Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Lunch Date Pt. 7.8

Read Part 1 here   Read Part 2 here   Read Part 5 here
Read Part 3 here   Read Part 4 here   Read Part 6 here
Read Part 7.1 here Read Part 7.2 here  
Read Part 7.3 here Read Part 7.4 here
Read Part 7.5 here Read Part 7.6 here
Read Part 7.7 here





The quietness of the neighborhood, once one the things he liked the most about the location of the house, now weighed on Max's spirit. It was 4pm and he had just finished a twelve hour shift. Bloomfeld-Hyman Pediatric Surgical Center  where he worked was located in Chicago's downtown area. This meant that there was always noise, if not from the busy hospital, then from the bustling city in which it was located. He was never alone with his thoughts when he was at work, which was good, because his thoughts were not the best company these days. When he returned home, however, it was an exercise in creativity to avoid them. He had worked out; pounding out miles on the treadmill in the basement until he was weak with exhaustion, and then lifted weights to further seal the deal. After a warm shower, he'd lain down, hoping to fall asleep. But the silence of the house and its surroundings, instead of providing peace, hung like an ominous cloud which would rain down unwanted thoughts and reflections. The silence was almost  passive aggressive, like the religious fanatic aunt who obviously disapproved of some aspect of your lifestyle but instead of talking to you about it, gave you the silent treatment, accompanied by baleful looks which eventually pushed you to confront her, after which she spoke non stop, quoting the bible copiously. 

Max chuckled at that image, rolling over to press his face into the pillow. Anything to keep his thoughts at bay. They overwhelmed him and made him feel out of control. It was not a feeling he enjoyed. He made himself think about the scripture this imaginary aunt would quote if she was present to comment on his predicament. Would she advocate a divorce? Sexual immorality was the only reason provided in the New Testament to justify a divorce and there had been enough of that between him and Iya. Perhaps she would encourage them to work things out, just as his mother had. Max cringed as he thought about the conversation he'd had with his parents the day before. When he'd come out of surgery and seen the missed call from his mother, he had known with absolute certainty that the news of his alleged activities had reached her ears. 

As it turned out, some enterprising soul had posted pictures of the recent scholarship award ceremony he and Iya had attended, to Fako Nation, the Facebook group maintained by Bakweri people at home and in the diaspora. Underneath a picture of him, a member had made an innocuous comment about the need to show respect for the trailblazers in the community, referencing Joan's behavior at the ceremony and the subsequent rumors she'd started with her claims. That had devolved into a heated debate with people siding with Joan and others with him. A cousin of his in Limbe had been showing his mother the pictures on his phone and they had wondered why there were so many comments underneath that particular picture. 

When he had called her back, his mother, never one to beat around the bush had asked him directly if he had cheated on Iya. He had confessed, unable to lie to her.

"Max," she had said, her voice stern with censure  "I know the son I raised and I know that I raised an honorable man. So, please explain to me why I feel like I am talking to a stranger right now. I have you on speakerphone and your father is here. "

Seated in his car, in the parking lot of the hospital, he had told his parents the whole story, starting with what had happened to Iya at Cornell, up until his last conversation with Mabel. When he finished their stunned silence had reverberated across the thousands of miles. The silence had continued for a couple of minutes then he'd heard sniffling and his mother's muffled voice. They had obviously taken him off speaker phone. His father murmured something in return causing his mother to snap something at him. Then his father's voice, clearer than what speaker phone would allow, gentle with concern.

"Are you OK, son?"

"I'll be lying if I said I am fine, daddy."

"I understand."

Silence.

"Your...er.. your mother says she will talk to you later."

"OK"

Another awkward silence ensued.

"Is Iya alright?"

"I honestly don't know, daddy. We mostly avoid each other these days when she is in town. She's been travelling for work and spends more time in New York."

"With him," his father stated.

Max sighed.

"Yes. With him"

More silence. In the background, Max could hear the opening jingle for Luncheon Date, the afternoon news program broadcast on Cameroon's national radio network. His father listened to it religiously. He could picture him now, seated in their modestly furnished living room, waiting for his lunch.

"So, what are you planning to do?"

"I honestly do not know, daddy."

"Do you still want to be married to her?"

"She's my wife.  The only woman I have ever loved in my life. My best friend."

"Is she or was she?"

His father's question had hung unanswered between them. When his father had realized no answer was forthcoming, he had pressed on.

"And this other woman, your colleague. What do you plan to do about her?"

Max sighed again.

"I don't know..."

"Maxwell, everyone makes mistakes in life. Allowing those mistakes to perpetuate, is another matter. Do not let you and Iya's problems turn you into a man you will not be proud of becoming."

"Daddy, it's complicated."

"It certainly sounds complicated and it will only get more complicated the longer you allow this to continue."

Silence stretched between them again.

"Things were once...complicated between your mother and I."

His father's quietly spoken words had stunned Max.

"You must have been around 3 years old. It was during the time I worked in Yaounde. Being away from your mother was hard... I was young and stupid. Which really is no excuse but it really is the only reason."  Godfrey Litumbe heaved a deep sigh of his own. "For the two years I was there," he continued "I had someone. One of the secretaries at the Ministry. I tried to be discreet about it but your mother eventually found out. By that time the girl was pregnant. She thought I would leave your mother for her, since she was pregnant. I may have led her to believe that too. I was that selfish. But in the end I couldn't. I told her she could have the baby and I would take care of it and her, but that I would not leave my wife and family. She was about six months pregnant by then. She tried to commit an abortion and bled to death. The baby didn't make it either."

"Oh my God...daddy..." Max muttered, his heart pounding in his chest. His father had always been his hero. A role model he felt he could always count on to do the right thing. This was the very last thing he expected to hear. 

"Knowing the way pregnant and unmarried women are treated and still telling that woman that I was not going to leave my wife and marry her, was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. But I did it because it was the right thing to do. Your mother deserved better. You deserved better. After that episode, your mother and I almost divorced, anyway. She felt betrayed and rightly so. But we decided to work on it. We communicated better, our marriage got better."

There was another pause. Then his father continued.

"I don't know what the right thing to do is in your case. I wish I did, but I don't. I'd love for you and Iya to work on things but you best  know what is and isn't possible. What I do know is that this current state of confusion is not the right one. You and Iya are adults. You answer to no one but yourselves and your consciences, ultimately."

His mother had called him a couple of hours later.

"You spoke with your father?" Her voice had sounded strained.

"I did, mum."

"Good." 

Silence.

"I didn't want him after that mad girl killed that poor baby." She continued. "His hands were stained by the most innocent of blood. I wanted to take you and just go back to my parents. But I had to remember that underneath that ugly stranger, there was the man I had married. The Godfrey Litumbe who had made me the happiest girl in Limbe when he asked me to marry him. Just as I have to remember that underneath the ugly story you just told me, is the innocent and brilliant girl I know to be Iya Malafa. The girl you married with my blessing. I have to remember also, that the man who took a woman to his bed, a woman he had no intention of staying with, a woman who became a convenience, I have to remember that this man is my own son."

"Mummy..." Max had begun to speak but she had cut him off.

"You sit quiet and listen to me, Maxwell. My heart is broken. Broken for Iya, broken for you. But broken things can be fixed if the person who breaks them wants them to be fixed. Whatever your decision, please remember that broken things can be fixed."

That had ended that conversation.

He had known he had to talk to Mabel. He had to come clean, tell her he could not give her any of the things she wanted, not because he was going back to Iya, but because he didn't love her enough. She had been ignoring his calls and texts so he'd made his way over to her floor after his shift ended. Marcia had given him an odd look when he entered the suite.

"Don't tell me you miss me so much you plan to keep coming around here to bless us with your good looking behind." There was a mocking note in her thick southern accent.

Max had  smiled as charmingly as he could manage.

"Marcia, you know you are and have always been the only reason I come around these parts."

"Mmm hmmm." she'd huffed with a neck and eye roll. "Well, your other reason is on vacation now, but she ain't returnin'. Word is she didn't renew her contract when it came up for review last week. I'd have thought you would know, y'all being from the same country and all. I thought you was all close."

Max had only stared at her in shock. She'd stared back at him unfazed, then given a pointed look at the wedding ring he still wore. With a raised eyebrow, she'd lifted the mug of tea she always had available, sipped from it and turned her gaze to her computer screen. Seconds later, she was tapping away.

He'd been dismissed.

Mabel was gone and Marcia, the only person who could have told him where to find her, was angry.

A soft footstep interrupted his thoughts. He looked up from the bed and Iya stood in the doorway of their bedroom.  He'd been so lost in his thoughts he hadn't heard her enter the house. Her overnight bag lay at her feet and she clutched a big envelope in a grip so tight, he could see the tendons in her hand from where he lay. She looked pale and tired. She was supposed to be in New York for the next couple of days for a meeting. At least that is what her calendar which she had synchronized with his, so they both knew what the other was doing, had said. What was she doing back so early?

"I left Morrison and Roth." 

She blurted the statement out, as if to answer his question.

"I'm going to press charges against Kyle Hammond." She walked towards him and held out the envelope. "These are the results from my rape kit. Kyle's mother tried to destroy them but Sebastian got them before she could." He didn't take the envelop so she stood there holding it between them. "I thought you should know before I contact the police and a private investigator. Kyle admitted to raping other women but none of them have come forward. I'm going to try to find them and see if I can convince them to testify."

He still had not taken the envelope so she placed it on the bed.

"I'm willing to wait if you want to get  divorce and dissociate yourself from me before things get nasty. But I am doing this." 










Saturday, December 13, 2014

The Lunch Date Pt 7.7

Read Part 1 here   Read Part 2 here   Read Part 5 here
Read Part 3 here   Read Part 4 here   Read Part 6 here
Read Part 7.1 here Read Part 7.2 here  
Read Part 7.3 here Read Part 7.4 here
Read Part 7.5 here Read Part 7.6 here


"You son of a bitch." 
"Sebastian I - "
"You goddamn son of a bitch! What the hell was that? What in the fucking hell was that?" 
Sebastian had his father up against the now closed door of his office, his fists white with rage as they held him up by the lapels of his jacket.
"Unhand me immediately, Sebastian David Roth. Regardless of your feelings about me right now, I am still your father and you will treat me with respect."
Sebastian pushed away from his father shaking his hands like he had just touched the worst kind of dirt. 
"You're not my father. My father wouldn't do what you just did. My father stopped existing the day you decided to let money dictate your sense of justice."

Nathan Roth cut his son with a withering gaze, before walking away from the door to pour himself a glass of water from the decanter on Sebastian's desk.

"Idealistic young fool." He breathed as he sipped the water. "You think justice is what builds the kinds of structures we have? You think "doing the right thing" is what got this family to where were are today? You think even your sainted Grandpa Moses didn't screw over people to achieve the things he did? I can't believe how goddamn naive you're being about this, Sebastian. I should never have allowed your friendship with that woman or even allowed her to come work here. She's been a weight dragging us down all these years and it just got worse because now Morrison has that video of you two. You couldn't wait to get into a room before shoving your dick down her throat? Jesus Christ."

"You sure enjoyed the fact that you had something to hold  Bob Hammond by the balls with didn't you, dad? You covered for him, so he owed you. And you kept her with the company because she was your cash cow. He knew that as long as we sort of had her loyalty, she would be quiet. You used my relationship with her to your advantage even though you refused to help her. How many contracts were eased for M & R in foreign countries because of your connection to the State Department, dad?"

"I saw an opportunity and I took it, son. It is what business men do. You stand there talking about justice yet you also kept quiet, knowing all you did. You could have convinced her to go to the cops and forced all of our hands, but you also knew we would not have won against the kind of money and power the Hammonds have so you paid for all of our sins by nursing her back to life, with a little benefit for your trouble." Nathan Roth's lips curled "And then you left her too didn't you? Even you couldn't bring yourself to tie yourself to her because you knew she was dead weight. Doesn't belong. Didn't belong to start with. And her usefulness is over because Bob wants her gone, refuses to do business until that happens."

"I don't give a shit what Bob Hammond wants." Sebastian said through gritted teeth. "If she leaves, I leave."

Nathan raised his eye brows at his son then chuckled.

"You overestimate your importance to this company, kid."

"And I go to the press with my story." Sebastian continued. "Think they'll believe me? Oh and I have the rape kit Carol Hammond tried to destroy. The moment Iya told me she'd been to the hospital, I had Jake go down to the lab and exchange the kit. Cost two grand but the lab tech was more than happy to hand it over. I paid for my own analysis and it was easy enough getting Kyle's hair for DNA analysis and matching. Jake is also willing to testify. He was there that night. He helped me get Iya to the hospital. Ever wonder why he no longer visits? The only thing keeping me from speaking is Iya's silence, but as you so rightly pointed out, I could convince her to come forward right?"

Nathan Roth was pale, his jaw clenched so hard the veins stood out on his face.

"You wouldn't dare..."

"Try me, Dad. Try me." Sebastian laughed mirthlessly "You will tell Bob Hammond this arrangement is over. You will tell Kyle Hammond to watch his step. You will tell the whole bucket of slime that is that family to back the fuck off and leave Iya alone. And you will pray the stunt you just pulled isn't the last straw for her or we are all going down. Every single one of us."

Sebastian left his father in his office and made his way over to Iya's office, hoping she was in there and that she was alright. His watch told him the company lunch would be starting in about ten minutes but he had no intention of attending. 

The first thing he noticed when he stepped into her office was the glass on the floor. 

"Iya?"

He saw her jacket tossed over the back of her chair, her pearls on the floor, her shoes. Then he heard sounds from her bathroom and walked in that direction.

Blood on the floor. Deep red globs in a scattered line towards the bathroom.

"Babe?" He rushed to the door, knocking even though he wanted to push it open. "Can I come in?"

"Go away Sebastian." The rawness in her voice was evident even through the closed doors. 

"I can't. You need to let me in. I saw the blood. I need to know you're OK."

No response. He tried the handle. The door was locked.

"Go away, Sebastian." She repeated. 

"I'm not leaving this door until I know you are fine, Iya."

More silence.

He stood there quietly.

Minutes later, the door opened. Iya stepped out wearing a different suit than she'd been wearing earlier. She smelled like lavender  which meant she's just showered. Her make up was freshly applied. It didn't hide her red swollen eyes. In her hands she held a bath towel. Cradled it almost reverently.

"Have you come to ask for forgiveness, Sebastian? Or perhaps to explain why you didn't tell me this was going to happen today, because there is no way you didn't know."

"I only found out this morning, Iya, and I wanted to tell you in person but I never got the chance."

Her shoulders fell a little as if someone had taken the air out of her.

"You knew..." She whispered. "You knew he was going to do that, bring them here but you couldn't even text or call me?"

"Wait! What? No!" He sputtered. "I didn't know about the Hammonds. I knew about your promotion but everything else took me by surprise too. I can't believe you thought I'd do that to you."

He took a step towards her and tried to pull her into his arms. She shrank away from him.

"Did you know he went after other girls? Black girls?"

Sebastian's eyes widened in shock, his face went pale. She saw his shock and knew that this was news to him too. She nodded shakily.

"He must have covered his tracks well then. Made sure none of them ever tried to come forward."

They were both silent as they processed the information. She stared down at the towel in her hands, her eyes haunted.

"He went after them because of me." Her voice broke as she struggled with tears. "Because they reminded him of me. He raped all those women because of me. They protected him and he just kept right on at it. They destroyed those women's lives. "

"Iya...Baby... I am so fucking sorry..."

"Are you? Well you should be." 

A sense of deja vu swept over Sebastian. He felt like he was in the hospital again with Iya standing before him in her hospital gown.

"I'm leaving M & R. I cannot work for your family after this. It's been made clear to me whose side they are on. And I'm calling my lawyer to figure out what I need to do have charges filed again against Kyle Hammond. I read somewhere that there is no statute of limitation but I don't know what will happen since I dropped the charges back then. I also need to find these other women, perhaps I can get them to file reports if I offer them some protection."


She lifted the bundled up towel towards him and reflexively he reached out to take it. "Maybe it was going to happen, anyway or maybe the stress got to me. But I lost the baby today. Our baby."

Sebastian's heart broke into hundreds of tiny pieces.

Read part 7.8 here




The Lunch Date Pt 7.6

Read Part 1 here   Read Part 2 here   Read Part 5 here
Read Part 3 here   Read Part 4 here   Read Part 6 here
Read Part 7.1 here Read Part 7.2 here  
Read Part 7.3 here Read Part 7.4 here
Read Part 7.5 here


Kyle's smile, which did nothing to hide his pleasure at her fear, Sebastian's possible betrayal, the likely meaning of the increasingly painful cramps and the warm trickle of blood she could feel inching it's way down her thigh sent a thrill of energy coursing through Iya's body. It electrified her, melting away her fear and replacing it with a rage so pure, so righteous it was the cleanest emotion she had ever felt. Her heart beat so loud she could almost hear the sound. Her hands shook from her effort to keep herself from marching over to where he stood and hitting him as hard as she could.

Iya decided at that moment that she was done being afraid. Done being a victim. Kyle, his family had taken her innocence and shredded it to bits like used tissue. She had lived so many years in terror of them and even when that terror had muted to a dim rumble in the background, the consequences of their actions remained an unending ripple through her life, upsetting everything in its path, her marriage, her job and now her baby.


No more.


"Kyle, how nice to see you." Her voice remained calm, her gaze steady and unflinching.


He looked around the office, noting her carelessly discarded jacket, the pearls on the floor and her shoes haphazardly kicked to a corner. His smile spread.


"Looks like you were in the middle of something...?" 


She didn't answer immediately, choosing instead to examine him. He was a handsome man no doubt and he had aged well.  At about 6 feet, he still looked trim and fit. He filled out his suit with muscles that were neither too bulky nor too stringy. His tanned skin glowed with health, his hair still dark brown and full, no grey strands and no sign of receding. His hazel eyes with their thick lashes would have been strikingly beautiful, if not for the maleficence they now gleamed with. In another life she may have found him attractive. She had found him attractive. Right now, he was the singular object of her disgust. She would not give him the satisfaction of hearing her lie to cover up her discomfiture.

"I was actually," her smile was brittle, a mere stretching of her lips without the expected accompanying warmth . "I wasn't expecting to spend my lunch with a rapist and his disgusting family. Knocked the wind out my sails quite a bit."


She walked over to her desk and sat down in her chair, grateful for the imposing size of her furniture. Sitting down offered some reprieve from the pain and ensured that there was no way he would notice if her bleeding increased. Him standing up and her sitting behind her desk also changed the dynamic in the room. No longer was she the panicking woman he'd hoped to intimidate. She was an executive, in her office. In control. He had come in to ask for her time, which she could deny him the pleasure of. He noticed what she had done and smirked at her.


"Come on now, Iya. I remember our little escapade differently." He walked over to stand in front of her desk, then leaned forward to invade her space.  "You spent that whole evening clinging to me like a scared rabbit. Completely out of place, grateful that someone was paying attention to you. Then you saw the looks the other girls there were giving you because I stayed with you and it pleased you that they were jealous of you. Because I wanted you. Think I didn't notice the way you looked at me? Smiled at me when I brought you drinks? But you were too shy to openly say you wanted me so I helped you along. And you liked it. You loved it. Don't you remember, Iya? You came. Over and over and over. It was fucking beautiful. The most perfect thing I have ever seen in my life. "


Familiar feelings of guilt and shame warred within Iya. She had been grateful for his company that night and had been dazzled by the  attention he gave her. Heck, she might have said yes had he come on to her. But she had not asked to be drugged so much she almost died from the overdose. She had not wanted the orgasms he had forced from her body or any of the shame and pain and guilt that had been her constant companion after that night.


"You know what's really funny, Kyle? I actually was quite taken by you that night. I mean, here I was, this hick from Cameroon being romanced, it felt like, by Kyle Hammond of all people. Senator Hammond's son.  The Kyle Hammond who made every female heart in Dr. Mardsen's Contemporary American Writers class beat double time when he walked in. Adelaide and I used to laugh about it."


A particularly strong cramp sent a shot of pain through her  causing her to gasp. It was followed by more warm wetness between her thighs.  Her eyes watered, the tears both for the physical pain and the cruelness of fate which had led her to this moment where she sat here losing her baby while the man who had raped her waxed nostalgic about the good time they had together. She faced him with tears flowing down her face, her gaze not wavering from his as she spoke.


"But you know what you did was wrong. You know what happened between us did not happen because I wanted it. You know that those orgasms were not from me enjoying myself. You can try to tell yourself otherwise and you may even believe yourself, but you know. Your mother knows too. That is why she came to my hospital room and threatened me. The Roths do too. Everyone who knows what happens knows you are a rapist. You know what else, Kyle? The state of New York has no statute of limitation on first degree rape or criminal sexual acts or aggravated sexual abuse in the first degree, all of which happened that night. For someone about to run for public office I'd be careful about throwing my weight around if I were you. I'm no longer the scared 17 year old you or your family can terrify into silence."


The bastard smirked at her.


"You think you can touch me? Your rape kit was destroyed before you left the hospital and none of the others ever dared to go to the police after they knew what happened to you."


None of the others. There were others?


The question must have been evident on her face because he laughed again. 


"There is something about seeing a woman climax when she really doesn't want to but can't help it. You wouldn't play with me anymore so I had to find other sweet brown skinned goddesses who reminded me of you, to play with."


There had been other girls. Girls he had targeted because they looked like her. Girls he had been able to target because she had never pressed charges against him. Something broke inside of Iya. 


"Get out." She said, her vision clouding with tears of rage. "Get out! GET OUT! GET THE FUCK OUT OF MY OFFICE YOU MONSTER !"


She grabbed the nearest thing she could reach, a glass paper holder molded to look like a seashell and threw it at him.


He casually leaned to the side as the object sailed past his head and crashed on the wall, breaking into shards. Mission accomplished, he strolled out of the office.

"See you at lunch, Iya."





Read Part 7.7 here









Friday, November 28, 2014

The Lunch Date Part 7.5

Read Part 1 here   Read Part 2 here   Read Part 5 here
Read Part 3 here   Read Part 4 here   Read Part 6 here
Read Part 7.1 here Read Part 7.2 here  
Read Part 7.3 here Read Part 7.4 here


He watched her carefully as the meeting progressed, trying to be surreptitious about it. Aside from his parents, Morrison and Iya's assistant, no one at Morrison & Roth knew of their affair. He and Iya had always kept their visible relationship friendly and professional. The emotions he was feeling right now, however, would be visible in his eyes if anyone saw him looking at her. The questions loomed in his mind.Was she or wasn't she? And if she was, then was the baby his? Or Max's? Sebastian pushed the thought away. Iya wouldn't have kept on sleeping with Max after they rekindled their affair...or would she ? He was after all her husband.  A baby could be the one thing that pushed Iya and Max to work on their marriage. Which would mean he would lose her forever. 

Dread curled in his stomach.

Get a grip man, you don't even know if she is actually pregnant. He chided himself quietly. 

At the front of the executive conference room of Morrison & Roth's New York Office, his father spoke in his quiet but authoritative voice, discussing the outline of the direction the company was to go in as they expanded their reach into the African continent. He spoke mostly with the people who had put together the project. They had an office in Durban, South Africa but they intended to set up more banks in other African capitals. They had initially been targeting Lagos, Nigeria  and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania for the pilot project but the recent conflict in Nigeria had pushed them further out West to Accra, Ghana. The project had been Iya's baby and the plan was for her to take on management of the region. He watched her calmly and competently answer his father and Roger Morrison's probing questions and swelled with pride. They'd both come a long way since those coffee soaked days at Cornell spent poring over business and finance text books. She had assumed with everybody else that control of the project and the eventual responsibility of directing the African region would go to Navnit Bharathan with whom she had worked on the project. Navnit worked with their Durban office and had better contacts within the business community in Africa. Navnit was also loyal to Morrison. The elder Roth had made it clear that he wanted his own person taking point on this project. It had taken some arm twisting and outright bullying but the voting members of the board had voted in Iya's favor. His father and the elder Morrison had apprised him of the decision earlier that morning, in the limo that had picked them up from La Guardia airport where they had flown in from Chicago to attend this meeting. He had wanted to tell Iya  in person before they had filed into the conference room. He had wanted to privately enjoy her celebration before anyone else, but she had been no where to be found. She avoided non professional contact with his parents like the plague. It would be at the end of this meeting that the announcement would be made.

The position would likely make enormous demands on her time and energy and would need her to spend significant amounts of time in Durban, Accra and Dar. She would have to travel constantly between the three countries in the upcoming years. Would she be able to while carrying a child and then caring for a newborn? What would Max think? What did he think? The baby could be his own blood for all he knew. Another thought popped in his head as he sneaked a glance at her. What would the board think when they found out that they had entrusted one of the company's biggest and most delicate projects to a woman who was about to become a mother? The reaction was bound not to be a good one and the Morrison faction certainly could leverage that to their advantage. Iya deserved this promotion. She may not have the contacts Navnit did but she was  just as, if not more, brilliant and she had worked on the project just as much as he had. Plus it would make the company look very, very good to have an African woman at the helm of their first foray into the choppy and complicated waters of the African financial markets. 

Nathan Roth finished the reviewing the outline and smiled after sharing a nod with Morrison. 

"Excellent work as always, folks. This is a go then.  Navnit and Iya have coordinated this from the start and will both continue to coordinate through phase one. We are, however, assigning ultimate project control and responsibility to Iya." He focused his gaze on Iya, who looked a little shell shocked.  "Successful completion of this venture is your path to managing directorship of the African division of Morrison & Roth, Mrs. Litumbe. Congratulations. I am positive you will not disappoint." 

The room erupted into polite applause, the expressions on people's faces ranging from shock (mostly the assistants), through approval, to barely suppressed anger. Navnit's face was a smooth mask of civility as he congratulated Iya. Morrison had obviously warned him ahead of time.  He gave her a hug which managed to be friendly, despite the antagonism Sebastian knew the other man felt. Iya looked his way and Sebastian felt his breath hitch. Her face was luminescent with her joy even though a faint worry line marred its brown perfection and her eyes looked slightly panicked. He knew than that his suspicions were correct. 

Iya was pregnant.  She had met every other professional challenge with cool and collected grace but this, the highlight of her career brought out panic. 

He tried to smile reassuringly, giving her a thumbs up but she shifted her gaze away quickly. Another realization hit him. 

The baby was likely his.

Iya avoided his eyes only when she was trying desperately to hide something from him. She knew he could read her body language easily and that her eyes were the first giveaway.  He was lost in his thoughts but his head whipped up and towards his father when he heard the name Hammond. 

"I'm sure you all know that Kyle, Secretary Hammond's son is running for Congressman here in New York." His father was saying. "We are supporting that campaign. Bob Hammond has been friends with both Roger and I since our school days and he has been a friend to this company. I am saying this in the interest of full disclosure. We don't hide who we back politically and the Hammond kid is going places his father never did. We want to stay on board that ship."

Nathan Roth met his son's eyes then, his gaze, previously warm now shuttered and cold. 

"Secretary Hammond and his wife Carol will be joining us for lunch, after this" he said "They'd like to personally thank us for our donation. They will be accompanied by Kyle and his wife Josie, their other son Andy, his wife Adelaide and their daughter Carolyn. Carolyn's a pistol. She's about to start undergrad at Harvard and will be interning with us for the summer. She'll be on this project with you and Navnit." The elder Roth nodded towards Iya as he spoke.

Sebastian felt his jaw slacken and it took all his self control not to let his mouth drop open in shock. The familiar red hot ball of anger that always accompanied thoughts of Kyle Hammond expanded in his chest. What in the fucking hell was his father doing? Casually he leaned back in his chair, using the movement to look at Iya. She stared straight ahead, her eyes glazed over, her back ramrod straight, her pallor grey instead of the warm brown it normally was. Her lips moved silently and her chest rose and fell erratically even as her fingers clenched and unclenched on the pen she held.

Son of a bitch. Sebastian thought to himself, knowing immediately that she was in the beginning stages of a panic attack. He swung his gaze back to his father, his father who had followed his gaze to Iya. The elder Roth was looking at Iya's pale drawn face, a nasty, satisfied gleam in his eyes as he took in her rapidly deteriorating state. Sebastian did the only thing he could do. He made as if to adjust in his chair but casually tipped over the stack of leather bound folders which contained details of the project. They fell to the carpeted floor in multiple thuds. They also tipped over his glass of water and it spilled into this lap, drenching his shirt and pants.

"Sorry about that..." He said smoothly, pushing back his chair to stand up, effectively pulling everyone's attention. He waved away the help of the assistants who scrambled forward to help. "Ah...hell..." he looked down at his soaked crotch and then up at the room, his face heating up. "I'm gonna have to change. I apologize folks, please carry on." 

He caught his father's eyes and gave him a murderous look. Nathan Roth was no fool. He knew that the spill had not been an accident. He quickly dismissed the meeting, after making a joke about Sebastian's accident. 

"Dad? A word?" Sebastian said loud enough for Nathan and everyone else in the room to hear, then he left the room, fury running like fire in his blood. He hoped Iya found a way to get out of the room quickly. The distraction was the best chance he could give her. He wanted to kill his father. Wanted to pound his fist into the elder Roth's face till it was bloody and broken. It was outright cruel what he had done, not just to invite the whole Hammonds clan here knowing what Kyle had done to Iya, but to have invited them on the one day Iya couldn't exactly excuse herself from the meeting. And then to put Bob Hammond's granddaughter, the project Iya was leading, meaning she would have to mentor the girl. It was incomprehensible.

His long legs made short work of the walk to his suite of offices. He glanced back only once to make sure his father was following. 

He was. 

Good.

It was also good that the executive suites were sound proof because what he was about to do would dismantle the company his family had spent their entire existence creating.

******************************************************

It was with great effort and self control that Iya managed to smile and thank the people who still wanted to congratulate her on her imminent promotion, after the meeting was adjourned. She finally excused herself saying she wanted to call her husband to share the news and escaped on shaking legs to her office suite. The moment she was behind closed doors, the true horror of what was about to happen sunk in. For the first time since that fateful night she would be expected to talk to Kyle Hammond directly. Not just Kyle, with Carol and Adelaide and Andy. Not just talk, make nice and reassure them that Carolyn Hammond would be in the most capable hands.

She began to tremble, cold to her core even though her skin felt feverishly hot. She kicked off her shoes, shrugged out of her suit jacket and stripped off the rope of pearls around her neck even as she struggled to gasp in air into her lungs through her constricting airways. She clenched and relaxed her muscles, breathing shallowly and tried desperately to stop the panic attack that was brewing wild.

Sebastian. She needed Sebastian. But he was not here. Where was he? 

She made it over to her small refrigerator and pulled out a bottle of water. She gulped it down within seconds and pulled out another. She rubbed the cold bottle against her forehead, then her temples, down to her neck, breathing in through her nose and out through her mouth, still trying to calm her racing mind.

Why would Nathan Roth do this? He knew everything. He couldn't possibly have forgotten. He had to know that facing the Hammonds with barely any warning would be near impossible for her. He had to know that this arrangement for their granddaughter would be a nightmare for her. He had to know.

He knows. The thought came unbidden to her. He knows exactly what he is doing. He knows exactly what effect it would have and he did it purposefully because he wants to push you to leave. He must know about your affair with Sebastian. Must know about the video Morrison has and this is his was of cleaning up. He knows you will never agree to the terms he has set. He expects you to back out right here, right now as you try to get as far away from the Hammonds as you can. He has drawn the line and showing you whose side this company is firmly on and what your options are if you plan to stay with them.

Iya felt a hot surge of anger as the realization dawned on her. The sad thing was, he was right. There was no way in hell she would mentor Bob Hammonds granddaughter or put herself in any position where she would have to deal with the Hammonds again, whether personally or professionally. 

Had Sebastian known? He had not looked surprised when her unexpected promotion had been announced which meant most likely he had. The least he could have done was warn her by text or something. Her initial panic morphed into rage. How could he have kept this from her? How could he?

The possibility of his betrayal burned in her stomach. 

A knock on her door. 

Certain it would be Sebastian, she called out for the person at the door to enter.

Kyle Hammond walked into her office.

"Hello, Iya." He smiled as he sauntered in.  It was the same predatory smile from the cafeteria at Cornell. "You look well."

At first, she thought the cramping pain was from clenching her stomach muscles to calm her anger but she soon realized that the source of the cramps was lower in her belly, deeper. They felt almost like menstrual cramps except... Iya froze as she felt the warm sticky wetness trickling down her inner thigh...

Oh God NO!




Read Part 7.6 here


The Lunch Date Pt 7.4

Read Part 1 here   Read Part 2 here   Read Part 5 here
Read Part 3 here   Read Part 4 here   Read Part 6 here
          Read Part 7.1 here Read Part 7.2 here  Read Part 7.3 here


                                     *******************************************


"Yekouni, I am dying."

"Yes mama." Mabel's voice was hoarse from crying. It sounded small to her ears, weak.

"You will go and stay with Tata Bernadette and finish upper sixth. She has the money I have saved for you and she will sell the house to add to those funds. Make sure you prepare for your A Levels. You must pass and pass very well. I have spoken with Uncle Dieudonné. He has already started looking for a school for you in America. The money I have will cover all your tuition for maybe a year, so you must get scholarships. Listen carefully and do everything Dieudonné  tells you to do when the time comes. He works for a school there so he will know."

Mabel nodded silently.

"I don't want you in this country after upper sixth. You must make sure you leave. People know about my illness and those stories will continue to follow you. Serge will also make sure you can't get a good job here, he is vindictive. I am also afraid of his people. So leave. Go to America and don't ever come back here. Promise me that."

"I promise, Mama." 

"Good. When you go there, study something substantial. I'm not going to tell you what to do. You are smart and you can do anything you put your mind to. Whatever you choose make sure it results in a real job that pays you well."

Beatrice Mbemba paused to cough. The hollow, hacking sound continued for the next ten minutes and her emaciated form shook so violently with each gasp, Mabel feared she would break. Tuberculosis was a hard disease. Tuberculosis made worse by HIV was a harsher combination. Mabel rubbed her mother's back and held the folded towel up to her lips as she coughed. The pristine white of the towel was soon speckled with the telltale greenish yellow blood streaked phlegm. The coughing subsided but Beatrice continued to wheeze, struggling to fill her lungs with air. It was a horrible sound, desperate and hollow. Almost a death rattle. Mabel fought back tears as she murmured reassuringly to her mother.

The portable oxygen concentrator Dieudonné, her mother's brother, had sent from America lay unused in a corner. It had been like a gift sent from heaven when it had arrived, helping Beatrice to breathe a little easier even as the deadly virus ravaged her body. But it had malfunctioned and no one had been able to repair it. Dieudonné  was going to send another one but Beatrice had refused. She'd asked him to save that money for Mabel, who would need his help after her death. 

The wheezing eventually subsided and Beatrice sank back into her pillows. Mabel cleanedher mother's face and discarded the towel into the bucket of bleach kept in the room. She washed her hands  and then brought a glass of water  to her mother. The routine was one she had performed hundreds of times in the last months. Beatrice  sipped at the water gratefully. When she could speak again, her words pulled startled laughter out of Mabel.

"All my life, I dreamed of  a life where I didn't have to do anything but lay in bed and be tended to, head to toe like a queen. Who knew all I had to do all along was get AIDS?"

"Mama... Don't make jokes like that" Mabel said, smiling in spite of her bitterness and crushing sorrow. She sat down again next to her mothers reclining form and fixed the sheet covering her, tucking the edges in around the frail body that once used to be lush and full. A blanket would have been too heavy for the Douala heat. seeping in from outside despite the efforts of the ceiling fan. They had turned off the air conditioning to save money.

"But if I don't, how else will I see your beautiful smile, my darling daughter? I love your smile. So like your grandmothers. I don't want you to lose that smile, Yekouni."

"How can I smile,Mama? How can I smile?" The tears that she had been fighting spilled down her face. She buried her face in the crook of her mothers arm, careful to be gentle. The lesions on Beatrice's body had spread as her condition declined. The doctor had said that this was a sign that her immune system was already severely compromised.  "You are dying Mama. How can I smile?"

"I know, my sweet  baby. I know. And I am so sorry you have to see me go like this. I wish I could change all the decisions I took that led me here. But I can't."

"You did what you had to do to survive, Mama." Mabel said her voice hard.  "...and you were faithful. He is the one who slept with all those other girls and then blamed it on you."

Serge, her mother's lover, had refused to pay for antiretroviral therapy even though his position as director general of the Cameroonian branch of a H.W Telecom a South African company providing 4G mobile technology to Cameroons elite, meant that he could easily afford them. He had accused Beatrice of infecting him with the virus, conveniently ignoring his predilection for the underage prostitutes whose presence in Douala and Yaounde was an increasing source of concern in those cities. So sure was he of his conviction, he'd carried out a vicious but private campaign of vengeance on her.

Beatrice was not a stupid woman. She had used her connection to Serge to build cyber cafes which used 4G in Douala, Yaounde and Buea. She had also started a mobile phone retailing business of her own, importing the latest models of phones, tablets and accessories to sell. The profits from those ventures was what had enabled her to live relatively easy, take care of her family and send her daughter to the best schools she could afford. It was also what had enabled her to purchase the treatments for herself after her disease was diagnosed. Business had dried up, Serge having cut her out of the 4G deal and blacklisted her among her suppliers. Soon enough, Beatrice had decided to stop purchasing treatments and save the money she would have been spending to secure her daughters future.

"I am the one who stayed with him even after I knew about his indiscretions. I am the one who stayed even though it was clear he would never marry me or love me like I loved him." There was sadness in Beatrice's voice. She had loved Serge deeply despite his faults. And the contracts he had sent her way had meant the difference between a miserable life and one with some promise for her and her daughter.

"Yekouni?"  

Her mother had named her Mabel to respect the wishes of her father, who had liked the name. But she had stopped using the name, reverting instead to the name she had given, the name which was her own mother's name. Mabel suspected it was because using the name her father had chosen reminded Beatrice of her first love who had died in a car accident on the famously deadly Tiko-Douala road ,when Mabel was barely a toddler. 

 "Yes, Mama?"

"You have to promise me one more thing." Beatrice made sure her daughter was looking her straight in the eyes before she spoke. 

"They say a woman's virginity is the most precious thing she has. That virtue is an organ put between your legs by biology and its functions, all of them, are pure biology and nothing else. The most precious thing you have is your trust, your devotion, your unconditional love. Don't give it away lightly. Don't ever trust a man to take care of you. Never make yourself that vulnerable. I don't care how much you love him or what promises he makes or what he has. You must always be able to stand by yourself. Don't ever give a man control over your life. Ever. Until he has proven himself worthy beyond doubt, do not change an inch of who you are to accommodate him and even then, it has to be give and take."

Beatrice paused to cough again and Mabel tended to her gently, repeated the familiar routine. When Beatrice could speak, she continued.

"Be happy, my child. Live your life fearlessly. There are risks you must take but always be careful. Do not lose yourself for anything or anyone. And not for love. Especially not for love."

"Yes, mama."

Beatrice had taken her daughter's hand  in hers and held it silently. The gesture communicated everything else she wanted to say but could not say given how exhausted the incessant  coughing had made her. The room remained silent, the whirling fan and crickets outside being the only noises Mabel could hear. Her mother had chosen Bali in Douala to build her home because it was quieter and respectable enough to shield her from the busier commercial neighborhoods but was not as expensive to live in, as Bonapriso where all the foreigners and richer Cameroonians live. She was grateful for the silence now. She felt so tired. So tired. Aside from her aunt Bernadette who stopped by to check in on her, she had  assumed all responsibility for the care of her mother after she had been discharged from the Laquintinie Hospital - sent home to die because she could no longer afford to stay in the hospital. Night and day, she tended her mother, watched over her. Talked with her, bathed her, fed her, watched her wither away, dying slowly but surely as the virus given to her by the man she loved, the man who had refused to help her in her time of greatest need, destroyed her body.

I will never love a man who cannot be there for me one hundred percent. Mabel swore to herself even as her eyes fluttered and her body gave into her exhaustion.  I will never love someone who would not give me back everything I give him. Never.

Her mother's hand was stone cold when she woke up the next morning.

******************************************************

Mabel came awake from the dream, which was more a memory than a dream, with a sob. Her chest weighed down with the heaviness of a loss so deep her sorrow and heart break was still plunging to find the depths.

 Never.

Her promise to her mother echoed in her mind.

She knew then what she had to do. 

Read Part 7.5 here