Happy birthday, Timayin. You’ve been a supporter of my work and every young writer out there for years. May God bless you and make your path as beautiful as the words you shower generously on me and other Writers. Happy birthday.
“Whatever you give a name takes on a more important role in your life from the moment it is christened.”
She was not certain she had ever been so nervous about being anywhere before. As a little child, her mother had always said she never got nervous or frightened about the things that scared her mates.
“When all those other children were crying for Father Christmas, you were there trying to pull the beard off his face” her mother had said many times in the past while trying to remind her how brave she had seemed even as a little girl.
During exams in School, even when tough courses were waiting to be served in the form of long questions on white sheets, she had never been nervous.
It was not because she knew everything in the question papers, it was because she did not understand the word “fear”.
However, now, as she stood at the tall gates that guarded the Rasaq mansion, waiting for the uniformed security man to confirm with Hakeem that he had invited her over for his sister’s birthday party, her heart thumped in her chest, rivaling the beats from an old Shina Peters hit.
“Come inside please” the security man opened the pedestrian gate for her to walk in through. She smiled at him as she headed for the front door. She wanted to shed the nervousness off like unwanted fat but honestly, it was almost impossible.
She tightened her grip on the chain of her black purse while she found her way to the front door.
She must have spent hours from the gate to the front door because Hakeem was waiting for her at the entrance when she got there. “Did you travel out of the country before you got here? That was one long walk from the gate, Sugar Baby” he said and leaned closer for a brief kiss on her cheek.
A smile was all she gave in response. The friendship between her and Hakeem was getting cozier; there were text messages at least once in two days and of course, there were now kisses on the cheek.
He slipped his hand into hers and gently led her to the sitting room where young teenagers all dressed in some of the most stylish/trendiest outfits were scattered in groups, talking at the top of their voices.
Ekanem noticed some of them had the most expensive Samsung and iPhones and the others wore jewelry she knew would cost her two years’ salary at least.
A Tiwa Savage video was playing on the TV and it was no surprise that the birthday guests mouthed the lyrics to the hit song.
“What drink do you want?” Hakeem asked as she took a seat.
“Water” she replied, because her nerves needed to be relaxed and no other drink than water was the best for that.
Hakeem smiled. “No water for you today. Please pick something else”
“But I only feel like water”
“Nah” he said then continued, “Okay, how about Chapman? Lexy’s mom got some of the best caterers in Lagos for this so you’re about to taste the best Chapman of your life”
Ekanem shrugged, “Fine”
Hakeem winked at her and said, “I will be right back” before he whirled around and took long strides to the kitchen. He was a handsome sight in a white polo shirt and faded blue jeans.
Ekanem vaguely wondered how many women fell over their heads for him in his circle and how many of them he bedded every opportunity he got.
She had seen him in his element and she knew that even though he was hard to like at first glance, he somehow grew on people.
“Ekanem, what are you doing here?”
She recognized the voice of her former boss before she saw her in person. Standing in front of her with a Tray containing brownies, Martha eyed her with disdain.
Ekanem got on her feet immediately, about to mouth a reason she knew even her didn’t believe.
However, a young girl with long wavy weave emerged. She was spotting a white polo dress that stopped spaces before the knee, her feet nicely fitted in a pair of brown heels.
Ekanem had seen her before, she was one of the last few people to vacate Alhaji’s house in Abeokuta when Hakeem had been busted at his last party.
“Good afternoon, Aunt Martha” the girl greeted. She was gorgeous, her skin glowing under the afternoon light like some model in a beauty product commercial. Her long lashes, natural, were curled up with mascara and her lips were well painted in red.
“Nadia” Martha said to her, a deep smile suddenly appearing from nowhere. “How are you my darling?”
Nadia was either already bored by the environment or she’d rather be painting her nails because she yawned before responding, “Okay” her eyes swept Ekanem through in one quick gaze. “Where’s Hakeem?”
Hakeem strolled into view then, a glass of Chapman in his hands. Ekanem had to admit whatever little want for the red drink had vanished through the window.
He handed the glass to Ekanem just before Nadia threw her arms around him and placed kissed all over his face. Ekanem noticed their Polos matched and she wondered if it was premeditated.
“Hey ‘Keem” the lipstick would have decorated his face if it wasn’t matte, Ekanem noted, because she did not spare any part of his face with the kisses. “You just abandoned somebody” she said lightly, poking his chest with her finger. “I missed you sha”
“Missed you too, N” He replied and drew in her bottom lip for a kiss. Ekanem felt awkward watching the display of affection, especially since Martha’s presence felt like a reminder to leave.
She abandoned the perspiring glass on the nearest table to her and prepared to leave.
“Is this your friend?” Nadia asked, eyeing Ekanem.
Hakeem nodded, “Ekanem, meet Nadia. My girlfriend”
Nadia waved at Ekanem and dragged Hakeem away, giggling into his ears her legs walking the marbled floor effortlessly in those blocked heels Ekanem had fallen in love with.
She’d barely looked away when Martha dragged her by the hand and shoved her into a room beneath the stairs.
It was a guest room, smaller than Alhaji’s own where she had fucked him a couple of times but well taken care of like every single space in the Rasaq mansion.
Martha locked the door behind them and shoved Ekanem against the wall.
“What do you want from my family, you harlot?” her eyes were colder than ice and her voice so steely, Ekanem shivered.
“Nothing” she managed to say, if she hadn’t suffered enough humiliation in one day.
“So why are you hanging around my step son?” she snarled, “Do you think for a second that he might be interested in you? Look at him and look at you, both of you have nothing in common. So what exactly do you want?”
Ekanem’s eyes dropped, now she was feeling awful. “Nothing. I came here because he invited me…”
Martha’s finger was waving in her face now, “Let me warn you, let this be the last time you hover around him like a stubborn fly. If I see you near him again or hear for some reason that you’re around him, I will deal with you mercilessly. Now before I blink, get your smelly self out of this building and never look back!”
The door opened and Martha pushed her out of it, “Move!”
He dialed Lerato’s number for the fifth time that afternoon and it gave him the same response he had been getting for over twenty four hours – switched off.
Frustrated, he tossed the device into his pocket and stepped into the Rasaq mansion.
Since he left Lerato’s room days before, she had been unreachable. He’d waited for her in her hotel room for hours and had left eventually when she did not show up. However after trying her number endlessly with no response for days, he had started to worry.
She had told him she was returning to South Africa in two weeks, so she was likely still in the country.
And even if she had returned to South Africa, her number would go through. Except he couldn’t connect with that one either.
Making a mental note to go back to her hotel after leaving Hakeem’s sister’s birthday party, he pushed the door open and stepped into the house with many teenage voices singing along to Beyoncé’s Formation.
Amused by the girls – most of them imitating the well-choreographed moves from the video – he scanned the room quickly for Hakeem.
His eyes caught Ekanem being pushed out of a room, immediately followed by the woman he had come to realize was Hakeem’s step mother.
Stunned, Hakeem watched as the woman shoved Ekanem once again, this time, causing her to stumble.
Worried that Ekanem might actually fall, he strode to where the two women where and held Ekanem just as she pushed her again.
“Good evening ma, is there any problem ma?”
Martha eyed Ajayi before she asked, “And you are?”
Ajayi swallowed hard, this woman seemed like she was angry at the world and she seemed like she’d throw them all in a trolley and push them down a sloppy hill.
“My name is AJ. I’m Hakeem’s friend”
“Hmm” she scrutinized him, as if worried he just might be lying. “Call him” she added and was about to shove Ekanem again when AJ grabbed her. “My friend, will you mind your business here and stay out of my way?”
“It’s okay, AJ” Ekanem said to him and he could swear he saw a tear threatening to drop. Stepping aside slowly, he watched Martha push her all the way to the door.
Grabbing his phone, AJ hurriedly dialed Hakeem’s number. “Hakeem, I think you should come right now. Your stepmother is embarrassing Ekanem and it’s not looking good”
“The fuck?!” Hakeem cussed and ended the call.
AJ used that opportunity to send Lerato yet another text
King, U’re making me lose my mind. Call me when u can. Miss you.
Then he hurried to the door to see what he could do before Hakeem emerged.
A waiter brought before him a Tray containing glasses of Chapman and though he was thirsty, he smiled and shook his head, unwilling to be distracted by the delicious drink while his friend got treated like a common Robber.
He shoved Nadia off him gently, reduced the volume of Rihanna’s Kiss It Better which was blaring from the Speakers in his room and which was supposed to drown Nadia’s moans when they started having sex and made for the door.
“Where to now?” Nadia asked as he got to the door.
“I’ll be right back” he said and dashed down the stairs, AJ, his stepmother and Ekanem were outside when he found them. AJ was trying to plead with Aunty Martha and Ekanem was already heading for the gate.
“What the fuck do you think you’re doing?” Hakeem roared the moment he set eyes on his stepmother. “She’s my freaking guest for heavens’ sake!”
“Peasants are not allowed in this premises” Martha mouthed, “This is my house and I decide who comes here” she added.
“No this isn’t your house, this is my father’s house”
“I will not take it kindly if you utter any rude words to me today, Hakeem. It is my daughter’s birthday and I decide who walks through these gates”
Hakeem stood eye to eye with her, his eyes blazing hotter than the afternoon sun. “And it is my father’s house so you don’t get to throw people out just because you don’t like their faces!” he replied, “And it is very rich of you to call people peasants seeing as you were one yourself before you got saved by my father’s money”
Martha sent him reeling backwards with a slap, “Don’t you ever speak to me like that again” she warned with a finger and stormed into the house.
There was a long stretch of silence before he looked up and faced AJ.
“Are you okay?” AJ asked him, a deep look of concern on his face.
“Fuck this party, let’s get out of here” Hakeem snapped and made for one of the cars parked in the compound. It was a red Audi. He opened it and told AJ to get in.
“Let’s go somewhere private and quiet.”
“She cannot have made it far, we will pick her on the road” he said and got into the red automobile, firing up the engine.
Willing to drown his anger in something, he connected his iPhone to the car’s speakers and played Falz’s Clap featuring Reminisce. He was going to be speeding through the Estate, while listening to loud music because that was how he was when he was angry so he muttered a quick apology to AJ, “It will be one heck of a ride my guy, be tightly secured with your seatbelt”
AJ just smiled.
He slammed his leg on the accelerator and sped out of the compound.
They had barely driven far, thanks to his speed, when they caught up with Ekanem. AJ rolled down his glass and asked for her to come in but she barely paid them any attention, walking down the sidewalk like she had no idea who they were.
“Ekanem” Hakeem called but she barely glanced in his direction. He parked the car in the middle of the road and ran to her. It took a lot of convincing for her to stop and only then did he realize she had tears in her eyes and the moment he pulled her close, they fell.
For the thousandth time since he met her, Hakeem hated Martha again.
He met up with the crew in one of the fanciest hotels he had ever been to in his entire life.
Rolling with Hakeem Rasaq had its perks, and one of them was chilling in a five star hotel somewhere in Victoria Island.
Yellow was lying on a sofa, his shoes on the floor, his teeth digging into the most delicious chicken laps he’d ever had in his entire life when Ekanem emerged from the bathroom.
She’d disappeared into the bathroom when they arrived some two hours before, insisting she needed a shower. She had taken over an hour to soak herself in the bath and Hakeem and AJ had insisted she needed it when Yellow had asked incessantly if she had gone there to birth a baby.
“She had a tough day” Hakeem simply said, grabbing the remote control, his eyes fixed on a Marvel movie.
“So your cousin is saying he won’t help us” Hakeem said as a Villain met his match in the movie he was watching.
“im talk say im no want wahala” Yellow said, wrestling with the bone in his hand. “Can we not try somebody else?”
“Like who?” Hakeem turned to face him now, “He was our only option”
“Convince him now” AJ said, “You’re cousins, you know what he likes plus he already knows we have an agenda. I will rather we use him than anyone else”
“AJ has a point”
Yellow shrugged, “No problem” he drew in the sauce the chicken had been doused in, licking his lips when it fell into his mouth. Damn, he loved the food here.
“Maybe we should promise him a little money” Hakeem suggested.
“You think that’s a good idea? He seems like an upright citizen” AJ said.
“Everyone’s upright until they get the right price” Hakeem replied and AJ nodded. “Yellow, call your guy”
Yellow reluctantly let go of what was left of the chicken he’d been wrestling with and dialed his cousin. After the second ring, Ifeanyi picked up. Yellow put it on speaker.
Hakeem was right, the moment Yellow offered to help Ifeanyi with his business, Ifeanyi showed green light.
“When una dey come?” Ifeanyi asked over the phone.
Hakeem whispered “next week” and Yellow echoed his words to his cousin.
“Nice one. I go don prepare for una”
When he got off the phone, the squad exchanged glances, each smiling. Even Ekanem smiled despite herself.
“We suppose get name now sef” Yellow said with a laugh.
“Yeah, like the Avengers” AJ replied, his eyes on the TV. The Avengers were all getting together in their iconic scene in the first installment of the movie.
“Avengers is posh o” Ekanem said.
“True” Hakeem echoed, “So what is it going to be?”
“Squad One” AJ suggested
“Squad two go dey?” Yellow asked and Ekanem chuckled. They all fell silent, each thinking hard of the name for the crew. A name that they didn’t have to get but a name they knew was fun to get.
It didn’t have to mean anything, it just had to mean they were together in this. That they were all a part of something strong for the first time in their lives.
“Original Squad” AJ suggested again.
“Dude, you suck with names. Just leave naming your kids to me, I got you” Hakeem said and AJ laughed.
“Original Squadi” Yellow said.
“Nah” Ekanem said, “How about Squadi: The Originals?”
They all exchanged glances for the second time that afternoon, this time in support of what they will be called… forever.