‘Call me Lucy Drake, barrister Lucy Drake. It might sound a bit awkward that a male bears Lucy – take it or leave it! But don’t bother me. This is who I am and who I’ve always wanted to be…’ He panted repeatedly, his forehead wet with sweat. His heart couldn’t produce words any further, he dropped to the floor, pushed the stop button, recording stopped. He passed out.

He removed his earplugs and put on his black slim fit Amarni Collezioni tux on a white shirt and striped black tie, stole a glance at his silver chain wrist watch, 8:30am, got into his black Hyundai Elantra and zoomed off. The CEO of Ivory Towers Plc (CSACs largest investment in Lagos) was just about 50 kilometres away or less. He had to be quick if he didn’t want to get stuck in traffic at the over-utilized Lagos Third Mainland Bridge. Lekki was on the Islands. If you must get to the island in Lagos, you had to go through the 11-kilometre-plus bridge. It was just two hours’ drive from Ikeja where he lived and it was home to big companies and pleasure centres. He was caught in traffic and grew a bit restless. His appointment was fixed for 11:30 with the CEO, Mr Felix Nwaka. He again plugged his earpiece to remind himself of some detail. He may just have quickly forgotten something. It played back:

‘I am barrister Lucy Drake, former staff of the popular CSAC – Chukwu, Son & Associate Conglomerate. Now I work for myself but remain a very pivotal agent to the Conglomerate. I still run their businesses and supervise a huge number of their agency relationships. I used to be a lady and my name was Lucy Chukwu, but that was then. Don’t believe the lies they tell you. Some say you have been stripped of the custodianship of CSACs investments in Lagos and that all the agents under your supervision have been instructed to deal with the Conglomerate directly. They are all lies. Don’t believe all those nonsense…’ Honk honk honk, a red Kia Rio behind beckoned on him to move on, the owner, a young lady, hands in the air already agitating. He looked up, the traffic was fading gently and the danfo, a yellow public transport bus, in front was some distance away from him. He stepped on the throttle and surged forward and stepped on the brake as soon as he got close enough to the now static danfo. For an hour he was still caught in traffic. ‘I wouldn’t lose it’, he steadied himself. The Lagos traffic was something he would never get used to, not even after two years since his return from Louisville, Kentucky. He picked up his recorder and began to play another recording that he listened to half-heartedly just to pass time, his eyes more focused on the movement of the traffic. He made it to Ivory Towers quite on time 11:15, stepped out of his car and advanced to the reception in the same classiness as he always did. ‘Wait a minute sir, our boss is not yet back from a meeting.’ It was usual. Was there not something that was called African time? It meant an hour after the set time or more. But he loathed the casual way she had attended to him. When he was her boss’ boss seven years ago she had not even been employed. But that was seven years ago and he was still her boss’ boss.

It was a few minutes past one when Mr Felix Nwaka walked in – a big-sized man in blue kaftan with his aide, a lanky man on suit, carrying his black briefcase. His voice was thunder and his strides as an elephant’s. His presence carried overwhelming recognition. Barrister Lucy stood up as soon as he walked in. His face was a bit inflated yes, but it still had the same look, what he couldn’t comprehend was the size of his waist and his belly. Felix Nwaka had tripled in size. His hands were lost in Nwaka’s while they shook hands, and the rather needless tugging at his weak limbs that followed reminded him of a girlfriend’s tender hug. ‘So sorry I kept you waiting’ the speed at which he said it was obvious it was by rote. Who knew how many times he had been so sorry, he paused. ‘Sorry do I have an appointment with you?’ He nodded. The man didn’t seem to get it. He introduced himself briefly ‘I’m barrister Lucy Drake, former staff of the popular CSAC. Now I work for myself but remain a very pivotal agent of the Conglomerate. I still run their businesses and supervise a huge number of their agency relationships including your agency relationship with the conglomerate.’ His words were breeding a scowl on Nwaka’s face ‘That’s Lucy Chukwu’ he replied ‘and she’s been gone for about six to seven years or more’ he added.

‘I used to be a lady and my name was Lucy Chukwu…’

‘Enough fairy tales gentleman!’ Mr Nwaka couldn’t hide his irritation. Even if he was Lucy Chukwu, what to do with her had already been decided seven years ago, she wasn’t even a barrister to the best of his knowledge. Who’s this crazy man? He regained his cool ‘Well, we’ve been instructed to deal with the Conglomerates directly ever since Lucy disappeared. I didn’t see the need for this meeting ab initio.’ He said other things that implied that Lucy was crazy before asking him out of his office in the politest of meanness. All the documents Lucy had prepared were of no use. Lucy tried to argue but his voice was swallowed in Nwaka’s, he couldn’t even hear himself. The lies seemed true. He wiped his forehead with the back of his fist. He wanted to leave but Nwaka’s words were so heavy they pinned him to the seat. Something tingled him to cry, but he shoved it off, men didn’t do such silly things. He rose to his feet and threatened that Mr Nwaka would see the end of this matter in his very polished English that still boasted of some fading confidence. He threatened that everything Nwaka said were lies. That was the limit he could go, so he kept shut and left with the tiny pieces of shattered pride he could gather.

It was his first attempt at reclaiming all he had lost or rather, had been dubiously taken away from him – his lands, his estates, his relevance, his life. No, his life was something they couldn’t take away. If they could he would be six feet. They did not only wish him dead, he was truly dead in their hearts, just that they preferred to use the word ‘damned’, and they called themselves his family. His heart wringed and he squirmed in pain. The thoughts of all those lies being true numbed his nerves. He’d allow himself get to the peak of its pain and then fall asleep. When he wakes up, he’d wake up a new man, free from the lies he’d just witnessed. He wasn’t walked out of Mr Nwaka’s office. Who could have done such a thing to him? Of course such never happened.

He had been diagnosed of selective amnesia shortly after his motor accident. Indeed in surviving he had cheated death. He couldn’t remember what made him drink to blindness that day, but it must have been very traumatic. His doctors had said that he had lost the ability to retain traumatic events for long, so he knew it must have been so so traumatic, but not the lie they told him anyway about Chukwu disowning him and then stripping him of his supervisory role over Lagos based agents. He was disowned, possibly, but not stripped, not at all. They said he maintained the position on Chukwu’s permissive will, but not until he left for Kentucky for a transgender surgery and then gained a First class LLB from University of Kentucky. He wanted to be like Chukwu’s only biological son, barrister Opara. Was it an offence? The accident had occurred shortly after his return to Nigeria, even before he enrolled into Law School.

He nearly bagged another First class in Nigeria Lagos Law School if not for a D in Property Law Practice. One exam he apparently couldn’t remember writing, but it was directly responsible for the certificate he held, a mere Pass from Law School. But that wouldn’t have been an issue should Chukwu, Son & Associates Conglomerate had accepted him back. Don’t all prodigal sons receive forgiveness? He was the prodigal son that was denied the forgiveness that was readily poured out on distant strangers. Didn’t he return to CSAC to ask for a reinstatement into his former position on his return from Louisville? Was it granted? With tears and pleading he sought for it? But it wasn’t granted. The aspect of actually pleading in tears seemed vague to him now, almost a lie. If he didn’t feel the same sharp pain that almost made him cry whenever he remembered that he once held so much and now had nothing in reality, he wouldn’t even consider believing that aspect of his memory. But that didn’t mean he had nothing truly. He may have lost possession, but he sure retained ownership. Business Law said something like that. He quickly rushed to his files to review his asset documents. Indeed they were all in the name of CSAC. On every single landed property, investments, asset, he or rather she appeared as Lucy Chukwu with the designation of an Acting Supervisory Agent. Nothing was truly his. Even his original documents didn’t prove otherwise. He felt the sting as though he had just noticed it for the first time, but the only different feeling now was the craving to do something about it. Alter the documents, create new ones, anything that made these truths lies was good enough. He would simply forget soon that he ever faked the documents. He searched his pocket for his phone, but pulled out his recorder. There was nothing he would like to remember about today. He dumped it on the bed where he sat and beat his body all over in a bid to feel his phone. It wasn’t on him it was in-between his laps on the bed. He grabbed it and allowed a moment to let his disappointment deepen. The deeper the pain, the easier his memory let them escape or rather deleted them. He dialled Linda’s number – his half-sister. She was always the perfect accomplice when forgery or deceit was involved, any kind of it, and she sought revenge just like him. Once, Linda had lured all CSAC agents in the whole of Abuja to sell fifty percent of their company’s shares to her client and had succeeded. Even Lucy had been shocked at her success, but he was just as shocked when he heard that barrister Opara of CSAC had intervened and resolved the case, spending zillions to buy back the assets before securing a multimillion insurance policy against fraud and in the most benevolent of acts, restored the agents to their positions, but Linda was disowned. That was the craziest thing he had ever experienced CSAC do in all his life of being around the Conglomerate. But he had learnt to put nothing beyond them now, not that he remembered why he had to, but he had said it so firmly and repeatedly on recording 0002_12092014. It had got to be a very important detail. He had also learnt not to follow due procedures anymore, not because it had failed him against Mr Nwaka, even if he could recall that trance, who considered visions and trances when very important decisions mattered these days. But recording 0019_03072015 had said that the world was evolving and only people who found their way around rigid organizational procedures were seen as forward-going. He had to be in that class. Being straight with Nwaka was indeed a mistake he’d soon forget.

In a week’s time Linda was in his house at Ikeja. She had said ‘she’d be in Lagos in a week’s time’ and had kept her word. He loved her more for it. They had a lot in common, a whole lot. She was a lady deprived of forgiveness just like him. She had been with CSAC just like him. She wanted to get back at them just like him. What’s more, she was one of his numerous half-siblings that Chukwu had raised. So they got talking; then began teasing each other; soon they lacked words and just maintained a steady stare in each other’s eyes. He was surely going to get fond of her. He had indeed found his wife and he wasn’t going to keep it to himself. She didn’t think otherwise, but insisted they just remained engaged for now and not rush things, but she moved in with him the next two days. They never got married, though she became his companion and did everything a wife should do, including the duties of the other room. Their love had grown stronger largely on the basis of revenge. They were both fallen fellows seeking to inflict just one blow on CSAC. Linda was his perfect sidekick and he liked the fact that she had known his greatness before. Her beauty was not the innocent pretty face of Cinderella; it had an air of naughtiness that made one wary of the livid eyes and curves she possessed. It was that kind that Helen of Troy had possessed – a lethal weapon in disguise. Maybe she had become the love of his life in truth, but she had other commitments. He didn’t want all her commitment either. He was just learning the ways of men and wasn’t sure what he wanted when he had asked her hand in marriage. Even experienced men were worn out by marriage. There was this rigidity the union always brought between lovebirds. Linda was just perfect. He came to appreciate that she refused his proposal and yet moved in to live with him. Truly all he wanted was her being close to him and her body crushing against his. He was never interested in children or a family or any union whatsoever.

‘Honey, the greatest weapon we have is blackmail. Get a man in a mess he wants kept secret and he becomes your puppet.’ She snorted and shoved her thick black hair backwards with the aid of a fine comb ‘Even the mightiest of them’.

‘That’s true bae, so what’s the picture you’re painting?’ It still amazed Linda how much of a man Lucy truly became. That’s true bae made her head swell. She dressed up in front of the mirror and admired his reflection half-covered in their duvet. Was this her half-sister for real? But his reply had struck a chord. ‘Picture’ was just the right word – exactly what she had in mind.

Linda knew and was known by nearly every wealthy man in Abuja. Don’t confuse her for a prostitute. Men chased after her with unending libidinous motives and she was always hard to get. When she succeeded in luring CSAC’s top 5 agents in Abuja to sell their investments to her company at the lowest of rates, she had simply played the game to her advantage. Crazy wealthy men with insatiable libidos soon became cowardly wimpy puppies that feared their lives were going to fall apart: The Power of Pictures and Blackmail. Call her popular or notorious, it didn’t stop her from getting huge offers for endorsements. She was the face for Jasmine beauty soap, Live Life women cologne and Tricia’s hair attachments. Was it sheer beauty or connections? But her image on any packaging, billboard or TV commercial definitely made men and even fellow women pause to admire, desire or envy and that was the goal.

The plan was simple. They took the next two weeks to dig up files and history profiles and one to perfect the plan. The fourth week, Linda was in her pink Kia Picanto on her way to Ivory Towers Plc. She wasn’t going to make the foolish mistake of coming under CSAC’s identity as Lucy. This time they had it all planned out. Chief Aziegbe, the manager of Lagos City Club, Ikeja and one of Linda’s sugar daddies, had helped them set up the appointment with Mr Nwaka. He virtually knew every prominent man in Lagos.

‘I’m Linda, Chief Aziegbe’s business associate and friend -’ it was safer not to completely leave out the existence of an informal relationship with Chief, who knew what Chief had told Mr Nwaka that she was, ‘- a consultant in Business Negotiations and Principal Partner to Wealthy Living NGO: A twenty two year old indigenous NGO, dedicated to alleviating poverty and supplying medicine to poorly equipped government healthcare centres in the North.’ She went on to explain that they needed the support of the company to help boost their supplies as there were more need than their finances could presently meet. In turn they would promote the company’s image internationally as one of their sponsors and would ultimately help them secure 2000 acres of land in Karu, Nasarawa state where they could invest in real estate or agriculture or educational institutions. She explained how they operated in Karu very effectively and had the full support of the villagers there.

‘How old is this your NGO?’ Nwaka asked.

‘Over twenty years’ she replied and immediately dipped her hands into her black polished briefcase to confidently present the certificate. The certificate had been applied for three weeks back and was collected just four days ago, but it sure dated twenty-two years and looked twenty-two years old from the manually enforced ageing effects of dust. What couldn’t you get in Lagos if you only knew the right people and places?

He held it in hand ‘Wealthy Living Non-Governmental Organization since 1994’ pronouncing every single word one after the other as if he scrutinized the meaning to be sure it meant what it said and said what it meant. He stretched out his hands, obviously signalling for more detail and she marshalled all the documents on his office table. He didn’t want to rush it. ‘Alright, you’d give me some time to go through them and I’d get back to you’

‘Okay sir’ she replied ‘Thank you very much sir’ she briskly added. They talked about some other things and the escalating level of fraud in Lagos for about ten to fifteen minutes and Linda searched his eyes to uncover any detail she could and feared that he was suspecting fraud in the whole thing but she was too smart to show it. She finally thanked him again, expressed her expectation to hear from him soon – he nodded, and she took her leave.

They knew Mr Nwaka was going to do an intense research on the NGO. They also knew he wasn’t going to do it himself. He was going to rely on his secretary Nkem whom he occasionally slept with to do it. She was sound in IT and lazy so she was going to rely hugely on internet sources and they had set up a website and put every detail that was needed – past achievements, owners, vision, mission and the rest. Barrister Lucy Drake was the owner and they feared he’d remember the name, but that would be if he asked Nkem and Nkem wouldn’t even remember. Nkem obviously would have spent more time admiring barrister Lucy Drake’s looks and even forget that he made a First class in Law from the University of Kentucky. After a week and no response, Linda called Mr Nwaka’s personal line. He promised to give her a feedback in few days. Obviously Nkem was yet to give him feedback.

Suspense was a terrible thing especially when blackmail was involved. She had wondered and worried herself sick. Maybe he had discovered something and was digging up more facts. Maybe Nkem was not as lazy and unintelligent as they had concluded. Why would such a person be his secretary then? That was why he could sleep with her whenever he felt. She was more of his mistress than a secretary. It tallied. She was calm. Lucy was a lot calmer. Pressure was not good for him, the doctors frequently told him. He only believed what he wanted to and simply forgot about anything that posed fear. Sometimes Linda envied his disease.

CSAC always made huge provision for charity donations. Barrister Opara always told them to. ‘It is in giving that we receive’ he continually stressed. A complete waste of money a lot of them thought, but somehow they had to find a way to spend that money on lazy and jobless people and then account for it. Some of their personal bank accounts bore the names of lazy and jobless people. The NGO thing made more sense. The next day 10:14am Linda’s phone rang. They fixed an appointment for the next day, a Tuesday, at the office. They were to finalise discussions and sign papers.

She was there at Ivory Towers at exactly 9:45am. She had to escape the traffic at the Third Mainland Bridge by all means. It didn’t matter how long she waited to get attended to, but she wanted to get into the reception early enough, before the buzz of the day had filled the atmosphere with much more important things than her mission. She was dressed very differently today. Not on the previous very formal suit and skirt, but it still appeared very formal if you couldn’t see beyond the knee level zip up black jacket suit she wore. She didn’t paint much, just a little red to her light complexioned cheeks to influence her commanding appearance. She walked in on her high heel shiny black court shoes looking confident and elegant as usual, her cologne overpowering the mild air-fresheners that tamed the usually tense atmosphere that revealed that Mr Nwaka was around. The koi koi of her footsteps attracted attention to her movements and those that looked kept on looking. She didn’t wait long at the reception. At 10:05 she was in, face-to-face with Mr Nwaka.

She ran the office with her eyeballs as she approached him with a ‘good morning Mr Nwaka’. He looked enchanted as to her appearance. She had worn spectacles the last time and looked brilliant. Now he wasn’t seeing brilliance, he was seeing elegance right in her naked eyeballs. She didn’t notice. She didn’t wait for him to offer her a seat, she pulled the seat back and sat peering straight into his eyes and with some style though, but she didn’t beg for his consent with her eyes. Nwaka remained stunned for a while and just observed. That was it. She wanted him wanting to observe her so that she would show more ordinariness that would pass for seduction. She sat courteously now, crossed her legs and waited for a reply to her long said good morning. It didn’t come. She progressed.

‘You’re looking good this morning sir’ she smiled charmingly and flashed her eyelids. He smiled back, but said nothing. What could he say? This Chief Aziegbe’s girl was hot was what he wanted to say. The kind of thing he shouldn’t say so it was better he kept quiet. ‘I brought the documents to finalise the sponsorship deal, I’m so excited you finally agreed’ He blushed. She zipped down her jacket and exposed the tight sleeveless top that revealed not just the perfect roundedness of her breasts, but also a generous view of her cleavage, as she brought out a transparent file from her inner pocket. She put the file on the table for him to go through and then sign the necessary sections but did not zip back the jacket and didn’t intend to. He steadied himself to go through the files with his head intact. Why would she want to seduce him when he would be signing important documents?

‘Can I use the rest room for a minute?’ She kindly asked.

‘Yes of course.’ He was relieved to have her out of his presence for a while, but in his heart he wished she actually went in to strip down everything and then give him the full version when she returned. He quickly stood up to ensure his office door was locked, grabbed a packet of durex condom from his cabinet and then went back to his seat, faking to be looking through the documents, but was only seeing a stripped down Linda. She came out zipped up and didn’t have that pale look he wished for. She looked more serious and just cat walked round his office like she was suspecting something. She placed her hands on top of his cabinet and picked up a Dan Brown novel – Da Vinci Code.

‘Hmmm, he reads novels. You read romance novels too?’ He said no. She dropped the book, walked back to her seat and asked him why he didn’t. He just smiled. I’d rather be the character than read it was his obvious answer. It was written all over his face. He didn’t want to ask her out or make advances there in the office. It could be blackmail. But he burned terribly. Why would a woman do such to him this early morning? He hurriedly signed all the necessaries and told her he was done. She stood up, thanked him and left. A document had slipped to the floor and she’d forgotten it.

The next day she was back at his office on a polo and jean trousers. The receptionist had quickly let her in. ‘Good morning Mr Nwaka, so so sorry to bother. I forgot something.’ He had kept it safe for her. She was glad. She flashed the romance novel she’d brought for him and made to drop it on the cabinet. She almost stepped out before requesting to use the restroom. He nodded. She was brisk, she pocketed the gel air-freshener she had left there yesterday and flushed. She walked out of his office all smiles.

The next day she rang his phone to inform him she had scandalous pictures of him and his secretary in his office and how they washed off in the rest room after they had finished doing it. She even told him they had the full video coverage and left the rest of the talking for him to do.

‘Come see me privately. Eko Hotels, Victoria Island, today 7pm’

The gel air-freshener that sat on the WC tank and the pen she slid into the Da Vinci Code novel had in-planted cameras. They viewed it and their trap had caught fish. Seconds after she left his office, he ringed Nkem and she came into his office. The door was shut and for some minutes they were very busy with personal affairs.

She went along with barrister Lucy Drake and Nwaka did not miss the face.

Barrister Opara looked at Mr Nwaka’s Monthly Performance Report (MPR) in dismay. The expenses had skyrocketed overnight – maintenance expenses alone increased by 200 percent. No major fiscal policy or macroeconomic changes occurred that were peculiar to Lagos. No major capital project was handled. Different NGO sponsorship programmes appeared in his report. Lucy and Linda had been all over Lagos for some time. He was sure they had a hand in this, but Nwaka wouldn’t own up – that was his problem. He lied to cover up for the sudden nosedive of business activities, listed fictitious expenses and told tales of how NGOs were the most effective channel to charity at the grassroots. Future MPRs would reveal worse – that was barrister Opara’s major concern, but the business was Nwaka’s to manage and to inherit. He solved the problem for CSAC once and for all when he acquired that insurance policy against fraud. CSAC would simply divest from the business when their time was up, recover all losses and reinvest in some other loyal agent. There were countless agents waiting to take up control of CSACs investments. Poor Nwaka would only wreck his business, and completely lose out if he didn’t open up early enough. He still had the time to. Not much had been lost yet. At least CSAC would not divest its funding yet. Maybe he feared being sacked, but he would be foolish to, very very foolish. When agents at Abuja lost it all at first to Linda, when there was no insurance for fraud, they were not sacked. In the Agency agreements, there were no conditions or warranties for sack. He knew that too well. Maybe it just seemed too good to be true. How much more harm could his father’s disowned adopted children inflict on their investments and agents if given more time than they had been already given? Poor brilliant Lucy now suffered selective amnesia. He wondered if she ever remembered those fun childhood days. She was now an effective sidekick to the ever cunning pretty Linda. These little girls used to be around him and dance and play and sing; later grew up and wanted to handle business affairs. Chukwu didn’t want to involve family in business, so they became rebellious, out of control and now they have become enemies, sworn archenemies. Barrister Opara folded his arms and wondered how it was all going to end up.

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