The patron instinctively, slowly reaches to touch the canvas as if to convince herself that the lifelike portrait was on canvas and painted by a man and not by God.
“Stop! You can’t touch the canvas.”
Jane turns her head suddenly in the direction the command had emanated from. She recognizes the oblong head and skin cut of the dark artist. Temi is taller than she imagined—6 feet 4 inches. But he’s as lean as she pictured. The 40-year-old master is still as wirily muscular as a college athlete.
“House rules.” The artist disarms her with an infectious smile, revealing dazzling white teeth and twin man-dimples. The two hit it off immediately.
“What inspired this one? There are many rumors.”
Temi glances cursorily around at his pieces hanging on the walls of the gallery at Sotheby’s south side of Old Bond Street in London. And then he remembers.
“It’s really quite prosaic. Nothing spectacular you know.”
But Jane’s turquoise eyes sparkle, piercing into his in earnest appeal. She wants to know what inspired the master. Temi has never forgotten. How could he forget the abuse?
“Make sure you do not miss any spot. When I do the permanent mercury wash, I want an even tone. So, pay attention.”
Apeke had assigned a new task to Temi as her creamer-in-chief, to apply her precious, precious cream, laboriously over her once dark-skinned body. He had preferred her dark skinned, but she badgered him into accepting her skin whitening. Before she died, her mother had confided that she had always wanted to be light skinned. And now that she had the money being a Wall Street investment banker, she felt she could buy the pale skin her snobbish colleagues believed made them superior to her—because her skin was dark. Very dark. By some strange reasoning Apeke claimed being able to buy anything would vindicate her before her colleagues, who did not even like her.
But she had reprimanded him, misreading his reluctance as sloth.
“You do nothing all day. And just to rub this cream all over me is a chore? If you want me to pay you for it, I can. But this is for both of us!”
Temi never understood some of her reasoning. He had married a dark-skinned woman with eyes wide open. How did she think her skin whitening benefitted him? If he had wanted a light skinned woman, would he not have pursued one instead of her? Had he wanted a woman with a western or Asian name, he would not have chosen one called Apeke. He recalled how she immediately changed her name on her American passport after their marriage. Not just to his Japanese sounding last name, Atari, but also switched the Yoruba Apeke to Apee. Apeke Balogun was now Apee Atari on her passport. She barely escaped being designated as ‘Ape’.
Her white classmate, Meghan, had encouraged her to change her name to a western one. It bothered Temi that the 250-pound 5 feet 3 inches, near-alcoholic was eager to change everything about Apeke but would not even go to the gym to reduce her weight.
“It would totally fit in if you removed the last two letters – the “K” and “E!”
“Awesome! Then it would just be A, P, E!” Spelling out her recommended name, Apeke rejoiced in her forced awkward American accent. He wondered how she even breathed as she now seemed to hold her breath speaking through her nostrils and upturned upper lip, in overcompensating affectation for not being born American and consequently with the Americanese that distinguished the accent of the American born.
“But that would be ‘ape,’ honey. It would not be to your credit to be named after a monkey,” said Temi, unamused. Then she settled on ‘Apee.’
“Temi you could change yours to ‘Tim’. ‘Tim and Apee Atari’ would make you two so fit in. You would so get ahead fabulously!”’
“I’m just fine with Temi, thank you.” Tim oddly reminded him of a dog’s name.
However, Apee was too eager to change. She came home one day and looked at the 170-pound, five-foot-two young woman in the white wedding dress, grinning from ear to ear, and affectedly turned over the picture frame on its face in its position on the mantlepiece. It was stationed next to the replica he’d sketched of their wedding photo.
“We should get rid of that picture. If your med school colleagues see it, they will think you are cheating on your wife. I don’t look anything like her.”
Unlike Meghan, Apeke had gone to the gym every day and remarkably shrunk from 170 to 110 pounds. She was now also yellow pawpaw as light complexioned people were called in Nigeria.
“Stop playing, Apeke. That’s our wedding photo.”
“Who the fuck is playing with you? And ‘Apeke’? Who is she?” Apee glared in anger at Temi, with her nostrils flaring at him like a weapon fluttering threateningly. The same nostrils he’d seen her contort the night before as she pinned the tip of her nose up with her index finger and her thumb, proposing that she’d be prettier with a nose job.
“I’m sorry Apee.” As Apee scooped up his sketch of their wedding photo, tucking it under her armpits, she chided him again with a new order.
“And you really need to stop wasting your time and the little money we have on your drawing hobby. You need a real job if you are going to continue in med school.”
“But I am going to sell the pieces and they will be worth a lot soon. Besides it’s how I practice.”
“Well I need $40,000 for the permanent lightening wash.”
And now she reminded Temi to rub her skin whitening cream, Everglow, on every part of her back and buttocks. A smile creeped onto his face as a cheeky idea emerged, while he rubbed her precious and overpriced cream all over her body.”
“Did you say the wash will make the tone permanent?”
“Yes, it will. So be sure to touch every spot carefully, otherwise blotches from uncreamed areas will look like permanent birthmarks. I want an even tone of fairness all over and no birthmarks!”
And that was when Temi started his art on her bum, in an area she could not see, and which was not visible to anyone else, except him. Or anyone else having sex with her. With delicate motions of his hands and fingers, he started to etch his masterpiece on Apee’s derriere to make it appear like a tattoo, skillfully evading areas and stroking carefully in curvatures as he designed his art. It was clearly ready after two months of massaging Everglow on to Apee’s skin. Then she had the wash. He had flown to Brazil with her, where at a cosmetic surgeon’s office, she was allowed to walk into the shower alone, and the chemicals rained on her, peeling a top layer of her skin for an unfadable skin tone she could now wear permanently. Apee was now officially permanently an olive skin toned woman. A week later she removed some cartilage in her nose and pinned the sides to complete her rhinoplasty.
One month after her skin changed, Apee moved out of their Atlanta apartment to New York City. Then she sent Temi the divorce papers.
Apee Atari appeared to be a hit in her white shoe investment firm on Wall Street. With her physical transmogrification came a new identity. Apee even created a new dead white father for herself. She told the boys that she was adopted and only knew that her biological father was a white man from a patrician family in the south, who did not want to be scandalized with the birth of a mixed-race daughter. But it did not pique the curiosity of her Wall Street colleagues, as she had feared it would. They were all energetic upstarts after all, who were there to apply their energy to make loads of money and buy the status denied them at birth—just like her. And then her dating interest changed, too. The first white man she had dated was Trevor from work. He was blonde, hazel eyed and had always been charming with her. But Trevor was 5 feet 6 inches—too short to make kids with. Given her petite stature, Apee felt she needed at least a 6-footer.
In Atlanta, she had had a minor indiscretion with a 6-foot tall Japanese man, while she was married. It was one of those nights Temi had urged her to go out alone to the clubs with her single female friends as he stayed home to paint and study for his medical school exams. A little high on the cannabis and Dom Perignon, and after heavy flirting, her boss fucked her at the stairwell of the nightclub. Clutching the banister, she leaned her woozy head into, Apee heard her Asian boss exclaim in his own high, “What a fucking great work of art! I’ve never seen such fucking beauty!! This is fantastic!!!”
“Who made it?” Hiro asked as he pounded her from the back.
“God.” Apee replied with a giggle, thinking the masterpiece that captivated Hiro was her callipygian ass.
The next day she had not felt any guilt from the adultery, as she decided to try a new position she had learnt in Cosmopolitan Magazine on Temi. She’d straddled him, holding his legs firmly in place, as he lay on his back on their king size bed with her butt cheeks high in the air facing him as she rode his penis, to and fro. It was called the reverse cowgirl in Cosmopolitan Magazine. It was the best sex Temi had ever had with her. Not because it was a change from the boring positions he’d been used to. Not because he did not have to gather spit in his mouth as he pretended to enjoy licking layers of Everglow from her skin in his romantic preamble to turn her on with an all over kiss and lick fest. The poisonous oily film all over Apee’s skin from her bleaching cream finally killed Temi’s libido. But now he felt revived with a rush to his loins as Apee excitedly pinned him down, telling him not to lift a finger but to simply lay back and enjoy the ride—and the view. And he did, quietly enjoying the masterpiece he had etched on her left butt-cheek.
Now in Manhattan among the yuppies of Wall Street, Apee executed her specialty, the reverse cowgirl, with sumptuous winding motions on another colleague. She had decided to avoid the bickering and envy of the black secretaries and what she perceived to be the arrogance of the black male Ivy-League-educated investment bankers perennially chaperoned by a white woman, as if their mixed-race relationship was a befitting status signifier. And then came Olaf.
He was a golden haired 6 foot 3 inches tall South African banker with blue eyes. He had emigrated from Italy, where he had lived since he was a boy after his mother had escaped the shame of their past in South Africa. Olaf’s father, Pieter, had been an agent of the South African Police’ Koevoet, which was the police counterinsurgency unit charged with fighting the ANC and other activists. Pieter’s famed hatred of blacks earned him a position as one of the first agents to joinC1, tasked with interrogating, torturing and silencing black activists on the secluded farmhouse called Vlakplaas.
Upon the end of the apartheid regime and at the height of the truth and reconciliation hearings, to avoid being prosecuted for extra-judicial killings, Pieter revealed his role in the heinous killing of black political dissidents. There was the case of the handsome and charismatic John Danga, leader of the youth revolutionary faction of the ANC, who was abducted and tortured by Pieter on Vlakplaas. With Danga’s widow and only son present, Pieter revealed to the panel, how he had inserted a wire into John Danga’s penis, and sporadically electrocuted him for information on ANC activities. Eventually, Danga’s penis was severed and stuffed into his mouth for a photo. Then he was shot in the head and ground to a pulp before his corpse was incinerated to destroy his identity. Both Danga’s son and widow fainted at the hearings and had to be resuscitated with medical help.
And then Pieter went to sympathize with his victim’s family at their home carrying a heavy vase of flowers for Danga’s widow. Pieter seated timorously in a chair, had not seen the young Danga come from behind, but felt the heavy impact of the vase as it crushed his skull and left him unconscious. Pieter became a vegetable on life support after that. Olaf and his mother had fled to Milan to start a new life on their own. Now a banker, Olaf was transferred to the New York office of the elite private bank that hid and managed the money of African dictators and politicians. Olaf never forgave the black race which he considered collectively responsible for his father’s death after his mother had decided to pull the plug on his life support, because she was marrying an Italian farmer from Sicily. Every night before Olaf went to bed, he prayed for the soul of his deceased father, and cursed all blacks muttering under his breath, “Kaffir!”
Apee enjoyed her new-found freedom and popularity in Manhattan. She noticed how she was markedly treated differently by the white boys on Wall Street. And she reveled in the special treatment.
She spent every night at the gym climbing the Stairmaster and doing extra-routines for her bum, which she believed was the reason for her miniature fame. Then two of the boys that had viewed Temi’s masterpiece as she rode them too, decided to have fun and hook her up on a date with Olaf, their racist South African friend. Initially, they had hatched the plan to drive Olaf nuts, but soon realized that a relationship with a half black, half white woman, such as Apee could be the panacea for Olaf’s animus towards blacks. Thus, they took it up seriously.
Surprisingly, Olaf agreed to be matched with the almost white skinned Apee, even though he was told she was half black. Olaf who came off as a square to his Wall Street drinking buddies never dated white women in America, because it was rumored that every one of them would have slept with a black man at least once in her lifetime. The word on the street was that white women had more fun being with black men.
Consequently, he never dated white American women for fear he would be demeaned by being compared to a black man in bed. But Olaf who was heterosexual soon realized many black women preferred white men for the power and security they provided. Such black women he found sympathized with his disdain of black men. He had dated one. She was a hardworking Wall Street lawyer, who vowed that she would rather not have kids at all than have a black child.
Olaf thought black women were hardworking and he admired diligent women. And now eager to also get a green card through marriage, since his 6-year work visa in the United States was finally ending, Olaf was happy dating Apee. He was delighted to learn that she had no black friend in New York and did not even talk with her black colleagues at work. Something strange had happened to him in the few weeks they had been dating, as Olaf felt he’d found a kindred spirit in Apee. Thus, following eight weeks of dating in a platonic relationship, Olaf proposed to Apee with a 6-carat diamond ring that cost him $50,000.
Apee had learned not to give off her goodies too soon, so as to keep the man excited with anticipation. It was easy for her strategy to work on the puritanical Olaf, who chose masturbation and regular trips to screw the sex workers in Amsterdam and Brussels, over screwing white American women. Moreover, in a twisted way, the religiously conservative Olaf felt it was ideal not to indulge in premarital sex with his future wife, so as not to doom their union.
But after the hushed marriage proposal, Apee thought her work was done, and it was time to give Olaf a pre-wedding view of the goodies she had withheld from him during their short courtship. Although Olaf had resisted her advances, she decided to seduce him with alcohol.
Now tipsy and with him sprawled out on his back in her king size bed, Apee turned around bracing herself on his legs, after some heavy kissing with Olaf’s eyes shut. She had mastered this motion, and for the umpteenth time, Apee wedges up her butt to slip Olaf’s weak erection into her. She rocks, rotates and rolls, as she flexes her vagina walls around Olaf’s penis, just like she did during her Kegel exercises. Feeling a tinge of guilt, Olaf opens his eyes and becomes suddenly alert at the sight before him, as Apee continues her rowing motion on his now flaccid penis. Olaf is staring at a distinctive black man’s penis with two testicles blazoned vividly on Apee’s pale butt-cheek. He screams in horror, “Nera di merda!” and shoves Apee off him.
Olaf grabs his clothes hurriedly as he continues to curse Apee in Italian.
Butt-naked on the floor, alarmed and confused, Apee feels her finger snap as the crazy South African yanked the diamond ring he’d just given her violently off her left hand’s fourth finger.
She felt the hot condensation of his thick spit hit her on the eye, temporarily blinding her before wiping the slimy saliva and its miasma off her face. Shocked and still writhing in pain because of her broken finger, Apee watched Olaf slam the door behind him, never to return.
With delicate strokes of his brush after dipping it into the paint palette, Temi continues to shape the form that would soon become the signature trademark of his art. The canvas positioned on its easel, mirrors the form of the woman posing nude before him on a high stool cushioning her resplendent bottom which faced the artist. Her cascading growth of flaming red, wild curly hair looks blazed by the streaming rays of sunlight that seem to set it on fire. With her head turned over her shoulder the rising artist accurately captures even the faint freckles festooned on her porcelain skin, under Sophia’s turquoise eyes.
She was the rebellious daughter of a Texas oil man who had forbidden her to marry Temi. Now Temi’s muse, Sophia had eloped and settled in London with her new artist husband. An aspiring artist herself, she had been fascinated by his lifelike paintings and hidden signatures, not obviously conspicuous to the naked eye. She had met Temi at an exhibition and they soon hit it off. In time her father would warm to the brilliant artist, who sent him a remarkable portrait of an old photo he had taken with Dr. Martin Luther King. After all, he had marched with the civil rights activists in the sixties.
“Almost done, my love.” Temi puts finishing touches to his work. “You look so beautiful. Just how Aphrodite would have looked in her splendor, my sweet.”
Temi came to worship Sophia’s radiant beauty as much as she worshipped the floor he walked on.
“And I have the perfect signature to match your flawless beauty.”
“What is it baby? Do let me know!” pried Sophia like an impatient child.
“In time my love. All things will be revealed in due time, my sweet.”
With masterful strokes and dashes of his brush, Temi lingers generously on the painting’s glorious tush. His muse’s outstretched arm is reaching for a jar of moisturizing cream resting on an adjacent stool. He regards his subject’s beauty as sublime. Accordingly, each motion of his brush is like paying obeisance to an image that is eternal. He devotes himself to every detail on the canvas because he knows his portrait will live forever. Just like God, he thinks, as the corners of his mouth inch up to reveal a cheeky smile.