“Her glance is that of the fabled basilisk, her voice a siren’s voice, with her voice she enchants, with her beauty she deprives of reasoning, voice and sight alike, deal destruction and death.”
December 31st, 2014
Tomiwa straightened his bow-tie with one hand as the doorman checked for his name on the guest list. He had underarm a bottle of the best red wine he could find at the convenience store down his street. It was New Year’s Eve, every branch of ShopRite would be full; jostling with people in their most festive moods, and he didn’t care to go through the stress of joining the long queues that would form at cash registers. The doorman finally found his name and gestured at him to go in with a smile on his face.
The magnificence of the hall took Tomiwa by surprise. He sucked in a sharp breath as he walked in. He passed by the hotel in Victoria Island several times in the past but had never had any cause to see its insides. There were tables bearing platters of small chops and bartenders mixing cocktails in every corner, while the elegantly dressed guests stood around in small circles, picking at their plates and talking loudly.
The President of the company where he worked, Mr Nnaji, was standing right at the centre, with his beautiful wife greeting the guests as they arrived. Tomiwa approached him uncertainly with a smile on his face that only broadened when his Boss called out his name and held out his hand in a handshake. As they shook, Mr Nnaji thumped his back playfully and beckoned to an usher nearby to take the bottle of wine from him. Tomiwa smiled at Mrs Nnaji as he turned around to join the party but she glanced at him expressionlessly and looked away.
He got some chops and a cocktail and instead of socializing went to sit alone in an empty corner, almost hidden by a staircase, grateful that he had found a spot to hide and observe in peace. As he picked at the snacks on his plate, he surveyed the entire room, feeling out of place.
It was an end of year party meant for the executives, board members, partners and rich clients of the company at which he worked, but for some reason, his boss, who had taken a liking to him, insisted he attended even though he was merely a tech guy.
I’d rather be anywhere but here, he thought, as he settled into the chair.
Tochi frowned as she sipped from the now warm glass of champagne she had been holding for almost an hour. Beyond bored, she wished she was at home, curling up with a good book. She looked across the vast room at her husband. This was his world, she was merely living in it. She suppressed a mild yawn and decided to find someone to talk to. She swept her gaze around the room carefully and finally spotted a young man seated beside a flight of stairs, obviously trying to be invisible.
She refilled her glass and headed towards him. He was handsome and looked a bit naïve and she smiled, imagining he would be fun to tease. He looked confused as she sat beside him instead of going up the stairs like the other people who came his way. She had a smug smile on her face, knowing what her presence around men did. She wasn’t just beautiful, she was strikingly beautiful. She had distinctive features, a pointed nose, big eyes that made people feel like she could see through them and the full lips always covered in red lipstick. She was tall and imposing, confident in the way she walked, head held high, moving her slender body with supple breasts swaying ever so slightly as she walked.
“Hello,” she said as she sat down.
Stuttering, he replied, “Um hey. Nice party right?”
“You don’t seem to be enjoying it,” she paused to drink from her glass, “and neither am I.”
Tomiwa nodded and laughed uneasily.
“I’m Tomiwa. I work at Alto. And you?”
“You look too young to be an executive. I’d have placed you as a client” she said.
“I’m just a tech guy. My boss sort of instructed me to come” he said, gesturing at Mr Nnaji with a movement of his face. “This isn’t normally my scene”.
“It’s not my scene either. It’s my fifth year attending. They organize these parties annually, you know?”
“Oh! Wow. Are you a staff or a client?”
She made an incomprehensible sound. She was looking across the room at her husband, watching him as he looked around for her; time to go, she thought.
She didn’t think he would remember his promise to leave before midnight. She was beginning to enjoy the conversation with the young man beside her. She watched with annoyance as her husband spoke and laughed loudly with his friend who had just arrived. She reckoned that he had had a lot to drink. Maybe too much.
“He’s too loud.” Tomiwa said, bringing her out of her thoughts.
“Mr Osiobe. The man you’re staring at. He’s always loud like that.”
She turned to face him, feigning indifference.
“You know him very well?”
“Not really. He’s the CEO of Alto. I see him at the office a number of times.”
“That’s a rather rude thing to say about someone who can make you jobless with the snap of a finger, don’t you think? And at an office party? Careless.”
She stood up and he did the same.
“I’m sorry, I don’t know why I said that. I say stupid things when I’m nervous.”
“I’m making you nervous?” she smiled sweetly and turned to leave.
“You never told me your name.”
“Tochi. Mrs Tochi Osiobe.” she said as she walked away.
Tomiwa watched with a sinking feeling in his stomach as she walked to Mr Osiobe, kissed his lips lightly and held his hand as they walked out together. She looked so beautiful, so elegant, and so powerful. He was so sure he had lost his job. She would tell her husband what he had said. He tried to remember if he had given her his name but couldn’t. He drank what was left of his wine and left the party without saying goodbye to the hosts.
Dec 31st, 2015
Tomiwa dabbed at the beads of sweat that had formed on his forehead as he waited to be let into the party.
All year long he had hoped to run into Tochi somewhere. He attended every work function he imagined her husband might be at but never ran into her. He looked her up on Facebook and Instagram but was greeted private accounts. He had decided that it would be too creepy to follow her social media so instead anticipated the end of year party, where he was sure he would run into her. He had seen Mr Osiobe a number of times during the year and wondered if Tochi ever told him about their encounter. Tomiwa almost danced when Mr Nnaji invited him to the party once again. He had made sure to stay in the man’s good books all year in order to score the invite.
As soon as he exchanged pleasantries with his boss, he stood at a corner, spanning the vast room with his eyes, but Tochi wasn’t there.
Disappointed, he took a glass of wine and went to mingle with some colleagues.
It was an hour to midnight and some of the guests had started leaving. Tomiwa had been standing around talking to guys from his office, all the while searching the room with his eyes, willing Tochi to show up. Someone commented on his restlessness and he lied that he had a headache then excused himself to the bathroom. He was washing his hands when an usher came in and handed him a note.
I’ve been watching you look for me. You’re cute. Meet me behind the sculptures in the garden. You know who.
He pocketed the note and excitedly headed out to find the sculptures.
Tochi sat on a chair in the garden, waiting for him to show up. She hated the parties her husband dragged her to. He never wanted to come alone, insisting on taking her with him and showing her to everyone like some kind of trophy. She sometimes loved being the trophy wife of a billionaire, but these parties were tiresome. She hadn’t expected to see the young man again this year. She had forgotten his name. He crossed her mind several times over the past year. She had been genuinely offended when he insulted her husband the previous year but had laughed at the outrageousness of her anger the next morning.
She was curious about him, the way one was curious about a baby or a cat. However, she wasn’t going to get involved with him, she assured herself. He was the kind to fall in love with her and get himself in trouble.
Even from behind, Tomiwa thought, approaching Tochi silently, she looked like what whoever had created the word “stunning” had in mind. He suddenly felt very conscious of his own average looks. She heard him approach and stood up to face him. She had on a long blue dress that reached her feet, with a slit in the front that climbed all the way to her thighs. She held her silver heels in her hand and walked towards him barefooted.
Tomiwa thought she had the most beautiful feet he had ever seen.
She stopped right in front of him, looking into his eyes, smiled and said,
“I caught you looking for me.”
She walked back to where she had been sitting and he followed her. She sat down and he sat beside her. She shifted in the seat, facing him and crossing one leg, revealing spotless, smooth dark thighs. Her dark skin shone even in the dark like she polished it every day. She reminded him of the pictures of women referred to as “Nubian Queens” that he had seen with flawless dark skin like hers. She ought to be immortalized and worshipped, he thought.
“Penny for your thoughts.” she said, bringing him out of his head.
“I was just thinking that you have really beautiful skin.” he replied sheepishly.
“Oh. Yes.” she said in a tone that made him feel like she was disappointed at his uninteresting train of thoughts.
“You weren’t in the room, how did you see me?” he asked, eager to change the topic.
She smiled. “I was upstairs with the boys. CCTV.”
“Oh okay. So I guess you aren’t enjoying the party this year again?” he asked.
She shook her head smiling and they both laughed.
“You know, you can actually just stay home instead,” he continued.
Tochi laughed again. She did that a lot. Short but hearty bouts of laughter.
“I only attend because my husband can’t attend alone, he needs his woman you know,” she finally replied.
“Ah yes! The husband.
You seem so young, yet …” his voice trailed off. He hadn’t completely thought the sentence through before beginning and now he wished he had said something else.
“You’re wondering why I’m married to someone so much older than me. It’s just 15 years,” she shrugged, “he makes sure I’m happy and he gives me everything I need. I’m comfortable.”
“Are you happy?” he blurted out before he could stop himself.
“Yes. I have everything I want.”
He was going to push on the subject but she spoke first, changing the subject, asking about his life. They had been talking for close to an hour when she covered his mouth with her palm.
“Listen! They’re counting down,” she said with excitement in her eyes.
Later, he would realize that in that moment, as he sniffed in the scent of her perfume on her palms, he had fallen in love with her.
He heard the faint voices of the guests at the party. He didn’t realize so much time had passed.
“… Six! Five! Four! Three! Two! One! Happy New Year!!!”
Removing her hand from his face, she looked at him and said, “You’re supposed to kiss me at midnight.”
And he did.
Tomiwa wasn’t sure whether the explosions were from the fireworks going off around the compound or in his head, but as he kissed her, the world around him exploded. She kissed him eagerly and explored his mouth, searching for secret spots and finding all of them. She placed her hands on his chest while they kissed and he was certain she felt his heart beating wildly. Tomiwa grabbed her waist possessively and kissed her deeper. In that moment, she was his and he relished it.
She was the first to pull away, smiling.
“Well, that was …”
“It was magical,” he offered, almost too eagerly.
Tochi smiled and used her finger to trace the outline of Tomiwa’s lips and for a second he thought she was going to kiss him again, but she didn’t.
She bent and began wearing her shoes instead.
“I thought about you all year.” he said, standing up.
She looked up at him and smiled.
“I know. I thought about you too,” she said, standing up, “I have to go inside now.”
Her face had lost the excitement it held just seconds ago and was now expressionless.
“Can I see you again soon?” he asked, taking her hands.
“That’s not a good idea. I’m sorry.”
She kissed his cheek and started walking away before he could object.
By the time Tomiwa could gather his wits and go back into the ballroom, Mr and Mrs Osiobe were saying their goodbyes. Tochi didn’t give him as much as a glance as she strutted off with her hands around her husband’s upper arm.
Dec 31st, 2016
A whole year had passed and Tochi hadn’t been able to forget the kiss she had shared with him. She still didn’t know his name, a factor that had hindered her from finding him on social media. She had questioned her decision not to pursue an affair with him. Her affairs were usually short and void of emotions. But that kiss had felt different.
An affair with him would be difficult to control. She couldn’t trust herself with such a man, she couldn’t put him in that position. She wondered if he had thought about her, missed her, and looked forward to seeing her. She wondered if they would kiss again at midnight.
She looked in the direction of the door as yet another couple made their way in, into a flurry of air kisses and firm handshakes. Where on earth was he, she thought for the umpteenth time. She sat alone in a corner, glad her husband’s attention was occupied.
At about half an hour to midnight, the stream of guests coming into the hall had thinned out, and he still hadn’t come through. She looked around the room, searching, maybe he had come in from the side door, but she was certain she would have seen him if he were in the room. She walked around the room, careful enough to appear as though she was casually looking around and not desperately searching for someone. She stood by the flight of stairs where they had first met and just stared blankly at the dance-floor, not really seeing.
“Looking for someone?” her husband whispered in her ear.
His voice startled her. She hadn’t seen him come over.
“Huh? What? No” she laughed nervously. “I’m just looking at what the women are wearing, to see if anyone outdid me.”
“Then I’m sure you’ve noticed you’re the most beautiful woman in the room,” he replied jovially, kissed her and walked back to meet his friends.
Tochi sighed. Her husband was a good man, he loved her almost to the point of obsession and made sure she had all she needed, but the age gap had always affected their communication. She had never loved him. Nothing he gave her could fill the void she was starting to feel.
She turned once more to the door and sipped from her glass of wine.
When it was almost 12 midnight, Tochi slipped outside to the garden, careful not to let her husband notice her. She sat down on the same chair she had shared with him last year, hugging herself. The weather was cold and a cool breeze enveloped her, causing goosebumps on her arms and thighs. She heard footsteps approaching and for a moment she held her breath, willing it to be the person she hoped it was. But it was just one of the security guards patrolling. He flashed a smile at her in greeting and moved on. She stayed on until after the countdown before she went back into the party.
It was 2 a.m. and it was time to go. Tochi said her goodbyes with little interest. She was nursing her disappointment over what’s-his-name not showing up. At some point, she considered walking to the group of men she had seen him with the previous year and asking about him, but how could she when she didn’t even know his name.
After saying goodbye to everyone that mattered to her husband, they both walked outside to their waiting car.
As she sat beside him, while the driver sped through the night, she stared out the window, watching fireworks go off. They reminded her of the previous year, the kiss she had shared as the new year fireworks went off. She touched her lips as she nursed the feeling of disappointment in her chest.
Mr Osiobe, as always, had drunk more than was necessary and was tipsy.
“Tochi,” he said.
“Hmmm,” she replied absently.
He took her right hand in his bigger left palm and held it there. It felt warm and a soft sigh escaped from her lips. He cleared his throat and said in a very serious voice,
“Everything I do, I do for us. I hope you know that.”
Tochi looked at him, confused at first and then slowly, things started adding up in her head. She withdrew her hand from his grip, which suddenly felt cold and turned back to the window. The thought nagging at the corner of her mind all night now took centre stage, and she knew. Her insecure, obsessive husband had somehow gotten wind of her involvement with the lad and he had made sure she would never see him again. Whether he had got him transferred, fired, hurt, or worse; she was sure she would never see the young man again. This wasn’t the first time it had happened.
Sighing again, she rested her head on the window and closed her eyes.