A delightful, delicate scent coursed ahead, announcing the arrival of Adanma, the self-proclaimed Queen of Onitsha. All eyes turned to the entrance of the reception hall of the Jumbo Watamu Holiday Resort, Kenya. She could sense all eyes on her. Nothing gave the Queen of Onitsha more pleasure than being the centre of attraction. With deliberate self-assurance, equalled only by a super model, she strides gorgeously towards the receptionists. At forty-two years, she could easily pass for a young woman in her mid-twenties.
To acquaint herself with her surroundings, Adanma cast a quick look round the reception. She froze instantly, unable to believe her eyes. A few meters away, Ogechi stood as if paralyzed, her eyes locked with Adanma’s.
What on earth is she doing in faraway Kenya, and in the same hotel that I chose? Adanma wondered. Is she here to mock me?
Adanma couldn’t believe that the presence of the young lady at the Jumbo Watamu was a coincidence. Yet, she knew she hadn’t revealed the details of her holiday plans to anyone. She’d flown in from a business trip from Dubai and it had been a last-minute decision to spend a few days in Kenya. There is no way she would have known I’d come here, she concluded.
Notwithstanding, Adanma decided that she would leave the holiday resort immediately. The sight of Ogechi – her one-time protégé – at the resort drained all the excitement and thrill she’d felt in anticipation of her week-long vacation. She turned to leave, but then stopped.
That would be admitting defeat, Adanma thought. Worse still, it will appear as if I am now scared of little Ogechi. That can never be. If anyone should leave, it has to be her, she decided.
Unconsciously, Adanma adjusted her gait — chest thrust fully out, shoulders higher and her strides like a wild cat set to defend its territory. She stopped at the reception desk and handed her holiday coupon to the receptionist.
Ogechi shifted her gaze from Adanma to the stairs. An icy look remained in her eyes as she went up to her room.
Long after Adanma had checked into the holiday resort, she remained ill at ease. She could sense her desire for a peaceful week-long holiday slip away into the wind. It was hard for her to believe that only two weeks ago, having Ogechi in the same hotel in faraway Kenya would have been the best thing she could wish for. Now she felt like she had found herself on the same grounds with a snake.
“Ogechi!” The name escaped Adanma’s mouth before she could stop herself. She had been unable to focus on anything other than Ogechi’s betrayal. The pain formed from within her stomach and rose gradually, with intensity, to her heart; as if in desperate need for an outlet before it would rip her apart; the name of the subject of her anguish involuntarily shot through her mouth.
She covered her mouth in alarm, desperately hoping that Ogechi wasn’t within ear shot. Nothing would be more embarrassing than to imagine that she, the Queen of Onitsha, would stoop so low as to initiate a reconciliation with Ogechi, a woman that had been “her girl” for such a long time. The humiliation the ungrateful whore had put her through was still fresh on her mind — all because of a man.
Adanma exhaled deeply. Over the past two weeks she’d tried so hard to forget everything about her only real shot at marriage. Seeing Ogechi at the holiday resort changed everything. The pain hit her heart hard again, so hard this time, she thought she would have a heart attack.
A whole me — used and dumped by the two people I trusted the most. Adanma exhaled deeply again, clenching her fists. To think that it was Ogechi who had always asked me why I didn’t want to marry.
Adanma could remember Ogechi’s words every time there was a new man in her life:
“He is a nice man, and he will be a good husband. Why don’t you want to marry him?”
And there had been many men before and after she met Ogechi, so many men that she couldn’t put her finger on the exact number.
Ogechi was eighteen when Adanma took her under her wings. Her elder sister, and Adanma’s friend and secondary school classmate, had brought her to learn the clothing business. Adanma was thirty years then, and she was already a fully established businesswoman. She immediately took to the smart, beautiful teenager that her friend had entrusted to her. With Ogechi on board, Elegance Clothing, Adamma’s clothing label, experienced its fastest growth. People loved the young vivacious assistant and always came back for more business.
Business was good. Elegance Clothing quickly became a dominant name, not only within Onitsha, but most parts of Nigeria and beyond. Adanma’s bank accounts swelled exponentially. However, despite the numerous suitors more than willing to go the extra mile, Adanma’s love life had stalled.
“He is not man enough,” Adanma said, referring to one of her numerous suitors.
“But he is a nice man,” Ogechi, who had always felt that her mistress would be better off with a man in her life, said. “He is good looking, polite and dress nice, a true gentleman.”
“That’s not good enough,” Adanma said curtly. “I need an ambitious man, a man with eyes on the skies. Someone that calls himself a man, yet is content with peanuts that he calls a salary at the end of the month, is not worthy of the Queen of Onitsha.”
“He doesn’t have class,” Adanma said, concerning another suitor. To another, she said, “He doesn’t respect me.”
The men always had flaws and were a put off to Adanma. Nevertheless, there were always suitors lined up. It couldn’t have been otherwise with the Queen of Onitsha — beautiful, superbly built, rich and elegant — she had always been the cynosure of all eyes, right from her birth. Her parents didn’t just name her Adanma (beautiful child) for the sake of a name, they knew what a beauty she would be.
Time moved quickly. Ogechi never got tired of subtly nudging her mistress to settle down with a man. However, marriage appeared to be the least of Adanma’s concerns. Her business, and the accompanying success and glamour, were all that mattered.
Everything changed that fateful evening in Lagos. Adanma had just successfully closed a deal. She was relaxing by the Eko Hotel swimming pool when she saw a handsome, tall man, walking towards her. He had an unusual aura of confidence about him.
“Hello pretty,” the man said. “I saw you through the window of my hotel room, and felt that a beautiful woman, like you, shouldn’t be without company.”
Adanma was used to men craving her attention, and she had mastered the act of snubbing them. However, she couldn’t snub this charming macho man. She didn’t want to. With his neatly trimmed beard and athletic build, he looked like a character from a fairy tale movie.
“Were you stalking me?” Adanma asked, unable to conceal the sly smile playing around her lips.
“What a waste of time it would be, to stalk a beautiful lady like you,” Mr. Charming said. “I would rather be hanging out with you.”
Adanma loved his calm and confident way of talking. She smiled.
“By the way, my name is Obinna.”
“Adanma is my name.”
Obinna pulled a chair out and sat beside Adanma. A few hours later, it appeared the two had known each other all their lives. The more Adanma learnt about Obinna’s life, the more her heart warmed towards him. He was an international businessman based in London, but spent a lot of time in Nigeria, because he had businesses in Lagos. Adanma had never met a man that was so completely to her taste.
“So, where is your family based?” Adanma asked, not wishing to raise her hopes that such a hunk of a man could be available.
“You mean my twelve-year daughter. She is in school in London.”
“And your wife?”
“Oh, I am a widower. My wife died three years ago.”
Adanma couldn’t believe her ears. She was meeting a complete man for the first time in her life, and he could actually, be free. After rounding up her business in Lagos, she’d planned to return to Onitsha the next morning. She changed her plans. At forty-two, it was the first time in her life that she would meet her dream guy. She wasn’t going to miss the opportunity to develop a relationship, and so ended up staying two extra days in Lagos.
Adanma called Ogechi from the airport on her way to Onitsha. The younger woman could sense the excitement from her former mentor’s voice. Ogechi had long completed her apprenticeship with Adanma and had established her business, but the two women remained close — a big-sister, younger-sister kind of relationship. Ogechi was at Adanma’s place the minute she landed in Onitsha. All gist was about Obinna. It remained that way for the next seven days — the two women scarcely discussed any other thing other than the international businessman based in London.
When Obinna visited Adanma in Onitsha a week later, everything about him was exactly as Adanma had described.
“Wow! You are glowing like a star!” Ogechi said.
In the twelve years that Ogechi had known her former employer, she’d never seen her so happy. She was genuinely happy for Adanma. She couldn’t wait for the Queen of Onitsha to finally tie the knot. Obinna’s visits to Onitsha became more frequent as the months rolled by. He was visiting the eastern commercial city every month.
The expected wedding of the most glamorous couple in town was the main topic of discussion everywhere in the city. Adanma’s beauty and elegance glowed brighter with each of her fiancé’s visits. She seemed to have discovered the rare secret of youthfulness and had completely buried herself in it. Her long patience had paid off handsomely. She couldn’t have wished for a more complete man.
Obinna wasn’t only the most charming man Adanma had ever met, he had a nose for business, the type you hardly find in a man of his charms. Within a couple of months of meeting each other, he’d become involved in Adanma’s business, helping her close major deals running into tens of millions of naira. Before long, his business acumen had extended to cover Ogechi’s business as well. His business counsel was sound, and it brought immediate benefit to the two women’s companies.
A week after Obinna convinced the two women to join forces and import clothing materials from France worth a hundred million naira, Adanma was surprised to learn that he was in town, and she hadn’t known about it. In fact, she dismissed Chinwe’s claims that she had seen Obinna.
Chinwe was a potential new customer. She was in the process of relocating her boutique business from Aba to Onitsha, and had already rented a large shop on Oguta road. Her boutique promised to be one of the richest in town, and Adanma would be her major supplier. Adanma was certain that her potential major customer was mistaking someone else for Obinna.
“Believe me, he is in town,” Chinwe insisted. “I saw him a few minutes ago at the Soprom Hotel.”
“You can’t be serious,” Adanma said. “There is no way my Obi will be in town without getting in touch.”
For Adanma, the case was closed, but when Chinwe continued to insist that she had seen Obinna, she decided to appease her nerves by going to check for herself. Fifteen minutes later, they were at the hotel. As soon as she pulled into a parking spot, she saw the most devastating sight of her life.
Obinna and Ogechi emerged from the hotel lobby and walked across the yard to the swimming pool. He seemed to keep trying to grab Ogechi’s hand, but she kept pulling away. Adanma’s heart sank to the pit of her stomach. A flaming sword through her chest wouldn’t have felt more painful. The fact that Ogechi seemed to be resisting Obinna’s advances meant nothing. She couldn’t expect otherwise, given that they were in the open. She was trying to keep her relationship with Obinna discreet.
“Ogechi of all people!” Adanma cried in disbelief.
In a fit of rage, she pushed the car door open, ready to charge on the two filthy betrayers, but then pulled herself immediately back inside, shaking and breathing heavily as though she was about to have a nervous breakdown. Her one aim remained to seize both Obinna and Ogechi by the throat and strangle them to death. But she was the Queen of Onitsha, the most glamorous lady in town; she couldn’t bring herself so low as to engage in a brawl. However, she could hardly contain the heart-wrenching emotions that seized her entire being. The insult and humiliation she felt was tearing her apart.
“Enyi m, my friend, please take it easy,” Chinwe said.
“Take it easy?” Adanma replied, her voice quivered with rage. “How do I take it easy? Ogechi that I trained in business and take as my sister — sleeping with my fiancé under my nose. Heyyy!” She threw her hands up in exasperation and disbelief. Picking up her phone, she dialled Obinna’s number. With difficulty, she kept her cool when he answered.
“When are you coming to Onitsha?” she asked.
“Hmm, I am not yet sure, but next week most likely,” Obinna said.
“So, where are you now?”
“Lagos . . .”
Adanma slowly lowered the phone from her ear. She felt like she had been stabbed through the heart. For a moment, Chinwe thought she would pass out.
“There must be an explanation for everything,” Chinwe said.
“Explanation! What explanation?!” Adanma managed a sarcastic laugh. She raised her phone again and started dialling Ogechi’s number, but stopped midway. She couldn’t bring herself to talk to her — the sense of betrayal and humiliation was too strong. She decided to leave the hotel environment immediately before the temptation to confront the back-stabbing bastards would overcome her. Even in her rage, she understood how scandalous a confrontation could become.
Chinwe held her breath in fear throughout the drive back to Adanma’s house. The wounded woman drove furiously — like an escaped convict trying to shake off cops on her tail. Chinwe wasn’t the godly type, but she found herself fervently praying that they should reach their destination unscratched. Somehow, her prayers were answered.
Adanma locked herself in her bedroom. The night was long and agonizing. She tried to think: where she had wronged Obinna or Ogechi, why they would do what they were doing, and if it were a crime to love? The thoughts rushed through her mind like water from a collapsed dam, and she couldn’t focus on anything. Any developing thought was instantly replaced by Obinna and Ogechi walking side by side to the swimming pool. Three hours after locking herself in her bedroom, her phone rang. It was Ogechi.
She has the guts to call me! Adanma fumed. Is it to mock me after sleeping with my fiancé?
She didn’t take the call. Instead, she wondered whether Ogechi had been mocking her all along. Has she been sleeping with Obinna all this while? Have both of them, or even the entire city, been mocking me all along?” she wondered. She couldn’t believe she’d been such a fool. It made her heart ache badly, as though it were being torn apart from within.
Ogechi called two more times. Adanma didn’t answer. Each call enraged her more. She couldn’t imagine ever talking to a cheating whore like her. Dawn eventually came and Adanma was surprised she had survived the night. She was still wondering how she would survive the coming days when there was a light knock on her bedroom door. It was her maid.
“Ogechi dey for parlor dey wait for you,” the maid said.
“What!” Adanma cried. “Tell her to get out of this house immediately, or I will call the police!”
Startled, the maid shut the door behind her at once. She couldn’t believe her mistress’ reaction towards one of the most welcomed guests in the house. Ogechi did not hear Adanma’s words, but from the incredulous expression on the maid’s face, she knew something was wrong. She headed for the bedroom, but the maid firmly blocked her path.
“Madam, I beg, e beta make you go,” the maid said. “Dey last time wey I see madam like dat, I bin still allow person make e see am, na small tin remain wey she for sack me.”
After the maid thwarted Ogechi’s repeated efforts to see Adanma, she eventually left. She tried a few more times to reach her former boss on the phone, but Adanma wouldn’t pick up her calls.
For the Queen of Onitsha, the days that followed were the most humiliating. It appeared all eyes trailed her wherever she went, making jest of her — the fool that lost her fiancé to her apprentice. Four days later, Adanma couldn’t stand the sight of Onitsha any longer and decided to go on a business trip to Dubai. After three days in Dubai, she rounded up her business. The change of scene had greatly calmed her nerves, but she realized that she needed more time to at least get back a bit of her former self. This was when she decided to head to Kenya for a week-long impromptu vacation.
It was a pain in the guts for Adanma to stay at the same hotel with Ogechi. She hoped to completely avoid her, but it wasn’t easy. Within twenty-four hours at the Jumbo Watamu, she ran into her twice: at the restaurant and along the lobby. The icy look in Ogechi’s eyes on both occasions enraged Adanma further. After her disdainful act of betrayal, she still had the effrontery to hold her in contempt. Two days passed. The ladies continued to avoid each other as much as possible. On the few occasions that they crossed paths, however, the steadily increasing tension between them could literally be felt in the air.
It was her third day at the Jumbo Watamu and Adanma stood by the door of her hotel room, dressed in jeans shorts and a sleeveless top. The sun had just disappeared below the horizon, ushering in a cool evening. It was for particular evenings such as this that she’d chosen the jumbo Watamu Holiday Resort. The hotel’s second biannual musical and barbecue was being held that evening. Aside from the fact that she loved barbecues, her favourite star, Davido, was due to perform. It was only when she was about to leave for this grand event that she remembered that Davido was also Ogechi’s favourite star. The last thing she wanted was to run into her disloyal former protégé.
After a couple more minutes by the door, trying to make up her mind whether to forget the musical concert, she decided that she must never allow Ogechi to spoil her fun. The venue for the event was already swarming with guests when Adanma arrived. Within a few minutes, she’d bonded with two white ladies from Europe.
“So, are you a native of Kenya,” one of them asked.
“Nope, I am from Nigeria,” Adanma said.
“Ah! I met another Nigerian at the bar yesterday, and I saw her here a few minutes ago,” the second lady said. She turned her head from side to side, searching for the other Nigerian she’d met at the bar. “There she is,” she said after a moment, her eyes resting on a tall black lady.
She rose and walked towards the woman she’d been speaking about, leaving Adanma to continue chatting with her friend. A couple of minutes later, she returned, hand in hand with the tall black lady.
“Here is who I told you about,” she said.
Adanma raised her head. Her eyes locked with Ogechi’s, standing only a few feet away. The smile on the two women’s faces froze into glares, cheeks flushing.
“Why do you have to bring this snake here!” Adanma cried.
Startled, the white women stared at their African guests speechlessly.
“Are you crazy?!” Ogechi retorted. “After trying to swindle me out of thirty million naira, you still call me names? Who is the snake here?”
Adanma sprang to her feet, shaking with rage. “What has gone into you?” She could hardly control the bitter emotions welling up within her. “Is sleeping with my fiancé not enough, you have to falsely accuse me of fraud?”
“Sleeping with your fiancé?” Ogechi’s face was marked with surprise. “Which fiancé are you talking about?”
“What other fiancé will I be talking about?!” Adanma cried. “I saw you and Obinna, with my own eyes, at the Soprom Hotel.”
“So? He invited me to the hotel. That was when he told me all about your dirty scheme to defraud me.”
“I, Adanma, defraud you? What in hell is she talking about?”
“Obinna told me how you plan to defraud me of the thirty million naira I invested, in the deal to import clothing materials from France,” Ogechi said, looking squarely at Adanma. “He also told me that it’s the reason he had decided to leave you. He cannot marry a dubious character like you.”
Adanma was speechless. She wasn’t sure which was more painful — Ogechi’s false accusations or the fact that she was sleeping with her fiancé. “Do you really need to come up with such outrageous accusations to justify sleeping with Obinna?”
“I can never sleep with any man you are dating, not to mention your fiancé.” Ogechi was adamant.
“Then what were you doing with him at Soprom Hotel?”
“I told you, he invited me. Nothing happened, other than what he told me. Your shady plans to defraud me.”
Adanma was no longer sure what to believe. “You know I can’t even think of defrauding you.”
“Then why did you refuse to pick my calls?” Ogechi asked. “And you did not only refuse to see me when I went to your house, you made it clear that you don’t want to see me again.”
While tempers flared between Adanma and Ogechi, their European acquaintances watched silently from the sideline. One of them said suddenly, “Sorry to interfere, but I think the two of you need to sit down and have a proper discussion.”
Reluctantly, the flustered women seated themselves in the bamboo chairs scattered around the barbecue stand.
“Before I hear what you have to say, I want to know why you had been hanging out with Obinna behind my back,” Adanma said.
“I never hangout with Obinna. The only time I ever met him without you, was that one time at the Soprom Hotel,” Ogechi said.
“You know that’s a lie,” Adanma said pointedly. “Chinwe told me you had been seeing him.”
“Chinwe? The one planning to open a boutique on Oguta road?” Ogechi asked.
“Yes, and how do you know she is the one I am talking of?” Adanma asked.
“Because I was going to mention her. A day after I met Obinna at the Soprom Hotel, Chinwe came to my place. She said she knew people that you have defrauded; that you can’t be trusted.”
Several seconds passed as the women stared at each other.
“I think we have been tricked into getting at each other’s throat,” Adanma said.
Ogechi nodded slowly. Her face took on a more relaxed expression as recognition set in. “I think we can only get to the bottom of the matter in Nigeria.”
“You are right,” Adanma said. “We need to leave for Nigeria tomorrow.”
The two ladies cut their holiday in Kenya short and headed back to Nigeria the next day. It was on their way back that they realized that neither of them had a copy of the contract for the importation of clothing materials from France.
“Obinna had told me that he handed the papers to you, that you will give me my copy, once you signed,” Adanma said.
“That was exactly what he told me, that I should expect my copy from you,” Ogechi replied, alarmed. “Later, when I met him at the Soprom Hotel, he said you had asked him to remove me from the deal. He assured me that he had cancelled the transaction. I was to expect my thirty million naira, once he sorts out the papers.”
“Let’s not become unnecessarily worked up. We will get to the bottom of this once in Nigeria,” Adanma suggested.
The rest of the over five-hour flight was mostly in silence. Stunned beyond words, both women were lost in thought. They found it difficult to associate the Obinna they had known, with the figure that was now unravelling before them.
As soon as the women alighted from the plane at the Ikeja international airport, Adanma called one of her cousins, an expert in ICT. She gave him the name of the French clothing company (Isabel Votaire) that Obinna had convinced them to order materials from.
“Please find out everything you can about the company and get back to me.”
The women then took a taxi and headed for the massive house at Ikoyi — Obinna’s family house. He had taken Adanma to the house once. It was a Tuesday afternoon. Obinna’s parents had travelled to the village at Isiala-Ngwa. Except for the gatekeeper and a young lady, Ijeoma, who Obinna had introduced as his cousin, no one was at home.
Obinna had explained that he preferred to stay at the hotel when in Nigeria because of his parents. They never stopped harassing him to remarry.
“Now that I have met you, I won’t be avoiding staying in the same house with my parents anymore,” Obinna had said. “As soon as they return, I will bring you to meet them.”
However, two months after the visit to Obinna’s family house, he had still not taken Adanma to meet his parents. The time was never right. If one of the parents was not sick, something else was happening that made taking her to meet them, a wrong time.
It was a few minutes past 6:00 p.m. when the taxi got to the Ikoyi house. Adanma recognized the gatekeeper as he approached the taxi. “Is Obinna at home?” she asked.
“Who is Obinna?” the gatekeeper asked.
“Obinna, Chief Kalu’s son nah,” Adanma said.
“Obinna? Chief Kalu?” the gatekeeper asked, bewildered. “Madam, you sure sey you sabi de house wey you dey find? Dis na Chief Okoro’s house, and he no get pikin wey dem dey call Obinna.”
“No! You don’t remember me?” Adanma was irked. She opened the taxi’s door and stepped out. “Look at me well. I came here with Obinna some time ago.”
Before the gatekeeper could respond, the side gate opened, and the cousin Obinna had introduced her to came out. Adanma switched to her immediately. “Hello, Ijeoma, remember me?” she asked.
Ijeoma recognized her. “Yes, Obinna’s friend, right?”
“I don’t understand what the gateman is saying. Isn’t this Obinna’s family house?”
Ijeoma’s left hand involuntary moved to cover her mouth as she tried to suppress a laugh. “Obinna again,” she muttered, and then turned to face Adanma. “No, we are not even real cousins. We are only from the same village. My father had allowed him to stay here for his secondary school education, because his father had accommodation issues at the time.”
“Okay . . . any idea whether he has gone back to London?” Adanma asked.
“London?” Surprise showed all over Ijeoma’s face. “I have no idea whether Obinna had plans to travel to London, or whether he has ever been to London before.”
Adanma and Ogechi looked at each other in disbelieve. They were about to re-enter the taxi when Adanma turned to Ijeoma again. “Sorry, do you know Chinwe?” she asked. “She has a tattoo on her neck. A star.”
“Oh, that must be Obinna’s on again, off again girlfriend, Chinwe Obiano.”
The two women were still trying to process this information when Adanma’s phone rang. It was her ICT cousin: “The company you asked me to check, doesn’t exist,” he said.
“Are you sure?” Adanma asked.
“Hundred percent sure.”
As was the case just before they’d left Kenya, the two women again took turns trying to reach Obinna on phone, but his lines were unreachable. They headed to Onitsha. Once in the eastern commercial city, they went straight to Oguta Road where Chinwe had rented a shop. It appeared her planned boutique was yet to open for business. The shop was locked. The women approached the neighbouring shop.
“Please, do you have any idea how we can reach the madam that rented that shop?” Ogechi asked.
“Who told you that the shop has been rented?” the owner of the neighbouring shop asked. “The shop belongs to my younger brother. He intends to start using it next month.”
Terna Abu is a self-taught, award-winning author. His first novel, Eagle Drive, won the 2020 Association of Nigerian Authors, ANA, Prose prize. He has recently completed work on his second novel, The Seeker. His work has appeared or is forthcoming with Kalahari Review, Sisi Africa, Mind Field press, and Pawners Paper, among others.