The air around the party was so charged up that Mark wondered if indeed it was just the party of a 10 year old. Right from the moment he entered through the gate, the pervasive atmosphere just seemed like a whole different world; a mini-Disneyland right here in Lagos.
The party which was themed around Marvel comic series had almost all the children, excitedly running about in their superheroes costume. They were also different varieties of bouncing castles scattered around the expansive compound of the celebrant and different shaped balloon floating colourfully in the air.
Notable amongst them is a glittered red balloon-man floating carelessly high up in the sky. It was such a sight that it caught the attention of both the adults and children; and was probably amazing too to those who weren’t fortunate enough to be inside this paradise. The unusually long balloon-man could be seen for many miles away.
It was simply breathtaking! That was the right word Mark could find to qualify it.
But unfortunately, the colourful atmosphere did nothing to make him feel relaxed even though it was what he had always wanted. Being invited to this party was a step in the right direction to finally make it an official serious relationship with Oluchi.
It also meant that she was finally starting to trust him and didn’t mind introducing him to her family. Then it should be a good thing right? But judging by who the mother of the celebrant was, he didn’t think he had made the right decision coming here. His initial excitement of today deflated soon as he saw the large poster of the celebrant smiling with his mother at the gate.
He could never mistake that face anywhere. It was Zinny, Zinny Okoro and undoubtedly Oluchi’s elder sister. Mark sighed, how could this be happening to him? He wondered. If he had never believed the saying: ‘What goes around comes around’ then he was a firm believer now.
This was because knowing her wasn’t about the fact that she was a popular and celebrated artiste in the country; heck! He wasn’t even a fan of her type of music nor was interested in having her songs in his playlist.
Knowing her meant more; it meant his past. A past he wasn’t now proud of. One he thought he’d left behind five years ago when he nearly lost his life. Why was this beautiful love he had finally found taking on a futile colouration before it could blossom? To think he had fall helplessly in love with her sister, nobody else but her sister. What were the odds of that?
Would Oluchi forgive and totally accept him when she learnt of his sordid past? Her innocence, kindness, humanity was the best thing that drew him to her; and he had hoped some of it would rub off on him soon enough; give him a better ending to the miserable existence he once lived.
Just when he had thought that she would be the bridge linking him to a life of purpose, life had played this twisted game on him, making him have second doubts about continuing this beautiful relationship with her. Mark thoughts bounced around miserably as he nestled an unfinished glass of wine in his hand
“A penny for your thought mister” but just then, a female voice broke into his reverie and he turned around to see the object of his thought standing and smiling beautifully at him.
“Come and socialize Mister. It would seem like you had come to a burial ceremony and not a birthday party…” Oluchi said and sat next to him. “You were just as excited as Cal this morning when we were coming here but now you’re all moody. Don’t tell me you have phobia for balloons and clowns huh?” she teased moving her face close to his. “What’s up with you hun?”
“Don’t mind me. Maybe it’s that gigantic red balloon man over there that scares me” Mark replied, working up a smile to his face.
Oluchi chuckled and turned her face briefly to the glittered red-balloon man still floating in the air. “It’s my aunty Rose; she outdid herself this time around! Come meet them all, will you?” She said, gently dragging Mark up. “I hope you don’t get star-struck when you finally meet my sister”
“I think I’d rather just enjoy the party from here” Mark replied reluctantly, making no attempt to follow her.
“Of course not! She won’t bite as long as you’re with me” Oluchi persisted but Mark refused to bulge from his seat, soon it turned to an amiable tug of war between them. Soon they were interrupted by one of the waitresses crisply dressed in white shirt, red skirt, matching sneakers and a costume hat to go”
“Sorry to interrupt but your sister requests your presence” She said.
“I’ll be with you soon” Oluchi replied. “I have to go… we will talk about these cold feet of yours when I return. Just don’t leave the party without me, okay?” she directed to Mark.
“I won’t I promise” Mark replied, feeling mortified by his uncharacteristic behaviour as he watched them leave.
Where the hell did you disappear to? Zinny asked soon as she saw her sister and the waitress advancing. “We have been waiting on you like you are the star and not me” she added in irritation.
Zinny patience level wore thin easily. Oluchi knew this and so desisted from making it any worse. She simply walked faster to fit herself into the family picture as the hordes of cameramen snapped away. There was Rose, Cal, Zinny and now her.
“Where were you by the way?” Zinny asked when they changed pose for another round of shots.
“Was with a friend who came with me.” She simply replied and put up a fake smile for the cameras
“What friend? You know I don’t like when people I don’t know come to my house” she said and smiled at the camera.
“Yeah but he’s with me and I brought him so I could introduce you both”
Zinny sighed. “I am not interested in seeing anyone else today but my son” she said to Oluchi dismissively.
Oluchi did not reply, instead they both obeyed as the lead photographer told them what pose to strike. But soon Zinny grew tired of it. “That’s all please I am tired, go snap somewhere else, my son and more of his friends if you wish.” She told them
Then her irritated facial expression turned soft as she addressed Cal: “I want to go back inside Cal, go catch some fun. It’s your day love” she touched his cheek fondly.
“Yes mum” Caleb said and zoomed off with his friends who were waiting impatiently for him by the side while the family picture took its turn. They were off to explore other sets of bouncing castles. Cal was the happiest of them because he knew his party would be the trending topic in school on Monday.
Zinny had watched him go with all the love her heart could muster. But now she was back to her impatient self.
“Tricia! Tricia!! Where the hell is that girl when you need her?” she barked. She was a few steps to the house with Oluchi hot on her heels.
“…but he came solely to meet you” Oluchi pleaded.
“Don’t they all?” Zinny said dismissively still not attempting to slow down her pace.
The regal ball gown she had had shipped in especially for the occasion sparkled in the sunlight even as she held it up with her hands so it won’t sweep the floor.
“Slow down! Aren’t you even going to consider the fact that he’s not some random guy wanting to meet you? We actually came together!”
Zinny stopped now and looked mischievous at her sister, “Hmm, don’t tell me miss two goody shoes Oluchi finally found a guy good enough for her?”
“Zinny…” she cried.
“Someone is finally going to pop that cherry of yours huh?” her sister continued with a grin.
“Please don’t say that to me” Oluchi replied, her face already showing signs of anger.
“Well better be careful, there are so many bad guys out there who can easily take advantage of you; you my dear, are not worldly wise.”
“I am not a child; I know what I’m doing!”
“I don’t care though. And as for family meet up, take him to your parent girl. They are your first point of call not me.” Zinny completed and resumed her walk leaving her sister staring dismayed at her. “So much drama in my life already” she murmured to herself.
Oluchi couldn’t understand why Zinny never stopped treating her with such low regards. Even at 26 she still treated her like that young 16 old trying desperately to gain acceptance from her glamorous big sister.
Ten years later and they were still at the same spot- sibling rivalry borne out of nothing tangible. There was no history between them, no love, no enmity, just coldness.
Did she think she would bring just anyone to meet her? All these years trying to measure up to her standard were yielding nothing and indeed she was getting frustrated with looking for love where it didn’t exist. She thought angrily and started her way back to meet Mark.
Thank God she didn’t bring Mark all the way to face such embarrassment from a woman who thinks the bloody world revolves around her. “I Wonder what the world sees in her” Oluchi breathed with a sigh.
Mark felt a momentary panic attack when he saw Oluchi walking towards him. Was she going to force him this time around to meet her sister? He wondered. It was just too early in their relationship for scandals, he hadn’t yet fully won her to himself; neither were they in a solid place yet for confessions of past sin to start raining in.
But when she drew closer, he saw that she looked all worried, the cheerful and charming demeanor he loved about her was gone. He felt his heart beat again… Was this it?
“What happened?” Mark asked soon as she slumped into the chair she had vacated few minutes ago.
“I think we should just go; there’s no point being here” Oluchi said instead drawing her purse closer to her.
“What happened?” Mark repeated, even though he knew he was better off driving her home with no questions asked. But he couldn’t bear to see her in such physical pain.
“Who does she even think she is? an international super star?” Oluchi blurted in anger. “I mean before all that fame and fortune came, I was there… Her family was there! Why does she now want us to follow her protocols like we are some overzealous fans of her?”
Some things just never change; Mark thought and shook his head. “It’s okay love, people have reasons why they behave the way they do.” He consoled.
“But I am her only sister! What reasons does she have for treating me worse than dirt?!”
“It’s okay, please calm down. I don’t like seeing you this way… ”
“But I’m pained by it all! How much long till I become worthy to be called the befitting sister of the great ‘Zinnylicious’” she complained with sarcasm even as she pronounced the stage name of her sister.
“Please calm down” Mark repeated and offered her a drink. “Calm you nerves with this.”
“Thanks” Oluchi said and collected the glass from him. It was alcoholic but she had no qualms drinking more glasses in succession regardless that it burned her chest. It was better to feel its biting chill as it warmed her system than to ruminate over this unending disregard from her sister.
As Oluchi downed the content of the glass, Mark raised his head just in time to see Zinny hurrying towards the gate accompanied by two of her security details and a lady.
She was the one alright; he reaffirmed. The same Zinny, all grown up but never unchanged If you were to go by Oluchi’s words. He made a mental note to steer clear of her.
“Yeah, that’s her, walking like the queen she’s not…” Oluchi cursed. She had followed Mark’s stunned expression to see her sister hurrying to the gate in company of Rose and two other men. If she didn’t have a personal relationship with her sister’s best friend, and knew that Rose was all shades of better from Zinny, then she would have felt hatred towards her for colonizing her sister to herself. But she knew Rose wasn’t the one to be blamed here, Zinny was.
Oluchi felt her anger springing up again, plus she felt a little tipsy and so she turned to Mark and said: “Let’s just leave this party already. I don’t know, maybe we can go back to your place… I should get to finally see where you live right?” She said lightheartedly, trying for a smile but the expression on Mark’s face cut her short. It wasn’t what she had expected considering he had been on her neck wanting her to know where he lived.
“What’s the face for?” She asked. “You don’t want to show me again?”
“No… right now? Let’s just wait for your sister to get back in. I’d rather…” he was trying hard to hide his discomfort.
“Oh please, not another word about her. Not you too Mark! She’s not some god!” Oluchi said curtly and stood up with her purse staggering briefly. “What can she possibly do? I’m done with her bullshit, so let’s go!” She completed and started walking away but stopped when she noticed Mark had not made a move to stand.
“I’m leaving without you. Not my business if you wanna wait to receive another round of insult from her” Oluchi said and staggered slightly away. The large amount of wine she had consumed was already kicking in.
Mark watched as she left not sure what to do. He couldn’t take chances with Zinny recognizing him, yet he didn’t want to give room for further suspicions with Oluchi. Mark be a man, he chided himself and put on his shades then stood up. Maybe they’d give him the much needed disguise in case Zinny met his glances.
Zinny’s hand trembled as she reached out to open the gate, and then it froze. Was this a joke? She thought. Did the gateman hear accurately or was she the one who had heard wrong?
Patricia, her personal assistant, had been reeling out her schedule for tomorrow not long after she had dismissed her overbearing sister and was reclining on her favorite seat. They were soon disturbed by two of her security detail when they came to tell her of the commotion outside
“Ma’am there’s a man outside who is raising a lot of hell” One of them had said and she had looked at them like some strange alien before urging Patricia on.
“He’s not on the list, but still insists that he was invited. And now he wants your presence or else he…”
“Hold it there. What rubbish? Do your job and drag him out of my property! That is why I pay you” she had dismissed them but the men had shared meaningful glances.
“He said if we mentioned his name, you would remember him” the other guard had insisted.
She had first scoffed, then for the fun of it, she had asked: “And what the heck is his name?” Nothing could have told her that she would be at the gate now dreading to see his face.
“Kamal Abdul ma’am” one of them had said. That had been the catalyst to her crisis. Immediately her smile froze up and without another word to them, she had dashed out like a man razed by fire. Now here she was finally confirming her worst fears.
Zinny finally pushed open the gate and stepped out. Her gaze immediately sought him out. What the hell does he want and why did he show up like this? She thought bemused as her eyes settled on him reclining confidently against a car.
She watched as he regarded her with that customary blank stare of his. If people’s faces were an open book to how they felt inside, Kamal’s was plain black -unreadable as a clear sky. She moved closer to where he was resting upon a black Jeep that looked all too familiar to her. When did he even breeze into the country she wondered again?
Very conscious of the people watching her closely, she put on a fake smile and said: “Hello Kamal, when did you come into the country?” like he was some casual school friend who just showed up unannounced.
But he didn’t reply, Kamal simply jerked himself off his ride and walked passed her headed for the gate but immediately she cornered him to a halt.
“Where do you think you are going?” She clenched her teeth.
“To his party of course” Kamal replied calmly.
“I don’t remember inviting you”
“Good. I don’t need one” He said and made to move again but she blocked him.
“Can we do this another time?” Zinny pleaded as she furtively glimpsed the crowd gradually forming around them. Some had brought out their phones and were snapping away. Not another scandal! Zinny groaned inwardly and shifted to stop any further move from him.
“Please just go. Name your time and place and I’ll meet you there” She begged him in hushed tone.
Kamal chuckled. There was no way in hell he would leave this place without accomplishing his purpose he thought.
“Zinny, I am not leaving here without seeing him. So the sooner you let me through, the better for both of us.” He said but Zinny didn’t bulge, and when he made to gently push her from his face her guards surrounded him.
“Please tell your guards to stand down or I’d bring the part of me you’ve not seen in years.” He calmly told her. Zinny knew that threat all too well and so she turned to her guards:
“Stand back, he’s not gonna hurt me.” she told them “But go do your job will you! Is this some circus show or what, why is this crowd forming and my God they are taking pictures! Go get those shots, chase them away or whatever! Just don’t stand there looking at me like I was performing a hit single!” She completed angrily.
The guards went into action immediately, chasing the small crowd that had formed and just then too Oluchi stepped out of the gate. She steadied herself by gripping the gate and then continued on her way. However she stopped few steps from where her sister stood like a statue in front of a man who looked faintly familiar.
Such a surprise, she thought groggily. She could have sworn that her sister looked mortified and was making an effort not to lock gaze with her. She even looked so out of her characteristic element of bullying others just because she thought she deserved to be worshipped.
Who was this man and why did she look so scared standing next him. Now what’s with this commotion? She wondered again as she resumed her walk, taking care to avoid a laughing teenage boy as he ran past her. Zinny’s details at their best again, she thought drily.
“Rose please go get Cal and take him inside, do not open the door for nobody… Nobody I say!” Zinny ordered, finally finding her voice again. Rose moved immediately, briefly stopping to look again at the man she had thought she would never see again.
“You can’t hide him from me forever you know” Kamal Sneered.
“Please leave here Kamal; I don’t like this scandal you’re creating here. What right do you have to show up at my house unannounced?”
“Oh, how do you then want me to contact you? Have I ever heard from you since you ran away with him eight years ago?”
“I did not run with him” Zinny defended, crossing her hands defiantly.
“So what then do we call what you did?”
“I don’t need to explain myself to you! Not in this circumstances! What did you hope to achieve coming here and on a day like this? You’re just so selfish and unconcerned by… ”
“Hold it there! Don’t you dare use that word with me. You’re the one to talk when you are the most selfish, inconsiderate, arrogant and ambitious person I have met in my entire life! And believe me love when I say that I have met a lot! But none measure up to your wickedness and ingratitude.
Your abject care for no one but yourself, your ability to repay good with wickedness, love for hatred, betrayal for loyalty! This streak of ambition that has made you such a monster, it’s on a whole new level Zinny, a whole new level!”
Zinny choked involuntarily as she watched Kamal’s voice rise with every adjectives he used to qualify her. The Kamal she knew didn’t shout and never lost his temper; he was a calm calculative deer with an eye for the kill. If he was shouting now, then he was deeply mad at her. And that, more than anything, gave her concern.
“Kamal, can we at least go inside? I believe we can reach a…” her voice trailed as she touched his arm to further pacify him but he recoiled so abruptly with a dangerous spark in his eyes that Zinny literally shook with fear.
“Don’t you dare touch me again! I’m done being fooled by your deceptive charm. Yeah you’re right, I am sure going inside… but I am going to get my son and you will never ever see him again in your miserable life.” Kamal barked and pushed her away from him with a lot more force than needed.
Zinny regained her composure quickly and ran after him with her guards trailing behind not knowing how to protect their feisty boss who was looking so out of element today. She herself had ordered them to stay off and they couldn’t go over her order.
Oluchi was still leaning on Mark’s car absently wondering why he was taking this long to surface. She was however too engrossed in the drama playing before her to go seek him out. It’s been a long time since she had seen her sister cower so helplessly before anybody. And despite all, she pitied her.
The small crowds too were having a field day from the distance where the guards had driven them to. Typical Nigerians she thought, nothing deterred them from getting an eyeful whenever an event presented itself.
She watched again as Mark finally pened the gate almost colliding with Zinny and her strange guest. But then again, it was like the drama took on a whole new level as the bickering parties stopped to stare transfixed at her man.
Mark couldn’t believe his eyes; he was too shocked to even walk any further from the gate. Zinny and Kamal in one breath? he thought alarmed. What the hell was happening?
It was Zinny who finally broke the silence that lasted almost a minute. “Was this planned, what is he doing here?” She asked no one in particular.
“Mark?” Kamal simply said just as shocked to see him as he was of him.
“Kamal?” Mark replied, finally having the strength to leave the gate. Hordes of party leavers, both women and children, who had been angry about the unwarranted delay by the gate, cursed through, casting angry glances at him.
“What’s happening here Mark, why did you stand me up for so long? And how come they know your name?” Oluchi who had unnoticeably joined the party asked, looking puzzled from one face to the other.
Zinny looked from Mark to her sister. “Don’t tell me he was the one you had wanted to introduce to me then?” She asked.
“Yeah he was. Do you have a problem with that?” Oluchi asked, eyeing her sister scornfully.
Zinny chuckled and shook her head “Could this day get any worse?” She said to no one in particular and walked pass them into her compound, banging the gate after her.
Kamal stared at Mark a while more and then he too walked into the compound leaving Oluchi staring expectantly at the befuddled Mark.
“How do you know them all?” she asked.