One cool evening at the Baloguns’, he and Halima had stood in the backyard outside the kitchen, looking out into the quiet skies. They were talking. It got really dark after a while, and even though he was supposed to join the others back inside, he wouldn’t. Every now and then, someone would come into the kitchen behind them to get a drink or something and they would stop talking for a while, until the person left. He and Halima could hear them back inside, partying. Someone would say something and the roar of laughter would filter out to them, a little muted. After about an hour, no one came into the kitchen anymore, and he came over to stand behind her, his arms around her waist. She felt hot against him in the cool night.
He came over everyday for the next three months. Halima would say nothing to him when the Baloguns’ were around but they noticed. She always bought a case of Stella Artois for the fridge because they were his favorite. And she made nkwobi a lot more frequently. Afterward, he would offer to help with the dishes, excusing himself from Sola, the Baloguns’ daughter who fumed but held her peace. One day,however, Halima told him Sola had burned some of her clothes, and cut up the rest. She was crying. He went to London that week and bought her piles of clothes from Selfridges and Harrods. He gave them to the Baloguns’ driver, Nasir, to give to her, but Nasir returned them two days later with a note from Halima that simply said “Do you want me to lose my job?” So he gave Nasir fifty thousand naira to buy clothes for her, and keep whatever was left for himself. All the staff at the Baloguns knew about them, but they all liked Halima so it was fine. His parents though, had heard something, most likely from Sola, or from her mother. “What is this I hear about you fraternizing with the Balogun help?”, his mother had asked him one day. ” Don’t do anything stupid.”
His mother wanted him to marry Sola, even though she was a known floozy. For her, the Baloguns were the right sort, the second richest family in the country and friends of the family for decades.
He knew he would marry Halima. He told Halima that one day and she gasped. “Do not say that aloud, please!” But he could tell from her soft smile and the look in her eyes that the thought pleased her. He wanted them to get married in Obudu, then go honeymooning on the French Riviera. “Or wherever you want, of course” he said and this time, she laughed and said French Riviera was fine. She’d have to stop working for the Baloguns first, of course. And he’d have to finish his masters. And there was the issue of his family. But they both knew they had something and didn’t want to lose it. Driving home each night, he thought of Halima in his bed.
A few days before Christmas, Sola told him that her brother Bamidele was coming back. He and Bamidele were friends since their King’s College days, but he had gone to university in London while BB as they called him, went to Massachusetts, and they had grown a bit distant. Now, although still friends, they had grown too different. He was the responsible one who dated one woman at a time and hadn’t drank since his 25th birthday, while Bamidele did drugs and fucked anything that moved. “Be careful around him,” he warned Halima.
Two days later he came over to see her. The gateman greeted him gaily. “Small oga don come oh. Na only him dey house now.” He nodded. He would bump in to catch up with BB but it was Halima he really came to see.Walking toward the kitchen, he was startled by a muffled scream. He burst through the door and stood transfixed. Bamidele was standing behind Halima with one hand clamped over her mouth and the other gripping her exposed breast. He was pressing her onto the counter with his body, and her sleeveless shirt was ripped down the side. She was struggling under him and the muffled screams, louder now, were coming from her.
“What the fuck do you think you’re doing?!” he roared, gripping BB by the neck and pulling him off her. “Are you out of your mind?! ” Halima ran off into the servants quarters, holding her tattered clothes together.
BB grinned and punched his arm. “Shit Andy, way to ruin it.”
“What were you doing?!” Andy asked again, hotly. His eyes were bloodshot and a vein pulsed in his temple.
BB looked at him curiously. “Slow down, man, I just wanted a taste of those curves, alright? She’s our new maid, apparently.” His tone was flippant.
Andy’s punch caught him in the jaw and he crashed to the floor. He tried to get up but a kick, square in the chest, sent him back down, on his back. Just then, BB’s mom, Cheryl walked in. “What the hell is going on here?” she yelled. “What’s Dele doing on the floor?”
“The fucking fool tried to rape Halima”, Andy spat, still glaring at Dele who was now getting up.
“So?” Cheryl shot back, surprising the two young men. “If my son wants to rape my maid, so what? Is she not a house-help? If that’s the help my son wants, how is that any of your concern? Is this not his house?”
Andy looked at her in amazement. “Ma, did you just…”
“Ehen, did I just what?” she snapped. “First you mess around with the little tramp, and now you want to beat up my son over her?”
“Mom, chill”, Dele tried to assuage her but she quieted him with a withering look. “I suggest you keep your mouth shut when I am speaking”, she said “you have no idea what has been going on here.”
She turned back to Andy. “I’m going to put a stop to the nonsense between you and that thing. It’s gone too far. Now please, leave!” She pointed to the door.
Andy tried to calm her down. “Ma, I apologize if I..”
“Anderson Nnaemeka Okoye!” she screeched. “LEAVE!”
Later that night Sola called him. She was angry. “I can’t believe BB did such a horrible thing! It’s one thing to chase everything in a skirt, but rape? How horribly demeaning! I will make sure he pays for this, Andy!”
“It’s fine, he’s your brother.” Andy replied. “No need to worsen things. How is Halima?”
Sola paused, rueful. “Mother plans to send her away.”
“She can’t do that!”
“I know,” Sola agreed. “Listen, for what it’s worth, I tried to stop her. But with the way she seduced both you and my brother, maybe it’s for the best.”
Andy’s jaw clenched. “She didn’t seduce your brother, he tried to rape her!” he said through gritted teeth.
Sola laughed. “How are you so sure?”
The next day he rushed over to the Baloguns very early. Halima was already outside, with Cheryl standing behind her. BB came in from his morning jog right around the same time. “Mom, I thought we agreed she’s not leaving?” he asked.
“Don’t worry, she’ll come with me.” Andy cut in, and beckoned to Halima.
She did not move.
BB walked past Andy, came up to Halima, closing the distance between them in four quick paces. Halima’s breath quickened as he grabbed her waist, bending her slightly, and took her lips in his. Halima was still in a daze when he released her. He whispered something in her ear, and her eyes widened in shock. Cheryl and Sola exchanged confused looks.
Andy’s eyes were slits of pure rage. “Halima”, he said, his voice barely above a whisper.
Halima looked at him, then looked at her feet. “I’m sorry.”
He left without another word.
Three months later, he received a post card from French Riviera. It was marked “Urgent” from Halima.
He put it in his drawer, unopened.