the latter not the former.
“Does Ife know you kidnapped her mother just so she would not leave Apete and break up with you?” Ayo asked, enjoying the moment. Lanre ignored him so he continued, “I can see she does not.”
“I don’t have time for this.” Lanre snapped and glanced towards the entrance as if to tell Ayo he would walk away if Ayo continued to waste his time.
“Name your price.”
Lanre frowned, “What?”
Ayo relaxed, retrieved his phone from his pocket and busied himself with responding to Emails as if to tell Lanre none of that tough demeanor could ruffle him “I have a job for you and I need you to name your price.”
Lanre stifled laughter, “What is the meaning of this nonsense? You think I owe you a favor because you did not tell Ife and now you want to make me…”
“Shut up and name your price, young man” Ayo said calmly, then he added, “I need you to silence someone for me. So name your price.”
Lanre watched him cautiously, trying to deduce the seriousness in his words and he knew instantly that he did not need to know this man too much to realize how serious his tone and expression were.
“Ife’s Uncle is becoming a thorn in the flesh and I need him silenced. So I will ask again, name your price.”
“Are you trying to set me up?”
Ayo shrugged, “What do you think?”
Lanre was trying hard to see through the calm, suave and handsome young money in front of him but it was difficult to tell what he was thinking.
“Five million naira.” He said, hoping that would make him laugh and walk out in annoyance but he smiled instead.
“Two million in your account tomorrow morning if you get the job done before the day runs out.”
Lanre almost gasped, it took him a lot to muster the strength not to open his mouth in utter shock.
“Two million is all I am giving. So do we have a deal?”
There was a long stretch of silence after which Lanre nodded and said slowly, “Yes, we have a deal.”
Lanre was Ife’s first love and childhood sweetheart and so he was the only one who had held the title of boyfriend in her life.
She had never been asked on a date and showered with expensive gifts like she knew numerous girls, including her best friend, Amanda, had been asked.
So when Jamal Bello showed up in her house with expensive fragrances and designer shoes in fancy shopping bags which had their foreign labels written boldly on them, she had been unsure on how to react.
He kissed her tenderly on the cheeks, asked her on a date to a fancy restaurant in Victoria Island and then handed her an expensive charm bracelet when she nodded.
“I think you should date him sha.” Amanda said when she was helping her pick something to wear some minutes after Jamal had left.
“I don’t like him like that, Mandy.” Ife said as they settled for a black clingy knee-length wrap dress, one of the new dresses she had gotten as a gift from her hair stylist, Nnamdi.
“This is the entertainment world, you don’t date people because you like them. You date them because they help you become more popular.” Amanda was handing her the lilac bathrobe which was also new and which was gifted Ife by Anita.
“You are sounding empty. You need help.” Ife said in disapproval as she stripped herself of her clothes, took the bathrobe she was being offered by her best friend, and headed into the bathroom closely followed by Amanda.
“That’s my point. The Industry is about making empty moves where relationships are concerned.”
Ife was in front of her bathroom mirror now, squeezing her bohemian afro into a shower cap.
“You cannot even afford to fall in love now even if you wanted to, Ife. You need the popularity to push your songs and your album eventually.” Amanda continued to say as she handed Ife her facial scrub.
“I want to be popular because of my songs not because of Jamal.” Ife stated, plastering the scrub on her face and gently rubbing it in a circular motion with her fingers.
“I know, but a little more fame is not a bad idea.”
Ife leaned on the shower glass, “And with the things I have read about Jamal, he has a reputation for using women.”
“Just use a condom when you guys eventually fuck and you’re fine.” Amanda said with an expression so serious, Ife gasped.
“The things you say sometimes sef.” She disrobed and stepped into the shower.
“They might sound stupid to you now but you would realize it is nothing but the truth in a few weeks.” She raised her phone to show Ife, “According to Linda Ikeji and Bella Naija, it is already happening sef. So I say, use your moment before Jamal decides to move on.”
“Go away, bitch.” Ife muttered and Amanda chuckled.
Partying with Fola Sam-Dickson was literally partying with royalty and stars.
No other person threw a party the way she did, effort was put in everything, the creme de la creme of the society were in attendance, exotic food and wine were served and networks were made.
Ayo remembered that one of his biggest connection in Government had been courtesy of Fola’s birthday party three years before.
She knew everybody and if she did not know you, you simply did not exist on the social ladder that mattered.
She blew Ayo and Detoun kisses when she sighted them and then grinned, exposing a set of recently whitened teeth, “My babies.” She said, “Tell me this is the year you are both announcing your engagement because I am tired of seeing you both unmarried.”
Detoun flushed, “Aunty Fola!” she said in exasperation. “We would tell you when we are ready.”
Fola scoffed, “When would that be? You have been together for a long time, make it formal already. If the problem is where to find the ring or who to invite, you can count on me to help with that. It is just that you would not know half of the people at your own wedding.”
Ayo chuckled, he liked the woman. She was witty and sweet and she had no qualms baring her mind. An attribute lost in this crowd there were in. A crowd that had a problem with saying the truth the way it should be said.
“You would be the first to know if anything happens, Aunty Fola.” Ayo said to her and she tapped his shoulder gently, kissed him on the cheek and walked off to greet yet another guest.
“When is it going to happen if it would ever happen?”
“You know what I am talking about, Ayo. We have been unofficial for years now and we have been doing things that lovers do. Is this status going to change? I will like to know.”
And suddenly, Ayo found himself in a fix.
He had been aware that he and Detoun were in a delicate place and he knew if not handled well, it would blow up in their faces. But he was not ready to discuss it, neither was he ready to make a commitment to anybody at the moment.
“Detoun, Aunty Fola is not going to be the reason we would discuss that right now.”
Detoun looked at him incredulously, “Oh. You would rather Africa Magic or Channel O discusses it in the news section first?”
He grabbed two champagne flutes from a well dressed waitress who was passing by and handed her one, “I would rather be ready.” he muttered.
“You are not ready.” She said slowly, “When would you be?”
“I don’t know, Detoun. It could be tomorrow, it could be next year or maybe even tonight. I don’t know.”
She collected the drink he was offering her, sipped it and said nothing.
He sighed, “Detoun, we are not even dating and we have to discuss a lot of issues before we even discuss getting married.”
“It just occurred to you now? We make love on the regular, I am your emotional support, your everything support, I am always there for you. Always. Yet we have to discuss some non existing issue before we become official again.” She hissed and took yet another sip from the drink in her hand. “You’re unbelievable.”
“Don’t let what Aunty Fola said ruin our night.” He said and pulled her close to himself.
“Too late.” She said, wriggled free and with the help of her six inch heels, disappeared into the crowd.
Ayo sighed, dropped the champagne flute in his hands on the nearest table he could find and pulled out his phone.
He was yet to hear from Lanre regarding the conversation they had some days earlier and he toyed with the idea of calling him but he changed his mind and chose to call him later.
He straightened the black traditional buba and sokoto ensemble that had been made for him by one of Nigeria’s foremost designers, threw his phone into his pockets and decided to take a stroll outside the house.
Maybe when he returned, his mind would be clear and Detoun would have calmed down.
He chose to take a stroll in the backyard, a wide space covered with interlocking tiles and where a Mallam was grilling meat for the party.
He also noticed a few guests standing in twos or threes while they discussed.
He turned when he heard the female voice, the words were accompanied by a long hiss and the girl who owned the voice shoving someone off her.
She walked towards him and that was when he recognized her. He paused, watched Jamal follow Ife, try to pull her back while Ife tried to yank her hands off.
He was livid, she clearly was still hanging around Jamal even after he had repeatedly told her manager he did not want the relationship to continue.
Because Jamal was heavily intoxicated, it took him a few seconds to recognize Ayo. After which he staggered, tried to stabilize himself and then he yelled, “Chairman” in a high voice, saluted and added, “I loyal sir.”
“Please give me a second alone with Ife.” Ayo said, pulled Ife before Jamal said anything and dragged her through the backyard and towards where his car was parked.
“Are you out of your senses?” He began to ask immediately they were away from people. He opened his car, “Get inside now.” he ordered.
He locked the car, turned on the AC immediately they were inside.
“Do you think I risked everything, came all the way to that Ghetto you lived in, brought you here to Lagos so you can become a porn star?”
He left her no room to explain herself, “You have not spent time in the studio recording anything since you came here but you have used all of your time to hang around Jamal. You think you’re special or what? He fucks anything with a Vagina and what he wants is to do same to you and move on! What the hell are you even doing here?”
“He invited me.” Ife replied, her head lowered. She was too ashamed to look him in the face.
“Do you even realize you signed a contract? You might have been too silly to read through but that contract states that you drop at least three albums over a period of five years before you leave! If all you are doing is fucking around how do you want to make that happen?”
He hissed and drove out of the residence. They rode in silence, Ife ashamed of herself and embarrassed at the way he had found her.
But she was not only embarrassed and ashamed, she was slightly angry at how he had spoken to her like he had no respect whatsoever for her.
He might have given her a life she did not deserve, but he also could not speak to her like she was worth nothing. He had to realize she was human and she had feelings and those feelings he was hurting now with the words he spoke.
When he parked at her apartment less than an hour later, she turned and faced him, “I am sorry.”
“You would be sorry if by next week you don’t have something in the works, Trust me.”
“I can date whoever I want.” She snapped and wanted to bite her tongue immediately the words rushed out of her mouth.
“I’m sorry.” She hurriedly said while her hands fumbled with the lock as she tried to leave the car.
He dragged her hand, stopping her from leaving the car. Then he said to her in a steely voice, “Do not ever use that tone on me again. Are we clear?”
She nodded quickly. Then continued to fumble with the lock which for some reason, she couldn’t find the strength to pull.
She had been humiliated a bit too much that night and if she did not go away to be alone now, she would burst into tears.
“Now go to bed and think about ways to be relevant without making a fool of yourself.” He said, unlocked the car from his side.
She left him, shut the door and ran to the entrance of her house.
She tried to open the door but she realized it was locked. Then she put a call across to Amanda, “I’m at the door, Mandy.”
“You’re back? I thought you said you would be coming back late.”
“Well I am back now, come and open the door”
“I’m not home. I am stuck in traffic, might not be home till 11”
Ife removed her phone from her ears and checked the time, It was 9.30pm. “So you want me to sit outside the house for one hour thirty minutes?”
“I am so sorry, Ife. And your mom has gone for a Church Program…”
Ife hissed, hung up and sat by the door.
Ayo knew he was hard on her and he knew it was a bit too much.
He was angry at her for hanging around Jamal instead of throwing her energy into something more productive but he still had no reason to have been that harsh.
He slammed his legs on the brakes and made a turn. He drove back to her house.
She was outside when he returned.
“Ife, come in.” He said and she obeyed without argument. That made him feel worse.
She was a fragile, sweet girl and he should not be hard on her.
It made him want to pull her close and hug her as usual. The way he did whenever she felt like she needed a shoulder.
“Why are you sitting outside?”
“My mother and Amanda locked me out.”
“I’m sorry for speaking to you like that, Ife.”
He did hurt her but she had not been expecting him to come back to apologize. People like Ayo did not apologize to people like her. So maybe it was the fact that he came back to beg her or the fact that he’d truly hurt her and she felt like crying, that made her want to cry, she just found herself letting the tears flow.
Ayo’s heart tore apart when he saw the tears in her eyes. He had hurt her for real and it must have been bad for her to cry.
He hated himself that moment.
He had no reason to have spoken those harsh words to her.
He undid his seatbelt and pulled her close the way he always did when she became like this. “I’m sorry.” He said to her and patted her back gently.
She nodded but that did not stop the tears, “I’m sorry for disappointing you.”
“No. No you didn’t” He said, trying to make the tears stop.
“I know I did.” She said, raising her head and looking into his eyes. She looked sorry and that made him feel more like a monster. Damn Aunty Fola for ruining his night and Jamal for acting like a jerk to someone he was going to the rest of the world to protect.
“You didn’t Ife. I know I said things but I was just angry.
He wiped her tears gently, looked into her eyes which were wet from tears and tried to tell himself the sudden urge he felt to kiss her was unreal.
But he couldn’t hold himself back. It was stronger than the last two times it happened and for once, he allowed his curiosity as to why he was feeling that way towards her overtake him.
He leaned closer, his eyes falling on her lips which was painted with a shade of red lipstick that suited her perfectly.
“I’m sorry.” He muttered and patted her lips with his tongue, kissing her deeply and passionately like he honestly hadn’t kissed anyone in years.
He did not know if the apology was for the cruel words he uttered or for the kiss he felt was inappropriate. But he knew the more he kissed her, the more he wanted to continue.
He also noticed that she kissed him back and he wondered if she did it because she wanted it or because she felt obliged to please him with whatever he wanted.
The latter scared him. If she did anything with him, he wanted it to be because she wanted it not because he did.
His phone rang. He ended the kiss and stared at the ID. The number was not saved on his phone but he knew who it was.
“Hello. I will be there in an hour.”
The call was brief. He faced Ife when it was over, “I have to be somewhere. I will drop you off at mine and be back to bring you home.”
She nodded dutifully and again that unnerved him.
He needed her to sometimes object.
“I’m down. But on one condition.”
“I get witnesses that you sent me to do this.”
“This is between you and I, Lanre. I don’t do witnesses.”
“But I insist.”
Ayo stood, Lanre eyed him in surprise.
“Where are you going?”
“To find someone else who doesn’t need witness to get 2million naira.”
“Okay fine, no witness. But this can never get out.”
“We would do it tomorrow. The boys are ready.”
Ayo picked his phone and typed something on it. Lanre’s phone beeped. He checked it, his bank account had just been credited with a million naira.
He gasped and looked at Ayo in shock.
“Remember the exact line of action. You must not do anything outside what I have instructed. You get your balance once I get a phone call and proof that you have finished your assignment”
Lanre, still in shock, nodded like a little boy.
“And if Ife ever learns about this arrangement, remember you kidnapped her mother and you are too in love with her to let her know.”
Again, Lanre nodded.
Then he marched towards the exit.