“So this is my… our home. What do you think?”
Kojo Annan was moving around the house, turning on the lights.
Tokunbo stared at the tall cream walls, the deceptively simple Ashanti oil painting hanging over the dining table. She slipped out of the shoes she had been wearing for over ten hours and the soft Persian rug almost swallowed her toes. It was a lovely place.
But she was still trying to understand at what point exactly she had given Kojo the impression that she would be living with him.
“I don’t remember this place,” she said diplomatically.
“Oh, this wasn’t the house you lived in back then. This is new. Well, what do you think?” He asked again, as a light in the corner came on.
She was steeling herself to say something like, “your home is lovely but I’m not staying here” when the light came on and every thought evaporated from her head.
He turned to look at her, to watch her expression. He had known it would throw her and he wasn’t disappointed.
“Well?” he asked again, softly.
She came closer. “It’s so realistic…”
“Taken by one of the most talented photographers of the time, as much as it pains me to admit it.” His hand rested on the base of the frame. He looked from the image to Tokunbo and back again. “I should have warned you, I know. But I wanted to see the expression on your face.”
Her hand stretched out, hovered near the image. It was one of the most realistic 3D images she had ever seen. The depth perception was uncanny. She walked around it, and yes, the eyes of the subject did seem to follow her, hold her as she moved.
She walked back to face it… her…
It wasn’t the sheer aesthetic of the technology. Nor was it the obvious talent of the photographer, capturing the subject in such an obviously poignant moment – those eyes so expressive, so filled with emotion and life.
It was the subject herself. It was her. Tokunbo.
“I suppose for you, it’s like looking into a mirror,” Kojo said softly.
Not exactly, Tokunbo realized, still staring, still gazing into those eyes, into that face as if the picture could be compelled to speak, to tell Tokunbo her secrets. The woman in the picture was fairer than Tokunbo could ever remember herself being. And there was something about the curve of her cheeks that told Tokunbo that this woman had never smiled that equally charming and equally sinister Annan smile. Her brow was too high, a sincere brow, the brow of someone who believed in things like integrity and fairness.
For the first time, Tokunbo looked into her past… really looked into it – and realized that before now, she had come to Nigeria like an archaeologist searching for ancient history, looking for puzzle pieces to complete a picture… and then to put the completed puzzle away and get on with her life.
Now, she wanted to know this person… To know the story behind the profound sadness in her gaze. To know if those high morals had raised her up… Or let her down.
She pulled her gaze from the picture and looked at Kojo Annan.
“Your home is lovely.” Beat. “I’d like to see my room, please.”
The next morning Tokunbo woke up late, it was way past noon and the evening sun was already turning the lavender walls in her room pink. She vaguely remembered someone knocking at her door and Kojo’s voice asking her for breakfast. She was glad he allowed her to sleep off the jetlag. Considering how exhausted and out of sorts she still felt, she doubted she would have appreciated rising a minute earlier.
Her suitcases were at the end of her bed. She had left them propped against the wall but someone must have shifted them. She frowned a little, slightly uneasy at the idea of someone moving around in the room while she slept.
The bathroom was as lovely as the bedroom. It would have been nice to think that Tokunbo Duke had decorated this room, had lived here at a time, but she already knew that that was not true. So it was Kojo that must have chosen these colors and these tiles and these patterns.
She shook her head. Tokunbo hadn’t known the man for a day but somehow, she doubted that. Most likely he had hired a contractor to do so.
She washed and dressed quickly, and loitered inside the room. She was hungry, almost famished in fact, but she felt a little… reluctant about meeting Kojo again.
There were so many questions; she wasn’t sure where to begin.
She found her travelling purse, neatly on the bedside table – also moved, she had left it on the floor last night – and fished out the tiny notebook buried deep within it.
Kojo has all the answers you need… but he won’t give them up easily. I love my brother but I warn you – be careful. He is not trustworthy.
Cordelia’s notes, scribbled in the last few weeks of her life. The attorneys had given them to her with a caveat: Cordelia would rather Tokunbo destroy the notes, and her plane ticket to Nigeria, and live the rest of her life in ignorant bliss.
Tokunbo closed the notebook, got to her feet and went looking for a meal… and some answers.
“Ladies and gentleman, it is always a pleasure to present to you: Francesca!”
According to Cordelia, Ziggy’s was the place to go if you wanted to meet anyone who was anybody in Tinsel Town. Tokunbo felt she would have ended up at the upscale bar, even without any personal agenda. The virtual cocktail she had sampled in its cybercell was enough temptation already but the fact that the famous – or rather infamous – performer Francesca was going to make an appearance that night sealed the deal.
Tokunbo had watched Francesca perform live before but not in this type of intimate, private setting. Wrangling a booking as a private person would have been crazy impossible but between Cordelia’s old Odyssey account – strangely active after all this time – and Kojo’s pathetic attempts at CyberNet security, Tokunbo was able to find herself at Ziggy’s a few minutes before Francesca took the stage.
And it was everything she expected and more.
The rest of the crowd didn’t seem as overwhelmed as she was. They chatted and drank, and made requests between each song like if it was nothing. Obviously, watching live performances by Francesca was a matter of course for all of them.
Tokunbo hated all of them.
By the time, the last note from the woman was hovering in the air, Tokunbo was in tears and on her feet, clapping like mad. Everybody else was clapping, too. But they mostly remained seated and looked at her with amusement. Tokunbo didn’t care. Let them think she was some naïve bumpkin fresh from the boat. She was going to meet her star.
Or, she hoped she could meet her star. Tokunbo was a few metres from the stage when her path was blocked by a vaguely familiar petite woman with fire in her eyes.
“Excuse you?” The woman snapped.
Tokunbo tried not to blush. “I just wanted to say thank you…”
“Yeah, I’ll be sure to let her know.” Her voice was as hard as her gaze.
It was then that Tokunbo recognized her. She had seen her picture on the Ziggy’s Cybercell. This was Ene Obi, the co-owner of the bar.
Tokunbo stood her ground, looked around desperately. “Other patrons are talking to Francesca. Can’t I just?”
“Those aren’t just patrons. They are close friends to the singer. Now, if you don’t mind…?”
She was getting desperate. “You know. I’m practically family with Francesca! She’s an AdeWilliams and so is Cordelia Nana…”
“Oh, for crying out loud!” Ene Obi shouted. Tokunbo jumped. People turned to stare. The other woman winced, then took a step closer to Tokunbo so menacingly that the other backed down.
Ene Obi barely reached Tokunbo’s chin but there was so much barely contained rage in her body that she might as well have been seven feet tall.
“What is wrong with you people?” Ene hissed, almost spitting saliva. “You think because you have her face, you can have her life?”
“I don’t care if it’s legal. I don’t care how much it cost. I think it’s sick. It’s sick and it’s wrong. You’re not Tokunbo Duke!”
“I never said I was…”
“And paying some unscrupulous doctor to make you look like her will never make you be her! Did you even know Tokunbo? She was a person. Not an idol. Or.. or a template! You can never her life and you don’t respect her death so get out of my bar!”
The strangest thing was that… Tokunbo had come to Nigeria knowing something like this could happen. That someone who knew Tokunbo Duke would look at her face and think that time had stopped… Or that she was some over-indulged brat with self-image issues who wanted to look like arguable the most beautiful and undoubtedly the most tragic actress in this part of the world. That picture in Kojo’s house was a constant reminder that there was no mistaking where she came from, whose face she wore. And she had got used to the way Kojo did a double take every morning when she came down from breakfast. The way his butler, John, stared at her when he thought she didn’t notice. Even the way a few of the older people in the bar tonight had looked at her quizzically, trying to remember why she looked so familiar…
Tokunbo had come to Nigeria prepared to the fact that she won’t remain anonymous for long.
But she had not come prepared for Ene Obi.
So she said quietly, “You are very much mistaken, Madam Obi, but my presence here is obviously distressing you and I will leave at once.”
“Do. That,” Ene whispered through clenched teeth.
People were still staring, even more after Ene mentioned Tokunbo Duke. Anyone who had looked at Tokunbo with vague puzzlement now knew exactly who she reminded them of. Some stared with a milder version of Ene Obi’s disapproval. But most just looked curious.
Keeping her head held high, Tokunbo made her way to the doorway. There were whispers as she left.
And once again, someone stepped between her and her destination.
Already on edge, Tokunbo might have said something sharp – but she took a good look at the person before her and swallowed her words.
He was tall, taller even than Kojo. Broad shouldered and rugged looking in plain jeans and a shirt that looked casual, but Tokunbo knew from its cut was not. His eyes were creased at the corners and seemed to glint at her from a face that was… well, extraordinarily gorgeous.
“Excuse me?” Tokunbo asked in a slightly higher-than-normal pitch.
“I need to apologize for Mrs. Obi. I think there was some confusion on her part. Tokunbo, right?” He stretched out his hand.
Tokunbo took it, got a swift, firm handshake that was released far sooner than she might have liked. “Yes, but how…?”
“You’ve never met me… that you remember, of course. But I am Cordelia Annan’s-”
“Fred, she’s leaving now.” Tokunbo started at the sharp angry voice of Ene Obi over her shoulder. “She’s leaving right.now.”
“No, she’s not, actually,” the man said gently. “And if you’ll give your silent partner a chance to explain, you’ll understand why you owe Ms. Annan here an apology.”
Tokunbo had barely got a chance to sink her teeth into John’s delicious breakfast of garden eggs and potatoes when the tablet came slidding across the table at her.
She glanced up to see Kojo’s stern face – then glanced down at her own confused face on the tablet – and groaned.
“I guess the paparazzi press are the same anywhere you go right?” She said weakly.
Kojo snapped, “Care to explain yourself?”
Tokunbo raised an eyebrow. “Since when do I explain myself to you? Last I checked, I am a grown woman.”
“And you just happened to have access to Ziggy’s bar on your own, right? You didn’t hack into my network to get a booking?”
She sipped her orange juice. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
Kojo glared at her.
She shrugged. “So what’s the big deal, anyway? The press would have found out about me eventually. Better we get it over with, right? I’m sure you’re PR department already have some sort of statement prepared and waiting.”
“That is not the point! You knew I didn’t want you going off on your own and you deliberately disobeyed me!”
She sighed. “OK, Kojo, you really have to get a hold of yourself. I will not put up with being treated like a child or spoken to like that. I don’t have to live here, you know.”
“What? What are you talking about? Of course, you have to live here. And don’t call me….”
“John really needs to say something.”
Kojo turned around and finally saw what Tokunbo had noticed five minutes earlier – the butler hovering by the doorway, looking nervous but determined.
“Can’t you see we are in the middle of a private conversation?” Kojo snapped at the poor man.
“I am sorry, sir,” said the long-suffering John. “But Fred AdeWilliams is at the gate.”
“Tell him I’m not receiving visitors.”
“Yes, sir. I did tell him that. And he insisted that he’s not here to see you, he’s here to see-”
“That’ll be me,” Tokunbo said with a sigh, as she pushed aside the sadly half-finished plate of food.
Kojo turned on her. “When did you…?”
“At Ziggy’s last night. Don’t worry, Kojo, I won’t ask him in. I’m going out with him.”
“You will not!”
She stopped half-way across the room. Turned to stare at him. “I won’t?”
He stared at her, really stared as if he was just seeing her for the first time. “I mean… you should have spoken to me about this. You live in this house. You are my-”
“I would have told you but you didn’t give me a chance to tell you anything this morning, did you?”
“Look here, Tokunbo…”
“I really don’t want to keep Freddie waiting. I’ll give you a call first chance, I get, OK?”
She went up to him, gave him a swift hug that completely caught him off-guard. “Please, let’s not fight.”
And she was out of his arms, and out of his home before he realized what happened.
Fred’s car was as sleek and gorgeous as the man himself. Tokunbo sunk into the leather with a sigh and pumped up her fists when it pulled out of the driveway.
He laughed. “Let me guess: Kojo wasn’t happy when you told him about our plans.”
“Well, to be fair, I didn’t actually tell him about our plans. You just sort of showed up and I said bye.”
Fred laughed. “Don’t tell me the old man is already getting you down.”
Tokunbo groaned. “You have no idea. Do you know that before I met you at Ziggy’s last night, I haven’t been to anywhere without him hovering over me like a ghost?”
“He hasn’t told you anything about the past, has he?”
She sighed. “No, he hasn’t. It was a mistake agreeing to live with him. I never intended to, at all. Cordelia specifically asked me not to.”
“What really happened between him and Cordelia? They were as thick as thieves back then. Closer even than my mom and Phillip ever were.”
She glanced at him. His eyes were steady on the road, and he didn’t see the suspicion in her gaze. “That’s what I’m hoping to find out. You don’t know, do you?”
“Nope. I was a kid back then, half the time in school.”
“You look like someone who would make it his business to know something, if he really wanted to. Kid or no kid.”
Fred laughed. “Stop sounding so paranoid. I’m taking you to Titi, right? If you want to know the truth about Mr. and Mrs. Annan, who better than Tokunbo’s own sister.”
Tokunbo dropped her gaze, clenched her palm in her lap. “Yes. Of course.”
Fred glanced at her. “You’re not nervous, are you?”
Tokunbo cleared her throat against the sudden knot that had formed in it. “Of course, not.” She gazed out of the window.
“It’ll just be like meeting Kojo, right. It’s not like if you have any memories of Titi.” Beat. “Or do you?”
“Toksi my darling!”
Leaping at Titi, being engulfed with so much love and warmth.
Screaming. Words flung about like gunshots.
“First Nosa, now Kojo! Don’t you ever come near me again!”
“Tokunbo, please. It’s not what you think!”
“Get out! Get out! Get out right now!”
Titi’s back as she walked out the door.
Tokunbo screaming, crying, hitting her with her small hands. “I hate you! I hate you! I hate you so much!”
“No,” Tokunbo said now, staring without seeing the beautiful green landscape of the artificial Lagos Island. “No memories at all.”
TO BE CONTINUED.