Quietness filled the air as they stared at each other like two opponents having a showdown which, might give room to tranquility for once. They had being neighbors for three years, though not the good types. For two real life characters who practically live almost together, she lived in the top room while he lived in the one below, the two tenants could hardly have been more different, one so boisterous and expressive, the other so taciturn and calm. He was the latter.
Always avoiding her like a plague.
“So, you’re saying if I agree to do the show with you, you will move out after it ends?” Majid asked hopefully, his eyes were already gleaming with delight at the prospect of her finally leaving the house.
“Sure. I will move out if we win.” Came the sassy reply.
His face quickly morphed into a frown that meant he didn’t trust her to keep to her words and had doubts about the certainty of them even winning any contest.
Tamara is too sneaky; I obviously can't trust to keep to her words. She is a psychopathic liar.
“How can I know you’re telling me the truth? Remember the last time you promised to call a plumber to fix your broken bathroom tap, you didn’t. I had to fix it for you when the water leaked down and almost flooded my apartment.” He grumbled.
“Oh come, Majid, don’t be a grump. That’s in the past,” Tam teased lightly as she playfully rolled her big but beautiful eyeballs at him. She was totally flirting but in a good way.
“THE PAST?! It happened just two days ago.”
“Fine! You don’t need to yell, okay. I know I’ve been a bit of a bad neighbour and not straightforward with you in the past but I do mean it this time. If you could only get to know me….
She started to say in a cajoling voice but he briskly cut in. Reminding her of the time, she punctured his car tyre because he had reported her to their property owner for playing loud music at night.
“You’re not such a good person either. Remember the time you wouldn’t lend me a hammer?”
“I thought you wanted to fix your stupid door in the middle of the night with it.”
“No! I wanted to murder my ex-boyfriend with it.” Tam exclaimed, sarcastic of course.
“Well thank goodness, I hadn’t. But you didn’t have to bang on my door all night until the guards chased you off, as payback.” He complained.
“You shouldn’t have pretended not to see me while driving to work the next day. I was coming to apologise.”
Majid looked stunned and taken aback. He never thought in his wildest dreams that she had been meaning to apologise to him that day. He had only driven off because he was in a hurry and wasn’t in the mood for one of her usual tirades.
“You were?” he asked, gently. Completely moved by her words.
“Honestly…no. But it’s the thought that counts,” she replied and he groaned, blaming himself for falling for her lies again. “I’m serious this time. Abi, you want it in writing?”
“Definitely. I don’t trust a single word you say. Let’s sign a contract first,” he agreed then seemed to consider something. “Hold on, what did you say the show is about, again?
“It’s the Lovebirds reality show. You know it, right?” she asked then continued without waiting for a reply. “You wouldn’t. It’s a new show where couples have to pass three missions in three rounds. It’s meant to test trust, endurance and communication among lovers…in the reverse order or something like that. For round one, we have to escape from different haunted rooms by solving three riddles about each other. For round two, we have to survive a day in the woods with just the items in our backpack. Round three is a mystery mission called ‘take a bullet for love’; no one knows what it’s about but I bet….
“Couples? Bullet? Are you insane?” He rudely cut in, stunned by the word. “There is no we. We are not…”
“…and the winning couple go home with ten million.” She continued, ignoring his outburst.
At first, it seemed like Majid wanted to turn down the deal from the incredulous look on his face, but as he mulled over the prize money, a fascinated look appeared on his face. He even giggled for a while like one who had just found out the map to El Dorado actually existed.
“Is there such a reality show that pays that much?”
“You’re always in the dark because you never turn on your TV. Reality shows are the trends now. BBnaija, The Voice, Project fame and others pay far more than 'The Lovebirds' do. Here is the flyer, doubting Thomas.” She teased. Then took the flyer from her table and passed it to him on the opposite side.
“In my defense, I have a job, Miss. One where I actually work sixteen hours a day. I don’t have the time to squander, keeping up with the latest shows.” He spat back as he received the flyer from her. Tam wanted to argue that she had a job too, jobs technically, even though they were part time gigs that paid little, but she kept mum. She didn’t want to upset him or do anything that might make him change his mind, after all, as obnoxious as she perceived him to be, he was going to be her ticket to good fortunes and life.
At twenty-seven, Tamara had no real job, lived in a dilapidated apartment that’s falling apart bit by bit, had no money to pay for her bills hence a series of debts on her neck, no rich boyfriend and no rich friends. Her friends were hustlers like her, working hours to make money but she was tired of that life. She wanted an escape real fast.
In terms of appearance, she was just average. Plain looks that doesn’t stand out in crowds, an average level of intelligence and a dreamer who worked really hard. One of those women who struggled each day while dreaming of the big life but haven’t struck the gold yet.
She had initially moved to the city for a job after leaving school but like the many before her, found out that the city was no place for the lazy; it’s for hustlers. Having lived in it for five years while working several part time jobs that barely manage to put food on her table and pay the bills, she wasn't the same naïve girl who had walked in expecting things to be magical. She had grown wiser and smarter. Maybe a bit too much on the smartness side.
“I hope this isn’t a crime? I don’t want to be involved in any fraudulent act.” Majid suddenly said, after reading the terms and condition of the show that stated that only couples are eligible to apply. He was half-interested, well completely entrapped by the money but the prospect of going to jail or losing his job hung at his throat like bile.
“Certainly not. We’re only going to pose as couples for three or four days, give or take a week. Just simple basic acting," she assured, sweetly. “Five million each at the end of a week beat your hatred for me, right?”
“I don’t hate you, Tamara,” he quickly defended. “I just can’t stand you. There is a difference.”
“Good. I find you overly narcissistic, nagging and boring too,” spat Tam. She took a quick glance of her tiny and disorganized room that reeked of old walls and poverty then forced a smile. “I may not like you, but I've got needs. I will love to get out of this shithole I call life.”
“Everybody needs money. Even wealthy folks need money too.”
“Like hell, they do.” Tam scoffed loudly then chortled for a second. “Should I take that as a yes?”
Majid carefully observed the glint in his crazy neighbour/ roommate’s eyes, as they turned dead serious. Not that he trusted her a bit, he wouldn’t dare leave his dog in her care, but this time it seemed like she was being honest with him. Well, she did tell him how she felt about him and as a lawyer in training; he knew the eyes always held the truth and her eyes were telling him that.
Rose will definitely freak out when she hears this. The last time she Daniella and me alone in the house; she totally freaked out and broke my TV.... And we were just working for heaven sake. Now i want to pretend to be dating someone else on TV...my crazy girlfriend will bring down the heavens. Hold on Majid, what are you even saying? Considering the fact she has always hated Tamara and is suspicious of our living arrangement, which is the landlord's fault for building such a fucked up house, she will probably murder us both in our sleep.
Though Majid was terrified of what his girlfriend would do to him when she found out, he couldn’t deny the fact he needed the money badly. Just like Tam, he was in a red spot too. He needed money for his family and bills he had to clear. More than anything else, he wanted to get out of the poverty zone, ditch his rickety old car and get a new car and maybe rent a new apartment.
“You know what I think,” Tam suddenly said aloud after watching him fight over his conscience for far too long. She lean closer to him. “I think one day in the future when you are all alone in your crappy little apartment that reeks of six days old pizza and cans littered everywhere and lying clumsily on a rat feasted couch in your favorite Avengers’ pajamas while doing nothing. Then you will remember this night and how you chickened out of the best thing that could have happened to you. And you will regret it. Trust me love, regret is a bitch you do not wanna fuck with. This is like a mystic burger sent from heaven’s diner, Majid, only fools will miss it.”
They stared at each other, Tam wondering if her words had fully convinced him while Majid looked a bit shaken at the terrible illustration she had just given. He was no risker or fool thus; he couldn’t afford to just jump in without careful considerations and safe lines. Other than the fact that they didn’t like each other even as neighbours, it suddenly dawned on him that they knew practically nothing about each other.
“It says here that in round one, couples will have to solve riddles about one another. But we know nothing of each other. I don't even know what your last name is.” He reminded, in a low voice and Tam eagerly pecked up at this. She didn’t want to come off as being too desperate though since every other guy she had asked had turned her down like she was crazy.
Is it such a bad thing to love money badly and go for it?
“It's Etie. Love isn't needed in a relationship, just communication. We just need to study up, that’s all. I’ve made a list of possible questions already. Just answer them and we will go over them together.” She assured. Then added a small smile as she handed over a new paper to him. Majid took in the contents of the paper quietly for a while.
It seems legit. We may actually pull the scam off and win. Then i can finally get rid of Tamara and make five million in the process. Like getting two birds with one stone.
He gulped down a chuck of air, exhaling silently as he made his decision, one he was so positiv, would change his life forever.
Tam watched with interest as couple number 3 finally made their way out of the escape rooms together. They were sweaty, looked drained out and clinging to each other like jellies. The handsome host she had fancied from the start of the show announced it was time for the next couple to go in. She turned to her right and met Majid’s nervous eyes.
“Nervous?” she asked, while offering him a hand. He didn't reply but he looked like he was considering opting out from the way his eyes shrank in.
“The last three couples barely passed. And they are really dating,” he groaned. “Still think we stand a chance with our scam?”
“Shush! There are cameras and microphones here, " she snapped then pulled him closer like two lovers sharing a love hug. "First rounds are easy. Moreover, we studied hard for it already. You see the others might be here for bloddy love but we... she said confidently then pointed to him and then her... "We are all in for the money. We can do this, Majid, trust me.” She playfully winked at him and he seemed a bit more relaxed until he noticed his hands were still in hers. He pulled back quickly, a weird feeling stung in his heart.
"Your favorite color is black. You're an only child. You love crime books, have a huge crush on Sherlock Holmes even though he is just a book character and you hate chocolates and rose flowers, " he chanted off, from memory to cool off steam. Then recalled something he had missed. "Oh! You love bowling and we met at a bowling center. You have brown eyes too."
"Wow! You know so much about me already. My ex-boyfriend didn't know I hate chocolates, the bastard bought me packs of them after cheating on me. You know what I think... We should be best friends. Like total BFFs, " Tam teased. Before turning on her flirtatious winks and charm. "or maybe try dating for real."
Majid quickly eyed her then rolled his eyes when she burst out laughing and teased him for being too serious. She blew a kiss at him, as she walked to the door of the escape room.
"Let's go, baby. It's show time."
To Majid, Tam might have quit her part time jobs to go on the one-week show but he ad done worse. He had placed his entire life and future at risk for the money when he chose the show over his horrible job, and to him, there was no going back. They had to play and win at all cost.
The first priority was the money.
And definitely, not love.
Cupid curiously observed the contestants on his show from a wall covered with lots of monitors in his pent office. His gleaming eyes were fixed on couple number 4 as he polished his love gun. The golden bullets were neatly arranged in a love shaped pack with eros written on it.
I see I've got a wild couple on the loose. What do to?
A tiny smirk ran across his face as he reached for his secret ingredient.
He was ready.