BITTER PERCEPTIONS: CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR

Author’s note: Have you checked the last two chapters? Three were posted today, this one being the third; make sure you don’t miss anything. Thanks to all my readers, but please leave a comment in the section below, I really want to hear from my readers, particularly those in America, South Africa, and India. Thanks for the support – I do this because of you!

Jide

Shirley Bassey’s extravagance and sloth had caused ferocious battles, making our home a toxic environment—her home, actually—but what could I do in that helpless situation? Walking out with my pride intact meant walking away without my son. She’d set a bad example for Isaac, showering him with unnecessary gifts from her countless shopping trips in Harrods and Saks Fifth Avenue, but in her materialistic way she’d loved him dearly, and mother and son had shared a close bond. How could I explain Mummy wasn’t coming back from Prague ever? Isaac refused to accept the news when I finally found the courage. He expected her to burst through the bronze-plaited gates laden with Belgian chocolates and the latest video game console, hugging him tightly until he nearly choked. The truth gradually dawned on him, and he’d wept in my arms. Despite the animosity, I’d never wished death upon Shirley, even if her demise signalled the end of an era. Or in other words, the end of an error.

Despite her father’s wealth and power, Shirley B had never truly valued her own self-worth, and her quest for perfection affected every aspect of her life. Critics had described her as Nigeria’s most annoying radio/TV host, and while she still had Chief Bassey’s cash to cushion the blow, she never got over the cruel remarks. When I auditioned for Nigerian Hairways, Shirley had already started fighting a losing battle with her weight, and according to reliable sources at Bass, most of her previous relationships had crashed and burned without warning, leaving her more depressed. I couldn’t blame those exes—who wanted to marry a thirty-something-year-old woman reluctant to relinquish her Daddy’s Little Girl tag? After her pregnancy following our drug-fuelled fling, Chief Bassey forced me to marry her, and despite her jubilation at putting a ring on that finger after years of spinsterhood, Shirley Bassey’s remarkably younger husband hadn’t gone unnoticed. 

Gossip columns and blogs lampooned the age-gap, comment sections cruelly labelled Shirley a “crinkled cougar” and “cradle snatcher” (To be fair, they had a point), and I slammed down my laptop after a blog post cruelly implied I’d hooked up with Shirley to gain access into the Bassey family fortunes. Unable to turn back the clock, she’d resorted to drastic measures in a bid to retain her rapidly fading youth, booking a plastic surgery holiday in Europe. Tummy tuck, liposuction, boob job… The full works. If only she had taken time to look beyond the surgeon’s snazzy website and do some proper research. If only she hadn’t acted stubborn. If only she’d accepted the ageing process with grace… Shirley had always danced to the beat of her own drum, ultimately leading to her untimely death on an operating table in a foreign land surrounded by substandard surgeons who barely spoke any English. The Nigerian press, the same hypocrites who had used her popularity to push their sales, paid tribute in their journals, this time describing her as “Lagos’ Most Loved Socialite”. Hadn’t they’d once labelled her “Naija’s Most Desperate Socialite”? (Again, they had a point.)

The Bassey extended family took charge of funeral arrangements, never once asking my opinion which suited me perfectly. Shirley had never appreciated anything I’d done for her in life, and I did her a favour by respecting her own wishes in death. I only cared about Isaac during this challenging time, wiping away his tears as the day to the funeral approached. The Basseys and I agreed Isaac didn’t have to attend, probably the only time we all saw eye-to-eye, but I flew into a rage at the name ‘Isaac Bassey’ on the funeral programme. Isaac was an Okoroafor, not a Bassey. My blood. I’d ignored every savage remark they made to my face and the subtle digs they made in the press (How dare they suggest I’d pressured her into changing her face and body?), but this? Were they about to take Isaac away from me now Shirley had died? 

As for my career, time to start again on my own. Hadn’t Chief Bassey himself started small with his communications company in Lagos before opening Bass FM Uyo? I slipped out of the post-funeral gathering unnoticed, badly craving a smoke. The Afro-Pop artist hired for the occasion performed in an exaggerated fashion hardly appropriate for a funeral, entertaining mourners who danced like they celebrated Shirley’s birth instead of mourning her death. Outside, I stared at the scores of luxury cars parked outside the Bassey’s Uyo mansion, sulking at the two mourners who haughtily walked past without a simple “hi”. Why did I get the feeling Chief Moneybags would fight for custody of Isaac? With the best lawyers in the land fighting his corner, what hope did I have? I flicked my cigarette butt into the nearest ixora bush and grunted. Even in death, Shirley Bassey still had to win.

***

I returned to work a week after the funeral. Screw anyone who claimed I needed longer to grief, life went on. Throwing myself back into the jungle took my mind off any pending custody battle, and I needed to save for my son’s future. My son. Maybe I could move back to the east after my contract expired (Only three months left, thank God). Enugu, perhaps? No, been there, done that, never again. Or Port Harcourt? I’d dreamed of Nollywood right from my Nigerian Hairways days, but the opportunity never came. Rumour had it Nwanne Di Na Mba, the old Igbo soap I appeared in years ago was making a comeback on home video. No-one at Bass had ever encouraged my interest in film since I hadn’t attended film school. Neither had Quentin Tarantino. I never hit the big time with the Enyimba Rascalz either, but maybe I could try directing music videos. Hadn’t F Gray Gray achieved fame for his cutting-edge visuals before venturing into Hollywood?

I walked towards my office, briefly pausing at the door. What were my production team up to at that moment? Slacking on duty? Time to pay them a surprise visit. I stepped into the open plan office where everyone appeared busy. Too busy to greet their boss. I stood in the doorway, waiting for one of them to notice me until a studio runner looked up from her work and coughed loudly, grabbing everyone’s attention. The workers stared as if I suffered from leprosy, and one or two eyed me with scorn. What is wrong with this place today, I wondered.

“I can see you’ve all forgotten your manners”. No answer. “Cat got your tongue?” The staff continued to gawp. “Are you all stupid? Are you… What are those notes doing there?” I pointed at two xeroxed sheets pinned in a row on the notice board and moved forward, my outstretched arm ready to tear them down, until the realisation sent both the arm and my mouth dropping.

I recognised that calligraphy. I remembered those words. I knew the writer. I should have known the cleaning staff would spy on my office trash before displaying the letter. Hang on a minute,  had the letter even reached the bin the morning I tossed it away? And how many photocopies were floating around the workplace? Only one person could have been responsible for this. Yes, I’d spoken to her crassly, treated her like a doormat, forced her to take countless hard knocks to redeem myself, but this? Ignoring the raucous laughter in the air, I stormed out, slamming the door behind me, and burst into Vivian’s office. She sat at her desk with a steaming mug, glaring through tortoise shell spectacles. One look at her surly expression confirmed she was indeed responsible for my sudden loss of authority.

“How could you?” I flung my briefcase onto the adjacent sofa as Vivian simply took a sip of her coffee without a care in the world. With the swoop of my arm I sent the files on her desk flying into the air, but she made no effort to pick the papers from the carpet tiles below. “How could you show them that letter? You stupid bitch, don’t you…”

“Don’t you ever call me stupid again, ever.” Vivian rose from her seat, her voice still considerably calm. “I don’t care who you are, you deserve what you got. Yes, I sent copies to everyone, and you deserve it for being such a horrible slave driver. Sure, I’m a bitch, you brought out the bitch in me…”

“Don’t make this all about you…” I started.

“All about me?” Vivian’s head darted up and down, eyeing me with a hostile demeanour. “Nobody in Bass expects you to decorate us with trophies, okay? Nobody here expects special treatment, but putting us down every minute? Poking your nose into our work when we are more than capable? Complaining over the slightest detail? Calling me stupid? I’ve put up with your shit for too long, and right now your time is up. I’m pretty sure Chief Bassey won’t want his company linked to any scandal, and when you’re gone, I’ll still be here by the grace of God.” She sat back in her chair, leaning back with her arms folded. “You get a taste of power, and you abuse it. Why? To hide the fact you’re an drop-out rapist? Shame on you. Thinking of firing me? Go ahead, and I’ll make a call to Indigo Lily, she’ll be dying to interview Jide Okoroafor’s long-suffering secretary, and boy, do I have some stories to tell.”

I stormed into the main office, uttering unprintable curses as Vivian’s uproarious chortle trailed behind me.

Time up.

© Okoro Dedeh, Tami, 2019 All rights reserved

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