Veronica ran as fast as she could as tears streamed out of her eyes. She had never felt so embarrassed her whole life. She remembered with fear the murderous look in Wale’s eyes. She remembered with anger as his hand connected viciously with her face. Her face was still smarting terribly. She was lucky Lawrence was there to hold him back. What was Lawrence doing there anyway? How did Wale find out where she was? How dare he call her his wife? How did a supposedly pleasant evening end up being such a disaster?

When she left Wale’s place, all she had wanted to do was have a bath, change to something casual and go to be with Chidi as she had planned initially. It was the call from an unregistered number which came in that changed everything.

“Hello.” She had said tiredly. Wale had worn her out.

“Hi…am I speaking with Veronica?” The heavily accented voice had said, rather hesitantly. She sat up from her bed.

“Yes, you are.” She racked her brains as to who this could be.

“Oh my days!” The voice had exclaimed with relief. “I could have sworn you gave me a wrong number.”

“I gave you my number?” She asked surprised.

“You sure did!” The voice said, confidently now. “You actually wrote it down for me on a Dubai Mall receipt…”

And she had screamed in delight.

2007 had been a difficult year for her. She was depressed. She needed fresh air. The Nigerian educational system was on the verge of frustrating her life. After almost four years in school, her admission process was found to be flawed and she was left hanging, unaware of her fate. She had cried so hard that night while Chidi comforted her, encouraging her not to be deterred.

“You’ve got many other talents. Your life doesn’t have to be verified by formal education. I’m sure we can work something for you.” Chidi had said, holding her close and kissing her forehead tenderly.

The only sound in the typical student-furnished room they had shared was the quiet hum of the battered air conditioner that had seen better years but still served loyally.

“But what am I going to tell my parents? All these years of investing in me to get a degree. At the eleventh hour, they tell me my admission is invalid! ” She said bitterly, tear streaming from her eyes.

Chidi who had been preparing for his final exams had left the reading table and joined her on the bed. He held her hands as she cried and ranted while he had remained silent, deep in thought.

“The right thing would be to tell them…” He started and as she was about to protest, he continued, “…but on the contrary, you can do something else and be successful at it.”

She considered his words; he was most likely on to something as he often was whenever he kept silent for short periods of time. He was a reflective man of few words but expressive nonetheless.

“What can I do?” She asked, not feeling too confident.

“You’ve got mad skills when it comes to marketing. I’ve always marveled at how quick you sold off those shoes Peter sent down.” He said, his eyes lighting up with enthusiasm. It was always infectious when they did.

Peter was Chidi’s oldest friend; they had been friends since childhood. She remembered when Peter had come into Nigeria with a collection of designer shoes he was to supply to one of his contacts. The deal went sour and Peter was left with the large merchandise, confused as to what to do. Peter had offered them a generous commission if they could sell it off for him. Chidi had been doubtful but she jumped at the offer and in less than a month, she had sold all 48 pairs.

Peter had been so happy that he added a generous tip on the commission and even went as far as suggesting they work towards a collaboration. She had smiled at the thought.

“So what do you say? All we need to do is get enough capital to get you started.” Chidi had said smiling. “You don’t worry. No one will ask about a degree when you own a successful chain of designer stores.”

She had looked at him with grateful eyes and laughed.

“What would I do without you?” She kissed him long and hard on the lips until emotions overflowed.

Three months later, she had the sum of N800,000 in her account. Chidi had raised a good percentage of it while she got the rest and they decided Dubai was to be her first shopping destination.

That was how she met Markus. She had spotted him while checking in. He was handsome and well dressed. She had always loved guys with style. He reminded her a lot of Chidi who she was already missing dearly. She remembered to call him to give progress updates as he demanded. He was so protective.

As she boarded, she looked up to see Markus ahead smiling at her. She knew the smile too well. She was no stranger to getting looks from men. As a young girl, it creeped her out because she always felt naked when she got that look and it made her uncomfortable. With time, she got used to it and milked it for what it was worth. When she was in a bad mood however, she would totally ignore them but that day, she had been so excited. It was her first trip out of Nigeria.

She had just settled in and was about to fasten her seat belt when Markus came out from the First Class section and walked down the aisle towards her and stopped only to whisper to the fat middle aged woman who sat next to her.

Without so much as a word, the middle aged woman retrieved her hand luggage and moved to the First Class section while he settled down next to her. She was shocked but decided to ignore him until he said his first words.

“You’ve got the lovliest eyes I’ve ever seen.” He said with a clean British accent.

And she was hooked.

He was smart and witty and smelled money but she could tell he was a player. She just decided to humour herself and be entertained by him. Markus, however had other plans as he wouldn’t let her be. When they got to Dubai, he had followed her everywhere and paid every bill. She decided to enjoy it while she could.

She would never have given him her number but she felt rather guilty when she did a mental calculation of what he spent that night. He had offered her a room in the most expensive hotel in Dubai but she politely declined and let him have her number. She never thought she would see him again so she was shocked, and impressed that he did call. When he asked for a dinner date, her mind was in turmoil. She had no appropriate gown that would suit the evening, which was odd…until her mind went to the bag she had come home with.

Chidi was still the love of her life but a lot had happened since those good years. Twice she had slipped up in the relationship and he had found out but forgave her. Now however, she wasn’t so sure of his intentions towards her anymore especially as he had told her he wasn’t ready to get married. This was worrisome because the pressure on her to get married had mounted to unbearable levels. Her mother had been on her case for some time now. So had her brothers. She had decided it was best to leave all options open.

She thought of Markus. What would he think of her now? She didn’t really care much anyway. She would probably never hear from him again after tonight’s fiasco. Still, she felt a pang of regret that he had to witness what happened. At that point, she was grateful he had picked her up at a rendezvous point close to where she lived. She didn’t want him showing up and putting her under the obligation of explaining. She wasn’t sure could stand seeing him again

She had managed to get a cab and it was while inside the cab, she remembered her bag and her phone.

“Shit!” She exclaimed loudly and angrily inside the cab without meaning to.

“Eh?” The driver, had asked looking at her from the rear mirror.

“Don’t mind me Baba. I just remembered I forgot something.” She said in fluent Yoruba.

“Ok. I thought you were talking to me.” He responded. Baba Aremu had seen the dark bruise around her eye and had shook his head in pity. Such a pretty lady. He was no stranger to this kind of thing as he had been a cab driver in Lagos for nearly fifteen years so nothing surprised him.

This one must be a high-class prostitute, he thought judging from how she was dressed. The blackness around her right eye told him she had had a rough night. Lagos was a tough place to live in.

Veronica had thought of heading to Chidi’s place immediately after the incident but decided against it. He would interrogate her and she was in no mood to conjure stories from 21 questions. She had planned to spend the night with him after dinner with Markus until Wale ruined it.

It was almost eleven pm when she got home. The street was quiet; a very uncommon occurrence on this part of Ikeja. It was always noisy with the monstrous rumble of a million generators. PHCN had decided to show mercy on this night.

When cab pulled up in front of her gate, she collected money from Adamu, the Mayguard and paid her fare. She prayed fervently that her mother was asleep. She couldn’t afford to be seen like this. The lights in the house were off. Her prayers were answered, her mother was fast asleep. She tiptoed into her mother’s bedroom and retrieved her phone which lay on the table charging. As she tiptoed out, she checked the account balance. It was more than enough.

She went to her room and locked the door securely. Her eyes hurt so much; the water hadn’t stopped pouring but they weren’t tears anymore. When she looked in the mirror to assess the damage, she silently cursed Wale. He would suffer for this, she vowed as she dialed Chidi’s number.