Foreverland (A Cinderella Story)

CHAPTER THIRTEEN 

Nene was not under the tree the following morning when he arrived, his mother’s open-toe slippers safely hidden under the driver’s seat. With the news of the Onikoyi’s death the night before, his father had warned him not to leave the house too early. Until a new king was installed, there would be a curfew. He wished he’d followed his instincts and come back the night before to find her, but she would not have been there, anyway. And he wasn’t sure who to ask where to find her. The people of Ikoyi had no good use for Nene and would not help him, he came to the conclusion. He still needed to get to the truth of this matter. Nene had still not told him why she was so hated, even as a child. And he had some more questions about Kunle’s death.

He’d sent a message to Frank about the new curfew and told him to keep it silent. There would no longer be visits on the set, for security reasons.

“We’re rounding off this production tomorrow. I’m not ready to follow your king to the grave,” Frank told him the moment he arrived.

Seyi arched an eyebrow. “How possible is that? We’ve had two good days.”

“Thanks to you!”

“We’re moving to Oshogbo for the rest of the production,” Asuka said. “Frank has guys checking out a suitable location.”

Seyi gasped. “What about the interviews? And Oshogbo is not a part of Ijesaland, which is the focus of this episode.”

“Well, this is no one’s fault, Seyi.” Frank scoffed. “Your king died.” He clapped. “Let’s get this shit rolling, guys! In the drawing room.” He started walking away and yelled. “And Seyi, no babies to inspire you today, buddy. Get your inspiration somewhere.”

Seyi rolled his eyes. “Talk to him, Asuka. It will be so unrealistic to go to the state capital when we are documenting these areas. The bulk of the gold we’re talking about is around Ilesa. I only chose here because it’s my home.”

Asuka rubbed her arms. “Is Ilesa safe?”

“Their king is still alive.”

Asuka chuckled. “Oh yes, of course.”

 

The day was tough but he forced his mind on it. After work, he stopped by Pade’s office just for good measure. After their last meeting, he wasn’t willing to speak about Nene or her work. But the only way he could know what was up was to go there. One of the young men who worked with Pade was closing from work. Seyi greeted but chose not to ask questions. Pade’s car was outside, and a part of him hoped Nene was “cleaning” after work, as she said she did.

He went up a rickety staircase and knocked on a connecting door. He heard nothing and opened it anyway. He found Pade on the balcony, gazing into the dark night.

“I hear your father is going to be the next Onikoyi,” Pade said. “Not only are you a rich boy, you’ll be the prince.”

Seyi snickered. “You may have your head chopped for saying that in public, Sly.”

Pade arched an eyebrow. “By who? Ikoyi is a small town. With the way the Olori cried last night, the news was in the night market while Kabiyesi was still warm.”

“The part of my father being king is–”

“Just another fact. He’s next to the throne and we all know he was cheated last time.” He moved toward the door leading inside his house. “She’s not here, meanwhile.”

Seyi frowned. “Your assumptions are ridiculous.”

“You want her, don’t you?” Pade came closer and thumbed his chest. “You are the biggest fool I have ever met, Iwaneye.”

Seyi slapped his hand off. “Don’t talk to me like that, Sly. Why did you employ her?”

“She’s free. She needs to work, to look like a reputable member of society.” Pade sniggered. “And her work is good. But it doesn’t make her more acceptable.”

Seyi shook his head. “I don’t know why she agrees to such terms with you. She could go anywhere else.”

“She can’t. I don’t believe she’s a witch or anything. Just a girl with bad luck trailing her. Anything she touches destroys.”

Seyi couldn’t hold back the mean comment. “Like you?”

Pade shrugged. “That’s why I keep her close. If she tries anything, I’ll kill her.”

Seyi breathed. “My mum believes she destroyed your marriage.”

Pade frowned. “She asked my wife to leave me. What better way to destroy a person’s home?”

Seyi shook his head. “For no reason? I don’t believe that.”

“Believe what you like.” Pade went inside.

Seyi contemplated following him. Nene was not here and he didn’t want to hear more from Pade. The guy had so much bitterness in him, it weighed even on his walk. Seyi saw himself out, his head pounding. He drove back to the tree where he’d left Nene. The curfew would soon start, and he had to head back home. In a couple of days, the crew would move to the capital or Ilesa, if Asuka could convince Frank. There would not be time to make things right or see her again. If he left now, he would not want to come back…especially if his father became king. Those were not his goals, and he wasn’t ready for small town fame.

He parked his truck in the same spot Nene showed him the day before, and walked the perimeter, hoping to find something. He felt rather than saw movement for a second and thought it could be a small bush animal. It was getting dark, but not dark enough to not see also a whiff of clothing. He followed the direction, and unknowing slid into a small pit.

Ahhggg!” He grasped at the small plants within reach but they just came off with his hand.

Finally, his decline came to a stop. He rolled to his feet and found his Maxlite camping torch on his keychain. It wasn’t so dark but this was a hole. Anything could be inside. He snapped on the torch and came face to face with Nene.

 

***

 

Seyi switched on a torch, jolting the darkness into illumine brightness. Her first instinct was to run further into the hole. She could hide, and he would never find her, but she stood stiffly, not even bothering to shield her face from his light. He stepped back for a second. She knew she should leave but couldn’t. He’d try to follow and may get hurt. She was on her way to town before the curfew started to help with Mopelola’s new baby, but now she couldn’t. If she’d continued, he’d have spotted her on the road. Maybe she should have let him, and simply told him she had to go and help with the new sickly mother.

He growled. “Are you not going to say anything?”

He slowly scanned the torch over her whole length. She was fully dressed in what seemed a very old nightwear and her feet were covered neatly with an equally old wrapper. He took steps closer to her and touched her trimmed eyebrow. She didn’t move and he traced the paths on her smooth face. When he touched her soft lips, she flinched and he snapped his hand back.

“What are you doing here?” He directed the torch to look around. “Inside a hole.”

“You need to leave. Before the curfew starts.”

“It’s so dark here.” He switched off his torch. “Why are you here?”

She could feel his breath on her face. Still, she refused to move. “Why? This is my hole. I live here.”

“You live here,” he mumbled.  “You told me you live in Dada’s compound.”

“This is Dada’s backyard,” she said simply. “You need to leave. Vigilantes move around when the curfew starts.”

He switched the torch back on. “What do you have here?” He pointed the light in different directions.

When on her own, she delighted in the fantasy of building a big house for herself and her children. Over the years, she had turned the gully behind Dada’s house to her little mansion in the ground. To the outside world, it was a site destroyed by erosion and covered with bush, but once in the hole, it was her palace. Pieces of junk wood, leather, nails, and other materials from caskets from the workshop found their way into her “house.”

She was creative in her designs too. Seyi gasped and followed one of the narrow paths. The hole narrowed and caved in and she knew he could get hurt if he didn’t remain bent as he proceeded. He was smarter than she thought and returned within a minute.

“I need some answers from you,” he growled. “First, do you just allow men to touch you as they wished?”

“I don’t, what does that mean?”

“Because you stood still while I touched you just now. You enter this hole knowing I will follow you!” He breathed hard. “Where is this?”

“I wanted …” she moved a little more away from him. “What do you want?” She whispered.

“Answers.” he snapped. “Why do you do it?”

She exclaimed. “Do what?”

“Strip men of their dignity. Tease them into submission. Spoil them with lust. Then you destroy their destiny.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Her voice cracked. She moved back toward the small steps she’d carved. “You need to leave now. They will see your truck and destroy it!”

He barked. “Adunola’s husband!”

“Adunola’s husband!”

 

***

 

Nene refused to answer any of his questions till he agreed to move the truck to a safe place since he wasn’t leaving her. The implication of his decision hung around his heart like a cancerous growth. His parents would be worried about his whereabouts. His mother would not bat an eye till he returned home. And for him, he’d be spending the night with a mysterious woman he admired and feared. Though he would never admit either even as he pondered on the truth.

“Get inside.” He ordered after she pointed a big tree a few feet away, where he could hide the truck from the main road. “I’m not going to risk you running into another hole when I can’t follow you.”

She didn’t protest.

They came out of the truck and heard a man shout. “Who goes there?” The man came close holding a torch with bright lights.

Nene stiffened and grabbed his hand. She turned in the opposite direction a second before the vigilante saw them. If they’d gone the way they came, they’d bump into the watchman. Seyi had no idea where she was going but trusted her, and when she whispered, “Jump,” while still holding his hand, he did.

They landed on a wooden ground with a loud thud, and she whispered, “Ssh.” Another man joined the first and hushed voices made conversation as the men used what seemed like cutlasses to trash the bush. Then everywhere was silent.

“They’ve gone,” Nene said. “Come this way.”

She let go of his hand making him feel suddenly abandoned. Even in the dark, she knew her way through the gully, and shortly, they were back in the other hole.

He inhaled. “How many holes are here?”

“I don’t know. They are not big.”

“You should know. Why do you tell lies unprovoked?” He licked his lips. “I should have gone back before the curfew started.” He didn’t really mean that only wanted to see her reaction. She had none as he’d expected. He switched on his torch and pointed it rudely on her face. “Where can I sit? I’m tired.”

“Come.” She turned to a really small looking hole and went on her knees. “Watch your head.”

 

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Foreverland (A Cinderella Story)

CHAPTER TWELVE  

Seyi had an active headache when he got home, emotions erupting within him in torrents.

His heart still thudded at the cruelty Nene described. Why would anyone treat a child like that? She didn’t want to say more after that, and he couldn’t take more either.

“I’ll pick you up here tomorrow morning,” he’d said, and with that, let her go.

She didn’t even have a good pair of shoes. He’d have to take one from his mum’s wardrobe just for the following day, then he could find time during the day to take her shopping. Carol must not know about this. He worried about Nene’s size too. His mother was quite small, and she was tall.

Oh, tomorrow will take care of itself.” He groaned. He’d still take the shoes.

He entered the house through the back door and stopped short in the kitchen when he heard his name. His mother had a guest.

“Warn my son?”

“I think he came into town two days ago?”

Seyi moved to the kitchen door and peeped between the hinge. He recognized the visitor as Olori, the king’s first wife.

Carol pressed her lips together. “He… yes.”

Seyi could see both women were on their feet so the Olori either just arrived or was on her way out. The two women had never been the best of friends so this must be interesting.

“Well,” Olori shrugged with a superior air. “I have been seeing him for the past two or three days,” she paused. Carol clenched her fists. “With no other but that harlot, the village harlot.”

“Nene?” Carol exclaimed. “You saw my son with Nene?”

“Right in the early hours of the morning,” Olori said with a low, conspiratorial voice. “In fact, for the past three days. Each time, they drive off together to a lonely place.”

“I don’t believe you,” Carol blurted. “My son would never associate with such a wretch.”

“Well,” Olori batted her eyes. “I believe you trust your son. But when he’s leaving the house by as early as five thirty tomorrow morning, you may want to ask him to where.” She stomped towards the door.

Carol hurried after her and dragged her hand. “Please, Olori, forgive me. I just find it hard to believe. Not that I don’t believe you but where would they have met? How?” Carol looked genuinely perplexed.

Olori folded her arms across her chest. “I wake up early and move round the house as you know, praying before my children wake up. I just saw her that morning, pacing and making her incantations as usual. You remember when I complained to Kabiyesi about her wizardry, he asked that she be brought to his palace. And we all know what he does to young women who enter his palace.” Olori hissed. “Especially someone like that. Anyway, during my walk I saw her and then your son drove up and they leave together.” Olori kissed her teeth. “I stood there until all the children woke but they didn’t come back. I didn’t want to come and tell you at first, but this morning, something different happened.” Olori walked back and took a seat.

“They hugged and kissed before leaving then I knew that indeed, you had to be told.” The woman clapped fat, bejewelled hands.

Carol screeched. “Where?”

“Right in front of the square! By Pade Ojo’s house.”

Seyi couldn’t take any more. He walked in and the Olori jumped to her feet, an immediate smile sprung on her face.

Seyi greeted in the traditional prostrate manner. “Good evening, ma.”

Ah, my son, welcome. Your mother was just telling me about your work.” Olori patted Seyi’s back and he stood. “I have to go, Mama Seyi, so you and your son can have your privacy.” She didn’t wait for response and saw herself out the door.

The moment she was out of the door, Seyi exploded. “Is that the kind of woman you listen to?”

Carol snapped out of her stunned derision and yelled back. “Seyi! You want to kill me? What are you doing?”

“Nothing!”

She lowered her voice. “You are my only child, Seyi. I have no other…” She swallowed and continued with great effort. “And I want the best for you.” She paused. “I know you are grown up, and you know the best for you but I am your mother. I don’t want to lose you.”

Seyi paced, taking calming breaths. “Mum, it’s alright. Com’on, I won’t disappoint you, and I won’t die for God’s sake.”

She raised her voice. “Then stop seeing her. Stop seeing that girl!”

“Nene?” He dropped into a seat, suddenly so tired.

“That girl, Seyi please.” Carol moved to sit on the stool by the side of the single sofa he occupied. She sniffed before continuing. “She has powers over men. And she uses it to destroy them. No man has gone unscathed. She’s an ogbanje!” Carol whispered, as though scared to talk about it.

Seyi glared at her. “Why would you think I’m seeing her in that regard?”

“Olori saw you with her, at the square.” She drew in a long breath. “Ikoyi is such a small place, dear. Everybody sees everything. The palace is right there at the square. You can’t see that girl, Seyi, please. She swallows men. She’s evil.”

“Olori should mind her own bloody business.” Seyi rubbed his temple and nodded trying to convince himself. “I understand if you don’t want me to see her in public because tongues wag,” he said. “But to say she’s evil,” he shook his head. “That, I don’t understand.”

“What don’t you understand there?” She jumped to her feet. “She drove your brother to suicide. She sleeps with men and eats up their destinies. Is that not evil?” She wailed. “Look at your friend, Pade. He’s a near-do-good. Ever since he employed that girl there has been no progress in his life.” She began to pace frantically. “His marriage is finished, he has no money, he’s in one trouble or the other.”

“Pade has always been a fool.”

Carol continued as though he hadn’t spoken. “Why do you think no one agreed to employ her? Her uncle threw her out of his house, and now she lives in a shack! What more can I say, Seyi? She drove your brother to suicide.” She sobbed. “See what she did to Adunola and her husband. And countless other young men in this town.” Carol stood and turned only her face to him.

“The only reason why I’m seeing her is because I want to find out why Kunle would kill himself because of her,” Seyi said, but his reason sounded lame even in his own ears.

“Then why do you kiss her?” Carol shouted.

“I did not kiss her!” Seyi exclaimed. “This is so ridiculous. Whoever told you this, is lying.”

For a moment, mother and son stared down one another then Carol turned fully and went to kneel beside his seat, holding his gaze.

“Just please, stop seeing her. Look, I know what I am saying. She has destroyed enough men in this town. She doesn’t come on to them physically. She enters their dream and sleeps with them. They become addicted to her, and that is the beginning of the end.”

Seyi gulped air through his mouth. Nene was always in his dreams.

Chief Iwaneye walked in, his face drawn. He didn’t show any sign he could feel the tension in the room. Carol gasped at the slight sway to his walk.

Seyi grabbed his shoulder half-way as he sat heavily on the couch. “Daddy, are you okay?”

“The Onikoyi is dead.”

 

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Foreverland (A Cinderella Story)

CHAPTER ELEVEN 

CHAPTER ELEVEN   Foreverland (A Cinderella Story) 12/07/18

Nene pulled back, coming back to herself.

She couldn’t afford to lose control in this way. She straightened in her seat and took a deep breath.

Seyi removed a perfumed handkerchief from his pocket and gave her. “Stop crying, eat.”

He opened the first plate of steaming fried plantain and yam, and then the other, which contained the fried stew and assorted meats.

Hmm,” he sighed. “When we were boys, I’d take my dad’s car in the night and come here with friends. My mum always caught me, and made sure Daddy beat the living daylight out of me.” He chuckled.

She didn’t know what to say. Making friends with him would cause more trouble than she wanted in her life. He acted as though he didn’t notice her weird silence. Maybe, he’d accepted she wasn’t going to make small talk.

He took one long piece of yam, and bit into it. “Nobody makes fried yam like this woman.”

“They said she used, jazz,” Nene blurted. “It’s not true.”

Seyi laughed. “Small town talk. The food is good.”

She pressed her lips together. She shouldn’t have said anything. It was none of her business now. She looked out of the window, and her gaze caught that of Mr. Albert, the big-time watch-doctor. He had a girl on his arms. Someone younger than his first daughter. Nene snapped her face away quickly. Albert was not good news especially when caught cheating. Not as though she had anyone to tell. It was none of her business too.

Seyi cleared his throat. “I said how do you know it’s not true.”

Nene shrugged. “I know. The food is good.”

“And you’re not eating.” He picked a small piece of shaki and bit into it. “Hmm.”

Her mouth watered, and she shyly took a piece of fried plantain. It had been so long since she ate this food last.

“Talk to me. How do you know the food is not jazzed?”

“I worked for her. She…” She took another piece, and another, her taste buds fired up, and hunger she thought she could control, raged.

Seyi ate leisurely. “She?”

She shrugged. “She cooks well.”

“Did she pay you well?”

Nene gasped. “She fed me.”

Huh, that arrangement is not fair.”

“I was fine with it.” She shrugged again. “I don’t need much.”

He opened the bottle of Fanta and gave her. She mumbled her appreciation and gulped the drink. Her parched throat soothed.

He took a long gulp from his coke too. “So, why did you stop working for her?”

“It’s a long story. I…”

“I want to hear it.” He leaned back. “I’m not in a hurry.”

She dropped her gaze to her hands. “People are looking at us.”

“Then we can take you home and talk.” He cleaned his hand on the paper napkin he brought with the food and reversed the truck. “Tell me where.”

She hesitated. This would not end well. “I… We can just park by the road.”

He smirked. “You don’t want me to know your house?”

Nene shook her head. “No.”

He laughed. “Okay, by the road, then.”

She wanted him to drop the subject of who she worked or did not work for. This was Ikoyi, a small town with a history. People didn’t love people here, and many times, she had sacrificed herself for the sake of peace. She was the underdog. The convenient culprit. The same people who threw stones at her by day, sought her help by night. She directed him to Dada’s house and showed him where to park the truck, partly hidden by a huge tree.

“Here, no one will see us.”

“Why are you so afraid of people? What did you do?”

He asked the second question as though it was a joke, but she knew he meant it.

“People…I didn’t…” She took a deep breath. Better tell one at least so he’d know who he was dealing with. “Mrs. Bello owned the restaurant. And she would come to Dada’s house. She’s Mrs. Dada’s friend.” She paused. “One day, I was working, in the…yard, and she asked Mrs. Dada to loan me to her.”

“How old were you?”

She knew but took a moment as though she had to think. “Six. Or seven. I was small.”

“Okay.”

“I went to work at the restaurant. Since then, sometimes she will send for me. And I will work for her.”

He pressed. “You didn’t tell me why you stopped working for her. You make it look like there’s a story there.”

“The first time I went, she told Mrs. Dada I had good luck. Her food is good, so I don’t know what she was talking about.” She drew in a shuddering breath. “Anytime I go to work for her, she makes good sales and favour just comes to her.” She squared her shoulders. “At least, she said so, once.”

“So, what happened?”

“Her husband started cheating. She blamed me.”

Seyi lifted her chin. “Cheating with you?”

“No. Never…” He narrowed his eyes. She dropped her gaze. “He was sleeping with her sister.”

“Goodness, then why blame you?”

“I’m easier.”

He gasped. “Are you kidding?”

“The first time, I was just ten years old. She took me to the market and made people throw stones at me.”

“Dear Lord. What did Mrs. Dada do?”

“She joined them.”

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Foreverland (A Cinderella Story)

CHAPTER TEN 

Nene had learned to walk on the side of oncoming traffic. That way, she would never get hit. Some cars went by, followed by the school bus. Even if they saw her, they didn’t stop. It didn’t matter. She would not dare enter anyone’s car going into Ikoyi.

Her feet hurt. If she knew she was going to walk this long, she would not have worn this slipper. The strap had been torn during her struggle with Pade the previous day, and she’d nailed it to the wooden base to be able to continue using it. Now the tiny nail hurt and she had to remove it. If her memory served her, she had about five kilometres left, then she could rest her head, and sleep. Her sleeping mat beckoned.

She sat on the stump of a tree and tried to press in the nail from another side where it could have less contact with her foot. She looked around and the headlight of a car shed light on a small stone. She sighed and grabbed it. But the car didn’t drive by. In fact, it parked by her and she straightened, her heart beating fast. The road wasn’t safe, and many nights when she had to make this journey in time past, she walked through the bush path. But again, that wasn’t so safe either, and it wasn’t too late now, with many who worked in neighbouring towns but lived in Ikoyi heading home.

Huh, nobody offered to take you home?” Pade wound down his window. “Since you decided to ditch me for the golden boy.”

She could hardly speak out of relief. She wasn’t in any serious danger. Her boss was a coward most times and would not risk be seen by the roadside harassing her.

“I came to work.”

Pade arched an eyebrow. “He hired you?” Then his surprise turned to taunt. “But didn’t make any provision for trans?” He burst into laughter.

Nene held his gaze. “I was at your office to work.”

“I saw your ghost.” He started winding the glass up. It took effort and several readjustments. “If you like don’t show up tomorrow.” The car’s engine quenched, and after several restarts, spurted to life.

Nene watched him drive off. At least, she got the little stone. She got the nail where she wanted it and continued walking. She refused to think about what Pade said, or how Seyi Iwaneye affected her. She was her own woman and over the years, she had built her own support system to come from within her. An inner strength no one could ever reach. Her safe zone. The physical sensations she felt today were an indication she needed to disappear again, though.

She could see Ikoyi Ben ahead, but her head felt light. Another kilometre and she’d make the turn that’d lead her to the place she called home. She lived alone by choice. Living with anyone would be too much of a controversy.

With the pain on her foot near unbearable now, she stopped walking. This was the last lap but she couldn’t move any further. She considered walking barefooted but there were small sharp stones on the ground. She decided to take the tiny nail out of the slipper, rest her foot a little, then push on. There wasn’t anything to sit on, and she squatted. A palm-wine tapper rode by on his bicycle. Then the harsh headlights of a vehicle shone in her eyes. She looked down and shielded her face. Waiting for it to pass.

 

***

 

Seyi had missed her, and if the bicycle had not passed by, he would not have looked that way. He waited for the palm-wine tapper to ride by and made a U-turn. His headlights were powerful, and she shielded her face. He should switch them off, but the fact that she was on the road, at this place, left him cold. He refused to believe she had walked all the way from the production set.

She did not raise her head even after he turned the lights off and came out of the truck to her.

“What are you doing here?” His voice was huskier than he thought it’d be.

Her head shot up, and she straightened. He wished he could see the expression in her eyes, but it was too dark, and his lights were off.

“Going home.”

“Why didn’t you wait where I told you to?” He couldn’t understand his anger. A moment ago, he was scared stiff for her.

“I don’t belong there.”

“You belong where I say.” His softened his voice. “You were great with the kids.”

His eyes had grown accustomed to the darkness around them, and he noticed the slight slouch in her gait. Fatigue. Well, he was tired too, and wanted to go home and sleep, but now he couldn’t. She didn’t respond to his compliment.

“I’ll take you home,” he said.

“That won’t be necessary.”

He had turned to return to the truck, sure she would be grateful for a ride home. He swung around. “Get in. I’ll take you home.”

She didn’t argue as he had come to realize she would not. He noticed she walked with a slight limp, and of course, how wouldn’t she? The production set was at least a-fifteen-minute drive from town, and she was close already. He could imagine she’d been walking for two hours or more.

Inside the cabin, he felt even closer to her. He knew the energy he’d put in on the production today was mainly because of her, besides the fact that he felt a strange longing to impress her, it was as though they were a team. He hated to see it this way, yet he loved the way it made him feel.

He stole a glance at her. “You must be hungry.”

She shook her head.

He smiled. “I know you will not accept. We’re going to eat. I’m hungry.”

She seemed morose, and much as he wanted to have a conversation with her, he didn’t. He’d dreamt of her every day since he arrived. Some days he wanted the dream to not end.

He parked the truck at a famous joint many people in Ikoyi ate at. The restaurant served the best fried plantain and yam in the town, with fried palm oil stew and assorted meats.

Seyi got out of the truck and stared at Nene who remained in her seat, looking ahead. He got back inside.

“Do you want me to force you to come and eat?”

Nene twisted her fingers in her laps. “They won’t serve me food. Here.”

Her words stuck in his gut. “Why won’t they?” But he knew two things; the answer to his question, and that she would not answer him.

“I’m going to buy the food and bring it here. And be ready to answer that question when I return.” He came out of the truck but before closing the door, muttered, “and be here when I return.”

 

***

 

Nene watched him go and looked at her twisting fingers. She didn’t want to cry now but she fought it hard. He was the last person she wanted to be nice to her. They’d poison him and soon, she’d be like trash to him too. She shouldn’t care but she did. And this is why it hurt her more. She did not want to feel anything for him or anyone.

He walked back to the truck with a bag of hot food, and a smile on his face. Her stomach sank. He looked so good but she wasn’t, couldn’t be the one for him. His mother would kill him rather than let her have him. And the whole of Ikoyi stood behind her. Nene had only refused to give up on herself. She could have left, she had…

He entered the truck. “We got lucky. People gave me a chance to jump the long queue.” He placed the bag between them. “I’ve missed this woman’s food.” He brought out two foil plates and two plastic bottles of soft drinks. “What do you want? Coke or Fanta?”

No one ever asked what drink she wanted. “Any one is fine,” she mumbled.

“You’re so morose. At least I’ve bought dinner, and I’m taking you home now.” He winked. “Okay, I’m sorry for this morning.”

His playful attitude disturbed her. She swallowed because she didn’t want to break down now. She could feel his gaze on her, on the tears that trickled down her cheeks. His thumb touched a drop before it touched her upper lip, and all her pent-up pain erupted.

“I’m sorry,” she sobbed. “I’m sorry.”

He pulled her into his arms and laid her head on his chest. “Ssh. It’s okay. You’ll be fine. Ssh.”

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Foreverland (A Cinderella Story)

CHAPTER NINE

Frank left the strict instructions no visitors were allowed.

And Seyi worried himself sick she would get into trouble. Why did he bring her? He could have just let her go, but he couldn’t have.

“We have so many requests for visits today. Frank cancelled all.” Iyabo showed Asuka a list. “Two schools wanted to come for excursions.”

Seyi snickered. “This is not some silly excavation expedition.”

“Stay still,” Miriam, the make-up artist mumbled as she powdered his face.

“Sorry,” he mumbled.

“I can only imagine how many people want to see you, Seyi.” Asuka placed a to-do list on the dresser. “Go through before you show your face.” She headed for the door.

“At least one school, please.” Iyabo followed Asuka. “Please speak to him.”

Asuka crossed her arms. “Seyi or Frank.”

“What have I to do with visitors. Not me.” He’d said it before he remembered Nene. With no visitors, where would she be? He could sneak her into his cabin though, but it wasn’t partitioned. Anyone would wonder who she was and why he had her in his private space.

He just has to take her back when he had a break.

Iyabo nodded. “Frank.”

Asuka shrugged. “Maybe a school. 20 kids. Problem is, all the schools will then want to come and watch.” She opened the door and left.

“It’s my school. We’ll keep it discreet.” Iyabo giggled. “Let me go and make the arrangements.”

Seyi rolled his eyes up so the make-up artist could finesse the line just beneath the eyelashes.

“Frank won’t approve,” he muttered. “And don’t push it.”

Deep down, he worried about the girl inside his truck. It made no sense having her there. She’d be a nuisance on the set. He had to find a way to take her back to town as discreetly as possible.

“Yes, sir.” Iyabo exited.

The make-up done, Asuka returned and banged on the door. “2 minutes on your clock.”

Miriam left and Seyi changed up but didn’t escape a horn blast at his door. A strategy Asuka found worked all the time. No one wanted Asuka blasting her horn at them.

When Seyi stepped out, he took a quick peek at his truck. She wasn’t inside. Maybe she’d gone. It was at least five kilometres from town. Surely, she would not think of trekking?

Everyone congregated in the production room where Frank had the habit of walking through the day with cast and crew before it started. What he didn’t mention didn’t happen, and there was no mention of excursions.

The weather promised to be hot and sunny, so Frank pushed Seyi’s outdoor recording up so the interviews would be done indoors when the sun was too bright.

Frank clapped. “Okay, let’s get on with it.”

 

“Before gold was discovered in Ilesa, the whole of Ijesaland produced only 12% of Nigeria’s gold. This very place where I stand is one of the earliest areas visited by adventurers in the Ilesa gold rush.” Seyi looked at his feet briefly and then smiled into the camera. “In 1942, and for the rest of the decade, Ijesaland became a major producer of the nation’s gold; producing more than all the other parts of the country put together.”

“Cut! Take it again. I need a smile from your soul, not teeth.” Frank barked. He kicked a camera stand and cursed. “I’ve been doing this stupid line for two days, maybe it’s time you call it quits!”

Seyi gritted his teeth. He’d done this short paragraph four times. A noise interrupted Frank’s next take. One of the security men came with a piece of paper for Frank. He read the note and swore.

“I’m not taking audiences!”

Asuka took the paper from him. “We can take a break now though, give them their ten minutes of glory.”

Seyi arched an eyebrow when Frank stomped off. “What is it?”

“A school is here. From the state house I believe,” Asuka said.

Huh!” Seyi snickered. “Well, let’s do it.”

“I’ll get Frank. They want to watch an actual recording.” Asuka went after her boss.

“Just what I need,” Seyi muttered.

He marched to his cabin. They’d get him when they were ready. Iyabo knocked a moment later.

“Frank wants you.”

“In his cabin?” Seyi checked his branded watch. It wasn’t even five minutes since he got in.

Iyabo shook her head. “We’re getting back on set.”

“The school children?”

“Are settling down. The teachers who came with them have them seated on the ground.”

Hmm.” Seyi scoffed. “Wonder how they will be quiet.”

Iyabo shrugged. “Frank will just be even more angry.”

They went back out where Seyi stood shocked at the sight of about a hundred kindergarten-age children, maybe not that many but all he could see was a sea of small heads, all seated on the dusty ground in neat rows. Three adults were with the group, the only female, Nene. She had a packet of sweet in her hand, and though she didn’t smile, she spoke to the children, whose gazes were all fixed on her. She moved with a grace Seyi couldn’t understand, and while the other two teachers got distracted by the set, Nene focused her attention on the children.

“I told you they had the children under control,” Iyabo said, following his gaze.

Frank stomped by. “Okay let’s get this shit rolling.”

Seyi willed his feet to move. The audience was a good thirty feet away, but he felt like the kids sat on his shoulders while Nene patted their backs.

 

***

 

“I spoke with Pa Amodu who was a budding teenager during the gold rush,” Seyi said.

An old man whose front teeth were all missing smiled to make sure everyone saw the trademark. He was like half Seyi’s size and bent so Seyi had to look down on him. They walked slowly toward the seated kids, and Nene swallowed several times unsure of what to do, knowing he could see her clearly.

So far, the recording had gone much smoother than anyone anticipated. The three teachers who came with the thirty children were preoccupied with selfies and left Nene to tend to the children. Her mother once told her she was magical with children, but how could she know? People herded their children away from her. And she’d only ever seen her mother in dreams. Was this woman even her mother, or a fairy. An angel, if she chose to believe the word of God over the fantasies she read so much of.

Seyi looked refreshed and excited after the initial few minutes of chaos caused by the children’s arrival. She had been on her way out, finally taking the decision to leave the set, when the bus stopped and the children spilled out. One fell and Nene ran to grab her out of the way before her mates trampled her. The teachers hadn’t even noticed.

Awon Oyinbo ni o wa gbe wura,” Pa Amodu said into the microphone thrust in his face, his voice deep and strong, making up for his frail look.

“Pa Amodu says foreigners came to dig the gold,” Seyi said. “Remember at the ripe age of eighty-four he was just eighteen when foreign investors worked as operators here.”

Seyi glanced up and she caught his gaze for a second. But it was enough to send warm fluid running through her body. He continued his presentation, smiling intermittently as he conducted an interpreted interview with the old man. She had never seen a man look so different when they smiled. His face lit up, and her stomach dropped. She had better leave before she made a fool of herself.

Nene knew the teachers didn’t care if she stayed or left. They were so enthralled by the drama of the production set, taking pictures with everyone. Any responsible school would make sure four to six-year-olds were taken back home before three in the afternoon. These ones didn’t care and coming from the state capital, they two hours to drive back. It was getting dark, and it seemed the production team would soon wrap up.

She had single-handedly calmed the kids through four hours of seamless recording, and a late lunch break. She had done her bit. It was time to leave. Leave everyone, the town. Something horrible would soon happen and the blame would be on her. She’d done it before, and she would again. She didn’t know why she kept coming back, anyway. Ikoyi didn’t want her. With Seyi here and her feeling like this, something bad was bound to happen. She needed to go.

 

***

 

Seyi watched her walk away. The children were still seated and Frank had decided to call it a day early. They had done much more than was scheduled. Where was she going at this time of the evening? He wanted to follow her, talk.

Frank grinned at him. “I think I’ll have babies come and watch you every day. They do you good.”

Seyi snickered. “Like hell.”

“Okay, we’re good. Team! In the drawing room.” Frank yelled. “Pack these babies home, somebody!” He stomped off.

The children were herded off and everyone trooped to the debriefing with Frank. Seyi felt unsure. Within minutes, the set was clear. The fading sound of cars leaving, those belonging to contractors and visitors and strayers. Anyone of these people could give her a ride, he consoled himself. He turned to join the rest but was stopped at the sound of approaching vehicle. No one was allowed to drive all the way in here except for the crew and cast.

He swung around to see the headlights of an old model Nissan car shining on his face. He blocked it with his hand. How did this person pass security?

Pade stepped out of the car after shutting the light off. “Hey, buddy!”

Wow, how did you get past security?”

Pade smirked. “Hi to you too. I live here, remember?”

“Well, good for you.”

“I just thought I’d stop by, see what you guys are doing.” Pade looked around the well-lit area. “Am I late?”

Seyi folded his arms across his chest. “Depends on what you want to see.”

“You’re a very big boy now, aren’t you?” Pade said stiffly. “Being on cable and national TV and all.”

Seyi rolled his eyes. “The price is a big one too. Every good thing has its tough nuts to crack too.”

Pade looked around. “You said you’d talk to your guys about the research thing.”

“It wasn’t necessary anymore. We got what we needed,” Seyi said.

He was beginning to have a headache just talking to Pade. The guy had always had this complex attitude he was displaying now and Seyi hated it most times.

“Think you could link me up with any of your boys? I need a job.”

Seyi scoffed. “Don’t you have a job?”

“Like yours?”

“We can’t all do the same things,” Seyi said. “Look Sly, let’s hang out sometime. Huh, right now is not a good time.”

“We can’t, can we?” Pade straightened as though shelving a heavyweight. “Why did I know you’d have this reply for me?”

“Because you know it’s the truth.” Seyi patted his shoulder. “See you around, buddy.”

He didn’t care his friend still stood there. He started walking away when Pade raised his voice into the silence of the night.

“I’ll ask her to talk to you!”

Seyi froze, and turned slowly, feeling like he had just been dealt a punch in the stomach. Was it so obvious Nene had some influence on him? Pade’s engine coughed a couple of times and then revved raising dust. Smoke spurted from the exhaust, polluting the air and screaming the car was due for service, but the driver drove as though he had a brand-new limo. Seyi would have laughed but Pade’s last statement rang in his brain.

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