An episode for you because its Workers’ Day Holiday. Enjoy…

“The fact that you’re looking doesn’t mean you’re seeing”

SQUADI

Ekanem

She stared long and hard at her reflection in front of the mirror in her mother’s room.

You’re trying too hard

It was the same voice she’d heard in her head all day.

A clingy black dress that flattered every single curve on her body, her hair now styled into a pixie cut and her earrings which were gold hoops made her feel overdressed.

She was trying too hard for him and it made no damn sense.

She clenched her fists by her side, eyes shut tightly. She was trying to tell the voice inside of her that she was just dressing up for lunch. She was not dressing for Hakeem.

She was trying to look beautiful because she was that person. As an aspiring makeup Artist and a hairdresser, looking good was one of the things she should do and it was what she was doing.

Opening her eyes, her reflection looked back at her. She’d chopped her hair off that morning at her old friend’s Salon.

Gone was the long hair she sewed long weaves and extensions in. It was now replaced by a pixie cut that was tinted blonde.

She’d done it because her friend had convinced her it would look good and because half of her hair was breaking anyway.

You’re trying too hard.

Willing to shove the voice out of her mind, she grabbed her phone. If making a call to her boyfriend was going to make her feel better and save her from getting unnecessary nervous about a rich man’s kid who was as spoilt as a three year old tin of milk, then she was going to do so.

Scrolling her fingers through her phonebook, she stopped on Phillip’s number and dialed it.

Waiting for him to pick, she busied herself with listening to Davido’s Aye which was the caller tune Phillip had chosen.

He loved Davido and he’d sang that song in his amazing voice for her many times in the past. As a member of the Choir in his Church and with a music career he was trying to push, Phillip loved to sing.

Maybe it was time she remembered the good things about him so it would save her from being stupid.

“Babe, you remembered me today”

She smiled and then, proceeded to invite him for lunch.

Calling Phillip had been a great idea. He showed up at theirs an hour before Hakeem arrived, helping her mother get lunch set for their guest.

When Hakeem arrived in his father’s SUV later, they had gotten their house ready for him.

Emem and her other siblings had scrubbed the hell out of the old rug on the floor, the old TV had been cleaned, the furniture polished so much it shone.

They might as well have been approaching Christmas because they dedicated time to make the house look the best.

“He has come” her mother said excitedly as Hakeem got down from the red car outside their house.

Phillip exchanged glances with her where they stood by the window, “He is young” he noted, his eyes darting from Hakeem’s car to Hakeem himself.

“Yes” she replied blandly, trying to calm her raging nerves. She felt like the sea on a stormy day; her nerves were like the waves, darting back and forth, being controlled by the heavy wind it had no control over.

Hakeem had a life that sharply contrasted hers and if the Puff Puff incident told her anything, it was that he couldn’t stomach the things that were ordinary to her. Things that were a part of her own world.

She wondered if he would be able to stomach the Egusi soup and pounded yam her mother had prepared and that she had supervised.

“What does he do again?” Phillip asked as they waited for Hakeem to walk in through the door.

“He’s a student, his father is Alhaji Rasaq…”

“The Oil guy” Phillip finished off her statement, his eyes widening in surprise.

“Yes”

“How did you meet him?”

“His father is the husband of my Oga”

“That one that sacked you”

If only Phillip knew how nervous and unsettled she was on the inside. “He’s here now, I will tell you everything later” she said to him as Hakeem stepped in and her mother welcomed him with the brightest smile she’d ever seen.

Ekanem watched as her younger siblings greeted him politely, each desperately wanting to please him.

She remembered how she had warned them to be on their best behavior and to only speak when he asked them to. Hakeem was not from their world and they needed to understand that.

“Good afternoon ma” Hakeem greeted and was led to a seat, the only one in a good condition in the House. “Ekanem” he said to her with a smile.

She smiled back at him, her heart beating faster than the drums in a Fuji track.

“Hakeem” she returned his greeting, “Welcome to our small house”

He chuckled, “Small things come in the best package sometimes” he replied and for what seemed like a long time, they held each other’s gazes.

“Please sit” she said to him, pointing him to the chair that had been prepared for him. Phillip cleared his throat and reminded her of his presence, “Hakeem, here is Phillip, my boyfriend”

Hakeem and Phillip shook hands, each introducing himself.

Silence fell as Hakeem sat, each member of her family at a loss of what to say to the wealth on legs that had walked through their front door a few minutes before.

The silence reminded Ekanem of the enormous bridge that was between her world and his world. A bridge that was never going to be brought down because of how each their worlds were.

“My name is Pearl” Ekanem’s baby sister suddenly said, her beautiful big brown eyes on Hakeem. He smiled at her, a smile that caused Pearl’s eyes to drop in shyness.

“Come here, Pearl” Hakeem said to the ten year old who walked awkwardly to where he sat. “My name is Hakeem”

“I know. Aunty Ekanem said it many times this morning”

“Jesus Christ! Pearl!” Ekanem screamed, embarrassed.

“She also said you have money and you will not like our house. She asked mummy why…”

“Okay, e don do” Ekanem grabbed her little sister from Hakeem’s grip but he was quick to drag her back, this time, he protected her with his arms.

“Hey, leave the girl, let her tell me all the bad things you said about me behind my back” He said with a chuckle and just like that, Pearl was back to updating him on everything Ekanem had said.

The whole house roared in laughter when Pearl revealed how Ekanem had called him “Soft belle” because he had severe food poisoning as a result of Puff Puff.

And as much as she wanted to give Pearl a knock on the head, Ekanem could not help but be grateful that she broke the awkwardness that was as thick an Agege bread a week old.

“I like this girl” Hakeem said minutes later after the whole room had erupted in laughter at something Pearl said about Ekanem’s description of Hakeem’s lifestyle.

And Ekanem found out that she liked him to, or like she would rather tell herself, she liked his ability to ease into her world without seemingly trying too hard.

Ajayi

“No firewalls?”

“None at all”

“Strange” Lerato replied, her hands working an exfoliating scrub into her beautiful face. “What Bank in this age creates an online banking system without a firewall?”

“One waiting to be robbed by my Squad” Ajayi responded. He was half naked in Lerato’s bed, clothed in just his Boxers, while he went through the site of the Bank they were hacking into in just a week if things went according to plan.

He’d arrived at her Hotel two hours before and they had gone at each other like wild animals the moment he stepped in, ripping each other of their clothes while they had sex right there by the door.

It was still hard to believe that he was sleeping with Lerato, a woman at least seven years older.

But he couldn’t lie that he had lusted for her from the very first day he set eyes on her and he was in awe of who she was and the mystic that surrounded that person.

“I see you’re hundred percent into this now”

He glanced at her, her fingers were done working the facial scrub on her face. Her eyes were on him now as she stood naked in front of the mirror in the room.

“Yes”

“AJ”

“Lerato, don’t bother trying to convince me. If I am discovering the nonexistence of Firewalls, then I am already into this. See how I was clueless at first cause I didn’t want to do it? Now I want to and my whole self is into it”

She lowered her eyes, her long legs swiftly moving her into the bathroom. He abandoned his Laptop and followed her immediately, stopping abruptly when he found her holding tightly to the white sink in front of her.

“King, you okay?”

She opened her eyes and looked at his reflection through the mirror, “Some things seem ordinary at the beginning, AJ”

He placed a hand on her shoulder, “Lerato, this is not so bad”

“Until you see it actually is”

Suddenly, it occurred to him that something was wrong and whatever it was had to do with her not him. Gently, he pulled her with him back into the room.

“Sit” he told her and she sat on the soft bed, her sad eyes on him.

“Talk to me, Lerato. Is something wrong?”

She nodded, “I think I might be in trouble”

“You are? How? What happened?”

She blinked back tears, “Lerato please say something”

“The guy I work for…”

“Yes…”

“I usually help him get major information about some top secret service either here or outside the country.”

“Okay…”

“Last week, I discovered something about him”

Hakeem waited for it, whatever Lerato had discovered seemed scary because she shuddered before she continued, “This guy, he is responsible for a lot of terrible things on the continent”

“How terrible?”

“Terribly terrible, AJ” She shook her head, lowered it and continued, “Usually, what I do for him is hack into some Top secret service or get him information about some people in different countries in Africa. However, last month, he told me to hack into some NGO’s cloud account in Zimbabwe”

“And…?”

“I was supposed to retrieve and delete permanently from the cloud a Folder called ‘Gokwe Virus’. What was funny though, was when I got there, there were several folders on this Gokwe Virus. In fact, I saw seven different folders and another one that said ‘Gokwe Virus: Who is responsible’. It was hard not to click on that one”

“So you did”

She nodded, “I shouldn’t have, AJ”

She suddenly shivered, causing him to dash into the bathroom and return with her favorite bathrobe; a purple bathrobe with the name King italicized on it.

“Thanks” she said as he helped her into the robe. “I clicked on that Folder and I saw extremely scary things. This guy was responsible for the virus in the Gokwe area in Zimbabwe and not only that, the Folder claimed he was responsible for different viruses in different areas on the continent. There was Kenya, Zambia and even Tanzania named in that Folder. What was funny was, I had stolen files in these countries for him before!”

“Wow”

“And in all these Areas, there have been viruses similar to how this Gokwe virus was discovered and how it killed thousands. It’s like the Ebola virus, it kills in days and fatally too. And then, suddenly, he is there with his…”

Her phone rang, causing her to stop midsentence. “Excuse me”

Ajayi watched as she picked her phone, a thousand and one things running through his mind at the same time. Who was the guy she was talking about? Why was he distributing viruses all over Africa? To what end?

“I have to go downstairs, AJ. I’ll be right back” she was off the phone now.

“Okay. Would you at least wash your face?

She nodded, dashed into the bathroom and returned minutes later, the scrub thoroughly washed off her face.

She threw on a maxi dress and grabbed her phone.

“Be fast though, I have to travel today”

“Sure”

“King?”

She turned to face him, he walked to her, placed a kiss on her forehead, “I will always be here for you, you know that right?”

She flashed a grin, “Hmm… you talking like a big boy now, huh?”

“You know I am a big boy”

She laughed, making him feel better that he had somehow made her feel better.

“I know. That’s why you have all my secrets now”

He laughed.

“I’m serious, AJ. You do Ajayi Adebambo”

“I like it when you call my name with that South African accent”

She winked, her phone rang again. “Let me go see this person”

Placing a quick kiss on his forehead, she was out of the room in seconds.

Ajayi went back to his laptop and continued from where he left off.

 

Hakeem

He wished his family was anything like hers; interesting conversations, genuine laughter and family stories they all relished like a delicious pot of Efo riro.

As a young boy, he had wished his mother would return from her ‘journey’ and things would get back to normal in his family.

Jamila Rasaq was the beautiful, warm and lovely mother that birthed him. Her laughter still echoed in his mind whenever he remembered her and on her birthdays.

His father had told him on one of the days he reminisced that she’d been a beauty queen in her University days and he had been lucky to have her.

“All the guys wanted her but for some reason, she chose me” he’d said, an affectionate look in his eyes. “I loved her so much, Hakeem. I loved your mother so much”

She had been around for a short time but Hakeem had seen the smile she sent his way as a toddler and it was not hard to believe any time his father told him she loved him dearly.

He never wanted anyone to take her space in his life or his father’s. And that was why he was mad that Aunty Martha came and did just that.

She took his father’s heart away from his mother.

These days, his father didn’t even visit his mother’s grave with him anymore. He just handed him money to buy flowers and never spoke about her.

“Hope you enjoyed our food?” Ekanem’s mother’s voice broke into his thoughts.

He nodded, “yes ma”

“You better. We slaved to make it happen” Ekanem replied and her mother shot her an angry look.

He smiled, he liked Ekanem in a weird way. Maybe they were going to be good friends, if she let him of course.

Standing, he announced his decision to leave. Ekanem’s mother thanked him profusely as he made for the door.

“Ekanem, see your friend off” she said and Ekanem followed him all the way to his car outside.

“Thanks for coming”

“Thanks for having me over”

He leaned on the car when they reached where his car was, “It was fun. And I like your family”

“Really? I was fighting my mother when she told me she invited you”

“Why? I wanted to come”

“Our lives are different, Hakeem. I didn’t want you to look down on us or…”

“You think I look down on people”

It was not a question really, it was a statement. He was echoing her words, wondering if she really looked at him that way or if he came across that way.

“Ekanem, is that how you see me?” he placed a hand on her shoulder, “I don’t look down on people”

“You are proud”

“Maybe”

She shrugged, “See? You even said maybe”

“I am being honest, is there something wrong with that?”

“Nothing” there was a long stretch of silence before she turned to leave, “Thanks for coming I have to go”

“You’re still coming for my sister’s birthday this weekend, right?”

She nodded, “At least, I owe you that now”

“I don’t want you to owe me. I want you to want to come”

“Okay”

“By the way, my family is nothing like yours. So you’re allowed not to look forward to it”

He had to admit he liked the sound of her laughter when she laughed. Hopping into his car, he fired up his ignition and drove out of the area.

 

Yellow

He watched the babies sleep peacefully in their separate cots before returning his eyes to the phone in his hands.

Itunu was busy in the Kitchen, making lunch.

She had refused his offer to help and so he dedicated the time to texting his cousin in Ghana instead.

Ifeanyi had just returned to Ghana after coming to Nigeria for some business the week before.

They barely saw each other but they managed to keep in touch. And that was why he did not think it was going to be hard to get him on board to help the Squad.

However, Ifeanyi had been quite reluctant, asking questions Yellow was wary of answering. Questions that he knew could jeopardize the crew’s mission.

He picked his phone and dialed him instead, asides from hating the text message medium, he also thought messages sometimes killed conversations.

“Ejike, how far na?” Ifeanyi’s voice came through on the other end, “This your people, wetin dem want?”

“Just to open account na, Ifeanyi. No more no less”

“Untraceable account? That one sounds like plenty more and little less to me, Ejike”

Yellow could sense the reluctance in his voice. It was the same thing he sensed with the messages.

“Ifeanyi, abeg it is not anything bad we’re trying to do. This guy just needs to start a business with this money and he wants to do it in Ghana”

“Business with a fake name”

Yellow was nearing his wits end.

“Ifeanyi, trust me abeg”

Itunu emerged with a tray of Eba and Okro soup. The aroma of the soup caused his stomach to be reminded of how much he needed to eat. He eyed the stock fish and little pieces of Saki that stared back at him in the soup. He could not wait to get his fingers on them.

“Ejike, I cannot do this now. Please I cannot do something I am not sure of. Please let me call you back” he said and hung up before Yellow could say anything.

“Thank you” he said to Itunu as he discarded the phone. Ifeanyi was proving difficult and that was a problem. How was he going to come through for the guys?

“Ehen, My husband. You have not told me where you got money to pay for Hospital and Ram for naming ceremony. Who gave you money?”

He washed his hands in the clean water she had placed side by side his meal. “God provided it” he said, unwilling to discuss Hakeem with her. He knew she was not going to stop once Hakeem came into the picture, she would dig out every detail and then become disappointed if she knew what he did.

“Ehn, but who did He send?” she asked.

One of the babies stirred and his tiny voice caused her to be momentarily distracted.

And for the first time in his life, he was a fan of a baby’s cry.

 

 

 

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