The Thing with Akudo and Derin and Me….
At my job you don’t close for the day, you sneak out while your direct supervisor is using the bathroom… At least that’s what I did.
Today however, after stealthily grabbing my purse and giving Foluso the look, rather than making a break for it, I veered off towards the lift to the upstairs offices.
Akudo’s office was on the 4th floor of the 5 storey, Ikoyi based building which was an adequate representation of her position in the office hierarchy.
I knocked twice and poked my head around her door.
A yoga slim lady with luxurious, dark hair that fell in waves around her shoulders (the kind of weave my salary could only sigh and dream of) and beautiful, brown skin set off to lovely contrast by her monochromatic skirt suit looked up from her laptop and we exchanged a grimace acknowledging how hellish the day had been.
“Come in. Close the door.” she said and I quickly obeyed hoping there was gist.
“What’s up?” I asked plopping into her visitor’s chair.
“First of all – I hate people,” Akudo sighed, “and I hate this company and I hate this country and I want to loot CEO’s bank account and abscond to South Africa – ”
“It was that ugly?” I asked, my sympathy real. I had learned from watching her that there was more to being a higher up than fatter salaries and office window views.
“There was sweat, grown man tears and I swear to God, someone that had Ofada rice for breakfast farted…”
“I’m gonna stop you there…” I cut her off quickly.
“But incredible amounts of money have been spent, the worst is over and I don’t want to speak of this matter ever again so – should we do a girl’s night? Have you been to Nytrogen yet?”
“What? It’s dry?”
I gave her the short version of last night.
Akudo shook her head in disgust. “Mobolaji – this is why I can’t ever leave you alone! At your age someone could steal you from a public place.”
I winced. I hated when she called me by my full name like she was my Mom but somehow I’d never found the non-awkward time to tell her. “It’s not like I was alone,” I said instead.
“Nope you were with that girl – which is worse…”
“Akudo – ” I started to protest.
“Yes, I know,” Akudo stretched tiredly in her chair, “You like her, I don’t get her, et cetera… but did she care when a complete stranger could have drugged you in her front?”
“Okay, maybe my retelling of events were a little dramatic…” I started to defend.
“Sweetie, let’s just continue agreeing to disagree where that chick is concerned.”
I sighed familiar with Akudo’s closed expression. That conversation was over. “At least I met someone nice,” I started off on a different tack.
Akudo didn’t look impressed. “Has he called you?”
I didn’t need to answer, Akudo was already rolling her eyes, “Mobolaji…”
“He’ll call, jeez! It was just last night! Everybody knows if you call before three days you look desperate!”
“Sweetie, did you watch that He’s Just Not In to You DVD I loaned you?”
“Yes,” I said through gritted teeth, “you bitch…” I muttered under my breath
Akudo grinned complacently, “I know I am and I’m at peace with that…” she glanced at me, “look, forget about your fake guy and hang with me and Derin tonight,”
Derin was Akudo’s husband. And he was perfect. Almost Alex Madukwe perfect with the whole range of perfect husband qualities. Good family, wealthy and independent (he ran one of those Construction outfits that turned over old Ikoyi real estate), good looking in that – tall beefy way I talked about before. On top of that he was visibly in love with his wife.
On top of the top of that, he cooked.
Like it was a serious hobby for him and every time I came over to their house I had to fast from a day ahead because Derin would dote on me and feed me like an over anxious mother till I barely had the strength to push the buttons on their universal remote control so I could enjoy my food coma with a slice of Netflix. It was fantastic and I was willing to fight anyone that said one off color word about him in the damn streets!
Akudo and Derin used to be my dream couple. I swear, I loved them together so much that I wouldn’t have said no to adoption until the night I stayed too late at a dinner party and they convinced me to sleep over – and from the guest room I was in, I heard the muffled sound of them arguing (I couldn’t tell what it was about but I could swear I heard the word Crest over and over again, like maybe one of them finished the toothpaste and didn’t replace it?) and then a door slammed and there were sounds from the living room – then came the sound of stifled crying and the slow and profound horror of realizing it was Derin.
Everything was normal the next morning. Derin made me Eggs Benedict and Akudo gossiped about work and made us laugh. Thank God they didn’t realize I’d heard anything but God knows going over had never been quite as fantastic after that. I couldn’t shake off the idea that they didn’t like to be alone together and I had unknowingly become a buffer for them.
So now I thought of how to say no.
“Didn’t you want to go to Nytrogen?” I asked lightly.
“Now that I know it’s full of losers, I’m over it.”
“Listen! Whatsisname is not a loser!” I groaned annoyed that she kept picking on my toast. She always did that. Since we’d become friends, she’d never met a man that she thought was good enough for me. It sounds flattering but in practice it makes me feel like a scrub magnet.
“Derin’s been on a whole barbecue kick lately” Akudo suddenly said out of nowhere. “He had these ribs delivered to the house last weekend via Lebanese connection. He swore they’re the best to be found in this country. Then he mixed up something with honey and whiskey and all these spices and – the ribs have been marinading for days…” Akudo’s ruthless glance met mine. “Days…” she repeated.
I have to admit she had my full attention at that point.
“He’s grilling tonight and I don’t know who he thinks is going to eat all that meat,” she sighed her fingers toying loosely with the mouse on her table, “I guess I should get Patience to pack for the neighbors… also for my pastor and his wife… and the MD might like some…. and the department heads – ”
I didn’t know I’d moved until I was standing over her, my hands clutching hers, stilling its motion with the mouse.
“And me, Akudo… I’ll help you with the meat… after all what are friends for?”
Akudo smiled at me and I cursed the foodie within me that had been starved today on rubbery moin moin and softish soda crackers.
Oh well… it’s not like they fought everyday.
All I had to do was keep smiling and eat their damned but but sure to be heavenly ribs.
I drove a tried but true 2010 Nisan Tida that belonged to the Aunt I lived with. She was my Dad’s senior sister and a happily retired civil servant.
As old cars went, the Nissan wasn’t flashy and had its fair share of Okada encounter bumps and dents – but in my eyes it was a glorious and victorious chariot, my right to drive it one of the best rewards I’d gotten for getting a good job in Lagos.
The AC worked, it gave good mileage on petrol, hardly ever broke down and though it didn’t have a USB slot, Blue tooth or a phone charger, I was still able to find a contraption at Computer village that let me rig it up so I could listen to Kpop playlists from my phone while I drove.
You see why I considered my commute sacred?
I meant to buy the car off my Aunt if she would agree to a payment plan. I really hoped she did because I’d already named her Peggy.
Akudo still had one meeting left so I headed to her huge flat in VI ahead of her singing at the top of my voice and being bad a** as I drove because that’s just what you did after a day like today.
At the imposing gates to Akudo’s block of luxury flats, I had to lower the volume and put down my window so their security guard could show me who was boss by pretending not to recognize me and wasting as much of my time as possible. I didn’t care. Ribs were waiting.
Eventually Patience let me into the spacious, central AC’d and hard wood floored comfort of the apartment and I headed straight to the kitchen from where I could hear cheerful whistling.
I stood awhile in the entry way (no door, the huge kitchen was separated from the dining area by granite counters and the dining area flowed into the living room with the ceiling to floor windows) watching Derin working in his happy place.
It looked like he’d pulled the ribs out of the oven to re-baste them with the concoction Akudo had mentioned. It smelled like paradise and my stomach loudly announced my presence and appreciation.
Derin looked up and grinned at me, “Are we safe?” his trying too hard Nigerian accent clipped by it’s underlying east coast, US tones betrayed his dual citizenship background.
“Don’t judge me,” I said coming over to the island counter to sniff appreciatively at the concoction. I could smell the whisky. “You already know how it is with me and your cooking.”
“Well, unfortunately you still have to wait because these babies are going back in for now.”
I grabbed the bottle of roasted groundnuts that sat conveniently in front of me. “I can wait.”
“We’re having baked potatoes too with sour cream, chives and bacon bits!”
“Mmmmm!!” I chimed in enthusiastically earning another pleased grin from Derin.
“It’s so nice to have a fandom! What’s that thing you call your Koreans pop stars again?”
“No the other thing – when you’re talking to them…”
I clutched my hands together and gazed at him adoringly, “Op-pa!”I pouted. And he sniggered, then;
“When did Akudo say she was getting home?”
That came out of left field. “Soonish?” I said meaning I had no idea.
He understood and some of the pleasure faded from his expression. My heart sank. It was always so much fun with them except that I lived in perpetual fear of the day that one of them would want to confide in me about their marriage and then I wouldn’t be able to look the other one in the eye again.
“It’s just – ” I struggled for a way to make an excuse without seeming like I was making an excuse, “today was horrible! And Akudo and the other HODs -”
His phone suddenly rang and he struggled to take off the kitchen gloves he was wearing so he could answer before it hung up.
“Hey! Babe?” He answered brightly holding up an apologetic “one moment please” finger to me. I shook my head and smiled, trying not to let my relief show.
“Yeah, she’s here already. I heard her stomach from outside the door” I rolled my eyes while they chuckled at my expense, unscrewing the top off the bottle of groundnuts I’d captured so I could subdue anymore gastric rebelliousness.
“Ummm… lemme check…” he suddenly moved away and stepped into their pantry. The conversation became muffled and I munched contentedly on the roasted groundnuts wondering if they were this delicious because I was so hungry or because he also got them through his Lebanese connection.
“You remember the year right? And Portuguese not Chilean!” Derin wandered out of the pantry again holding an empty wine bottle, “Because you made the same mistake last time – I mean, sometimes I wonder if you’re listening to me!” he said sounding mildly miffed. I stared off into the distance and crunched wildly.
“No, it’s – ” I felt him glance quickly at me and away, “Don’t worry. It’s actually no big deal. Just get what you can find and come home” there was another short pause then, “Yeah. I love you. See you…”
He joined me at the counter and I pretended to have forgotten he was there. “Hey!” I said.
“Akudo is going to be a while…” he said carefully picking up the tray of ribs and turning to fit it into the oven, “want to play games?”
Derin was an avid gamer. He had all the platforms, Playstation, XBox, Wii – you name it, he’d killed on it. He had a group of friends he played with online and he wore this star trekky earpiece through which they talked nerd while they played. He did it to de-stress he said and I got that because I have more than the average amount of games on my phone myself. I don’t nerd shame.
And then one day, while I watched as he single handedly shot up an entire newly discovered planet while trying not to be killed by its horde of robot overlords, we had discovered that I had a vicious competitive streak and from then on, gaming became a thing we did.
I liked video games but I’d always preferred things that had puzzles which when solved rewarded you with luscious graphics and happy music. Or at least had cute animals. But for some reason whenever I got dragged into playing one of those hypertension causing shooter games I found myself transformed and before I knew it I was screaming orders like a seasoned General on the front lines and cursing harder than a woman in labour at her baby daddy telling her to breath.
Derin thought it was hilarious. I felt it was an adequate way to distract my lonely friend till his wife got home.
With ribs in the oven and the heat adjusted he turned back to me, cleaning his hands with a kitchen towel. “Left for Dead?”he asked hopefully.
I grimaced, “Boy you wish! I’m not trying to have nightmares because of that demonic game. We’re playing Call of Duty!”
“Wuss,” he grinned as he passed me on his way out to the living room.
“Na you know,” I answered trailing behind him and wondering just how many times I would have to die and resurrect before Akudo got home.
FYI: All the chapters for this story can be found HERE on Channel Two with the most recent chapter at the top.