Author’s note: Chapter Thirty-Five is a crossover with Liberation, a short story I wrote for TNC in 2017. Advert executive Bob Purnell is Libby’s boyfriend who sent the text at the end, and was also a main character in a novel I drafted before deciding to concentrate solely on Bitter Perceptions. I had fun writing this chapter, mainly because of Bob’s use of British slang, and for the record this chapter is not generalising all footballers’ wives and girlfriends. At one point I considered including Nkeoma Onoja, the main character from another short story That Girl, as an Ebonee Jade model in this chapter, but later scraped the idea. Bob and his friend make some valuable points during their discussion with Doris, as does Juliet when she visits Doris, but we heard the same advice when Anna and Doris chatted at the hospital canteen after the latter’s TRI victory, and the story needs to evolve at this stage. If the chapter varies greatly from the posted version, that’s because this is the original draft, and I hated getting rid of the Cockney sweetheart and his friend Tayo, but here’s hoping we see them again someday!
Ebonee Jade’s boutiques experienced a major surge in demand for her red evening jumpsuit after nearly every magazine and a few newspapers, featured my photo taken at the TRI awards. Fashion bloggers praised me for embracing my curvy figure, comparing me to a real-life Venus de Milo with twice the booty. If only they knew how many wires and ribbons had sucked me in that night. Maybe I could put that calorie-reduced diet on hold. In less than a week, the jumpsuit sold out, and new stock was hastily required. It had taken one red lower cut outfit at an awards show, and suddenly my world had turned into an exhilarating rollercoaster. This was only the beginning, the ride had only just began.
With all the publicity generated, Ebonee Jade decided to strike while the iron was hot. When she jokingly reminded me of some unfinished business from way back, I instantly guessed she was referring to the Enugu fashion show I turned down during my EU dark period. She’d already started planning her newest advertising campaign, and who better to feature in it than her brand’s unofficial face? Immediately I jumped at the opportunity—you could take the girl out of modelling, but who could take my inner Naomi out of this girl?
A pleasantly quaint Ikoyi mansion set in alluring grounds served as the background, and I shared the spotlight with four inspiring women. A track and field athlete in training for London 2012 proudly flaunted her ripped physique in sleeveless evening gowns, refusing to wear a wig over her buzz cut. I easily recognised another participant, a former campus pageant queen whose jealous boyfriend had doused her in acid, leaving her with third degree burns and partial blindness. A 75-year-old silver vixen who had previously worked in education for forty years epitomised old school glamour with her bouffant Afro, and a buxom Economics undergraduate famous for her blog dedicated to plus size girls completed the line-up. Her critics gave her a hard time the last time she advertised on TV, but Ebonee Jade had turned a corner, giving the public what they wanted and more. I was proud to stand in the midst of these strong ladies, making history in Nigerian fashion.
Apart from promos for The Doctors, I’d never featured in a TV commercial before. AdVocate!, a budding ad agency based in Victoria Island, oversaw the project. Bob Purnell, a charming Londoner, had moved to Nigeria in the late 90’s after landing a job with BBC African Service, and started the agency with Tayo Coker, his old university mate. Both men shared similar creatives ideas, and had gained notoriety in the advertising world for pushing the envelope. Ebonee Jade had initially envisioned her models posing and sashaying around the vast mansion, but the two men disagreed with her concept. Real women didn’t look like supermodels, why were they expected to copy them, they argued? After talking her through their own pitches Bob and Tayo finally won her round, promising they would let her down. I loved hanging out with both guys during our breaks, and as we all shared the same birth country, we had plenty to discuss despite the dark clouds threatening to rain on my parade.
“Alright, Doris?” Bob asked with concern, sensing my nerves.
“Not to sound ungrateful, I’ve had a blast on set today, but what am I doing here?” I wailed. “I thought I’d share the spotlight with models, I had no idea I’d be surrounded by icons. I’m just a doctor who presents a TV show on BassNet, and these unsung heros are the real queens. Why me?”
“That’s it?” Tayo replied. “Ebonee Jade specifically asked for you because you’re successful in your field, you’re good at what you do, and you’re the perfect combination of beauty and brains. Most importantly, you’ve remained down-to-earth and haven’t let fame go to your head…”
“Oh, trust me, my mother would jump on the next available flight just to box my ears if she ever hears I demanded a red carpet leading to a public toilet!” I claimed. “People have been really nice, but I worked really hard to get to where I am today. It’s not as if my lecturers at EU waved a magic wand over my coursework, and abracadabra, I found myself on TV .”
“Exactly,” agreed Bob. “Back home in the UK they have these girls who call themselves WAGS—the wives and girlfriends of Premier League footie players, and most of them could learn a thing or two from you. All they do is spend their husband’s and boyfriend’s cash on pointless stuff when their not dancing half-naked every night. Some of them get their tits out for The Sun’s Page Three to get more publicity after shagging some unfortunate footie bloke—one girl sold her story to the Daily Star for 20,000 quid. Some girls even spend their whole wages on the latest designer clothes and hop on the next train from Liverpool to London, hoping to grab some millionaire player at the hottest nightclubs during the weekend. Bloody slags.”
“Yeah,” agreed Tayo. “They even pay nightclub staff to point out the richest players—the richer, the better. Bob knows someone who worked at West Ham, and he said the girls always got jealous when the unlucky guy fancied someone else. They’d even beat the living hell out of their rival in front of everybody, and everyone gathers round shouting ‘Fight! Fight! Fight!’. Have they no shame?”
“I used to date this model who lied about everything, all she wanted was my dosh.” Bob shook his head. “I did so much for that girl, and she never appreciated anything. Me and Tayo nearly fell out because of her until she dumped me for some Lebanese geezer in Victoria Island. When he dumped her to marry some bird from his own country she came crawling back, but by now I’d fallen in love with my girlfriend Libby. She’s one special lady—she went through some really tough times with her kids, but now she’s a successful party planner. A classy independent lady, unlike that greedy cow. “
“Yo, cheer up old chum,” Tayo smiled. “You’re right, Libby is a classy lady, and so is Doris. And so are the rest of the ladies we’re directing today. You all deserve to be here.”
“Wow, thanks guys,” I smiled.
“Let’s not forget the role you play as a spokesperson for Cherry Blossoms, the work you’ve done for that charity is bloody amazing, and you’ve helped loads of girls return to school,” Bob added. “There’s a reason Ebonee Jade’s ad’s tagline is ‘Role Models or Real Models’. Tayo and I have worked with real models in the past, and this is a great change. Don’t be so hard on yourself, you truly deserve to be here…”
“You’d think I committed murder, the way everyone talks about me,” I groaned, playfully bouncing my nephew on my knee, his parents watching while lending an ear to yet another woe.
“Uh-oh, why do you listen to these people, Dee?” Juliet wondered, sipping her Don Simon fruit punch. “What do they know?”
“It’s not that easy, Jules. A few days ago, I overheard Dr. Ijere call me a sellout who only cares for the easy money, which is why no-one sees me at Future Hope these days. Has he forgotten I now work part-time? He called me a disgrace to our profession because I’m using my title to chase TV fame instead of saving lives. I’m not one to start fights, but I was mad; in fact, I caused a scene, and the MD wasn’t happy. It’s not just Dr. Ijere either; you know Toyin Ossai-Okoro, the lady who writes the column “Mascara” for The Vanguard? Apart from accusing me of stealing the limelight at the TRIs with my ‘boob job’—it’s not funny, Freddie!—she also criticised her fellow media pals for over-saturating their airtime and newsprint with news of ‘Doris, Doris, Doris’, and described me as a fame-hungry brat. Can you imagine? Now I know how Chidiebere felt when we spoke on the phone last Christmas…”
“Dr. Chidiebere? What do you mean?” asked Fred.
“He was thinking of quitting The Doctors at the end of the previous season because he was tired of those crazy fans chasing after him, but he also said no-one took him seriously anymore. I told him to hang in there because the show is nothing without him, and I really mean that. The guy really helped me when I was a clueless beginner on the show, kindly introducing me to everyone, showing me where everything was… He’s one amazing dude—a good doctor, and a good father—yet all everyone thinks about is that face and those guns. Okay, so maybe he doesn’t receive my sort of criticism, but I fear people won’t take me seriously because of that Ossai-Okoro woman, and others like her. I did tell Chidiebere to take the rough with the smooth and stick to his guns though, no pun intended.”
“And why aren’t you taking your own advice?” asked Juliet. “Don’t listen to those jobless people, they’re just jealous because you made more money in one day than they probably will in their lifetime. Who cares about them? Do your thing, honey, don’t let them… Hang on, what’s this?” Juliet’s text alert vibrated in her pocket, and I disappeared into the kitchen for some more stewed beef to serve my guests. When I returned, she waved her gadget in the air in horror…