Mason Derek had steadily climbed his way to the top in the Photography Industry in Nigeria.
Born to Aristocratic parents, Mason was the typical trust fund kid. He had access to everything – money, connections and opportunities.
So when he chose to start his career as an intern with a good but relatively unknown studio, he had startled his parents and best friend, Ayobami Balogun.
But he had wanted to learn, really learn and understand the ropes of photography and he did not want to do it from people who would treat him nicely and like royalty.
Years later, he had become one of the biggest photographers in Nigeria and an award winning one at that.
He had worked with Ayobami a lot of times, photographing the biggest artistes on his label and Ayo himself.
He balanced himself on a stool in the Cafe shop near Gidi Music and ordered for a cappuccino.
The coffee had just arrived when she walked in through the glass door. She noticed him, smiled and hurriedly joined him where he was.
“Good morning Mr Derek…”
“Just call me Mase.”
She nodded dutifully, like he had given her an order and like she was willing to do his bid.
He knew why she was like that, she was meeting the Mason Derek she’d heard so much about and she was clearly in awe of him. He understood it but he also was going to need her to demystify him.
She needed to see him as human not as a god to learn from him.
“Hi Amanda. Nice to meet you.” He said with a warm smile and an even warmer handshake. He needed her to realize she was someone she could relate with, not a movie star or a celebrity.
But all she did was nod. She stared at his face shrouded with a well kept beard. He was not the one with a striking handsome face but his face was endearing and memorable.
“Do you want anything?”
“No. I’m okay.” She replied.
He wanted her to relax, not hunch her shoulders like that or sit up like she was part of a firing squad.
She needed caffeine to ease the tension. “They make the best coffee here. You should have a cup.”
And he motioned to a waiter before she refused.
Amanda nodded dutifully again and looked towards the waiter that approached then and that was when she saw him.
She had not seen him in a long time, last time they had seen had been dramatic and a violent fight had almost erupted.
She stared hard at him until his hazel brown eyes looked up and his gaze locked with hers. “Amanda.”
He stopped, gazed at her as if he was deciding whether to move or not and then awkwardly started towards her.
He pulled her into a hug and whispered, “I miss you and I am sorry.”
Amanda did not respond, neither did she try to hug him back. Instead she pushed him away, her stony glare reminding him of how much hurt he had caused her and then she said, “You’re at work, you shouldn’t be hugging people.”
Kike Kicks was the biggest female artiste in the country and an ex girlfriend of Ayo’s. Her successful musical career and her high profiled romances had placed her in a spot most female Nigerian celebrity couldn’t attain.
And she savoured it.
That morning, she had gone to Gidi Music with her manager to have a meeting with the three partners that ran the Label. Her contract with her former label had expired a week before and she had no interest in renewing it.
So she picked her phone, sent a few emails back and forth with her manager and told him to arrange a meeting with Gidi Music.
She wanted to be on the label, she wanted to be with her old flame.
And there they were a day later, having a discussion with the partners.
Abiola looked dapper in a yellow blazer and white shirt and Detoun, gracious in a lemon dress that brightened up her seemingly dull face. Yet, the only sunlight she saw was Ayo Balogun, the only man she had ever enjoyed lovemaking with.
When the meeting ended and terms and agreements had been reached, she grabbed Ayo’s hands and as her black stripper heels hit the marbled floor pulled him out of the boardroom with her.
Detoun watched them leave thoughtfully, Kike Kicks was one heck of a beautiful woman, her signature hair was short with baby curls but still, she turned heads. And even though she was considered minimally talented by Detoun, she grossed millions of naira every year from her music, movie roles and endorsements.
Detoun knew she had a past with Ayo and she knew pulling him out of the boardroom meant she was going to try his wiles on him again. That made her sick to her stomach.
Irritated, she hissed, picked her phones and Digital Tab and started for the door.
Abiola watched as she made to leave the room, he hadn’t missed Kike Kicks’ little performance and Detoun’s reaction to it.
And he also knew each of their past experiences with Ayo and how much effect Kicks had on Ayo.
“What?” She snapped, unable to hide the anger soaring inside of her.
“You shouldn’t be worried about Kicks.”
Mild embarrassment washed through her at the realization of being discovered. She hated when she was transparent and her emotions played out like a movie on a big screen.
It made her feel terrible, made her irritated at herself. “I don’t give a shit about Kicks.” And with her expression haughty, she added curtly, “And you shouldn’t give a shit about me too.”
But as she walked away from him and shut the door behind her, Abiola was not convinced about anything she’d said.
Amanda hugged Mason at the entrance of the Cafe when they finished with their meeting.
“Amanda, who was the waiter guy to you?” He asked her, surprising her.
Mason nodded, he knew it was someone she had history with. Her body language had said a thousand words when he tried to hug her earlier.
“You ended on a bad note.” he was trying to deduce what had led to the animosity Amanda felt towards the Waiter.
Mason placed a gentle hand on her shoulder, “I know this is not any of my business, but he looks apologetic.” and that was all he said before he smiled at her, opened the doors to his sleek automobile and hopped in.
Amanda watched him leave, then stood at the Cafe, trying to decide her next line of action.
Kicks had worked as a stripper in the UK before she returned home to start a career in music and that was why her music videos were racy and most times, referred to by the media as soft porn.
But she was not one to be fazed by anything the media wrote or anyone said. She did whatever she wanted and was undaunted by what followed.
And that was why she hadn’t cared about Ayo’s ex girlfriend whom she knew wanted to kill her that very moment.
She balanced herself on Ayo’s table in his private office and leaned close to him, revealing a perfect set of boobs and leaving him to inhale the strong scent of the cologne she wore.
“I missed you Ayo. I’m sure it would be fun working with you again.” He had produced a few songs on her debut album and even though she was not signed to his label at the time, he was a great influence in her career.
“I’m sure it would be” Ayo replied noncommittal.
She placed kisses on his forehead, “How are your girlfriends?”
“Kicks, when I have a girlfriend you would be the first to find out.”
She sulked, “Ahn ahn, why are the women leaving you alone now?”
He shrugged, “Maybe I lost my game.”
“Let me the one to decide that.”
He chuckled, Kicks had not changed much and he had to admit that it made him smile. He could never forget her zesty attitude, the way she lit up a room the way electricity never could and the undaunted attitude she had regarding negative energy.
“Let’s hangout later, Kicks.” He mentioned, trying to dismiss her because he had a meeting to get to.
“Yaay!” She laughed softly, that laughter that one time undid him and landed him in her bed at her Surulere flat for several nights. She winked and strutted out of the office like a Supermodel would a runway.
Amanda had fought a strong internal battle after Mason left her at the Cafe entrance, BJ had wronged her when they dated. He cheated, lied to her and emotionally abused her.
Her self esteem had been buried six feet deep after he walked out of her life and it had taken a while to resurrect it. Heck, she was still in the process of resurrecting.
So when she had seen him, working there in the Cafe, dressed up as a Waiter, she had remembered nights when her eyes had been swollen from tears, the mornings life seemed meaningless and the noons she spent locked up in bathrooms, toilets, libraries, anywhere she could find to relief herself of the pain.
And she had also remembered how many times he told her she wouldn’t amount to much, that her dreams were unattainable, that she would never even get to meet the celebrities she so much talked about.
But he had been wrong, in fact, nothing had been farther from the truth than the words he spoke to her because now, her life was different. Now, because of her best friend, she had met some of the Celebrities she adored.
She had met the one celebrity she was in awe of, the one she dreamt to be like, the one who had offered to be her teacher, her mentor – Mason Derek.
And that had made her hate him, realizing that he was her biggest enemy and now he had the guts to appear in her happily ever after.
But as she made her way back into the studio in Gidi Music where Ife was recording, she realized she was wrong.
He had said she would not make it but she was now closer to making it than she ever was, he had said she would not be the success she dared to dream of when she was younger but now, success was fast becoming her.
She stopped at the studio, her eyes on Ife as she passionately recorded her music and she told herself she had to go back.
She had to go and talk to him and listen to what he had to say.
Ayo had made BJ realize he did not have much time to wait and so the latter had excused himself from work and given him an undivided attention the moment he walked into the cafe.
They sat opposite each other, Ayo demanding to know the exact events of the night Lanre was murdered.
“Gbenro used to be the leader of the cult we belong to when he was younger. He and his brother were both heads of dreaded cults in the area and they have always been seen as a menace. So we knew anything could go wrong that night.”
“Doesn’t seem to me like you knew, seeing as someone lost his life.” Ayo sneered, irritated at Lanre and his goons’ lack of tact.
“Boss, with someone like Crocodile, you can never be too prepared.” BJ was apologetic, his eyes showing how badly he felt.
“So I guess crocodile swallowed all of you.” Ayo said with sarcasm.
BJ knew he was being sarcastic, but he also was not far from the truth. The man had thwarted their plans and had one of them killed and the other wounded.
“I’m sorry, Boss. I am very sorry but if Lanre were alive, he would have told you how horrible that night was.”
Ayo was angry but he chose not to say anything because of how terribly the young man opposite him felt. He stood, “I need you to always be here.” he said and marched out of the Cafe.
BJ understood the instruction clearly. Ayo had gotten him the job at the Cafe and he was ready to do his bid.
What he wasn’t ready for was the woman he found standing before him when he stood and made to return to his position.
“Amanda?” He asked in utter surprise.
“How do you know Ayobami Balogun?” Amanda demanded.
Ayo had learnt that there was no use trying to reach Ife by phone and he had also realized that no matter how much he tried, she would only speak to him when she wanted to.
He had gone to her house a few times and the cold response had kept him at bay.
Now, he let her be and immersed himself in work.
But he was leaving the country for a month the next day and he needed her to know that he was awfully sorry so he found her at the studio.
“Can I have a second, Ife?” He asked her when he found her. She followed him to his office. “Please have a seat” he said gently but she refused.
“I don’t have all the time. I have a contract to honour remember? Why am I here?” Her cold attitude towards him had not melted. She still couldn’t stand his guts and that sliced through his heart like a sharp knife.
“I am sorry about…”
She raised a hand to stop him. “I am not interested in your empty words.”
That stung him. His words were not empty. If anything, he meant every single word he had uttered to her since he met her.
But he was not going to stop trying to make her see how sorry he was, “I know…”
“You know nothing, Ayo.” She scoffed, “I cannot even believe you. You claim you’re sorry yet the only way you could show that was by binding me by a contract I have to fulfil and making money off me.”
He was alarmed at the way she saw everything. “Ife I swear that’s not what I intended to do.”
“You never intend to do anything do you?” She asked, irritated. “You know, a man is only a man when he owns up to his acts.”
This was going to be hard, he noted.
He paused for a long time and then said, “Can I play something for you?”
She did not respond, so he walked to the tiny remote lying on his table and pressed it. Backstreet Boys’ Incomplete immediately started to play.
“For you.” He said, hoping that the music would say to her words she would never believe if he uttered them himself.
They shared a love of music and they were both deep music lovers so they understood the language spoken through verses and he hoped to God that the music would come through for them.
He watched her listen, her leathery face refusing to change and when the song was done he said to her, “I know how much you hate me right now and no amount of words can change that. Right now, I would love to explain to you that none of the things that happened that unfateful day was my fault but I know that’s the only thing that would make your animosity towards me stronger. And that is why I have come to let you know that I understand your hate and your anger. I understand how much I have hurt you and I understand if you want to never see me again.”
She stared at him, stoic.
“And so that is why I am telling you now that you can leave the label if you want. I would not press charges and I would cover up for any issue Detoun and Abiola might want to raise.”
“Okay.” She said and walked out of the Office. He watched her leave, his guilt threatening to bury him.
He left the country three days later with Kicks. He had sent her a text that said, “I would be going to LA for a month, wanna come?” and she had replied immediately with, “Before nko?”
But before he left, he sent an envelope to Ife.
She was in her house preparing for a gig when the message arrived. She’d abandoned it and only opened it when she returned late at night.
A note fell out first, it read: I am sorry. I will never stop saying it.
She checked the other thing the envelope carried and found a typed document in it. She read through, it was a letter Ayo had typed on her behalf.
It was a well written letter stating why she wanted to leave Gidi Music because of its harsh treatment and its lack of understanding regarding her career.
She gaped at the letter in shock, realizing what he’d done.
He was trying to tell her she could wage war against him if she wanted, he would not fight back and he would let her win.