*Recap: Dami had a glimpse of what the special customers of Exquisite are like and she met Natasha, the new girl who seems to have more to her than what meets the eye.*
9:03am, 17th May 2016,
The Campus Grounds.
The new semester had started and the campus was filled with old and new faces, the dorms were no longer quiet places where I could hear myself think. As I walked out of the lecture hall, I heard someone walk up to me and tap my shoulder.
“I haven’t seen you in a while.”
I turned to find Nonso standing behind me.
“True, it’s been a while.” I smiled. “How were you coping while the school was quiet?”
“It was challenging but I survived.” He grinned, walking me out of class. “By the way, some of my friends and I are planning to head out to see a movie this weekend, you know before schoolwork really piles up. Are you interested?”
I thought about it for a minute. Since I rarely went anywhere other than work, I definitely needed something to look forward to.
“Sure.” I nodded.
“Great, here’s my number. Just beep me and I’ll add your contact.” He said, scribbling on a piece of paper. “See you later!”
I waved as he ran off toward a group of people who stood nearby. One of the guys jabbed him in the ribs and laughed, looking in my direction. Nonso shook his head at what he said and shoved him to start walking. As I turned around to head towards my next class, I tried to save the number on my phone so I wouldn’t forget. I’d just started to type in the digits when I collided with someone coming from the opposite direction.
“I’m so sorry…” My voice trailed off when the girl simply brushed me off and walked past. I watched her leave in confusion but shrugged since apparently, she wasn’t bothered. I took a few steps away before I noticed that the paper where Nonso had written his number was missing.
Shoot! I muttered looking all around me. But when I saw the piece of paper floating inside the muddy gutter, I sighed in frustration. There’s no way I could get it out of there and Nonso had already left.
At work the next day, I changed into my uniform and slipped on the pair of red heels Kayla had given me for today. My shift started by 6pm so I was through with lectures for the day. I adjusted the thin ankle straps, hoping I wouldn’t fall and break my neck. As usual, Kayla inspected me before we left.
“Something is missing.” She said.
“Maybe my decency?” I mumbled to myself, trying to pull the skirt further down to cover as much skin as possible.
Kayla swatted my hands away as a sudden look of realisation appeared in her eyes. She dragged me to the mirror and opened her purse, bringing out a tube of red lipstick.
“Your lips are far too pale. Put this on, now.” She insisted when I didn’t move.
Reluctantly, I dragged the tube across my lips and rubbed them together to spread the colour.
“Good, remember we have important customers today so don’t mess up.”
As we lined up to enter the room, I noticed a new girl in the line. I figured she must be a replacement for Natasha. Seeing this girl suddenly made me curious about what happened to Natasha after she was fired. No one seemed to know and if they did, they weren’t telling me anything. I’d even asked Kayla but she said I should drop it.
This time, I was among the first three to be assigned to a table. A big difference from the last time but my elation faded as soon I saw who was at the table I was assigned to. It was Senator Achibu’s wife, the lady Toyosi had cautioned me about. Two other people sat with her; a young lady and a man who looked to be in his twenties. From the way the lady leaned towards him, I assumed they must be a couple. As I got closer, I noticed the lady looked a lot like Mrs Achibu, probably her daughter.
I politely collected their menu, trying not to flinch from the judgemental look she gave me as her eyes roamed over me like something that just crawled out of the gutter. As I turned to leave, I saw the new girl working at another table. She smiled shyly at the man she was serving and when I got a good look at him, my mouth dropped open in shock. It was the same man Natasha served before she was fired. While in the kitchen, I waited a little longer hoping she would come in to get something so I could talk to her. Minutes later, she walked in and I immediately went to meet her.
“Hi, I’m Dami.”
“Nice to meet you, I’m Tolani.” She smiled, which made her look even prettier. I noticed both she and Natasha had that in common, they were very beautiful.
I knew I didn’t have much time so I decided to go straight to the point.
“Be careful with that man you’re serving, he’s not what he seems and don’t get too friendly with him.”
She frowned and unexpectedly hissed loudly. I blinked in shock because I certainly wasn’t expecting such a reaction.
“So you’re the one that they want to use to spoil this opportunity for me, abi?” She asked.
“What are you talking about?” I stammered.
“Listen here, Dami or whatever you call yourself. I know how hard I struggled to even get this shift today and I have a very good idea of who I’m serving. That man out there is Mr Phillips, one of the youngest, richest entrepreneurs in the business field and his father owns not one but several oil blocks. That man can change my life and I won’t let jealous, unattractive girls like you ruin this for me.” She hissed again before storming out.
I stood there in shock, not able to understand how the seemingly nice girl I was trying to help suddenly turned into… that. Feeling embarrassed and irritated, I grabbed what I came for and left to attend to my table. I’d done my part; whatever happens to her now is not my business.
6:35pm, 17th May 2016.
Natasha paid the bike rider the fare and got down from the bike, straightening her skirt. As the man zoomed off, she took in a deep breath to steel her nerves, trying to convince herself that what she was doing was necessary. After getting past security, she arrived at the reception area and explained that she had an appointment.
“Do you have the name and room number?” The lady asked.
“Yes, Mr Phillips in room 303.”
The lady dialled the room number and asked for confirmation before sending Natasha up. At the door of room 303, Natasha knocked and held her breath. Minutes later, the door opened and he stood aside to let her in. He wore a simple white shirt and a pair of cotton trousers, like one would wear for a work-out session. A face towel hung around his neck and a half-empty bottle of water was in his hands.
“Natasha, I’m glad you could join us.” His light brown eyes watched her as she stepped into the room.
She suddenly stopped moving.
“Us?” She asked.
He never mentioned anyone else was joining them.
“Yes. You see, I’m a very busy man and when I have the opportunity to attend to more than one project at a time, I grab it.”
Natasha was still confused.
“Go ahead and sit down. Let me introduce you to Essien, your colleague of sorts, and Essien this is Natasha, she will be joining us shortly.”
Essien, a tall dark skinned man smiled briefly at her. She returned the smile hesitantly; still unsure of what was going on. Mr Phillips poured out three glasses of wine before sitting down. Natasha accepted the glass but didn’t take a sip. Essien brought out a briefcase containing documents and spread them out on the table.
“Natasha, I believe after our previous conversation you’re ready to accept your new job?”
She nodded slowly. He had described her job to be the post of one of his company’s Ambassadors. The job description was that she and other recruits would attend events, functions and parties to mingle with guests while selling the brand name. Essien handed her the documents one after the other to sign. Once she was through, Mr Phillips smiled in satisfaction and gave Essien a subtle signal. He got up to leave after returning the signed documents into the briefcase. Natasha watched him leave the room before returning her attention back to the man before her.
“Is that all?” She asked.
“Did you expect the process to be more complex?” He asked with a small smile.
She still didn’t believe it was as simple as that.
“There’s nothing else you want? I mean… I thought maybe you…”
“Maybe I what?” He asked with a knowing glint in his eyes.
“Never mind.” She said quickly, not wanting to bring it up.
From his actions at the restaurant, she suspected he was interested in her in an intimate way. She’d come with the fear that he might not give her this job he offered without asking something in return from her. For the first time since she got off that bike, she felt relief. Natasha got up as a signal that she wanted to leave. Mr Phillips stood up too and led her to the door.
“Here’s my contact card.” He said, handing her the small rectangular card. “I’ll be expecting you at my office by 9am tomorrow morning. The address is already described there.”
Natasha tucked the card into her purse and left. She started to think maybe he wasn’t as bad as she thought. In fact, maybe he was a good man. But it never occurred to her to read the fine print on the contract she signed.
By 9am sharp, Natasha was in the reception room of Phillips&Co Enterprises, an internationally recognised company which deals in real estate and housing. When she was called into his office, she marvelled at how sleek and modern it was. It perfectly matched the man sitting behind the desk who radiated class and sophistication.
“Welcome Natasha, I believe you’re ready to get started?”
“Yes, sir.” She nodded eagerly.
“Good, come with me.” He got up and picked up his blazer which hung on the back of his chair.
She followed him out of the building and into his car which was in the company’s parking lot. The short ride was silent until they got to an apartment building. When she stepped into the building, she instantly felt something was wrong. About five other girls sat in different positions around the room, each of them looking strangely limp, like they weren’t even aware of what was going on. On the table before them was a white substance that looked like powder, but Natasha knew that it couldn’t be. In alarm, she turned to the man standing beside her but the look on his face made her keep her mouth shut.
“Andres!” He called.
A white man appeared from one of the rooms, dressed in a robe a cigarette dangling in his hand. He eyed Natasha with interest.
“Mr Phillips, I see you’ve brought another one for me.” He gave a wicked smile that made Natasha’s knees shake.
“I believe I’ve kept my side of the deal, now the ball is in your court.”
He pushed Natasha forward and turned to leave but she clung to his suit and begged him, not understanding what was going on. He couldn’t leave her here with this man, she didn’t even know him. What deal were they talking about? Her panic must have shown in her eyes because Phillips smiled lightly as he ran a palm down the side of her face.
“Don’t be scared honey, you signed the contract remember? That means you do as I say and right now I’m telling you to remain here. I’m sure Andres will take care of you from now on.”
Just like that he was gone, leaving Natasha to her fate.
5:30pm, 20th May 2016,
Maroccaine Restaurant, Lekki.
After lectures, I met up with Toyin who wanted to introduce me to her fiancé Bello. As we walked into Maroccaine, I looked around taking in the classy décor. Colourful low lights gave the room a cozy feeling. Our parents had also decided to join us as it had been quite a while since we were all together. I grinned broadly as I greeted my parents, even when my mother hugged me so tight I nearly couldn’t breathe.
“Oh my baby,” She smiled fondly at me. “I’ve missed you.”
“This baby will be twenty one soon.” I reminded her in a playful manner.
She just laughed and shook her head. “Twenty one or even thirty one, you’re still my baby.”
An unfamiliar man approached us and greeted my parents. I wondered who he was until I saw the broad smile on Toyin’s face. Ah, this must be the famous Bello Yakubu, although he wasn’t what I expected at all. You see, my sister had quite an unfortunate history with men and the one thing they all had in common was that they were ridiculously attractive. Samson, the previous man she’d almost taken to the altar, was a bodybuilder who owned a gym and true to his name, he had brute strength. Toyin had discovered this when he turned her into his personal punching bag when they fought on two occasions that nearly landed my sister in the ICU at the hospital.
She’d broken off their relationship before he landed her in the morgue. I was glad she never married him.
The guy before that was Richard and he was truly rich even beyond my comprehension. Toyin thought she had hit the jackpot when he bought her a stunning Rolls-Royce Ghost as a birthday present and I enjoyed the fun-filled rides we had in that sleek car. But not long after, he tried to turn her into a glorified housemaid and he hadn’t even popped the question yet. Every minute, he would call and ask the most ridiculous favours until Toyin realised he was just plain lazy.
It pained both of us when she returned his car and broke things off.
“Darling, this is my younger sister Dami. Dami, meet Bello.” Toyin smiled.
He extended his hand and I gripped it in a handshake.
“It’s nice to meet you.” I said.
A few minutes after we had eaten, I signalled Toyin with my eyes before excusing myself from the table and going to the ladies’ room. The stalls were empty and the room smelled like lavender. Moments later, she joined me.
“I know what you’re thinking.” She said before I’d even opened my mouth.
“That’s Bello?” I exclaimed in shock.
Toyin sighed and checked her reflection in the mirror.
“Listen, I learned my lesson already. Bello is perfect.” She said.
“Honestly, how did you two even meet? The man looks like he wouldn’t know what fun was if it slapped him in the face.”
She tossed me a warning look.
“Hadiza introduced us. I know he looks a little… serious,” She noticed the look on my face. “Okay, very serious but that’s a good thing. He has plans and aspirations, I need someone like that. Besides, he has a steady job as an investment banker plus he’s really nice and quite funny too.”
“Really,” I stretched the word. “I wonder what the punchline of his jokes are, facts and figures? Exchange rates?”
“Oh shut up, Dami.” Toyin sighed.
I decided to let it go, still unconvinced. If she felt this was right then I wouldn’t argue. When we returned to the table, I played the role of the friendly future sister-in-law. I noticed he barely smiled but he didn’t look outright mean, which should count for something at least. He was attentive to Toyin and seemed to genuinely care even though he wasn’t an overly affectionate person. As I headed home, I thought maybe I’d been too quick to judge him as a bad match for Toyin.
I was in a happy mood after the restaurant, with my stomach full of rich, tasty food. But my elation sank slowly when I arrived later that night at the dorm to find Chioma already inside. Even worse, she looked completely devastated. I dropped my purse and immediately went to her side of the room.
“Chioma, what’s wrong?” I asked.
She looked up with tear-filled eyes and silently handed me the item she held in her hands.
I frowned as I took it.
“What is…?” My voice failed me when my eyes landed on the photograph. My fingers shook as I stared at it in disbelief.
“No.” I whispered, still staring.
The picture was blurry, but I could recognise that face anywhere. It was Nonso and he was tied to a chair, looking unconscious as blood seeped through a cut above his eyebrow. The background gave no hint of where the place was.
“Wh-when did you get this?” I asked.
“I found it under the door when I came in. I’ve been trying to call his number but it’s switched off. Oh God, I don’t know what to do. I only saw him yesterday, I can’t believe…” Chioma sobbed.
My knees felt weak and I collapsed unto the bed. Nonso… how on earth did this happen? Who would have done this? The questions ran through mind as sleep evaded me. I heard Chioma tossing and turning all night. We’d decided to go to the police first thing in the morning because it was too late to go anywhere tonight. I’d just forced my eyes shut when I heard my phone beep with the message alert tone. It was from a private number.
You are mine alone. No one else should get too close.
In that moment, I realized that what happened to Nonso had to do with me and I was instantly shook and terrified.
The next morning, Chioma and I went to the Police to report the incident. We answered all their questions on when last each of us had seen him and what we knew of his whereabouts. Nonso went missing the day before he and his friends were to go out for the weekend. I remembered him inviting me with that broad smile on his face. I felt even worse because I never got a chance to call him, he must have thought I wasn’t interested in his invitation at all.
I sighed as we left the Police station. We have to find Nonso no matter what. An idea began to form in my mind and I knew it was risky but I couldn’t let him suffer for something he had no idea about. Whoever was stalking me saw Nonso as a threat but if I could find a way to get him out of this situation, no one would have to get hurt. I braced my mind for what I was about to do. I need to find this mysterious man and deal with him once and for all.
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