As Rotimi got into the terminal the smell of sweaty bodies hit hard. It was a thick, hot, unrepentant smell that made him wrinkle his nose in defence. The kind of powerful smell that makes you dislike people you’ve never met. The airport was a functioning mess but he was accustomed to all of it. From the wide-eyed immigration officers and expectant baggage handlers to the inquisitive glares that met him as he collected his suitcase from the exhausted conveyor belt. He felt his phone vibrate gently in his pocket. A single vibration, which meant it was an email. He felt his jaw tense up as he reached into his pocket. He peeled open the email quickly and clenched his fist in quiet triumph when he saw the word he needed; credit.
He equipped his trolley and waved away the customary collection of cab drivers offering their services as he made his way outside. Rotimi was tall and toned with a thick dark beard and a darker fade. The sun shone almost boastfully that afternoon turning Rotimi’s skin to polished oak as he walked further from the airport. He adjusted his wristwatch on his hand looking out for his personal assistant, Godwin. He was easy to spot, he was tall and lanky, with a soldiers posture and he always walked a little faster than everyone else.
“Welcome back Sir!” Godwin exclaimed as he bowed and extended his hand dutifully for a handshake. “Thank you Godwin” Rotimi answered as he gave his hand a firm shake and patted him playfully on the shoulder. Godwin looked happy to see him, almost skipping as he escorted him towards the executive car park. As they approached the car park he watched as a man with no legs powered his wheelchair towards them. “The Youngest Billionaire!” the legless man exclaimed as he spun his wheels furiously to keep pace with them as they walked. Rotimi couldn’t help but smile a little at that and when he caught him smile, the legless man was encouraged. He always loved how the helpless in Lagos never lost their charm, that irresistible Lagos fire. “The finest one! God bless you Sa!” the legless man shouted as they approached the car. Godwin tried to direct the legless man away but Rotimi stopped him with an outstretched hand. He reached into the topmost pocket on his Buba and gave the man a small bundle of change. “Thank you Sir! God bless you Sir!” the man said as he slowed his wheelchair to a crawl and turned back towards the airport. Rotimi heard him shout “The Youngest Billionaire” to someone else behind him and smiled.
Godwin held the door open for him as he stepped into the bullish black Range Rover. He took his fila off and wiped a little sweat from his forehead as he settled into the backseat. “Welcome back Sir!” the driver greeted as he entered the car. “Thank you” Rotimi replied scanning the driver’s face to see if it was one of the drivers he recognized. It wasn’t a driver he recognized; this guy was young and smiley, he smiled that full-bodied, toothy smile that was wrought with ingenuity, the smile Nigerians produce when they are preparing to ask you for money. Probably one of the drivers from the bank, Rotimi thought to himself. “What’s your name?” Rotimi asked as the driver started the engine. The driver seemed surprised he had asked for his name. “T-Tekena” the driver stuttered. “Drive slowly Tekena” Rotimi said, squeezing a few banknotes into the drivers hand. “Thank you Sir” Tekena said, this time with his real smile.
As they rode towards the bridge he watched Lagos undress itself as the car spilled out into the backstreets of the Lagos mainland. Even from behind the heavy tint of the backseat window the city was vibrant and colorful. The cries of street hawkers pressing their wares against car windows trapped in the still of traffic, the struggling accent of the radio personality that was resting somewhere between America and Britain and the loud incessant blaring of horns all blended into an orchestra of uneven sound; people selling, people buying, people living. It wasn’t until they crossed the Lekki toll gate that he realized he was almost home. As they approached the gates of the Pinehill Estate, Rotimi looked around, noticing the road had been fixed while he was away. A short blast of the horn and the estate gate creaked open, slowly at first, then quickly as the security guards recognized the vehicle. Rotimi raised a fist in greeting to the security guard who stood in salute as the car drove in. When the car had pulled to a stop he exhaled loudly before climbing out of the car.
He had begun, in Abuja to feel the emptiness again. The emptiness that clawed away at his stomach until he washed it away with drunkenness or sex or drunken sex. He was a successful banker with a mouthwatering investment portfolio. He had a waterfront home, outfitted with Italian furniture and floor-to-ceiling windows. He had a wine room with wines far older than he was and an apartment in Abuja with curtains that took 14 months to arrive. He had done so much, so quickly, and yet he was dying of thirst. He looked out of the car window massaging his beard gently, wondering whether he wanted to come out at all or tell Tekena to just drive somewhere, anywhere.
Godwin had already dismounted from the other car and was directing the unloading of the suitcases when Rotimi stepped out. He climbed the short flight of stairs and fumbled for his keys in his pocket. When he opened the door he was greeted with an aroma far more pleasing than the smell that had hailed him at the airport, the unmistakeable mist of dodo frying. “Who’s frying this sweet dodo here?” he called bursting into the kitchen. Bisola turned to smile at him as she moved the plantain around in the simmering pan. “Oh” Rotimi said startled, “what a lovely surprise”. Who let her into the house? he thought to himself. He opened his arms to give her a hug. She kissed him gently on the cheek. “Welcome back” she said, emptying the plantain into a bowl. He remembered, he had given her a key before he left, that was a stupid mistake. Bisola wore a colourful Ankara dress hewn to devious perfection to suit every curve and crevice of her delicate frame. As she stood there scooping the plantain, he was reminded that she was a beautiful woman, a dark, delicious spice with a thick bob of shoulder length hair and cheekbones that could slice yam. In another life, he could have loved a woman like Bisola, she was the kind of woman men loved to marry; safe, sickly sweet, a good cook and a good Christian. If his mother was still alive she would have loved Bisola, called her ‘my daughter’ and prayed with her. Her smile was unreal and her outfit held her so closely. Bisola could sense him looking at her and turned towards him wrapping her arms around his torso and nuzzling her nose against the nape of his neck. He smiled and grabbed her by the shoulders, pulling himself gently out of the embrace. “That dodo is calling my name” he said turning towards the bowl.
He picked at the plantain with his fingers chewing lightly with a smile. “You should have let me finish the curry” Bisola said trying to pull his arm away from the bowl, “the plantain is just the side, there’s rice”. “Dodo is never the side Bisola” he said waving his finger in playful correction “Dodo is always the star of the show”. Rotimi thought how lovely she was and how he would miss her and how she would hate him, but it was inevitable. He thought a few times about leading her upstairs as they bantered in that kitchen, she looked good and she was using all her weapons with careful poise, but he was disciplined. When her determination waned and she tried to goad him by threatening to leave, he didn’t flinch. “I’m actually quite tired, maybe we should talk later in the week” he said with a defensive smile. If she was hurt, she didn’t show it. “I’m busy this week, but let’s see how it goes” she said turning towards the door. “Bisola” he called as she placed her pulled back the door. She smiled, her charms had worked she thought. “I’ll need my key back”. This time her hurt showed and Rotimi winced a little knowing he had upset her as he stretched out his hands for his keys.