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Beware of Pyramid Schemes in Disguise

I'll tell you a story, but first, the familiar questions: Do you want to be financially secure? Do you want to be your own boss? Do you ...

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Beware of Pyramid Schemes in Disguise

I'll tell you a story, but first, the familiar questions:

Do you want to be financially secure?

Do you want to be your own boss?

Do you want financial freedom?

Do you want another stream of income?

Do you want to work from home?

Do you want to ditch your 9 to 5 and make more money working fewer hours?

All these questions are favorable. Surely, there are people out there who desire these things, and they are not wrong for doing so. Some of them want better livelihoods. Some of them want more free time to spend with their families. Some want more income. Whatever their reasons, they should not have to become victims to elaborate scams that are not illegal (at least not yet) due to loopholes.

I'm sure you've heard of pyramid schemes. If you haven't, they are "businesses that recruit members via a promise of payments or services for enrolling others into the business, rather than supplying investments or sale of products." Sound familiar?

A business that's a pyramid scheme enriches those at the top of the tier as the lower lines enroll others into the business. Note that these businesses claim that they make money from the sales of the product. However, the top-tier members make money when they recruit others, and they purchase expensive packages and products for the business. The more people are recruited and continue to buy the products, the more the top-tier individuals make money. This business model is illegal and unsustainable because the lower levels can't make money or even continue to recruit, and at some point, the pyramid falls.

stuff.co.nz


These days, however, they go under the guise of multi-level marketing (MLM) and swear that their businesses are legit. The "difference" is that multi-level marketing, which is also controversial, encourages direct sales of their products to customers. However, they still recruit new distributors, who also recruit others, and so on. They claim that this model doesn't only enrich the "upline." Anyone, no matter what level, can make it if they work hard. Guess what? They target people who need money, and the company continues to enrich itself at their expense.

Story Time

Ana was a stay-at-home mother. For a while, she had been thinking of ways to make some money. A single household income, by her husband, wasn't taking care of the necessities anymore. She was vulnerable and felt like she was always asking for too much. One day, she received a text message from an old high school friend she hadn't spoken to in a long time. The message said,

"Hey, how are you? I thought about you recently and just wanted to find out how you're doing."

It was a surprise and seemed sweet. So Ana responded, and they started chatting back and forth. Then,

"...I wanted to ask if you're interested in a business opportunity. I think it's an amazing fit for you. Let me know if you want to hear more about it."

She went ahead and told Ana about a company she's been working for recently, and the company has changed their lives. She talked about how much people make in six figures and how it has empowered people, women especially, to get financial freedom.

Ana thought it sounded great, but her gut feeling was still unsettled. She needed to know more about the company. The friend invited her to a seminar that was going to give her first-hand details about the company. She decided to go. Why not? It could be what she was looking for, a business opportunity that could help take the weight off her husband's shoulder and change their lives.

Ana arrived at the event and was immediately blown away by the turnout. She got embraced by the positivity spewed by people. People looked happy; they laughed, cheered, and jumped up and down. The opportunity brought an excitement that she hadn't felt in a long time. The speakers on the stage were motivating. They talked about how one's mindset could make the business a huge success. They talked about how the company was impacting lives. They chatted about their former lives and how their lives have now changed. The familiar phrases pop up: the road to financial freedom, be your own boss, six to seven-figure earnings. 

Then they finally called the name of the company. It was a company that supposedly sold a wide range of products, from beauty, clothing to health supplements. They mentioned how the company manufactured only superior brands and that they had connections to other major brands. They explained that the only people allowed to sell their products were their distributors and consultants. You will earn great commissions whenever you make sales.

Ana said she would think about it, and she went online to check out their website and the social media page of the friend that invited her to the event. She saw how lovely her photos were along, with nice quotes that gave her strength. Ana noticed the car from the company and the fact that her friend was working from home. She saw the vacation photos, and most importantly, the brilliant smiles. Ana began to believe that there was hope in the opportunity.

When her friend contacted her again to ask if she's made a decision, Ana said yes! The promise of that life was too enticing to turn down. What could she lose?

Ana purchased their starter kit. They told her that it was important for her business to have a successful start. The starter kit cost more than she expected, but she was determined to do something to change her life. She was encouraged to purchase as much stock as she could because she was investing in her business. They told her to incorporate the products into her lifestyle by using them daily. She was shown the list of tiers in the company and asked to envision how far she wanted to go and the rewards for getting higher. The more she sold, the more she would earn points to climb higher and higher in ranks and get bonuses. Ana envisioned this and was motivated to do her best.

Her friend who recruited her was called her "upline." She kept encouraging Ana to post about the products on social media and talk about them to friends, family, and people she meets. Compared to other products, they are overpriced and not necessarily better quality than the others. Then she is told to attend another meeting and seminar. They continue with their usual motivational talks and how the opportunity can make you so much money. It is possible as long as you work really hard. Then they told her not to expect to have massive success if she does the business "on the side." She should always stay positive because negative people will get in her way. They told her that she couldn't succeed if she were around by people trying to pull her down. They gave her some self-help materials to read as homework. Then was told that if she wanted to make good money in the business, she had to start recruiting because bringing people into the company brought in the big bucks.

Ana was confused. Then they explained that when she recruits someone and the person makes a sale, she would get a commission for it. The more people she recruits, the more money she will make. Imagine having four people under you, and they each make $500 a month, and they have five people each under them, and those have five more, yes, do the math. Ana's eyes bulged. She started to imagine what she could do with that money. They told her to write a list of names, friends, family, people on your contact list, followers on social media, and get them on board. If she reaches out to just ten people a day, she'll recruit a large number of people by the end of the month.

They told her to spread the word about the business. She had to invest in her business by buying products to show and sell to the people she talks to. It was her time and opportunity to make it big. She continued reading more self-help materials and attending the weekly seminars, courses, and events. Her Upline continued telling her that anything is possible if she would just put in the work, stay positive, and get rid of the negative people around her. She saw the success stories of others in the company. They were living the dream, thanks to their dedication.

Ana was getting rejections. Her friends weren't opened to the idea and didn't want to get involved. Some of them tried to talk her out of it. Some bought a few of her products and never reach out to her again. Ana found it hard to recruit people, especially when it felt like she was crossing a line. The seminars and events continued, and she always left feeling like she wasn't good enough; she was probably not working hard enough or was not positive enough. A conversation with someone that said she had to leave her old friends behind and find new ones played in her mind. Ana felt like a failure. Her Upline told her to post more about the products on her social media, and sometimes, she could make things look nicer. She was allowed to fake it until she made it. It would attract more people. Once again, Ana had hope and did as was told. She noticed that friends weren't communicating with her anymore. Her Upline assured her that it was for the best because she didn't need the negativity in her life, and before she hung up, she reminded Ana to purchase more products for the business and continue investing. 

Ana attended another huge conference that the company organized. She saw the crowd, the flashing lights, the motivational gurus and was once again reinvigorated by the hope and dream. "Broke is only a mindset," she chanted and pictured herself swimming in dollars. The cycle continued. Ana's Upline coached her to recruit people who seemed vulnerable and were looking for cash. She recruited three people, and that was a start. She was now an Upline and could hold her own meetings. She was determined to motivate them so they would also recruit more people, and finally, she would get a chance to make money.

Ana's husband asked, "when did you become one of these social media influencers who lie?" Ana didn't understand his question. Then she looked at her social media page and got a reality check. Her new lifestyle was indeed a lie. Those motivational quotes were for show and the thousands of money she had supposedly made when in the negative, in reality. She looked sadly at all the self-help books in the corner. She also thought of friends and family that had distanced themselves from her. The majority of people she now called friends were people from the company that she barely knew. She began to wonder if they were all in her shoes and living a lie. She was nervous and knew she couldn't talk about it to her Upline. It was the kind of negativity she had been warned to never think about. 

Ana went online and decided to find out if there was anyone out there who shared her uncertainty. She wasn't ready to see what she found. It was more than one person. There were thousands. She began to find more and more complaints and controversies about the company she'd believed to be her goal to a great life. She was part of an elaborate scam and was horrified. She realized that her company was an MLM, and there were many out there. The other thing she discovered was that she was in for a life-changing event but in a negative way. If she continued with the company, she would lead others to their detriment, and she couldn't have that on her conscience. She was broken. Luckily, she found someone who had once been an Upline in the same company and contacted them. After lengthy chats, phone calls, and a coffee meet-up, she was convinced that she had nothing to fear and could walk away, and that's what she did.

Ana explained her decision to her Upline and recruits and cut communication with the business entirely. She found that she could breathe again, not realizing that she'd been harboring guilt and a nagging feeling that something was wrong. Ana decided to try freelancing, a better stay-at-home gig that required only a profile and her laptop. She also noticed that when she posted her new gig, former friends seemed to pop up from nowhere and share her post as a sign of solidarity and support. 

If something is too good to be true, it's usually a scam. Work diligently, and you'll eventually get to your goal.


I hope you've enjoyed Ana's story. If you have any stories about pyramid schemes, leave a comment below.


BOOK RECOMMENDATION



Thursday, April 8, 2021

The Maze of Earning and Spending

Don't let money control you. Take the reigns and charge your money to work for you!


Get out of the maze of earning and spending it all. People call it a cycle, but there is a flaw to that thought. Not all spenders are earners, so it's not quite a cycle. It is a maze when people get lost in their spending habits despite not earning nearly enough. Yes, credit cards have made this possible. 

How can people find their way off this maze? Are there secret exits, shortcuts, or an actual end of the maze? Well, there are some ways to help you find your way out. 

You've probably heard of passive income.

Many financial advisors and money enthusiasts preach about the pros of passive income. What is passive income? Simply put, it is the money you earn by not doing a lot of work. The true passive incomes are those you "earn in your sleep." Most of them take some time and energy to set up, and then you start earning from them without doing much. Examples of this kind of income are YouTube videos that bring in money from views after they've been set up for months and years prior. Another example is online courses you offer that people continue to purchase after they've been set up.  

What about other streams of income?

The idea is to have more than one earning stream to cover your expenses and have enough to save. Some people prefer to work part-time and then do several side hustles. That is now made possible by owning small businesses and doing freelance work. These days, working a single job might not be enough to cover your expenses. Some people have good-paying salaried positions but have you heard the phrase, "the dreaded 9 to 5?" Most of these people complain about not having enough time to pursue other interests. I'm not one of those who think having a 9 to 5 job is dreadful if it pays well and doesn't require working on the weekends. I think a stable job helps for better budgeting and planning and other benefits. Imagine if the job offers good health insurance and retirement benefits; that would certainly be a plus. 

My point is to earn money to make you more money to help you get out of the maze.

How can this be accomplished?

Save your passive income and other streams of income to acquire assets. The assumption here is that you've saved enough for your rainy day (emergency fund) and paid your debts. Now, grab the opportunity to earn money during crises. What do I mean? Have you wondered why during some crisis the wealthy invest, while the rest panic-sell? The rich see the opportunity to garner investments of companies that are doing well overall but have been affected by the crisis like others. They do not invest blindly; they have watched these companies and have been waiting for the opportunity to own a piece. They know that they'll make it big when the economy bounces back.

During an economic downturn, real estate is sold at lower prices because demand is usually low. That's when the wealthy acquire more of these assets because they have more bargaining power. They can decide to make it a rental property that would create opportunities to earn passive income or hold the property for a few years, sell it, and make capital gains when the economy stables. Economic downturns don't last forever and happen to create the best opportunities for some people to acquire wealth.

So, save up and invest wisely!


Book Recommendation on Passive Income







Disclaimer: Find a trusted financial advisor to answer your question and work with them to get out of debt and help you invest wisely.

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

What Once Was





I miss the development of "self" that the older generation had a chance to discover
I miss the simplicity of looking up and noticing what's in front of you
I miss the smiles and nods you give strangers in a public place just because you're aware that you're sharing a space
I miss the pause to admire the wonders of nature when you find yourself in a beautiful surrounding and you see something exciting
I miss the shrills of kids running around the neighborhood behind a ball
I miss when people had time to explore their talents as they try to accomplish creating something with their hands
I miss when enhancement to beauty were beautiful hairstyles, powder, eyeliner, and lipstick
I miss people used technology to make tasks manageable
But now
Technology is living
Everything seems to become obsolete in a blink of an eye
People are in a trance. They are losing their real identity
People are always looking down
People aren't acknowledging each other anymore
Nature around us lose their real beauty as they're now snapped and filtered
Kids are indoors with bulging bodies and eyeballs glued to screens
There are short-cuts now for everything. Real talent is shoved to the corner
Beauty is now defined as an unrealistic and unnecessary standard that creates an artificial person and the masking of what once was
Technology doesn't assist anymore, it lives.
But what can we do?

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

CHECK OUT THIS BOOK BELOW



Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Twenty-Twenty




Me: I wish I had more time to do my tasks.

2020: Say no more!

Boy, was I in for the surprise that this year had in store. It’s not officially over, but I’m only projecting good vibes until the finish line! I can only speak for myself that the ups and downs that came with twenty-twenty have taught me more about myself. The unfoldment of each morning resulted in deep gratitude at the end of the day. I’ll share a bit of what I call ‘pandemic wahala,’ and I know most people would echo my sentiments.


Like many people out there, in 2019, I had plans for the year 2020. No, it had nothing to do with a new year’s resolution on exercising more. It had to do with making more strides as an author and public speaker. My new book was going to be released, and I was going to have meet-ups, book talks, and book expos. 2020 was going to be my year of breaking out of my writing cave. It was exciting and nerve-wracking to plan, but I was up for it because I was practicing hard.  


January – smiles, writing, coffee, and complaints about the cold weather. Typical Emem.


February – birthday and more complaints of cold weather. Typical Emem.


Mid-March – trying to understand what Covid-19 was and getting hit by mandatory quarantine and shutdowns. Confused Emem.


April – the dawning of what life was going to be like with a looming pandemic and confusion in the air.


May – everything becoming virtual, including my book release and author talk. Cancellation galore and homebody activated.


And now, Pandemic wahala:


The feeling of the eyes: they felt heavy whether wide awake or sleepy due to indoor lighting. Natural light became a bit too bright. Vamps, I see you!

 

The tale of a stuffy head: it sometimes felt like when my box braids are wet and wrapped in a towel. If you know, you know.


The uneven skin tone: I usually say I have ‘summer skin’ or ‘winter skin.’ This time it was ‘little or no exposure to sunlight skin.’


The slug walk: it is known to those active people who stopped exercising and had limited movement within their abode.


I continued writing, so I was still busy, but there was a notable difference between my regular schedule and quarantine schedule. There were more indoor tasks and no outdoor tasks.

 

I caught up with my ‘to-do’ tasks at home, like mounting paintings and photos that I meant to do a gazillion years ago. I finally started tackling my ‘to-read’ pile of books. I started projects that were lagging because of the ‘no time’ excuse. 


While I got busy, I also struggled with not doing what I used to do regularly. I had subconsciously set out days and times of the day for tasks when life was “normal.” And so, my preferred movie day would come along, and I would be sad. Or my preferred eating out at a particular restaurant day or just a simple stroll day. It was gloomy to be indoors during those moments. Sometimes I would peek at the perfect weather and imagine what I could have been doing and with whom. Times like that were not easy to bear. 


What about canceled appointments? Yes, these were tough. Some cancellations helped me save money and get much-needed rest. I needed a reset to my mindset. I needed to be more appreciative because I had so many reasons to be grateful. I started by giving my calendar a makeover:


I woke up one morning thinking of using this spare time to better myself. I still had so many things to do. Some became harder, and others easy to manage. I decided to simplify things with the use of a timetable. I tweaked my daily/weekly activities with the purpose of self-improvement - body, and mind. While I was already doing some of these things, I had to do better while finding a balance with the new reality. Exercising indoors was added to the list, and communicating virtually with others outside my small circle was also added. I added more time to things geared towards growth and less time to useless things. I did a schedule haul.


Verdict: it feels better. It’s not great, but it’s way better than when quarantine started in March, and I just watched the days pass, wondering when life would go back to normal.


What difference has 2020 made to you and your regular routine? What have you learned about yourself? What advice do you have for those who are still finding everything difficult to bear?


Please, don’t take yourself for granted. Don’t rush out to attend gatherings because you miss people. Stay safe so others can also be safe!




*wahala: a Nigerian slang that means "Problem" or "Trouble" depending on the context.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

The Place That Gave - Chapters 1 through 3







Chapter 1 (Exploded)

Theana Green, just like her name, loved color. During the day, she wore bright colored outfits with sky-high heels that were usually studded and at night, she favored anything with sequins. She had a buzzcut, red dyed hair, which exposed a perfectly shaped rounded head on a long neck.
          She was gorgeous and her symmetrically spaced brown eyes, paired under a nicely arched full eyebrows. Her forehead rose in proportion to her face, leading the way to a tiny button nose with rounded cheeks on both sides of her nostrils. Her full lips were always clad in different shades of pink and red, colors that have grown accustomed to her dark cocoa complexioned face. She had a trickle of darker moles that etched around her nose like star constellations. Although her skin was smooth and her figure was slim and toned, she would not credit it to healthy eating; she only ate what she could afford and drank an unacceptable amount of water to help curb her hunger. She was thankful that her breasts and hips did not succumb to reduction whenever she slimmed down. She was of average height and in almost every aspect a sight to behold, the exception being her need to crack her knuckles loudly when she was nervous, and while she no longer did it all the time, she couldn’t help doing it at pivotal moments, which were always moments that made her anxious. 
          As she watched the doors and gates of the stores in the Galleria open from where she sat, Theana folded her hands into fists to resist the temptation to crack her knuckles. Placed on the bench beside her was the letter she received yesterday that read:

We are sorry to inform you that you can no longer continue as the ambassador of Health Trix. Due to an unforeseen circumstance…

“I’ve been lying to everyone,” she muttered quietly. “I thought I was helping women and it didn’t hurt that I enjoyed eating the meals. I thought I was contributing to an increase in healthy lifestyles among women, but I’ve been poisoning them slowly.”
“This is not on you.” Briana Hanson searched her purse for her shopping list. “You were given a good job that you enjoyed. You ate their products too. You were the perfect ambassador.”
“We were selling tainted food and calling it healthy. When did hormonal additives pass for healthy?”
“You didn’t make the food. You can’t blame yourself.”
“I feel like crap. I can’t believe I’m back to this place that I thought I would never return.”
“Really? You told me your story and from what I remember, you’re at a much better place. And stop doing that with your fingers.”
Theana folded are arms. “I will be back to that place in no time. The letter said the paychecks have stopped because they are going under. I don’t have any other job, and in this economy, I don’t know where I’m going to find another. Before I got this, I was almost starving to death. No opportunities for months.”
“Boohoo, Theana! Many people can’t claim that they were once the well-known face of a one-time popular brand. Many people can’t claim that they have as much as you have in your bank account, and don’t tell me you have nothing because I’ve watched you spend. You only buy cheap makeup and your special cheap clothes.”
“My clothes aren’t cheap.” Theana wasn’t offended because it was true, but it had been a horrible day and she just didn’t have a bone of gratitude in her body. The way she saw it, her life was returning to square one, a place she had to make sure she didn’t return.
Briana felt the hem of Theana’s skirt. “You get them from a special boutique in China. No one in America wears your outfits.”
“China?” Theana smacked Briana’s hands away from her skirt, deciding to share the secret of her unique colorful outfits. “I buy most of my clothes from a friend who now lives in Ghana. She studied fashion here in the US and we stayed in touch when she returned home.”
Briana raised her eyebrows. “It makes so much sense. You should let more people know about her. I’m sure she’d appreciate the publicity.”
“She doesn’t sew to sell. She just makes them for me for fun.” Theana raised her chin to emphasize how special she felt.
Briana sighed. “You are very ungrateful for someone who has a personal seamstress. You’re going to tell me your life story and how you deserve more, right?”
“I do deserve more.” Theana picked up the letter from the bench, folded it neatly and put it her purse. “I put myself through college working as a bartender and studying really hard. Even with my high GPA, all the top magazine companies rejected me because they wanted experience. How will I get the experience when no one wants to hire me?”
“But you ended up getting a better job.”
Theana smiled bitterly. “It wasn’t the job I wanted. I was good at it and they paid me much more money than I ever imagined, but my dream has always been to be a top entertainment writer. I want my own column.”
“I’m not a fan of yours right now, Theana. Just be thankful that you’re not the hungry person you used to be.”
“Yet as I sit here, I fear that I’ll die of starvation soon.”
“Are you done? Cause I have some shopping to do before this mall gets crowded.”
Theana stood up from the bench, hung her purse on her shoulder, and then straightened her skirt that had bunched up around her hips. “What?”
“Nothing, just looking at a girl that every other girl wishes could have a taste of her life.” Briana folded her shopping list into a sizeable square that fit her palm. “You talk about starving. You don’t have the right to fear starvation until your thousands of dollars disappear.”
“It won’t last if I don’t find another job. Nothing like Health Trix will come my way again. I knew it was too good to be true.”
Briana stopped at the entrance of a store that sold nurses uniforms, turned and looked her straight in the eye. “You’re what, twenty-six.”
“Twenty-seven last week.”
“Sure. I look at your doll face, beautiful shape, your loud outfit and killer heels and the person I see is not the same as the person with your voice and concerns. You are young, you have a good boyfriend, and you have money. Most of us are still praying for one of the things you have. Do me a favor, Theana, and shut up with your complaints. I’m beginning to get mad at you. What happened to you? You used to be so positive. Yes, you complained a lot about hunger, but that was understandable because you didn’t have money for food. Now you have so much and you’re still complaining. I want to shop in peace.”
Theana snorted and walked into the shop, decidedly ending the conversation. Briana went to the end of the shop where a sale sign hung, then purposefully turned her back to Theana as she sorted the garments on the rack. Theana looked at the subdued colored garments that hung around the shop and couldn’t wait to get out. She saw a chair near the entrance of the dressing room and went to sit down. She fetched her organizer from her bag and opened the page to ‘present day’ to see what she had planned. It was a ‘shopping day with Briana’ and a ‘date later with Lionel King,’ her boyfriend.
She turned the pages backwards, almost to the first page of the organizer, to the page that said, “My First Day,” the first day on her job, which was the day after several weeks of the photograph of her that went viral.
Theana had starved for a day and a half and couldn’t take it any longer, and her plan was to use some of the money she had left to buy a large dinner that would sustain her until lunchtime the next day. She had watched her balance in her bank account steadily decrease, as she couldn’t find a job. After working as a bartender and doing some smaller odd jobs, she wanted something more after she graduated. She stubbornly refused to take a small job after college while aiming and waiting for her dream job. She wanted to dedicate all her time and energy to job applications and interviews. She got broke and her odds didn’t look good. The companies all asked for something she didn’t have; years of experience.
    She’d walked into her favorite grocery store and went straight to the cool section that held ready-made sandwiches. She’d picked up her go-to turkey sandwich from a brand called Health Trix, paid for it and didn’t wait to get out of the store before opening it. She’d sat on a wooden bench near the bus stop and hungrily devoured the sandwich. It was in this moment that someone took a photo of her and made a meme, which read, “Feed the Model, Please.” Soon after, more memes were created and even some became sexualized. The photo showed Theana blissfully eating the sandwich from Health Trix with her eyes closed, and the pleasure on her face followed by the way she sat cross-legged in her multicolored skin-hugging dress made the photo so magical that the company sent out a message, “Find Her.”
In a couple of weeks, Theana had a hefty bank account, a little flesh that covered her pointy clavicle, and a Fortune 500 manager boyfriend, not bad for a malnourished girl who’d had nothing and no one.
A reminder beeped on her phone. She gazed at it, remembering that she’d promised Lionel to make the dinner reservation, and making dinner reservations was not her forte. It wasn’t a hard task, but she was not one who ate out at restaurants regularly because she never did, even before she was financially stable, that was Lionel’s strong point, but she had accepted to make the reservation when Lionel asked her. It was her way of accepting her new lifestyle, one that has been Lionel’s since his childhood.
She looked around the store, discovered that it was still quite empty, and proceeded to make the call to the restaurant. When she finished, she realized that it wasn’t so bad; the person on the other end wasn’t judging her for wanting to eat at a pricey restaurant, although she couldn’t see his face. She got a phone call just as she was about to go and tell Briana that she wanted to check out another store.
“Hello, my name is Maggie Chen from Elegant Dry Cleaning. Am I speaking to Theana Green?”
“Yes.” She wondered why the dry cleaner was calling. She had already gotten her clothes yesterday.
“I am calling to tell you that your credit card was declined when we tried to charge you. It said insufficient funds.”
Theana was stunned for a moment and decided that the wrong credit card information had been used. She fetched her credit card from her purse and told Maggie Chen to try it again. Deep down she knew something wasn’t right because they had her credit card on file since she had used the dry-cleaning company up to five times and they’d had no problem charging her.
“No, it did not go through.”
“Try this other one.” She gave Maggie Chen the details on a credit card that she rarely used, the furniture store credit card she’d used to furnish her apartment.
“It worked.” She said with elation. “Thank you.”
Theana was relieved but she had to get to the root of the problem. She called the number at the back of her credit card and was prompted to press a number that best described her reason for calling. She was impatient with the voice and said she wanted to speak to a representative, and soon after the phone started ringing.
She explained her reason for calling and the reply she got wasn’t what she would have thought in a million years.
“I need to speak with you, Briana.” She took Briana’s arm and led her away to a quieter place, past the steady trickle and buzz of people that had started entering the store.
Briana was about to protest but thought otherwise when she saw Theana’s face.
“I’m sorry I have to leave. I think I’m now poor. I’ve lost all my money.” 


Lionel sat across from Theana as she spoke on the phone with someone in the business department of Health Trix. He wasn’t just Theana’s rich boyfriend but the man she loved, and she’d never been more comforted to have him around before than she did today, although his presence wasn’t doing much to stop her constant knuckle cracking because speaking with the treasurer of the company had confirmed her fears.
          “How am I expected to wait months or even years for the investigation to be over before they release my funds?” She rubbed her eyes and then placed her head down on the table, exhausted. She raised her head when Lionel didn’t say anything. He was looking far off at a painting behind her. She looked at the room where they sat, the light blue dining area that she had carefully planned. The sun brightened the room, even so, she felt anything but a ray of sunshine.
          “I’ll have to sell this place and move into somewhere smaller.” Then there was the fact that she was going to lose all the freebies she got, those freebies helped her save a lot. Now she wondered if perhaps, she would have been happier if she had been careless with the money she’d made. Surely, it wouldn’t hurt this bad if she had spent a good amount of her money.
          Lionel regarded her quietly, not saying a word.
“Sorry for all my complaints and for messing up our plans for tonight. I’m sure I’ve exhausted you, haven’t I?”
          He got up from the chair and walked a few steps to the faucet. He fetched a glass of water and took a sip. When he dropped the glass in the sink, he turned to her, “You don’t have to apologize. You just got shocking news.”
          “Considerate, as always,” she gave him a wide smile and fisted her hands.
          Theana and Lionel lived separately because she wasn’t ready for him to move in just yet, and sometimes she wondered how nice it would be to have him around, especially on days when she wanted to talk, talk about things that troubled her, specifically her fears of returning to her state of lack. They saw each other often enough for people who worked regularly; Theana’s work took her to all sorts of places so she traveled more, and Lionel was mostly free only in the evenings on weekdays. Their sex life was okay, if she could say so, besides, she only had one person to compare to Lionel.
          The moment Theana had seen Lionel King; she’d known that it was love at first sight. She’d stepped off a bus and was momentarily stunned because she saw the most dazzling dimpled-smile focused on her, although she later found out that he hadn’t been looking at her after all. Pushed by the boldness and assumption that he had been looking at her, she walked up to him, asked him for a pen and wrote her number on his palm, that was five days after she’d had her first meeting with Health Trix.
          They couldn’t be any different for they both aspired for better lives. Lionel had grown up in a comfortable conservative household, Theana’s grandmother who had little had raised her, and had died when Theana turned nineteen. Lionel was intelligent and a go-getter, just like Theana, and he was dedicated to his career. He’d been her backbone, helping her adjust and look the part as she rose to fame. She’d become the doll faced, shaved head girl on TV who ate delicious meals that kept her perfect figure intact. At first, she didn’t need to say a word in the commercials, but gradually she became a full-fledged ambassador with a dazzling smile, whose words encouraged women to snack wisely and eat healthy. Her fans admired her and flooded her social media with admirations and questions about her next travel plans, and they even knew about Lionel and asked after him too.
          She reveled in his charismatic, chiseled looks. He had a square-like face with strong jaw that housed visible dimples. His hair was dark and neatly trimmed. He was a little over five feet ten, so he didn’t tower over her five feet six frame. He was quiet and logical, and never lost sight of anything important. With Lionel there were no surprises, he did things as expected, which gave Theana some normalcy in her day-to-day plans. He was familiar and kind, a little rigid sometimes, and perfect for her. She suspected that he would propose to her soon. At thirty-two he was ready, that was the age his father got married to his mother, and he once mentioned that he would like to settle down the same time his dad did. He was predictable and wasn’t good at hiding things from her. She saw a jewelry catalogue partly exposed from his briefcase last week.
          “My other credit card still works and I have a few checks to cash.” She tried hard not to crumble as fear and sadness kept looking for crevices to seep in.
          “It is going to be resolved.”
          “I’m an idiot. After everything I’ve been through, I can’t believe I didn’t do enough research on them.” She stood up and took off her bright yellow lace top, leaving the green tank top that was underneath. If only she had withdrawn and held enough cash just as her grandmother used to do. Her grandmother wasn’t a fan of banks or any institution that had humans in charge. She lost faith in people when her son’s small asset was never released by the company he worked for. When her grandmother got any check, she cashed it immediately and kept it in a shoebox underneath the bed.
“I heard the rumors. It didn’t make sense for people to eat that amount of food and not gain a pound. I helped them sell products with illegal additives in them.”
          “There was no way you would have known. You’re not a chemist and they did not include those additives on their list of ingredients.”
          This didn’t make her feel better. The call she made to the business manager was bogus because he sounded unsure. She had a feeling that she wasn’t going to get her money. She knew that news of Health Trix was everywhere and she wasn’t ready to see what they were saying about her. She felt like a disgrace and pictured horrible-looking memes of her that would no doubt be flooding the internet.
          She took a deep breath against the dread that kept threatening to cripple her and tried to stay positive. She would have so much time on her hands to start all over again and this time, she would be wise when choosing a job, if she found one. When will he propose? This might be the right time. She wasn’t traveling and she wasn’t busy. She could focus all her energy on planning a wedding. She wasn’t worried about wedding costs, Lionel would gladly take care of it, even when she had a job, he always felt compelled to give her money and she always refused to take it because it was weird since she was working and was paid handsomely, but she told him that she would take his money if she needed it.
          She’d walked to the pantry and was bringing out ingredients for pasta from the cupboard when she saw boxes of Health Trix dried fruit snacks and ignored them. She was going to have a boxing match with them when Lionel left. “Lionel, I know you haven’t eaten, and you look tired. Do you want to stay for lunch?”
          He fiddled with the handle of the microwave. He’d been very busy at work all week and clearly needed the day off to rest, but he didn’t say a word. She placed the pan she was holding on the counter and walked towards him. He turned in time as her lips brushed across his. He held her waist and slowly pushed her away. “Not now, Theana.”   
          He didn’t usually call her Theana it was always Thea. She reminded herself that they’d never been the make-out in the kitchen kind of couple, and so tried not to read any meaning to his rejection. His day had started out great until she put this burden on him. It wasn’t his fault if he wasn’t in the mood. “I’m sorry for the stress I’m putting you through,” she said. “I didn’t mean to spoil your day or ruin our plans tonight. It’s hard to think that just a few days ago, my greatest worry was buying a pair of comfortable shoes for my next trip and now I don’t know when I’ll buy anything new. I know you’re going to say I shouldn’t worry because you’ll take care of everything, but it’s just hard to return to that place again.”
          “Thea, please…”
          “Lionel, I’m not saying that money was the only thing that made me happy. It’s just that it was something I’d never had, and it felt good to be able to take care of myself. Now, I’m beginning to feel like the person I once was, hopeless and –”
          “Theana, stop!”
          He’d never raised his voice at her. He had become irritated and she didn’t blame him.
          He looked at her fleetingly and turned away. “There’s someone.”
          “Someone. Who? I don’t understand.” She replayed the phrase with as many meanings as she could think of, but it all came down to one meaning.”
          “I’ve met someone else. Her name is Phoebe.”
          “Have I met her before?”
          “No. She’s about my age, thirty-three.” He looked at her. “And, my goodness, she’s a tough cookie and my boss. She’s so structured and knows exactly what she wants. She’s so put together like those models you find in glossy magazines in their skirt suits and matching purses and shoes.”
          Theana entwined her fingers and stopped short when one knuckle cracked. She released her hands and turned towards the doorway. He followed her, speaking quickly with a kind of excitement that she hadn’t heard in a long time. “She’s the most knowledgeable person I’ve met. She breaks out in opera when stressed, and drinks tea all the time. She’s so confident and brave. She…” he inhaled deeply, “She makes me enjoy my job, and gets me too, and…I’m in love with her.”
          Theana froze. She didn’t know if she could breathe, and had to urge herself mentally to breathe in and out. He couldn’t be serious. Maybe he’d recently learned how to tell a joke and was testing his skills on her.
          “I’ve proposed to her, Theana. She said yes. Phoebe and I are going to get married in Cancun in two weeks’ time.”
          Her legs gave way and she was lucky that the couch was close to her. She slumped into it.
          “I know this isn’t a good time, but I…”
          She felt her stomach clench, and something rose to her throat. She got up, ran to the sink, and retched, glad that she hadn’t eaten lunch. She felt him beside her as she turned on the tap to rinse the sink.
          His face looked twisted and miserable as though he was hurt, but she was the one who was hurt! “We both know this hasn’t been working out. We’ve been drifting apart.”
          Her breathing increased and hitched as if she was on the verge of having an asthma attack. “That’s – not – true!”
          “We barely see each other, Theana.”
          She clenched her hands and counted, mentally, as she tried to control her breathing. “I’ve been traveling for work. You know that. You never said it bothered you.”
          “We haven’t had sex in weeks!”
          “You don’t think I know that? I’m a human being with needs just like you, Lionel.” She heard anger in her voice that she never used on anyone; a part she suppressed for herself. She tried to calm her nerves and her shaky hands. “Our relationship is bigger than sex. You once said that we fit in an unusual way that complimented each other. You said that we were a great couple because we both brought different things that we each needed.”
          “Yes, I said all that. Our sex life is also supposed to be included in that. For a while, all that we’ve done is talk on the phone and meet up at restaurants to eat. Your job is demanding, I know, but so is mine. I found time whenever you returned. Why didn’t you want to spend that time with me?”
          “I did spend it with you!”
          “No sex!”
          She held on tightly to the counter. “Sex. Really?” She tried to still herself and get a grasp on her emotions. “If you’re unhappy with our sex life, guess what? It’s going to be back in full mode because, in case you haven’t noticed, I’m jobless and have all the time in the world.” However, there’d be no sex between them, he was in love with this woman. He had a spark that she had once seen when they dated newly. She had lost him.
          “I want her.” His voice dropped. “You pulled away from me, Theana. It’s over.”
          “What? I didn’t pull away from you.”
          “Yes, you did. When you started your job and you traveled, you spent time with me whenever you came back and that was enough for me, but then it started to feel like you didn’t want to be around me, like you wanted me to get it over with quickly.”
          “I only did that when I had to work.”
          “You didn’t have to work at eleven in the night.”
          She couldn’t bear to see the look of sadness that fell on his face, she should be angry with him, he was dumping her for his stuck-up boss who sang opera and drank tea and was probably good in bed…
          She heard herself pleading. “You can’t end this. You can’t leave me now. Not now that I have nothing. I have no one.”
          “I love her, Theana.”
          “And you don’t love me anymore?”
          “Thea don’t do this. I’m not going to stay with you out of pity. You are a strong woman and you can take care of yourself without me.”
          She didn’t believe him. She was going to fall apart when he left her.
          “I can’t deny the way I feel, Thea. I have met my match and I can’t change destiny.”
          She wanted to scream so loud and make the walls shake. “Your match as opposed to me the lesser? I need you to leave.”
          “I didn’t say that. I just think we’re very different and we have less in common. You’re out there with all your colorful outfits and bold in appearance, but deep down you cover up a fear to leave your comfort zone. It can be crippling to be around you sometimes. You’re a college graduate but you don’t act like one.”
          “I want you to leave right now.”
          “I didn’t mean to be harsh. It’s the truth. I just thought you should know so when you start a new chapter in your life, you can aim higher. Can we stay friends?”
          “Hell, no. Leave!”
          Without a word, he turned his back and walked out of the kitchen. With the sound from the door shutting, came the realization that he had walked out of her life.
          Hot tears rolled down uncontrollably on her face. This morning she had been worried about losing her job, this afternoon she had lost her money too, and a while ago, she’d lost her man and didn’t know it.





Chapter 2 (Escaped)

Ramsey Edet was painfully good-looking. He had cropped wavy dark hair set off by dark eyes so piercing they looked wild. His thick, black brows angled with sharp edges that gave off an intensity that added to the faint lines on his forehead. His lips were deliciously tender looking, with a soft red color, which looked out of place on his hard face. A skilled sculptor could have carved his jaw, and it made his face look like art.
          Ramsey made his living serenading people with his seductive voice and his choice audience was middle-aged women; sexy and beautiful women. He sang to them, winked at them, and danced with them, and sometimes he caressed their body, while other times he undressed them, for he was a master of his craft and decided on what needed to be done. He was making a living, living the moment.
          The blond who lay sprawled on the sofa wore only an off-white lacy robe. The robe bunched around her thighs, showing off her long legs that shined with the sheen of oil. “You make my heart, knock, knock, I’m feeling the pain,” he crooned. “You chose him over me. Why did you play me like that?”      
          He leaned in, picked up the belt of the robe, and tugged at it softly. She let him pull it until the robe unfastened. He continued to sing, looking at her with narrowed eyes. She sat up slowly, shook her left shoulder, which allowed the robe to fall off and expose skin that made him hit a falsetto.
          He liked it when his women knew what to do; he liked it when they reacted the right way to the lyrics and his voice. He liked when they struggled a bit with their emotions, caused by the confusion that bordered between what was real and what was acting. When he played with his voice range, he liked to see the response in the goosebumps raised on the skin of his women. His music videos were always hot, and his women were usually on a couch or on a bed, showing so much skin and only covering up the sensitive areas, to his disappointment, for the sake of younger viewers. He was good at being emotional, but he never let the tears fall. He always had arguments with his producers about crying, he just wouldn’t do it, and it’s unlike him. The farthest he would go is making his eyes water.
He enjoyed making his videos because it gave him easy access to women who were interested in him after the shoot.
          Ramsey frowned. He had lost the tingly feeling he usually had when he watched cuts from his music video. It seemed like he was watching something unoriginal. His videos were usually about the woman he begged not to leave him while he gave her some pleasure in order to remind her of what she’d be missing. He’d been drinking before he came into the studio and the sound of the music as well as the people who gathered for the viewing was giving him a headache. He was jetlagged and irritated. It was stressful being a top-selling Grammy-winning musician.     
          In the old era, Maxwell had done the job, but from the moment Ramsey came into the music scene, they’d wanted to see more of his sexy face accompanied by his sultry voice. Until tonight he’d postponed going to the studio, but since legendary producer, Naija Nigel, was going to be around, he’d decided to show up. He wished he hadn’t.
          ‘Sex god, Sexy crooner, Mr sexy,’ was definitely a great way for people to know you. In addition to the one-night stands he’d had at his disposal, he’d dated super models, had affairs with the wives of artistes in the industry, and had almost gotten into trouble for allowing under-aged girls into his nightclub bash. Luckily, his crew had discovered them before things went far. He would have burned in hell for that one.
          Something about this job was right for him. Ramsey had sold out concerts, sold millions of albums, won awards, and even gotten invitations from Presidents. Now, people who were once his fans hated him for supposedly abandoning his brother who overdosed on substances that he didn’t even know existed, and now his only family was gone, gone in a bad way.
          The loud sound of the bass was making his head pound. He glanced up to watch the producers talk in music, speak and adjust buttons as the beat changed. He watched the part of the video that was playing and winced at the girl who was now crying on the screen, she was the one who wanted ‘more,’ and he wasn’t available for more.
          His head and his stomach couldn’t continue to take in the music, so he got up, grunted at them, and slipped out of the studio. His music was popular internationally, he was popular, but he eased into the market crowd that had packed up for the day, and headed home. He’d worn a baseball hat that covered his trademark cropped wavy hair and concealed his eyes partly. He’d also neglected to shave his chiseled jaw sprinkled in dark stubbles. He’d opted for Ankara trousers and a matching shirt to fit in as an African male. A major designer brand was what he wanted to wear but he had to keep a low profile. The attention he got was usually fun, but this wasn’t the right time for that.
          He should go and sleep off his sluggishness, but he was too edgy. If his crew had been around, he might have hosted a party but then again, maybe not. The partying life had lost its appeal and unfortunately, he usually encountered bouts of insomnia, and he hadn’t yet figured out what to do with his time instead.
          He walked past a thatch stall, where a man was staring intently at the beef he was roasting and applying some grease on it. The drops of grease that touched the fire made a hissing sound and the flame rose, but the smell surprisingly didn’t put him off, as he would have expected. He continued walking. The last few days had been a bitch; Andrew Edet, or Drew as he was popularly called, his big brother and only family had died of a drug overdose in a parking lot outside a Chicago club. Drew had a long history with drugs, but he had shown strength as he worked to be clean. It pissed him off that his brother had relapsed, unknown to him, and it made him hurt so much that he couldn’t bring himself to mourn him.
          When they lived together, Drew was reckless and didn’t care what he put into his body. “If it helps me calm down, then it is good for me,” he would say, but the tabloids loved him. He gave them new things to write or speculate about all the time. Ramsey was a good boy compared to Drew, now that Drew was no more, Ramsey was their new target. Something must have driven Drew to overdose. Ramsey knew the reason, but he wasn’t talking. How about the obvious reason that he was an addict?
          He wouldn’t deny that ‘The Edet Brothers’ label, both bad boys and womanizers, had helped build his career. He couldn’t blame the media, but he still wasn’t comfortable with how helpless and exposed this was making him feel, and that was why he had decided to travel to his motherland, stay for about six weeks, and make music with a few local artistes, and then he would return for the award season.  
          Ramsey had originally planned to call up one of his music video girls, head to Bali, and get down to the serious business of reintroducing his sex life he’d put on hold a few months after his breakup. The uproar over Drew’s death made him want to stay as far away from the States, so he’d decided to go to Nigeria instead. Nigeria was not only his father’s country, but also a place he’d wanted to work with a few major musicians for a while now. He’d get a chance to reacquaint himself with the culture and maybe get inspired for a new direction in his music videos, and he wasn’t bringing a needy celebrity-worshiping girl to get in his way.
          He could spend some time on his own, admiring the richness of all that Nigeria had to offer until the heat from Drew’s death died down, and he felt like returning to the usual way of things. For now, the idea of covertly moving around was good enough for him.
          When he came back to his senses, he realized that he’d wandered into the wide expanse of the crowded Ndi Ewet Plaza; oh boy, he couldn’t remember the last time he’d been alone. He made his way across the gravel to the palm frond area and found a table under a golf umbrella and soon after a waiter appeared to take his order, and despite the fact that he hadn’t forgotten that he was still suffering from the aftereffects of a hangover, he still ordered two bottles of fresh palm wine and Guinness. The waiter took a while to deliver it and Ramsey was in a foul mood by the time he returned. His ugly mood was evidently from lack of sleep and exhaustion but that was not all, it came from his big brother’s death, and the feeling that material wealth and fame weren’t enough. He was worn-out, agitated, and he wanted more, more wealth and fame, more everything.
          He knew that he would get more because he was in a place where he could come up with something unique; when he returned to the States, he was going to have a meeting for collaboration with the biggest name in rap music. It was an opportunity of a lifetime, and the chance for more money and fame.  
          He took a deep breath and his muscles started to relax. This was his time to take a break and enjoy Nigeria. He’d unwind, eat fresh foods, and fill himself with fresh music ideas from what he notices in this different environment. Leaning back in his chair, he took a gulp of his palm wine and Guinness concoction and waited for what life had to offer him.

Theana looked up at the rust and gold structure of the building in the plaza outlined against the evening sky, and she decided that Uyo’s description had been shortchanged. She loved this city, even at night it was crowded and lively. Africa might have a general misconception, as the place where people visited for humanitarian work, but for her, leaving the US was a great idea.
          She told herself to throw away her nerves and immerse herself in culture. She’d arrived only yesterday, and Uyo wasn’t her planned destination, but it had been decided by an error, and her distant cousin Emily’s change of plans. For years, Emily had dreamed of returning to Nigeria and finally she’d raked up enough vacation time and contacted her relatives to rent a house in Abak village for two months. She’d planned to use the time to work on a short documentary about female bosses in one of Africa’s largest countries; “Nigeria is the perfect destination for my research,” Emily had told Theana over a jollof rice and moin moin dish at Africana, her favorite lunch spot. “I’ll film all day, then eat delicious spicy food and drink chilled malt at night.”
          But soon after Emily got a response about the availability of the beautiful village house, she’d also gotten the contract of her dreams and declared that she had to travel to the Middle East instead, which was how Theana had ended up with a free trip to Africa and accommodation included.
          It was perfect timing. Life in Texas had grown unbearable, and Theana Green the doll face Health Trix ambassador no longer existed. Her job was gone, she had a limited amount of money, and her apartment and nearly everything else she owned were for sale. All she had were her unique clothes, a shattered life, and two months in Nigeria to figure out how to start over with her life.
          A little boy running and screaming in delight accidentally stepped on her toes, and she yelped. The crowd seemed to grow bigger by the minute, and the Texan inside of her was confused, a little bit lost, and excited. She’d never done crowds, there was always enough space for everyone in Texas. She headed down to the Ndi Ewet Plaza restaurant and as she walked, she told herself that she’d made the right decision; a stint in an unfamiliar place would clear her mind enough to stop the fear and sadness that threatened to cripple her, and finally she’d be able to plan her next step and move ahead.
          She had an idea of how she would begin the process of starting all over again: Relax. Fight Fear. Shoot for Goal. Act. These purposeful and determined steps would ensure her success. She would take them one after the other and in the end, produce an amazing project that would open doors to the career she’d always wanted, and she would write essays about “Culture Shock.” Yes, this was the best place to be right now for such a project, she thought to herself, as goose bumps started to rise on her skin.
          “Why don’t you ever take a plunge without thinking of danger?” Lionel had once said. “Why are you always afraid?”
          Four months had passed since Lionel had left her for another woman, but his words jabbed at her so frequently she could hardly think straight anymore. Two months ago, she’d caught a glimpse of him in Downtown with his hands linked to an impeccably dressed brunette’s, and even from five hundred feet away she could hear their laughter, a little giddy, cheerily almost. Theana remembered when her laughter used to be cheery with Lionel. It was a long time ago and she was afraid she’d forgotten how to laugh that way.
          On one side of the plaza, visitors gathered to watch, while some danced, as a band played traditional music under neatly lined palm fronds. The massive structure of a hotel loomed over the nightlife just as it had been since the eighties.
          The spiked blue pumps she’d paid eighty dollars for six months ago were killing her toes but going back to the hotel was not an option. She saw the brightly lit yellow golf umbrellas of the Ndi Ewet restaurant and made her way through groups of young loud girls to find a table.
          “Good evening, madam…” The waiter was at most fifteen, but that didn’t stop him from acting like a grown up as he took her drink order. She would have loved a bowl of pepper soup, preferably goat meat, but the authenticity of it might send her to the bathroom. Emily had warned her that Texan African meals were milder.
          When the waiter left, she occupied her hands with the saltshaker in order to avoid cracking her knuckles, and then she traced the embroidery on the tablecloth with her fingers. Lionel looked so happy with his new woman.
          “You are a strong woman and you can take care of yourself without me,” he’d said. So why did she feel weak?
She drank the first bottle of Guinness more quickly than she should have and ordered another. Her grandmother’s rebuke of alcohol drinkers had made her weary of alcohol, but she was in a strange country, and the emptiness that had been budding inside of her for months had become unbearable.
“I have met my match and I can’t change destiny.”
She’d worked so hard on her mood and tried to keep an upbeat attitude, but as night came, she found herself getting depressed.
“No sex!”
He had accused her of wanting to get it over with quickly, that was an unfair assessment. There were times when she had to travel very early and needed some sleep, and those were when she didn’t spend enough time on foreplay. She did enjoy sex with Lionel. She had more time on her hands now, and had even started toying with the idea of taking a lover to prove to herself that Lionel was mistaken. Then she recoiled from the idea of having sex with a random person. Her grandmother would have been horrified to hear it.
She stared at the smear her lipstick left on the mouth of the bottle. Relationship was more than sex, but Lionel seemed to have forgotten that. If he hadn’t been satisfied, he should have said something.
She was becoming more miserable than she’d been when she entered the restaurant, so she finished her second bottle of beer and ordered another. One night of a few drinks would hardly turn her into an alcoholic.
Beside her, on another table, two women chatted noisily in a smooth flowing language that sounded like Chinese. A group of students, who still wore their school uniforms, gorged on Eba and a savory-scenting soup, while an older group of men argued in their thick accents about the corrupt government and the disappearing oil money.
“I love her,” Lionel had said with certainty.
The passion behind that phrase was too painful to think about, so she studied the waiters as they walked in and out with trays of mounted large portioned dishes. Then her eyes settled on the most captivating man she’d ever seen…
He was a few tables away, a portrait of African and Western, swirled in orange and blue patterned Ankara shirt and pants with a stubble sprinkled jaw, cropped hair partly covered with a baseball hat facing backwards, and dark eyes. Strong capable hands held a large beer glass with interesting lightness, and he took a drink. He looked rich, entitled, uninterested – Diego Fazio used a sharp pencil and sketched the perfect male beauty into existence.
Something about him was vaguely familiar although she was sure they’d never met. He may have a doppelganger model that had graced many magazines, and that’s why she felt she’d seen him somewhere before.
She gazed at him and almost choked when she realized he was staring straight at her.





Chapter 3 (Explored)

Ramsey noticed her the moment she arrived. She’d looked around and walked straight to the table with the overly bright funny-looking tablecloth, then she’d pressed her fingers on the edge of the table, bending them until they looked like they hurt; a complex woman. She wore the stamp of eclecticism as visibly as her spiky shoes, and even from here, she radiated raw anger that he found as sexy as those overly bright lips.
          He guessed she was in her mid to late twenties, with bright lipstick and the bold colorful less expensive clothes favored by a nightclub girl, only, she had an air of sophistication. Her face was unbelievably beautiful. She wasn’t Los Angeles skinny, but he liked her body – breasts and hips on the above average proportions, small waist, nice strong legs exposed over a thigh-high skirt. Her red buzzcut complimented her dark chocolate skin. Her red hair seemed to be the only thing fake about her. The free movements of her breasts only emphasized how real they were underneath her multicolored crewneck short-sleeved top.
She finished one bottle of Guinness and started on another. She entwined her fingers and cracked them. A gesture that he had noticed her do more than five times since she took her seat. It was oddly attention grabbing as it made her fingers look strong. He’d bet that it was a nervous gesture though.
He watched the other women in the restaurant, but his eyes kept returning to the colorfully clad woman. He drank his beer and thought it over; women craved for his attention – he never went after them, but it had been a while and there was something about this one, which piqued his interest.
He cocked his head and gave her his signature-spearing gaze.
Theana returned his gaze. He was a sexy man, no argument there. The alcohol had lifted the heaviness of her miserable mood, and his attention lifted it higher and higher. Here was a person who knew something about appreciating a woman.
He leaned forward and raised an inquiring, dark thick eyebrow. She wasn’t a novice to such obvious interest but his held an aggressive edge to it. Gorgeous men admired her from afar and maybe thought of having sex with her. She’d had Lionel so she paid them no mind.
She moved the glass cup that she didn’t use to the side. He looked local, and no one knew her in Nigeria, so he wouldn’t have recognized her. No, he wasn’t interested in her or finding out who she was. He was just interested in her body.
“You pulled away from me, Theana. It’s over.”
She saw him smile. Her broken heart, numbed by alcohol, lusted on the sight of it.
This man thinks I’m attractive, Lionel. He knows a sexy woman when he sees one.
He fixed his gaze on hers and purposely bit his lips and winked. Something sharp transported to the base of her stomach, like an electric spark caused by two naked wires. She watched, fascinated, as his teeth grazed the surface of one end of his lips to the other. The gesture was deliberately sexual, she should have been irritated but instead, she took another gulp from her bottle and waited for his next move.
He stood up, picked up his bottle, and made his way towards her. The two women that chatted noisily in their native tongue stopped their conversation to watch, one raised her eyebrows and the other shifted in her chair and crossed her hands. They were exotic looking and beautiful, but Mr sexy zeroed in on her.
“Hello, beautiful.” He gestured towards the chair across from her. “Do you mind company?” His heavy French accent sweetened the way he pronounced his words. He was probably from one of the closer French-speaking African countries.
She felt herself shake her head, even as her brain ordered her to turn him away. He slid into the chair, as smooth as fur.
Up close, he was more devastatingly handsome than she had noticed, but his eyes were dull, and he looked a bit tired. Funnily, this sleepy look only added to his charm.
She was surprised to hear herself address him in an English accent, an accent she’d perfected in college with the help of an exchange student from Surrey, England. “Are you here by yourself?”
Wow… She thought about getting up and leaving but a part of her told her to take her sweet time and enjoy the moment. She hoped her look and outfit was bogus enough to pass as an uncaring English woman and not an American. She was dressed in multicolored print top tucked into a short, blue hip-hugging skirt, and her uncomfortable shoes made in China. She wore medium sized gold hoop earrings and two gold bangles on both hands. She wasn’t going to order food, or she would give off a clue that she wasn’t English, since she didn’t like using her fork and knife together. She wondered if all English people knew how to use the proper cutlery.
Are you sure about this?
Why not?
Her world was shattered and Lionel broke her heart, she’d had too much to drink, she was tired of being afraid, and she wanted to feel like a woman instead of a poor lost girl.
“Err… Yes, I am.” He shrugged and stared at her, unafraid, in that French way. “You are too?”
“Yes.” 
He nodded and touched his chest. “I am Francois.”
His name is Francois. How French in a Nigerian city. His name must stand out when called aloud.
“I’m Anna.”
“Anna. I am pleased to meet you.” He lifted his bottle in a smouldering, silent toast.
Francois…The ‘r’ still lay on her throat like sharp cheese, and the night air turned sweet.
His hands fell on hers and she looked down at it but didn’t pull away. Instead, she took another gulp of her drink.
He began caressing the tips of her fingers, letting her know this was more than a mere flirtation. This was obvious seduction, and the fact that he had no shame about it bothered her for a moment, but she was too dispirited for restraint.
“Your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost,” her grandmother’s voice advised. “You are wonderfully made, Thea…” She absolutely believed that, but Lionel had bruised her heart, and this cupid named Francois promised a band-aid, so she smiled at him and didn’t move her hand away.
He relaxed into his chair, at ease with his body in a way only a confident man was. She envied him for how comfortable and even arrogant he appeared.
They were silent, and watched customers who were still ordering meals loudly. He ordered another drink for her. She flirted, batting her eyelashes at him. I’ve still got it. You thought I wasn’t sexual anymore because you didn’t give me a chance.
She was glad that they were both at a place where they didn’t seem to want to make conversation. She just wanted some quiet company. His middle finger slipped beneath her palm and stroked it in a way that there was no denying what he wanted. Grandma will agree that Francois would lead her to hell.
She was hot now, and her head was woozy however, she was lucid enough to notice that his smile didn’t make it to his eyes. He was a pro at this. This was about sex and sex only, and that’s when it occurred to her. He was a skirt-chaser.
She started to pull away her hand. But why? This simply made everything easier; what more perfect way could this have happened? She lifted her bottle to her lips with her free hand. She’d come to Nigeria to reinvent her life, but how could she do that without erasing Lionel’s accusing voice that kept playing in her head, a voice that made her feel less of a woman? She fought back her gloom.
She believed that Lionel was responsible for her lack of sexual interest because Francois the skirt-chaser had shown her more flirtation in a few minutes than Lionel had shown her in all the time they’d been together. Maybe a pro could accomplish what a rookie hadn’t been able to. At least a pro could be trusted to hit the right spot.
She realized that she wasn’t shocked at the fact that she was even thinking about this. The past four months had been a blur and it numbed her. As a person who has gone through a lot, she believed that one couldn’t start a new life while pretending that the deep-rooted problems didn’t exist. You had to tackle them or else they would return and bite you in the ass.
Deep down she knew she shouldn’t decide on something this important when she was filled with alcohol, but if she weren’t tipsy, she’d never consider it, and it would suddenly become the worst thing she could ever do. What other fun activity could she use the little money she had left to do, than to use it for something that would put a rest to her past? As far as she was concerned, it was okay for her to do it.
Relax, Fight Fear, Shoot for Goal, and this was the Act part she needed. They all seemed to be taking form and she was glad to see it.
As they drank, he continued rubbing her palm, sliding his finger beneath her bangle and stroking her wrist bone. The movement soon grew repetitive and he fetched some bills from his pocket and placed them on the table. He rose and extended his hand to her.
Her breath hitched. She had to decide. She just had to either say no or take his hand. There were other women in the restaurant, and he could easily get his pick.
“Sex is supposed to be sacred, Thea,” her grandmother had said. “It should be between a man and woman who have committed themselves to be life partners. They are the two people who should share the sacred bond between each other. People don’t know the meaning of that anymore and they throw themselves freely out there, and that’s why the men don’t stay with them. They take it and get bored because it was too easy. Then they move on. Don’t treat sex like nothing. Don’t give it to just anyone.”
Nevertheless, Theana was at the verge of poverty and had no direction now. She needed to be remolded anew to someone who could live bolder than her outfit choices. She needed to be someone who could take control of her life without fear and go for what she wanted for herself. Theana took his hand and followed him.
Her legs felt unsteady from the alcohol as he led her out of the restaurant into a wide expanse that led to a road she hadn’t been on before. She wasn’t sure how much a skirt-chaser charged and hoped she had enough cash on her, or else she’d have to take him back to her hotel and pay him the rest. They walked on a street flanked by different Inns and Motels. Even in her hazy state, she experienced that nagging sense of recognition. Maybe he was a model that she’d seen on one of Emily’s Nigerian magazines, but she could be wrong and her brain was too unsteady for her to force it to remember.
He nodded to a place that looked like a flower garden with beautiful archways, and walked towards a water fountain that had colorful lights; okay, tour guide and skirt-chaser in one sensual package. She could get used to that. The night had provided the act part that was missing in her plan to begin a new Theana.
Theana wasn’t used to men who were way taller than her, and he was really tall. He would be flat soon, so she didn’t fuss and tried to suppress her nerves. He could be a married man, but he didn’t seem like the domesticated kind. Besides, there was no ring on his finger. He could be a serial killer, no, Africans tended to be ritualists. She hoped he wasn’t because she was as helpless as a new-born child in her present state.
His cologne smelled nice, a slight tinge of spice, and musk – It wasn’t overwhelming as it is with some men who douse cologne to mask their body odor. She had visualized him leaning her against one of the pillars of the Inns, lifting her skirt, slowly pulling down her panties and pushing into her, but it seemed quite public for that kind of affair and it would end in no time. She wanted something that would last long enough to shut Lionel’s voice from her head so she could move on with her life.
The beer had made her inept, and her limbs tangled on themselves. He caught her and steadied her, then turned her towards the entrance of a massive, expensive hotel.
“Would you like to come in with me?”
That French accent. She was too giddy to say anything and nodded in assent instead.
“It’s over.” Lionel had said.
Well guess what, Lionel King, It’s just beginning.
She walked past Francois and marched into the large lobby. Its flamboyant furnishing promised an amazing time – silk drapes, ornate chairs, polished marble floor. She’d be having her repugnant sex on expensive sheets, and this wasn’t the kind of place a ritualist would choose to chop her, a careless and undersexed tourist, in pieces.
The hotel clerk handed him a key as though he’d already been booked before, a high-class skirt-chaser who had his regular rendezvous place. Their hands touched fleetingly as they walked into the elevator, and she knew that the warmth in the pit of her stomach came from more than just alcohol.
They walked out to a dimly lit hallway. As she stared at him, a weird scene flashed through her mind of a bare-chested man surrounded by two scantily clothed female models.
What was that? Although she didn’t feel entirely comfortable with him, neither did she feel as though she was walking into an orgy. If he’d planned that, he’d have told her or indicated that there were others joining them. A grand hotel like this didn’t seem like a place to host such. Maybe she was wrong after all, she wouldn’t know.
She followed him to the end of the hallway. His grip on her arm was firm, a sign that suggested he was in charge.
Oh, goodness…was she crazy?
“You pulled away from me, Theana. It’s over.”
She wasn’t going to pull away. There was going to be great, raunchy sex, in an unfamiliar city, with a man she’d never see again. Sex to make her bolder than her outfit and to wipe away her fear; sex to reassure her that she was still a very good looking and desirable woman, sex to heal the shattered places of her heart and soul so she could move on.
He unlocked the door and switched on the light. He made good money. This was not any simple hotel room, but a well-furnished suite because he had an opened suitcase with clothes strewn around the lush space.
“Will you like a drink?”
She wondered if he planned to render her unconscious because she was already in a questionable state. She shook her head. The motion was too quick that she almost lost her balance.
“Come with me.” He led the way into the bedroom. He moved like someone who bathed in entitlement, sleek and dangerous, and she was going to get a taste of that danger because she didn’t leave. She followed him as far as the doorway and watched him stroll to the windows.
He wrapped the curtains in its hook and opened the window blinds, and the breeze ruffled his shirt, his eyes closing and taking in the bliss. He pointed outside. “Come and see how beautiful the view is – how the lights from lamps look like stars from afar.”
Her legs felt heavy like logs as she placed her purse on a chair and went over to stand beside him. She gazed down and saw lights from the otherwise dark background; yellow lights that were likely from lamps and the brighter ones that were fluorescent lights. The view was beautiful against the darkness. Beyond the lights seemed like nothingness but she knew that there were homes there without electricity.
His hand rested on her shoulder. She was reminded that she was with a man she didn’t know.
She still had time to walk away. She could let him know that it was all a huge mistake, a massive mistake, a mistake of all mistakes and apologize for wasting his time. How much cash did you pay a skirt-chaser who hadn’t started a job?
However, he was just touching her. It wasn’t bad. In fact, it felt good, a lot different from Lionel’s touch. He towered over her, but it was a good kind of masculinity.
He raised her chin and lowered his head, but she took a step backwards. She wasn’t ready to kiss him, then she reminded herself that this was for a much bigger purpose, and she took a step towards him.
His lips took hers, capturing the fullness of her plump lips. The movement of his tongue was flawless, not too coy and not too aggressive. It was an amazing kiss, skillfully done, no sloppiness; pretty much perfect, too perfect. Even in her tipsy state, she knew that it was just a show-off, of how good a kisser he knew he was which was exactly what she needed.
Why was she still here?
Urgh, be quiet and enjoy it. Nerves should not taint this level of professionalism.
He was certainly taking his time, and her blood began to pump a little faster. She approved his skillfulness.
He pulled her tucked-in top and his hand slid under it unexpectedly, but she didn’t try to stop him. If Lionel had been like this, she wouldn’t have felt the need to rush to anywhere. Francois’ touch felt good that she didn’t have thoughts of the next thing on her list of ‘things-to-do’ swimming on her mind, that was why she rushed with Lionel. He flicked the hook of her bra, and she stiffened. Calm down and let the man do his job. Other people do this, even with strangers in new cities.
He moved his hands and traced her spine with his fingers. She liked the feeling and let him continue. He brushed his fingers over her nipple, tugging slightly. Yes, that felt good. He was such an expert – taking his sweet time. Maybe she and Lionel had been impatient with their love making, but what could you expect from opposites who loved their jobs too much?
Francois seemed to appreciate her breasts, which was nice. Lionel had liked them too, but Francois seemed more of a professional at handling them.
He pulled her away from the window, leading to the bed, as he pushed up her top. He wasn’t only touching her breasts now; he was looking at them. It felt invasive, but if she pulled her top back down, she might be proving Lionel’s point, so she let him.
He molded it, squeezed it, then bent his head to her chest and licked the nipple, tracing it in circles with his tongue. Her body began to waken from its sluggishness.
She felt her skirt sliding away from her hips. She moved a bit so that it slipped more easily, and she shook off her shoes. He pulled slightly away just enough to take off her top, then her bra. He was knowledgeable with women’s clothes, because there was no fumbling on his part. She’d even noticed when he took off her top that it went perfectly, right down to taking it off her head, without touching her face.
She stood before him in orange lace panties and gold hoop earrings. He took off his baseball cap, removed his shoes and socks – skillfully too – and unbuttoned his Ankara shirt with the fluid movement of a stripper, revealing one ripped muscle after another. It was obvious that he worked out to keep his bod up to the standard of his trade.
He placed his palms over her nipples, which were hard from the work he’d given them with his mouth. He rubbed them lightly with his fingers, and she ascended to the heavens. “Beautiful,” he said, and the sound a deep male whisper.
His hand glided over the orange lace between her legs and began to rub. She didn’t see that coming. Francois was doing too much too soon.
Her mind was still in upheaval and she wasn’t ready when the tip of his finger began a lazy dance around the lace. She grabbed his arm for support against the sudden jelly feeling of her legs. Francois knew what he was doing. He had just proven that she was inexperienced and wasn’t allowed to make comments on something she clearly didn’t know a whole lot about.
He threw back the bedcover with a smooth twist of his wrist, moved her down slowly, and lay beside her, the motion so primly executed that it seemed rehearsed. He should give a talk on, How to Work Up to the Sex before the Sex Begins, by Nigeria’s Top Skirt-chaser. They should both gives talks. Hers would be, How One Encounter with Nigeria’s Top Skirt-chaser Reframed My Life. She could even write a book about it too.
He’d touched her, so it was her turn to touch him back, even though they didn’t know each other, and it seemed bizarre.
Stop overthinking!
She began to explore his chest area, then his back. Lionel worked out, but not as much as this man did.
Her hands sneaked to his abdomen, which was hard and compact like a weightlifter’s. His pants were gone, and she had no clue when he’d taken them off, and his boxers were navy-blue with red and white chevron patterns on it.
Stop it, you’re still overthinking!
She caressed him through the thin fabric and heard his breath hitch. Feigned or real, she didn’t care. One real thing, however, was that he was very gifted for his skirt-chaser trade.
He removed her panties slowly. What were you expecting? He moved downward and began kissing the inner part of her thigh. A siren wailed in warning. Her stomach tightened as his mouth moved higher. She grabbed his head and pushed him away just as she remembered something.
He drew up to gaze at her. With the light that flooded into the bedroom from the other room, she saw his questioning look. She shook her head and mouthed it. He nodded and reached for the nightstand.
She was shocked at herself for forgetting the one thing that her grandmother practically sang about those stupid girls who could have prevented big problems like transmittable diseases and pregnancy. He slipped on the condom, as svelte as he did everything else, and then he drew her close.
His hand stroked her hip, then her thighs. He parted them, ready to show her the skills of an experienced skirt-chaser, but this intimacy was too much for her in her present state. She silently hated Lionel for this as a tear ran down the corner of her eye. She raised her hand as though shifting to get comfortable and quickly wiped it off before he noticed. She wanted great sex, the one that took you to places you’ve never been before, and she wouldn’t spoil it with tipsy, self-pity tears. A joyful orgasm that would clear her head so she could focus on rebuilding her life was all she asked for.
She pulled him on top of her. When he hesitated, she pulled harder, and finally he moved on her. His scruff brushed her neck, and she heard hitching in his breathing as he slipped a finger inside her. It was glorious, but his weight was unexpected, and the alcohol swooshed uneasily in her stomach. She should have been on top.
He moved slower, more enticing, but she wanted him to get going, and she pulled on his waist to urge him inside her. Finally, he shifted his weight and settled in.
It was different. It didn’t fit like Lionel. She clenched her jaw and wriggled against him until he lost his self-control and inserted himself fully inside her.
Even then, his pace was too slow for her, so she raised her hips, urging him to speed up, to get her to the place she’d envisioned, to finish up before she became sober so she could avoid the shouts of disappointment that would plague her because she went against what she believed in. She was deliberately doing something wrong.
He changed position to the side, gazing at her with hot, hooded eyes. She looked away so she wouldn’t have to admire the gorgeous person he obviously was. He slid his hands between their hot bodies and massaged her, but the slow pace at which he did this only made everything worse. The alcohol hardened in her stomach. She moved his arm away and increased the pace with her hips. A small smile showed on his face and he began a slow thrust. Then he gradually increased his speed, and she closed her eyes, fighting off the bliss but also embracing it because she didn’t want the moment to be about self-pity. She had wanted it. She had looked forward to it.
It seemed like forever before he jerked. She endured his quivers and was ready to get up. She waited for him to roll away from her. When he eventually did, she leaped up from the bed immediately.
“Anna?”
She ignored him and wore her clothes in record time.
“Anna, what’s the problem?”
She fetched her purse, brought out some bills and placed them quickly on the bed. Then she bolted from the bedroom. 

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