Previously on 1213…
As soon as Aliu shut the door behind him, I moved away from Demola. He tried to pull me into a hug but I declined. I couldn’t look him in the eye. I was sure he knew what my ex’s presence had done to me.
I gave Mister A and Baker a small smile, excused myself and went upstairs to my room. I opened the bedside drawer and took out a folded paper. It was slightly crumpled and its edges were dog-eared.
I read the note again, like I had done a million times before.
And everything came crashing down.
“Uncle Moe, the insect is back again o.”
I turned to Khalil who was by the kitchen door and raised a questioning brow. “What insect?”
“The one we didn’t kill that time in my room,” he replied.
Oh, no. Not the mutant cockroach that looked like those aliens from Mimic in 890.
I’d just finished my service year three months ago. I had gone for a few job interviews and was waiting for them to get back to me. My boyfriend, Demola paid me for the articles I helped him write for his company’s website. That way, I wasn’t idle and I had small cash to still get by.
Aliu, on the other hand, was single again. He had broken up with his boyfriend, Greg, a month after their relationship started. Greg wasn’t the only one after me. There had been Dotun, Patrick and Henry. Deola and Ivan had had the talk with him about what his break-ups would do to his son’s psyche.
Once, he and I got caught up in a moment and he admitted to me that no one could handle his shit like I did. Every one of his exes had complained of his lack of enthusiasm and communication. And then, I realised he was still hung up on me. I paid for my drink, got up and left the bar where we’d been catching up. I couldn’t jeopardize my relationship with Demola. I loved him too much to betray his trust.
So why was I at his house on a Thursday night? Aliu had pleaded with Demola and me to let me babysit his son while he worked late to meet a deadline. Demola had promised to stop by and keep me company on his way back from the office. Ivan and Deola had gone to see a movie. I’d declined joining them with my ward, because it was school night for Khalil. Besides, spending time with the little boy after his accident had become very paramount for me.
“Oooh,” I groaned. “When will your room ever be clean – eh, Khalil?”
“Rara o. My room is clean. Have you forgotten we didn’t kill it the last time?” he returned.
Oh! That’s true, I thought, remembering that Aliu had come back that day to deliver the news of his father buying his company and –
“Let’s call Uncle Deola,” Khalil cut into my mental foray in the past.
I gave him a pointed look while he smirked at me. The boy knew how to poke me.
“It’s not your fault, shogbo,” I chided.
He turned his butt to me and wiggled it, causing me to laugh. I took a broom, an old calendar and a dust-pan from the corner.
“Oya let’s go.”
Getting to Khalil’s room, I discovered the insect had grown bigger, causing me to shriek at the horror it had become and finding refuge on the bed.
We were still recoiling from the terror of the cockroach when minutes later, Aliu called from downstairs.
Déjà vu! I shivered.
“We’re in Khalil’s room,” I managed to call out and moved toward the door.
I was collecting myself when Aliu appeared in the doorway. He looked harried and concerned and was reaching for me with his open hands. “Sho wa alright? Are you hurt? Where’s Khalil?”
Ivan appeared out of nowhere behind him, looking equally alarmed. “What happened? Where’s the fire?”
Fire? Abi these two have gone bonkers ni? I thought uncomprehendingly.
“What’s going on? You’re freaking me out,” I said, moving so he knew the discomfort I found in the way he held me.
He released me. “I got a text from Khalil saying there was an emergency.”
“Emergency ke?” Nibo? Oh Khalil! This boy will not kill someone. “There’s no emergency kankan o.”
Aliu’s eyes narrowed a little. The worried look he had on gradually ebbed as he realised what had probably happened.
“Khalil!” he called for his son. “Get your little butt out here. Now!”
“Yes, father?” He came out from his hiding place. I didn’t even know he’d gone to hide.
“Don’t you ‘Yes, father’ me. And don’t even think of pulling that puppy eyed look on me. I taught you that trick.” He wagged a stern finger at the boy.
With his head lowered, Khalil shuffled out in front of his father.
“What did you think you were doing?” Aliu queried.
Ivan crouched in front of Khalil. “Alright little man, what was the message about?”
Ivan’s brows shot up. “I’m sorry, what?”
“Some cockroach-looking insect,” I offered.
“The size of aliens,” Khalil added, spreading his small arms out to his sides, stretching them as wide as they could go.
He was right. That thing posing as a cockroach had quadrupled in size since the last time I saw it.
“Khalil!” I however said in chiding protest. “Don’t mind him o. It’s not that big.”
“Cockroach?” Ivan turned from him to me and back to him. “That’s why you texted your Dad, Deola and me?” He shook his head in amusement.
Aliu said gruffly, “So did you get rid of this alien?”
“Nope,” I answered.
“Because it’s freakish – hello?”
Aliu looked at me like he couldn’t believe what I was saying. “Are you saying you’re scared of –”
I cut him off. “I’m not scared of –”
Khalil cut me off. “He screamed and jumped on the bed.” His tone was very cheery.
Unbelievable! I scowled as I said, “I didn’t scream. I expressed surprise. There’s a difference.”
“Right.” Ivan shook his head as he straightened from his crouch and crossed his arms over his muscled chest.
“C’mon. I was caught off guard,” I protested.
“Right,” the three of them said in unison this time.
Ugh! Fish heads.
“So will someone kill the cockroach, please?” Khalil said.
“Alright. Where last was it seen?” Ivan said, turning to go to the room.
“Watch out for his toys oh. They’re everywhere,” I said.
Ivan said as he took in the disarray the room was in, “How’d you even see it in all this?”
“Help me ask him,” I said, giving Khalil the ntoor.
“Yinmu for you, Uncle Moe,” he returned.
“Oya, eyin machos, kill us a cockroach.” I shoved Aliu and Ivan further into the room.
This should be fun.
The moment the two men stepped towards the insect, it leapt at them. I had been watching from the safety of Khalil’s bed, which shuddered in protest when the two of them joined me on it with a hasty jump.
“What the hell? I thought you said it was a cockroach!” Aliu cried.
“I said it looks like. And I did say it was freakish too.” My tone was smug.
“That’s not a cockroach. It’s evil. I can feel it trying to steal my soul,” Ivan gasped.
Khalil laughed out loud at our predicament.
That was my boyfriend calling from downstairs.
“Demola!” I hollered. “We are in Khalil’s room. Follow my voice and come save us.”
I heard the vibrant sound of his chuckle as he came up the stairs. He walked slowly into the room and upon seeing the three adults on the bed, his expression became quizzical. “What’s going on?”
I didn’t have to say anything. I pointed to the insect that was perched beside Khalil’s PS3 game pad. The moment his eyes settled on it, he tripped over his feet as he jerked back.
“What the hell is that?” he yelped.
“Ibeere. You can’t see, abi?” I said sarcastically.
“Pele, aburo Jenifa. You for borrow me your glasses na,” he shot back.
“Well, don’t just stand there. Kill the thing!” I ordered.
“Kill wetin? Abeg, this one pass my power.”
The Almighty Demola, my knight in shining armour, was scared of an insect. I chuckled, taking a tiny bit of satisfaction in seeing him cower like the rest of us. Order had finally been restored to my world.
“What’s going on here?” another voice cut in.
We turned to see Deola emerging into the room behind Demola.
Ah! The circle is complete.
“Uncle Dee!” Khalil bounced merrily on his chair. “Did you come with shovel and bleach?”
“Shovel and bleach?” Aliu and Ivan chorused as Deola responded with his signature but annoying cackle.
Like seriously, he needs to be taught how to laugh.
“Oh, that’s disgusting,” he said as Demola pointed to the insect on the floor. When he saw us on the bed, he said with an obvious sneer, “You mean you three grown men can’t get rid of a cockroach? And you too, Demola. I don’t have words.”
“Hey! Don’t insult my –” I began.
“Gbenu e soun!” he fired.
I shut up at once.
“Four grown men,” Deola said with a sad, sad shake of his head. “I’m so disappointed.”
He marched further into the room, towards the insect, while we watched with a collectively bated breath. He picked up the broom and dustpan that I’d earlier dropped, ignored our startled cries as the insect launched itself at him and wham! He smacked it down. The cockroach dropped to a wriggle on the floor. Deola smacked it again. The insect stayed still. The whole process took mere seconds.
The room was silent.
At least until Khalil jumped off his chair and started running around, waving his arms. “Yes! Yes! Oh my God! Did you see that! That was amazing! It was like ‘Aargh, I’m going to lay eggs in your tummy’ and Uncle Dee was like ‘Not today, fugly thing.’ Whoo! Go, Uncle Dee!” He exchanged a high-five with Deola.
Then he ran over to the foot of the bed, the expression he turned to us very grave. “I feel your shame.”
“Why, you little –” Ivan lunged at him.
Khalil let out a scream and ran out of the room with Ivan on his heels.
I got down from the bed and faced Demola. “Alright, come on. I need to restore my manhood.”
Demola chuckled, and before I knew it, he turned me around and swatted my butt before pulling me to himself from behind and nibbling my ear, making me snort and giggle.
I caught Aliu looking at us and I quickly averted my gaze.
Deola snapped his fingers in front of Aliu. “Hey, ogbeni, you owe me a bucket of ice cream and some chocolate! Let me see who dem born well among any of you to fat-shame me in this Ramadan period!” He jiggled his stocky midsection as he spoke. “And you…” He turned to me, still in Demola’s arms. “I’m ashamed for you. Is this how you’ll be doing in your husband’s house?”
“Ode! Be feeling like one slayer.”
“But of course, I am a slayer. I slay.” He snapped his fingers in a divaesque manner, causing my boyfriend and I to laugh out loud as we all walked out of the room.
We all gathered in Aliu’s living room. I left the entire gang laughing and jesting in the living room to go to the kitchen to finish with the arrangement of dishes I’d been washing when Khalil came to notify me of the insect. When I was done, I turned to exit the kitchen, and stopped short. Aliu was standing a few feet away. His very familiar male scent assaulted me with potent force. I managed not to home in on it because it’d only drive me wild.
“Hey, are you okay?” he enquired.
“Yeah, I am.” Annoyed by the breathlessness in my voice, I sidestepped him and made to leave the kitchen.
He caught my wrist and pulled me close, and I shoved him away.
I looked him in the eye and began in a steely tone, “I won’t deny that there’s still chemistry between us. But you will do well to respect me. If you can’t do that, respect my boyfriend. Okay? This” – I made a sweeping gesture up and down my body – “is off limit to you.”
With that, I backed out of the kitchen, but not before I saw him grind his jaw hard together.
When I got back into the living room, I met Deola, Ivan and Demola in a heated argument about briefs and boxer shorts. It was hilarious to listen to the three of them argue. Khalil was nowhere to be seen, probably in his bedroom. As I settled into a seat beside Demola, Aliu walked back into the room and joined the debate.
My mind was far away on what had transpired in the kitchen between Aliu and me, when Ivan nudged me. “Back to earth, Princess.”
“What is it?” I groused.
“We asked what Demola sleeps in.”
Ema gba mi ke.
“He’s here, ask him now,” I said, gesturing to my boyfriend.
“He said we should confirm from you.”
Confirm bi ti bawo. I looked at Demola and he shrugged with an adorably abashed expression on his face.
“He sleeps in clothes,” I said.
“No, I was thinking it was sack before na,” Deola rejoined sarcastically, his brows arching.
“What kind of clothes?” Ivan prompted.
“Boring,” Ivan snorted.
“Briefs, boxer briefs,” I added.
“Oooh!” Deola cooed as he made a fanning gesture with his hand over his face. “I bet he fills those things up nicely.” He wiggled his brows as he said that. “I’m sure his ass is exceptional.”
“Will you stop it?! That’s my man you’re talking about here,” I chided.
“My ass is exceptional too,” Aliu interjected.
I shot him a look. His lips were rumpled in a miserable pout.
“I don’t think it’s museum worthy,” Ivan said.
“Kinni? It is joor.”
“Maybe,” I cut in. “But it’s not as worthy as Demola’s. His ass makes me queef.” I closed my eyes and savoured the image that popped into my head.
“Eww, Moe! That’s just nasty!” Ivan’s face was contorted with pure disgust.
“Duh?!” I replied.
“Oshey!” Deola cackled. “But it’s easier for you to compare their asses. You’ve see both of them.”
“Still, I’d pick Demola’s ass anytime.” I looked at my boyfriend as I said this.
He was blushing.
“Well, you’ve never been a good judge of ass or otherwise,” Aliu retorted.
I knew that was meant for me, but Aliu had his gaze fixed on Demola as he said it. I sensed rather than saw Demola bristle slightly at Aliu’s barb.
“You know, Ali,” Demola began, deliberately called my ex by his nickname, if only to infuriate him a little, “you seem really upset that he’s picking my ass over yours. Jealousy doesn’t look good on you. Just saying.” He finished with a smirk.
“Jealous of what? You? You wish!” Aliu rolled his eyes.
But I could detect a slight edge in his voice.
“I’m pretty sure you’re the one who wishes,” Demola said, his smirk widening and deliberate as he brought his hand to settle on my thigh, running it slowly up and down the length of my lap.
Aliu’s eyes followed the movement of Demola’s hand. His face hardened, and he bit out, “Right.”
Ivan and Deola, clearly not oblivious to the sudden tension in the room, seemed in fact to be enjoying it as they giggled at Demola’s antics.
“Of course I’m right,” Demola purred as he leaned toward me to kiss my ear. “Don’t get into a battle of wits when you’re so totally unarmed, Ali.”
Aliu’s jaw tightened again. He really didn’t like people shortening his name. And he clearly didn’t like Demola’s public display of affection. I chose not to intervene or stop Demola; Aliu had after all asked for it.
“I’m not unarmed,” Aliu responded. “All I’m saying is that your boyfriend is biased.” He was sitting upright now, close to the edge of the sofa. “There are two other people who can be the judge here. Neither of them has seen our butts.”
I sat up as well as Deola said with a mock world-weary sigh, “Alright. Let’s see the asses. The things I do for my friends.”
Abi this one is mad ni? I shot him a fulminating glare, which he was careful to avoid as he gestured to Aliu and Demola. “Alright, fellas,” he urged. “Drop your pants.”
Demola made to get up and I grabbed his arm, yanking him back down. “You’re not dropping your pants in his living room!” He jerked my head in Aliu’s direction as I talked.
“But nothing, Demola!” My tone was final.
“See? I told you he’s biased. He knows my ass is better.” Aliu gave me a smart-ass smirk as he said this.
“Please just shut up!” I ground out at him. Reacting to his taunt, Demola made to get up again, and I pulled him back down. “My friend, I said you should sit down. Abi o gboran ni?” For someone who was talking about wits some seconds ago, couldn’t he see Aliu was goading him?
“No, we have to settle this once and for all.” Demola was adamant.
“MY GOD!” I was exasperated. “Is everything a competition with you tops?!”
Aliu and Demola replied in unison, “Yes!”
“You two men must be mad!” My exasperation had shortcircuited to lividity.
Ivan and Deola doubled over with laughter.
Just then, Khalil ran down the stairs and into the living room with his usual speed. I turned on him before I could rein in my annoyance. “Young man, will you stop running up and down before I smack you back to that hospital bed?!”
“MOE!” Demola, Ivan and Deola gasped at the same time.
“Ni kinni?” My eyes were blazing.
“Babe,” Demola said quietly as he moved close to me, “you need to calm down. You shouldn’t have said that. It was very insensitive.”
Upon hearing that gentle admonishment, my rage instantly began to fizzle out, leaving me with a surge of contrition. I turned to the boy, who was beside his father. His head was bowed and he was fiddling with the lace of his Spiderman hoodie. I was mortified. Aliu didn’t utter a word. I could see the pain in his eyes at what I’d said.
I got up and went to Khalil and tilted his face to meet my gaze.
“Hey, munchkin,” I said, giving him a small smile, “I’m sorry…I just…” Seriously, I had no excuse whatsoever. “I’m sorry, Khalil. I shouldn’t have snapped at you.”
He smiled back at me, a bigger smile that filled my heart. “It’s okay, Uncle Moe.” Then he turned to his father, his smile still intact, not saying anything, his expression so completely sweet, I instantly knew he was up to something.
Aliu must have suspected the same thing, because he eyed the boy surreptitiously. “Okay, out with it,” he said.
“Can I go home with Uncle Moe tonight? Please?”
“No. It’s school night.”
Khalil nodded and said solemnly, “You’re right. It’s school night. You’re such a good dad. The bestest dad ever.”
Aliu pursed his lips. His gaze shifted to me and then the other three men in the room. We were trying hard not to laugh. “I’m not giving in,” he grunted at his son.
“I know,” Khalil agreed with all the sweetness of a cherub. “I love you, dad. You always have my best interest at heart. You always do what’s best for me. Even when you burn my toast and pancakes. And forgot to pack my lunchbox and sent me to school with an empty box that one time. Or that other time you showed the parents at the PTA meeting a picture of me as a baby, sleeping with my bottom in the air. Or when you –”
“Okay! Okay! That’s enough. Ya Allah!” Aliu capitulated, now shaking with laughter like the rest of us in the room.
The blackmailing brat stared up expectantly at him. He looked at me, asking me with his eyes if it was okay. I looked at Demola, who nodded.
“Alright, trouble,” Aliu returned to his son. “Go and pack your bag.”
“Yay!” Khalil hugged him tight and whooped all the way to the stairs.
“No running, mister,” Deola called after him. But I was sure the instruction had fallen on deaf ears as we could hear him stomping up the steps with headlong speed.
“You are so weak, Aliu,” I said as I started walking back to the seat where Demola was. “Whatever happened to our mantra?”
Awhile ago, since I started dating Demola and we realized that Khalil had begun manipulating our affections to his benefit, we had come up with a mantra to recite mentally as a way to ward off the boy’s irresistible charm and tricks. The words were Discipline, Fairness and Firmness.
“Omo, the thing was out the window when he started listing my sins,” Aliu groaned.
The whole room erupted with laughter.
“That boy is just too smart for his own good,” Demola said, and we all agreed heartily, before moving on to other things to talk about.
Mercifully, not about asses anymore, I realized with some relief.
Thirty minutes later, Khalil wasn’t back in the living room. I called his name, interrupting the conversation, but got no reply.
“That boy had better not be playing that his video game again,” I said.
Everyone else chuckled. I got up to go check on him.
I went up the stairs and made for his room. I stepped in through the door and stopped short. Khalil was on the floor, jerking spasmodically. He was having a seizure.
Tears tracked their way down my cheeks as I sat there on the bed, feeling awash with the memories of the past, reluctant to get drawn to the present and yet wanting to let go because of the pain. I got up and walked to the door of my room, wiping my face as I moved.
When I opened the door, I found Demola at the doorway. He’d been about to reach for the doorknob. I stopped. He stopped. We stared at each other. He had on this expression that I’d become familiar with. The look that said he had made up his mind about something.
Dear God, please don’t let Demola do something silly, I thought. Aliu isn’t worth the whole –
“I’m calling off the wedding, Moe,” he said. “I want to be with you.”
Written by Vhar