The JRB presents an excerpt from Honey and Spice, the new novel from Bolu Babalola.
Honey and Spice
Read the excerpt:
I stepped closer to him. ‘OK. I’m sensing that you have something you want to get off your chest. Am I wrong?’
Malakai’s eyes were still dancing. He didn’t look annoyed, but he didn’t look pleased either. His gaze sparkled like he was about to jump into a duel. My pulse spiked remembering the last time we did that.
‘The Wasteman of Whitewell.’
I was kind of proud of it. It sounded like one of the mediaeval romance novels I used to love. The Cad of Canterbury. The Richmond Rake. The Vicious Viscountess. The Wasteman of Whitewell.
‘Oh, you’re a fan of my show? Thank you so much.’
Malakai’s face didn’t twitch. ‘I am, actually. I listen to it every week.’
My attempt to be a brat flopped. I swallowed down this titbit of information he had revealed down in an attempt to ignore the fact that it made my pulse skitter, but the fact that it tasted sweet on its way down made it decidedly difficult to ignore the fact that I liked that he listened to me. The show was my main source of confidence but also coyness. He tapped into both at the same time.
I cleared my throat. ‘Thanks.’
Malakai shrugged, matter-of-fact. ‘I wasn’t saying it to gas you. It’s good. It’s good energy, good music and I like what you say. I mean, I really like what you say. Until last week … You know what happened last week?’
I hitched a shoulder up and narrowed my eyes in polite curiosity. ‘No. What happened?’
Malakai released a slow smile and nodded, ‘You were describing this dickhead that breaks the hearts of gyaldem and I was like, rah, who is this guy? Prick. But then all of a sudden, my phone starts chiming. Messages from girls cussing me out, telling me they were about to reclaim their time. Calling me a Wasteman, saying that I’m trash. And then tonight happens. Two beautiful girls I’ve gone on dates with suddenly turned on me like I married them both then abandoned our twelve children.’
I moved to lean against the wall in front of him, fold my arms across my chest, stare up at him inquisitively. ‘Huh. At the same time? Like was there a whole polygamy set-up? Old school Naija?’ ‘No, like, international businessman with one family in London and another in Houston-type deal. New school Naija.’
‘What kind of business is taking you to Houston? Do you sell Bibles?’
‘If I was a Bible salesman, that would actually make the whole two-family storyline even juicier.’
We each smiled, then stilled, apparently both as disconcerted that our words had fallen into rhythm in the same way our bodies had. So, the first time we met wasn’t a fluke.
Malakai cleared his throat, his voice now sounding formal. ‘Anyway. I’ve been doing damage control all week. As you can imagine, it’s all been wildly distressing.’
‘Wildly? Distressing?’ I laughed, then stopped when I realised he wasn’t smiling. He was serious. ‘Wait, are you—you’re fucking with me, right? You’re upset because I disrupted your little harem?’
Malakai shook his head. ‘Nah, I’m upset because you’re a hypocrite—’
I raised a brow. ‘Excuse me?’
‘Kiki, we’re the same. The same way I assume you were seeing Zack casually—’
‘So, you weren’t coming from his flat that night we met?’
I swallowed, my skin prickling with new exposure.
Malakai shook his head. ‘Look, no stress. I didn’t tell anyone. It’s none of my business, and honestly, I don’t give a shit. My point is, the same way you were seeing him casually is the same way I was dating the girls. Similar, anyway. Because I actually liked them, and it’s clear you can’t stand Zack. Don’t get me wrong, that’s your prerogative and you can do whatever you want, but I don’t appreciate being judged for doing the same thing you do. All the women I talk to know what’s up from the beginning. I make that clear. That’s why I was able to sort that shit out with Chioma and Shanti earlier. It’s why me and Zuri are cool. I didn’t lie. I never lied. They’re great girls that I wanted to get to know. No commitment was promised. I told them that I understood their feelings, but I just thought this was a healthy way of doing things. There was communication there. You were getting involved in things you don’t know about.’
My mouth parted. Was he accusing me of … slut-shaming? Me, the feminist, who had words of Audre Lorde and bell hooks seared into her heart? Who knew the entirety of the prelude to ‘Flawless’! I was never lost for words and this time wasn’t any different, but it definitely took me a while to retrieve them. When I found them, they came out like bullets. I stepped closer to Malakai, eyes narrowed and seething.
‘Oh, there was communication there? That’s why everybody knew who I was talking about on the radio—because all the women knew where they stood? Please. Look, just because you were able to spin something that smoothed over that mess between Chioma and Shanti doesn’t mean you’re innocent and it doesn’t mean I’ll buy it. You clearly did something for the girls to believe that they meant more to you, something that made them retroactively question your behaviour. And for your information, what I did with Zack was not the same thing. Dudes have been doing what you’re doing since the beginning of time. Having their cake and eating it too. Well, guess what? The patisserie’s closed.’ So maybe that last part was overkill. I continued talking, hoping to erase any damage that corny line had done to the gravity of my point. ‘What I’m doing is levelling the playing field. There is a difference, Malakai, and I don’t need to waste any more time trying to explain that to you.’
Oh, for fuck’s sake. ‘Can we focus?’
His lips bent in an irritatingly inviting manner. ‘I’m focused.’
‘Nah. It was clever. Literary.’
He was definitely mocking. Zack didn’t quite have what it took to get under my skin, but this guy was burrowing like he knew where to go. It almost made me want to stay as much as it made me want to go. Which meant I had to go.
‘You know what? We’re probably done here. I think Zack’s got the message. People will have lost interest by now. It’s already been a long night and I don’t have the energy for whatever this is going to turn into. Thanks for the emergency kiss, but I think I’m gonna—’ I went to walk past him.
Malakai stepped to make way for me but his eyes flashed, ‘I’m sorry.’
‘What?’ I stopped in my tracks. Men who looked like him and acted like him and, OK, fine, kissed like him, did not apologise. Even men who didn’t have his credentials didn’t apologise. Was the music really that loud? I really needed to sort out the sound system because it was clearly a health hazard, causing me to hear things that did not—
‘I said, I’m sorry. You’re right, I hear you. I shouldn’t have compared the two situations when I really don’t know you like that. But here’s the thing,’ he rubbed the back of his neck, ‘I want to. Been wanting to. Since the first time we met.’
My breath hitched, but I forced myself to breathe, for the expression on my face to stay the same. Cool. I hadn’t been ready for that, but it was fine. He did this all the time. Evolved. Player.
‘The first time we met you were going to Zuri Isak’s room—’ ‘The first time we met you were coming out of Zack Kingsford’s room.’
Touché. I didn’t know if it was great or terrible that he was reasonable. Hot and reasonable. He was also kind of a dick, the same way I was kind of a dick. It was slowly occurring to me that perhaps he wasn’t The Wasteman of Whitewell. The Wasteman of Whitewell wouldn’t have helped a girl who called him The Wasteman of Whitewell get revenge on another guy (a guy infinitely more fitting of the title). He wouldn’t have noticed her discomfort. Granted, he could have had his own agenda to shame me, but there were easier ways. He could have let me squirm, turned it around and used the opportunity to embarrass me, leave me pouting into the air, but he didn’t.
Malakai cleared his throat in the silence between us.
‘You know what? You probably want space. I’m gonna go. And yeah, that kiss was … That kiss was something, but it was also nothing. I wanted to help. Me wanting to hang out with you has nothing to do with it. You don’t owe me shit.’
Either he was a preternaturally talented actor, or he was telling the truth.
‘I know I don’t.’
Malakai took it as a dismissal. He inclined his head deeply, pressed a hand across his chest like he was excusing himself from my court, and shot me a tiny smile. ‘It was an honour to be your sidekick in making a dickhead squirm, Fellow Superhuman.’ He winked and stepped away from me, ready to go. My stomach flipped and spurred my hand to reach out for his wrist.
He looked down at my hand and I found my gaze travelling there too, because I could not believe I’d just done that. My body was in rebellion tonight, acting without permission from my mind. When I looked back up, his eyes were glinting down into mine, asking a question. I nodded. I was here now. I might as well follow through. I dropped his wrist and any pretence that I wasn’t curious. ‘I know I don’t owe you shit. Which is why you’re buying me a drink and not the other way around.’
Malakai’s smile widened. That was two shots of dark liquor on its own.
He looked like a bad decision. The best kind of bad decision.
- Bolu Babalola is a British–Nigerian woman with a misleading bachelor’s degree in law and a masters degree in American Politics & History from UCL. She feels it is important to state that her thesis was on Beyoncé’s Lemonade and she was awarded a distinction for it. So essentially she has a masters degree in Beyoncé. A writer of books, scripts and retorts, a lover of love and self-coined ‘romcomoisseur’, Babalola writes stories of dynamic women with distinct voices who love and are loved audaciously. She is a big believer in women being both ‘Beauty and the beast’. She is not a fan of writing her own bios. Follow her on Twitter.
Sweet like plantain, hot like pepper. They taste the best when together …
‘A triumph of a novel.’—Beth O’Leary
‘Smart, sexy and energetic. I’m excited for everyone to read this book.’—Emma Gannon
‘Bolu understands desire better than anyone else and in Honey and Spice it prickles under every word.’—Annie Lord
Kiki Banjo is an expert in relationship-evasion. In fact, she has made it her mission to protect the women of Whitewell University from the dangers of players and heartbreak, supplying advice, tips and essentials to paying men no mind on her student radio show, Brown Sugar. And then Kiki meets distressingly handsome newcomer Malakai Korede, who threatens to tear apart the community of women she’s fought so hard to protect.
Kiki publicly declares Malakai the ‘Wasteman of Whitewell’ on Brown Sugar and brings a stop to her girls chasing his attentions. But when she and Malakai suddenly find themselves shackled into a fake relationship to salvage their respective reputations and save their academic futures, she is in danger of falling for the very wasteman she warned her sisters about. With her heart compromised and defences weakened, Kiki has to learn to open herself up to the perils of love … and face up to a past that forced her to close down in the first place. A funny and sparkling debut, Honey & Spice is full of delicious tension and romantic intrigue that will make you weak at the knees.