Damage Control #9

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Read Previous episode here

***

Leslie propped the pillows behind Ojiugo, trying to ensure her maximum comfort in bed. The sheets had been changed to bright shades of pink and purple. The room itself had undergone some transformation. Ojiugo had remarked a few times about how dull the place looked so just before she came home, Leslie spent hours redecorating. He changed the position of her bed to give a better view of the window and on the walls, he put up colourful wallpapers, landscape paintings and some of Ojiugo’s favourite quotes. For all his hardwork, he had been rewarded with eyes that shone bright and a warm smile the second she walked into the room.

“You transformed it!” she had said with child-like delight and Leslie found pure contentment in that moment.

“Can I get you anything?” Leslie asked once he stepped away from the bed.

“Some water please.”

Leslie stepped out of the room and returned momentarily with a bottle and glass in tow. He placed the bottle on the table by her side, right next to a monochrome picture of them sitting side by side on an extensive patch of grass. Ojiugo took the glass he offered with a smile and sipped from. As she set it down, she noticed the picture and she smiled.

“I liked it there you know. I know I gave you such a hard time on that trip, but I really liked it.”

Leslie smiled in return.

“True confessions. I wonder how many more of those I’m going to get in the coming weeks.”

Ojiugo grinned widely.

“Look who’s making jokes now.”

Leslie swallowed hard and turned away.

“I know I don’t have that much time left Leslie. Thank you for not making it tough.”

With his back still to her, Leslie shrugged and focused on smoothening the sheets at the end of the bed.

“Have you heard anything about Belema yet? Did you ask Ikem about her?”

Leslie sighed and he turned to face Ojiugo again.

“No darling. I didn’t. And you must stop worrying about her too. It’s how we landed in the hospital again. Stop doing this to yourself please. It’s hurting me too.”

Ojiugo’s face fell.

“Sorry. I’m just wondering how she’s doing and something about her has me really drawn to her. I can’t get her out of my mind.”

Leslie smiled mischievously.

“I’m getting replaced by a woman. So that’s how you choose to swing in the latter days?”

Ojiugo laughed softly but soon began to cough. Leslie’s face was overcome with concern as she held her head tenderly.

“Sorry love.”

Ojiugo nodded and once the coughing subsided, she was wearing a smile.

“Made wants to come by and spend next weekend with us. That woman will be the death of me Les. And she wouldn’t let me say no.”

Leslie snorted in an attempt to keep from laughing but failed.

“One weekend honey. Let her come and stay. Please.”

Ojiugo turned away. Made was her best friend. When Ojiugo lost both parents in a plane crash at 6, Made’s parents took her in and the two girls grew together like sisters. Work kept them in different cities but they stayed in touch often. Made cried her eyes out when she found out about the cancer. Ojiugo kept it hidden from her for over two months and when Leslie got tired of the cover up, he told Made the truth. As much as Made was always busy with work, she created time the very weekend Leslie told her and flew down from Calabar. Made was such a worrier. And that was the major problem Ojiugo had with her. It was why Ojiugo kept the issue with her health a secret and it was also why she didn’t want Made coming over now. Because Made would worry and fuss and probably burst into tears at random occasions without warning. It would stress her and she did not feel up to it.

“If you say so. But she’ll be your headache when she starts with the drama. I love her but even you know she can be more than a handful.”

Leslie smiled and rubbed her hands.

“I’ll take care of her darling. Not to worry.”

Ojiugo smiled and shut her eyes, falling asleep almost immediately. Leslie observed her for a few minutes before getting up and leaving the room. Once outside, he took in a really deep breath then exhaled slowly. Just before leaving the hospital, he had another talk with Dr. Ikem who encouraged him some more to give Ojiugo as much support as he could emotionally. He spent a few hours surfing the internet, trying to look for clues on how to deal with a loved one who was nearing their death and he did find some helpful information. It was why he easily flowed with Ojiugo’s jokes today. Usually, whenever she attempted to make some light hearted comment on the topic of her limited time left, Leslie would take it to heart and get in a mood. But he was gradually understanding and accepting that it was part of her coping mechanism, a way to find her peace and he was not going to stand in the way of that anymore.

He also knew Made would be better off not coming by the house but he had no means of keeping her away. She loved Ojiugo too much to not visit her in her final days. He sighed as he contemplated what to do in the one week before she turned up then he suddenly remembered Ojiugo’s comments about Belema. He decided he would try the house one more time and probably set up camp there till someone came to tell him where Belema was. But that would have to be tomorrow. He was tired and needed to get some rest himself.

He went into the kitchen and took some beans from the freezer to microwave. Ojiugo would likely be asleep for a long time. He would use the opportunity to get some shut eye before he had to cater to her again.

***

Mrs. Ochoga looked like she had just been hit by a truck. Belema would had laughed had the circumstances been different but she knew there was no room for humour. She had come to the end of herself. She was tired of bottling things up. She needed her mother and as she sat there holding her gaze and waiting with bated breath, Belema hoped that her mother would prove an ally and come through as a mother would, just this once.

“Is it Seun’s?” Mrs. Ochoga finally asked

“Yes. But I can’t tell him and I can’t keep it either.” Belema said.

Mrs. Ochoga had no words. She stood up and walked to the other end of the room and folded her arms, looking out the window.

“Mum?”

“Yes?”

“Say something please.”

“Like what? That my first daughter keeps trying to embarrass and disgrace me?”

Belema gasped in shock. Here she was, having just opened up to her mother and the first reaction she got was fear for her mother’s image as opposed to concern for her wellbeing. She cautiously dropped the wine bottle she had been holding and just as quickly as she had opened her heart, she clamped it shut again.

“Well, I’m sorry all I have ever done is embarrass and disgrace you. I’ll take care of this myself. Don’t worry.”

“And what is that supposed to mean?” Mrs. Ochoga snapped. Even in her anger, she remained passive. She could not bring herself to yell or throw things around the house, even though that was exactly how she felt on the inside.

“First you try to commit suicide, and now you want to commit murder?”

“I never said anything about murder mum.”

“Really? So abortion is what? Life transformation?”

“I didn’t say anything about an abortion either and would you just stop jumping to conclusions? I hate it! This is exactly why I gave up the first time. You don’t listen. You don’t care and you don’t try to protect your children. It’s always about you and what you want or how you feel or what people would think of you. Not a single thought ever goes to your children. But that’s fine. I don’t even care anymore.”

Belema rose and walked out of the room, leaving her mother standing by the window with tears in her eyes.  As she walked to her room, she heard Nengi and Olanna laughing in Nengi’s room and another wave of sadness hit her. She greatly desired a bond with some friend similar to what Nengi had with Olanna but no one in her life came close. The gulf between Seun and herself was widening daily and there was nothing to do about it. She got into her room and slammed the door shut but seconds later, someone was knocking on it.

Belema lay in bed and refused to acknowledge the person. She was certain it was her mother coming either with some other weak apology or to further berate her but she was not in the mood. The knocking soon stopped and the door opened cautiously and Olanna peaked through it with Nengi bearing over her. Belema looked at them and was oddly reminded of cartoon scenes with mice peering to be sure a cat wasn’t about and the image made her laugh. Olanna then opened the door fully and the two girls poured into the room.

“Sorry, we weren’t sure if you were here” Olanna began to say.

“Stop lying jor” Nengi interrupted.

“We heard you come in and slam your door like you were trying to cause an artificial earthquake. Are you okay?”

Belema smiled inspite of herself.

“Yeah. Your mother wears me out, no matter how hard I try. But you already know this.”

Nengi grinned.

“Well try this on for size, I want to put Olanna up for sale for the exact same reason.”

Belema laughed and looked from one girl to the other. Olanna had a twinkle in her eyes and shrugged when Nengi made the remark. It was obvious the girl had no intentions of going anywhere.

“Your sister is being a complete learner. One guy likes her and is making all these romantic gestures but she is forming for him as if good guys are not scarce in the market. Meanwhile Valentine is around the corner.”

Nengi jumped into Belema’s bed, picked up a nail file that was lying on it and began filing her nails.

“Well, since he is so good, why don’t you have him?” she retorted.

“Because he wants you, not me.”

Belema smiled warmly and watched on in silence as they continued their banter. But in her heart, she was grateful for her baby sister who she knew had come to her room to provide comfort without knowing the details of what had her upset. And Nengi never bothered questioning her or pushing to share more than she was willing to per time.

She soon noticed that Nengi had launched into a monologue while Olanna busied herself rummaging through Belema’s book collection.

“You only have romance here.” Olanna remarked suddenly.

“Huh?” Belema looked up.

“Your books. Is it only romance you read?”

Belema smiled.

“Yeah. Those are the ones that interest me the most.”

“Hmmn. Okay. But I think you could try other stuff sha. Maybe you’d find some other thing that appeals to you.”

“Yeah? Like?”

“Non-fiction? Biographies? Self-help books?”

Belema made a face

“Ugh. I hate those.”

Nengi and Olanna burst out laughing.

“I swear. Nengi knows. Bunch of self-absorbed people telling you how they think you should live your life. No thanks. I’ll pass.”

“Save your breath Ola. I have tried and failed with my sister on that one. She won’t budge.”

Belema smacked Nengi with a pillow and the latter laughed some more.

“I get persecuted for the truth. But issokay. Jesus was killed for the truth.”

Belema shook her head and got off the bed.

“Why don’t you bring me one of your most favourite non-fictions books and I’ll give it a shot.” She said to Olanna.

Olanna smiled brightly.

“Sure thing. Tomorrow.”

“I need some fresh air. You guys fancy some pizza? Maybe we can go to Dominos?”

“Yessssss!” Nengi yelled excitedly, jumping off the bed in seconds.

“Food will kill you.” Olanna teased.

“Then I shall die happy.”

Belema smiled and shook her head. So maybe she did not have a friendship like Nengi had with Olanna but she at least had both girls and occasionally shared in their friendship. In the interim, that would most certainly do.

***

Mrs. Ochoga woke up the following morning with a nagging pain in her chest. No matter how hard she tried with Belema, she always ended up failing. They did not have the special bond most mothers had with their first daughters and it made her sad to know that Belema thought her selfish and uncaring. She wondered what she could have done differently. Belema was 30 and responsible for her choices but there was no doubt that those choices would always reflect on her one way or another. And why did Belema not want to tell Seun?

Someone knocked softly on the door and she turned on her side and invited them in. The door opened and Nengi walked with a smile as radiant as the sun. The girl was always so bubbly and energetic.

“Hi mum!” Nengi called out cheerily.

“Hello dear.”

Nengi walked to the bedroom windows and pulled the drapes apart. Sunlight came pouring in, forcing Mrs. Ochoga to shield her eyes.

“I didn’t see you last night and you haven’t gotten out of bed this morning. Was the fight with Belema that bad?”

“What did she tell you?” Mrs. Ochoga asked tiredly.

“I haven’t asked her yet. At least not directly. If she didn’t tell me with all the hints I was dropping, I take it she’s not ready. So I’m here asking you instead.”

“Go and ask your sister Nengi, because I am tired.”

Nengi went and sat beside her mother in bed.

“Mum, she’s still recovering and I think we should handle her with care. I don’t want us to do anything that will send her back to that depressed place where she tried to commit suicide.”

“Nengi, your sister is an adult and I will not walk on egg shells around her just because I’m afraid of doing something that will make her want to kill herself again. So somehow that’s my fault too?”

“I didn’t say that mum.”

“Then what are you saying? Because Belema blamed me yesterday for her suicide attempt.”

Nengi sighed

“Mummy, I’m very certain she didn’t mean that. Maybe she just got really upset over whatever it was you guys were fighting over and she said that because she was angry. I don’t think she meant it at all.”

Mrs. Ochoga remained adamant.

“Just tell your sister not to do anything stupid again. I need some peace and sanity in my life.”

She got out of bed immediately and went into her bathroom. Nengi sighed again. Who had cursed her with this unending charade that was her family?

She stood up and walked out of her mother’s room. She honestly did not want to know what the fight was about. She just wanted Belema to be happy again and for her home front to not be chaotic. But that was apparently too much to ask for.

As she walked into the living room, she was surprised to see a tall guy in glasses sitting with Belema. Something about the young man was vaguely familiar but Nengi could not place it. They both looked up as she walked in.

“Hello,” Leslie said with a smile

“Hi.” Nengi returned the smile.

“Nengi, this is Leslie. He’s the boyfriend to the woman who rescued me on New Year’s Day.”

Nengi’s smile warmed up some more.

“Oh hi, it’s nice to see you again. But why are you here so early in the morning though. Everything okay?”

Belema stared at Nengi in shock and tried to make subtle faces to keep her from making further tactless comments and Leslie laughed.

“We were just concerned. Actually, Ojiugo is. She hadn’t heard from your sister here in weeks and each time we came here, we never met anyone at home so I promised her I would come and check one more time, really early, in the hope that I would at least find someone here.”

“Ohh. Right. Well, it’s nice to see you again.”

“Same here.” Leslie responded warmly.

To Belema, Nengi said

“Belz, can we talk later? I’ll be in my room.”

“Sure.” Belema responded and Nengi walked out.

Belema turned her attention back to Leslie.

“Sorry, you were saying?”

“Ojiugo would like to see you again. She’s actually been worried about you.”

“Well, that’s sweet of her but I don’t think seeing her again would be necessary. I mean, you could just tell her I’m fine and won’t be taking another dive anytime soon. My family has been supportive and I’m on medication.” Belema said politely.

Leslie’s tone was urgent when he responded.

“But you need to. I’m begging. It would mean so much to her.”

Belema shook her head.

“I’m sorry. And I know this might come off as rude, but I don’t think we have any further business with each other. She rescued me, I’m grateful for that. But I don’t want to force a friendship. It’ll be awkward for me. I’m really trying to forget what happened that day and I don’t see how visiting her will help.”

Belema stood up to indicate she was done with the conversation but Leslie remained seated. He took off his glasses and looked her straight in the eye.

“Ojiugo is dying. She’s got cancer. The least you can do for the woman who saved your life is grant her dying wish.”

Belema gasped and promptly sat down again.

“Jesus! I had no idea.”

“Of course you didn’t. But please, this is important. She got so worried about your disappearance, she landed in the hospital again a few days ago. She’s got a limited amount of time left Belema. Please. One dinner. Come by the house, talk to her, listen to her talk. A couple of hours at most.”

“Yeah, sure. Sure.”

She stretched out a hand and took Leslie’s.

“I’m so sorry. Honestly. This must be so hard for you.”

Leslie shrugged and pulled his hand back then put on his glasses.

“I’m alright. I’m crazy in love with her and will do any and everything possible to ensure she transits peacefully. There’s nothing else to be done.”

“What kind of cancer please? If you don’t mind my asking that is.”

“A tumour in her brain. We discovered it late and surgery was not an option.”

Belema swallowed hard and fought the tears that were pooling in her eyes.

“When do you want me to come? I can come with you right away if you like.”

Leslie shook his head.

“No. Tomorrow night. Valentine’s Day. If you don’t already have plans. She can’t leave the house so I’m making dinner and having one or two of our mutual friends over. She needs as much cheerful company as she can get.”

“Alright then. Send me the address and time please. I’ll be there.”

Leslie nodded and stood up.

“Thank you for your time.”

He walked out of the house and into his car, all the while thinking how he did not like Belema. He thought she was a selfish ingrate. He had not wanted the cancer to be a bargaining chip. He had hoped that she would be willing to come see Ojiugo just at the mention of her worry and concern but her reluctance had annoyed him. But he reminded himself that this was for Ojiugo and the mild irritation Belema brought him was a small price to pay for the peace of mind of the woman he loved.

 

Damage Control #8

Hi everyone!!!  And we are back!! Yayyyy!!!

First off, thank you so much for your patience. An even bigger thank you to those amazing people who kept bugging me about completing this series. Chief culprit, Yemi Ajala who protested by initially refusing to read or share anything else on the blog until I finished this. Lol. This is for you darling. Hope we are cool now. Then this is also for Titty. Your last comment was the final push I needed. I had given up on this story somewhat till I saw your comment.

So for everyone else wondering what is going on, I’ll explain. Two years ago, I started this series with a woman (Belema) attempting suicide on the 1st of January. She was ironically found and saved by a woman (Ojiugo) who had a cancerous tumour in her brain and had been given 3 months to live. As at episode 7 which was the last I posted, Belema had left town and was trying to find her sanity in Abuja in the company of her eccentric younger sister (Nengi) and Nengi’s best friend Olanna. Seun, her exboyfriend and best friend was stuck in Lagos worried about her because she had shut him out. Belema is quite the stressful character. Lol. Dr. Ikem, Ojiugo’s personal doctor also sadly broke the news to Leslie (Ojiugo’s boyfriend) that Ojiugo might not live up to March. So all caught up now are we? Still go read previous episodes if you missed them. The story will make a lot more sense that way.

So why did I leave the story unfinished? Life happened. I entered a crazy season at work and it took a serious toll on my writing. But here we are. Just look at God!!! Haha. I’m talking too much. Here’s the new episode. Please share and leave your comments behind. They make writing even more worth it for me. Don’t just read and run. Let’s talk. Let me know what you think. Thank you!

***

Leslie stared at Ikem in shock, eyes gradually going blank. He opened and shut his mouth a few times but no words proceeded from them.

“I’m sorry. I did a scan last night. The tumor appears to have grown some more and I don’t even understand why because the drugs she has been taking are meant to stop the growth at least.”

Leslie gave no response still.

“Leslie, this is rough. But I couldn’t possibly lie to you about how bad things are.”

Leslie nodded. He stood slowly from his seat and walked out of the office, heading back to Ojiugo’s private ward. Dr. Ikem did not stop him. .

When Leslie walked in, Ojiugo was still asleep. Leslie sat beside her and held her left hand, rubbing it gently. He had tried to ensure that Ojiugo took her pills religiously but with Ikem’s recent revelation, he feared she may have been skipping some of them. He recalled how she had complained that the drugs left her exhausted and feeling listless and knowing how vibrant and energetic she was, he understood that this was a frustration.

Ojiugo’s eyes fluttered and she opened them slowly.

“Hey.”

“Hi babe,” Leslie responded with a forced smile. He was not about to let her in on his panic.

Ojiugo trained her eyes on his face as though searching for something that would wipe the confusion that was apparent on hers.

“How, how did I get here? What happened?”

Leslie blinked.

“Sorry?”

“How did I get here? I don’t remember anything.”

Leslie gulped.

“You- we were having dinner last night and the headaches resumed and got really intense and your pills didn’t work so we came here.”

Ojiugo still looked confused.

“Maybe they gave you something that knocked you out badly. I’ll go get Ikem.”

Ojiugo nodded a little uncertainly and Leslie left the room, his head spinning. The memory loss had begun to set in. That much he was certain of. He burst into Ikem’s office and said curtly,

“She’s losing her memory. She doesn’t recall what happened last night.”

Ikem stood up and hurried out of the office with Leslie. As he walked into the ward, his face lit up with a bright smile.

“If it isn’t the sexiest woman on the planet! Hey beautiful!”

Ojiugo chuckled lightly. Her voice was tired when she spoke

“This ashawo man. What did you people give me? My mind is so foggy and I can’t feel my right hand properly. I can barely move it.”

Ikem’s smile dimmed a little bit and he went to her side and helped prop her up. He ran his hands over her arms and massaged her right leg slowly, watching her for reactions to his touch but she barely gave any. He subsequently surmised that paralysis was beginning to set in as well.

“Alright, you have to rest some more boo. I need to go review some of your previous scans and then I’ll let you know what I think, okay?”

Ojiugo nodded and Ikem signaled to Leslie as he walked out. Leslie kissed Ojiugo on the lips before walking out.

“I’ll see you in a bit.”

Once back in Ikem’s office, Leslie shut the door behind him and looked into Ikem’s eyes.

“It has begun, hasn’t it?”

Ikem nodded gravely.

“Look, I don’t want to raise your hopes but at this point, I think it’s best to let you know. There’s a specialist in India I’ve been trying to contact for the longest time now. I just got an email before you came in. I’m trying to see if he can see Ugo, only so we exhaust all our options. But just in case he has nothing to offer, you must begin to prepare yourself. Ojiugo will not be here forever.”

Leslie nodded.

“When can she come home?”

“Tomorrow. Let me observe her for the rest of the day. Excuse me.”

***

Seun rubbed sleepy eyes as he mechanically unbolted his front door. He had slept through his alarms and was surprised to wake up and find that it was well after 10am. Then Belema’s call came in shortly after he opened his eyes and she said she was at the front door.

“Hi,” he said with a yawn. Belema smiled nervously and responded with a shy “hey”.

They stood there looking at each other for a few odd seconds before Seun stepped aside.

“Come in.”

Belema walked into the house and immediately wrinkled her face. The house looked a mess- an empty vodka bottle lay on the center rug, empty KFC packs were strewn across the floor, a crumpled shirt lay haphazardly across the couch and a blanket was on the floor, right next to a pillow that partially buried a laptop.

Belema stepped carefully over the items and stood by the couch looking at Seun a little uncertainly.

“Your place is so messy.”

Seun ran his hand over his head and shrugged.

“Good morning to you too.”

“Sorry. Good morning.”

Seun walked close to where she stood and began picking items from the floor one after the other, tossing them in a heap on one of the couches in the room. He then sat on another couch across from Belema and indicated for her to sit down.

Belema sat down gingerly and clasped both hands together.

“So?” Seun urged.

“I don’t know where to start but I swear, I’m really sorry.”

“I don’t need your apology babe. At least not now. I just need an explanation of what has been going on the past two months. Because I am completely lost.”

Belema exhaled.

“I dunno. I just got to a really bad place I guess.”

“And you couldn’t talk to me?”

“Seun, every time I told you I was depressed, you told me to cheer up and go out more and be happy. You always said ‘do something fun’ as if that was all there was to depression but being sad had nothing to do with it.”

Seun regarded her carefully but Belema looked everywhere else but his face.

“Well, I thought you just needed to do something more fun, I didn’t realize it was anything serious but when it got serious, you should have told me.”

Belema sighed.

“You don’t get it do you? Was I supposed to come to you and say ‘hey I think the whole world hates me so I just want to take a dive into the ocean?’ especially when you couldn’t deal with the basic symptoms before things got worse. I had to see a therapist Seun. I was placed on medication.”

Seun’s eyes dimmed and he felt instant regret and guilt.

“Babe…”

Belema’s eyes clouded and Seun went to sit beside her and wrapped an arm around her.

“When I went to Osogbo for a few weeks in October last year, it was not for work. I was getting treated then.”

“I’m so sorry. I should have taken this more seriously. And please believe me, the whole world doesn’t hate you. I don’t even know why you would think that. I would never have forgiven myself if anything happened to you. Plus mumc and Nengi would never have recovered.”

He rubbed her arm and slowly, she leaned into him, brushing her face against the stubble on his cheek.

“It’s just been so much to deal with.” Belema whispered.

Seun sighed. He didn’t know what else to say.

“Do you feel better now?” he asked after moments of silence.

“I think so. I mean, I’m getting there. I went out a lot in Abuja with Nengi and her friends. I had fun.”

“Ok. Good. You actually put on some weight so that is good. But how can I help going forward? What can I do? Because I honestly don’t want a repeat of January 1st. If you’re ever feeling low, please talk to me. We’re best friends Belz. I love you.”

Belema sniffed and withdrew from his hold.

“Yeah. I’m okay now.”

Seun barely noticed the slight shift in her eyes.

“Okay. Good. Do you want something to eat? I can make some noodles.”

Belema smiled and shook her head.

“No. I’m good. Aren’t you working today?”

Seun looked around the house as if suddenly aware of the time.

“Yeah. I swear I’ll get fired one of these days. I slept through my alarms but that’s because I was up all night working. Didn’t get to sleep till like 5 this morning. But I’m sure there’s nothing serious happening there, otherwise someone would have called me.”

“Okay.”

“I need to go shower. What do you want to do?”

“I’ll just head home. Haven’t seen mumc. I came here straight from the airport.”

“Oh? Where are your bags then?”

“Nengi took them home. We came in together and shared a cab here. They dropped me off and went home.”

“I see. So how are you going to get home?”

“I’ll get an Uber.”

“Alright. Get one then, let me clear up these stuff.”

Belema brought out her phone and Seun took the heap of items on the couch to his bedroom. He returned a few minutes later and Belema was already on her feet.

“The driver is 2 minutes away.” She said.

“Alright. I’ll come by the house later this evening if that’s okay.”

“Yeah, sure.”

Seun gave her a warm hug and she felt somewhat stiff in his arms but he said nothing about it. Her phone began to ring.

“That must be the driver. See you later.”

She stepped outside the house as she answered the phone and Seun shut the door after her. Their friendship had taken a major hit and things felt different now. He just hoped they would find a way to get back to where they used to be.

***

Loud laughter emanated from Nengi’s bedroom with the door slightly ajar. Nengi was spread out on the bed with Olanna beside her.

“You like Jide jor. Stop fronting.”

Nengi released another set of giggles.

“You are on your own o. I don’t know what you are talking about. He is cute and funny, but who that one epp abeg? Those are the ones you never take seriously. They are too much trouble.”

“Trouble or not, it doesn’t change the fact that you’re interested. Meanwhile when I was saying we should go to Abuja, you were doing shakara.” Olanna said with a tease.

“I’m admitting to nothing. It’s like I told him before we left, we won’t see again. No point.” Nengi said finally and pushed herself off the bed.

“I really think your dad is so cool though.” She added as she began unpacking a bag that sat close to the bed. Olanna’s eyes lit up.

“I swear! Can’t believe I grew up without him. We have so much in common!”

“Did you guys get to talk about that though?”

“Nope. The first time I tried to raise it, he just said something about having to make tough choices and skipped the topic. We were having so much fun, I didn’t want to ruin it.”

“Is he coming back to Lagos again?”

Olanna shrugged.

“I dunno. I’m not even sure what the situation is with him and mum.”

“Have you asked her?”

“Nope.”

“Hmmn.”

Nengi emptied the bag of all its contents, sorting dirty clothes into a laundry basket and returning unused clothes to the closet. As she rummaged through the bag one last time, a sudden frown appeared on her face. Olanna who had been watching her raised a brow.

“What is it?”

Nengi pulled out a small box and held it up.

“What is this?”

“Uhh, open it?”

With her frown still in place, Nengi opened the box to reveal a gold chain wristwatch.

“Wow. That is beautiful!” Olanna gushed. She got off the bed and snatched the box from a shell-shocked Nengi and took out the wristwatch delicately before strapping it over her wrist.

“If it is jazz now, that’s how you will just disappear.” Nengi remarked.

Olanna giggled.

“This is so pretty! Oh look! There’s a note.”

Nengi rolled her eyes and turned her attention back to her bag. Olanna opened the note and read from it.

A golden woman has no hiding place.”

Nengi turned around sharply.

“Is that even a thing?”

Olanna began to laugh.

“Girlllll, this is definitely Jide. That dude has the hots for you.”

Nengi rolled her eyes again.

“No. He has the hots for my backside. And he ain’t tapping that.”

Olanna burst into loud laughter and Nengi shrugged.

“You know me. I’m not wearing that nonsense. I don’t even like chain watches. You can keep it. I’m even going to block his number sef. I don’t have time for stress or drama.”

Olanna looked disappointed.

“You’re really not interested?”

“Did I carry water in my mouth when I said it before? Madam, keep the watch. You have early Valentine’s present. Congrats.”

Olanna shook her head.

“You are something else.”

  • ***

Mrs. Ochoga lay in bed in her room when the door opened softly and Belema walked in.

“Hi mum,”

Mrs. Ochoga sat up with a smile.

“Belema. Nengi said you were back but went to see Seun.”

Belema nodded and went to sit beside her mother on the bed.

“How are you?” she asked.

“I’m fine o. I missed you girls o.”

Belema smiled.

“I missed you too mum.”

She hesitated briefly then continued.

“I’m hoping we can talk. I feel like I owe you an explanation.”

Mrs. Ochoga gave her an encouraging smile.

“Only when you’re ready darling. Just take your time, as much of it as you need.”

“I’m ready. I just got overwhelmed with everything and you and I haven’t been that close and there was no one to talk to.”

“And Seun?”

“Mum, it’s complicated with him. I think the only reason we dated was because I told him I was in love with him. It wasn’t because he wanted it. And you, you were so preoccupied with your own worries, I didn’t want to burden you more.”

Mrs. Ochoga smiled sadly.

“Belema, I know I may not have been everything you wanted me to be as a mother but I am still your mother. I still love you like my life depends on it and I will still sacrifice anything to keep you happy. You scared me. Really. I felt like I had failed you.”

“Well maybe you did. After dad left, you just quit on life. You lost your essence. You lost yourself. We couldn’t count on you for strength or support. You just stopped living.”

Mrs. Ochoga swallowed a lump in her throat. She knew Belema was right.

“I’m sorry. I just kept hoping that things would change and we would go back to where we were as a family. But that’s never happening again. I know that now.”

“What caused this grand revelation?” Belema asked, her tone hinting at a tease.

“Nengi trying to break your father’s head with a pestle.”

Both women chuckled lightly.

“Yeah, Nengi is something else.

I want to try again mum. Start over. Find my happy. Can I count on you?”

Mrs. Ochoga nodded.

“Yes. Even I want to start over.”

Belema smiled warmly.

“Do we start with a hug?”

Mrs. Ochoga laughed.

“Of course.”

Both women shared a warm hug and Mrs. Ochoga suddenly pulled back and went to a corner of her beside and produced a bottle of wine. Belema began to laugh. She could not help herself.

“Really? When did you start drinking alcohol mum?”

“But it’s only 6%” Mrs. Ochoga argued.

Belema smiled.

“No judgment. Shebi it’s new beginnings?”

“Mhmm. And I don’t have any glasses here. So here goes.”

She opened the bottle and raised it up between them and said

“To fresh starts, to fixing things that were broken and to letting go of the past.”

She then took a huge gulp and passed it on to Belema who took a light sip.

“To fresh starts mum. And while we’re at it, I’m pregnant.”

Learning Obinna: Graduation Day

Everyone has a kryptonite. It doesn’t matter whether they know it or not, acknowledge it or not. But every single person has a kryptonite and you are just like everyone else, so yes, you also have a kryptonite. Your kryptonite story is coincidentally the same as the story of your graduation from learning Obinna.

You think back to the night when it all came apart and you wonder whether you could or would have done anything differently. You find no answers. Perhaps the universe had conspired to ruin you. There is no other logical explanation. Or maybe there is. Maybe you just need to, in your ever famous words, own your own bullshit.

It began with the party on New Year’s Eve. Everyone knows you love to have a good time and over the holidays, you were in the company of people who didn’t know any better than to constantly indulge your jaiye jaiye tendencies. So when your cousin spoke about the party, you wasted no time in whipping out your precious leopard print body con dress you had taken on the trip, specifically for a night out like the one you would be having. What you didn’t factor in or bargain for however was the one person you would be running into at the party. Let’s call him X.

You have been good friends with X for quite a number of years. Nothing out of the usual. Regular guy from your uni days. After your graduation, life had you both charting varying courses and running different circles. But there were the occasional online chats with each other, easy banter and hearty laughter. That was X. Now back to the party.

Because you had spent the previous night consuming a ridiculous amount of alcohol, you had made a solemn promise to yourself that the party was not going to be another drinking fest. So you nursed a glass of chapman with John Legend’s “Tonight” setting the tone for a great night in the background.

“You have got to be kidding me!” you suddenly hear someone exclaim softly behind you. You turn around to find out who the stranger is and you nearly drop your glass. The last time you’d seen X, you were impressed by how he had morphed into a fairly good looking man. And that had been 5 years ago. But now, he looks nothing like what you remember. If anything, he is five times as hot.

With full lips that part in a smile, and arms that open even wider, he invites you in for a hug and you try to subdue your squeals of excitement as you lock arms with him.

“What are you doing here??? How are you here??” you ask breathlessly.

He laughs. And his deep throated laughter triggers internal heat all over.

“I could be asking you the same thing.”

“I’m here for the holidays. You? Coz when we spoke at the beginning of the year, you said you were in Australia.”

He flashes you a grin and shrugs.

“You know how I get. I left in March then went to Greece and subsequently Romania. But I’m here for the holidays as well.”

“Nice.”

You take a gulp of your chapman to soothe your suddenly parched throat and it works. For a few seconds.

“What’s up with you now? This your dress ehn. I will never be able to get this image of perfection out of my head. Dang!”

You laugh nervously and attempt to steer the conversation away to safer grounds. His presence has a way of making you ever so self-aware. But more than that, there is a desire to be held in those arms and to drown in those beautiful brown eyes. So it is important to you that you find a topic to distract you from his looks and take your mind away from the unhealthy places it is wandering to.

You try, but the conversation inadvertently winds back to how great you look and how much time you spend at the gym and what you dieting plans are. It’s a dangerous topic and as you navigate your way around carefully, he suddenly blurts out

“The last time I saw you, I desperately wanted to kiss you and now I feel the exact same way again.”

You stop mid-sentence, an awkward smile on your face as you try to think of a comeback that would be witty and smooth.

“Well, we have got the most awful timing in the world because-” you start to say but the remainder of your words are caught in your throat as he cuts in with

“We can make it perfect right now.”

The words are barely out of his mouth before he claims your lips, crushing them softly with his. A thousand fireworks go off in your brain which seems to freeze and you shut your eyes, reveling in the sheer pleasure of his tongue expertly seeking the corners of your mouth. He nibbles softly on your lower lip and you tremble as his hand traces a line down the back of your head to your neck and back. He stops suddenly and you blink your eyes open in time to see the raw desire in his.

“Come on,”

He takes your hand and like one under a spell, you follow him out of the dark corner you’d both been standing in and up a flight of stairs into a bedroom whose interior décor you are unable to take in because X is kissing you again with a sense of urgency that is simultaneously exciting and dangerous. In that room, X brings you sinful pleasures that have you trembling to your toes, leaving no room for any form of logic or rationale.

Hours later, as you both prepare to return to the party, he smiles at you and says “If I wasn’t such a nomad, we could have something special you know.”

It’s at the tip of your lips to say that he has likely just wrecked something special that you have but you smile back and nod.

“It’s okay to want different things. I guess we’re just not in the same place.”

He grins and kisses you lightly on the lips then links his arm with yours as you walk out.

Here’s what you quickly surmise about X. He is good for but he is just not for you. He is that rich uncle that shows up from an exotic country with mind-blowing goody bags but will certainly not stay to watch and help you grow like your father would. He is an intense, yet fleeting experience. An experience you know will likely repeat itself a few more times, so long as the stars align.

It’s not guilt that keeps you from taking Obinna’s calls all through the next day and the day after that. It’s introspection. It’s you taking time out to contemplate why you would shatter in one night something you have spent almost a year building. You always felt you weren’t worthy of Obinna’s love. And this, this is your proof that you are totally undeserving of him.

You come to the conclusion that learning Obinna was great but you missed the more important prerequisite course, which was learning yourself. So after a week of silence in which Obinna nearly loses his mind, you call him and tell him it’s the end of the road. He doesn’t understand. And neither do you. Which is why you need to get on the new program of learning yourself.

It is now 3 weeks after graduation and you still have no idea what your future looks like, yet you hope it is nothing as miserable as your present.

***

Happy New Year guys!! Damage Control returns in exactly a week. Who’s excited? Because I am

2016 Review: Here I Stand, More than Enough

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For the last 2 years, I have consistently shared my personal review for the year on the blog.  2014 was intense, 2015 got better and 2016 has been even more enlightening. These reviews help me monitor growth and progress and I share here in the hope that someone else might pick a thing or two. So here we go again.

***

I am excited to write this review this year. And that is because I find it interesting how I went through the year with so many dashes of self-doubt and the occasional question of “what am I really doing with my life?” But somehow, 2016 is drawing to a close and here I am, standing tall, fully content and confident in my realization that I am simply, more than enough.

I didn’t get here overnight though. So I am taking a trip down memory lane to review my journey.

January

Started out a little rough because I carried some baggage from the latter part of December into the New Year. Sigh. I no dey hear word. Launched Hunter’s Game on my blog. The most amazing story I have written, in my opinion. Lol. Results came in for my first semester and they were fantastic. But I was a little discontent. Lol. I can be silly sha. I mean, who sulks when their lowest grade is a high B only because they wanted straight As? Well I guess a lot of people but still, Smh. I started working out at the gym. Yes, there was a hot summer body and it was months of hard work that birthed the abs and strong arms. Hehe.

Commenced my accountability journey with a close buddy and it was the beginning of improved productivity and efficiency for me. Auditioned for a TedTalk for school. I spoke on being imprisoned in Stereotypes and it was amazing. I didn’t get selected but the feedback was positive and incredible. I think that would qualify as my peak of the month. Also joined the choir in church. Didn’t realize how much I had missed singing in a choir. It was a really good decision. Got a writing gig for a TV series as well. Great stuff.

Lesson for the month: Find a handful of people to whom you can be honestly accountable and responsible. They will save your life.

February

More rough edges.

I had my first mock trial competition. Didn’t win but I had fun. Got subtly checked by a girl who apparently thought I was hitting on her boyfriend. First time ever. A very funny something. I just maintained my lane subsequently. I still love my face. Attended the Law Ball and it was amazing. I love dressing up for a good night out, so of course I had fun. Lots of writing combined with school work nearly overwhelmed me but I survived. A few disappointments that made me question my privilege and sense of entitlement. Nothing like some rejection to deflate a big head eh? J

A couple of lows towards the end of the month but they weren’t too bad and thankfully didn’t last too long.

Lesson for the month: Times and seasons, they come and go. Nothing lasts forever so relish the highs and power through the lows.

March

March got off to an incredible start. My awesome, league of his own, truly special friend paid me a surprise visit from Paris. I was just home from lectures that day when I got a message from him that read “from where I’m standing, Aberdeen is a lot prettier than they say.” I squealed loudly in excitement and could barely contain myself. Best day of the month for me honestly. We had so much fun.

But the weeks that followed were not as good. I struggled with more lows. More than a few hard days that seemingly stretched endlessly and were impossible to fight. Then a classmate and friend from my first degree passed on and it was a massive blow. My shock absorbers were ill-equipped for that one. There’s something about the month of March and how it has claimed friends in their prime over the years. I find that really scary.

Lesson for the month: Nothing in life is that deep or that serious. Just do your best then keep your head up, as high as you can, as much as you can, for as long as it takes.

April

Fantastic month. Spring break. Camping trip with wonderful people from 7 different countries. I wouldn’t trade the experience for the world- building camp fires, hiking, finding breath-taking waterfalls, discussing cultural differences and similarities; simply the best.

So I started laughing out loud as I contemplated the experience I’m about to share in this paragraph. I failed an essay I had written in March. First time in my life. I never hessperedit. Didn’t even think it was possible. Ogechi Nwobia, writer of life, couldn’t write an essay on whether the United Kingdom truly had parliamentary sovereignty? LOL. Honestly, what was most upsetting about that paper was the fact that I had put in so much work into it and I had gotten other scholars to review it so I was sure it was perfect. So you can imagine my shock when I got the email notifying me that I had scored a D3. They call that grade a pass but as far as I was concerned, it was a fail. My father wasn’t paying 5 figures of foreign currency for me to be gathering Ds.

I disregarded the email, convinced that it was a typo. Surely they meant to type B3. Never mind that the two letters were nowhere near each other on the keyboard. I was actually on my way out of town to go and groove my birthday weekend in another city when the mail came in so I just ignored it and focused on the groove I had planned. I had a blast. Then I came back and went to pick up the essay on my birthday morning. When I saw the real D3 staring me back in the face, I just became weak. I got back to my flat and cried.

My special ‘league of his own’ friend talked me through it and cheered me up and I eventually went back to the lecturer to find out what I had done wrong so I could fix it subsequently and that was that.

April was a good month in all though. More time at the gym, loads and loads of laughs, lots of dancing and more often than not, a peace that surpassed human understanding 🙂

Lesson for the month: Laughter is music, medicine and food for the soul. Find a reason to always indulge in it.

May

Took my exams in the first two weeks of the month and once done, I snuck back into Nigeria like a thief in the night for the summer holidays. It felt so great to be back after 8 months away but I took the longest time to settle in. The heat was almost unbearable. I had so much fun paying surprise visits to my close friends. Bestie almost passed out when I showed up at her office, Eloho yelped and pretty much bolted out of the waiting room, Mfon squealed like a baby and I was just so happy to be the reason behind the sparkling lights in the eyes of the ones that mattered so much to me.

Meeting up with the rest of the family wasn’t any different. Lots of laughter at dad’s birthday dinner. Made fajitas and guacamole (as per pikin that has gone to learn something new) and dad in typical fashion said “please bring me Eba.” LOL. Gotta love my dad though. He truly colours my world.

A little bit of Ajala-ing here and there. But it was a relatively good month. Then exam results came out. Let’s just say I realized how foolish I was to have sulked over the first result. Hehe. But I was grateful this time. Truly grateful.

Lesson for the month: Relationships are a priceless gift, value each one on its merit and treasure them for all they are worth.

June

Resumed work at my former office. Along with work came some really nice groove. Because I was determined to maintain a balance during the holidays. The Social Prefect tour to Gurara falls was my highlight for the month.

Somewhere in the middle of the month, things took a nosedive. I still don’t understand how I went recklessly from 0-100 but I was crashing dangerously and didn’t seem to care. I think I had spent too many months ignoring some hurt and anger that had been tugging at my heart. It was something I honestly thought I had dealt with but had apparently only just buried. So when I let lose, I barely recognised myself. But thank God for good friends who see through facades, who recognize your struggle and who help restore you to normalcy.

Remember my lesson for January on friendship, responsibility and accountability? Yeah. Seun Odukoya is one of those. Seun saved my life. The restoration didn’t happen overnight but Seun set the wheels in motion.

Lesson for the month: Live one day at a time and by all means, own your bullshit.

July

Lots of meetups and hangouts with my favourite people in the literary circle. Finally met Sally Dadzie. Couldn’t stop gushing. I fall in love with her over and over again, every single time! More screenwriting gigs. Lots of bants and connections with people who had low-key began to matter to me. The evolution of human relations forever fascinates me- how someone can go from stranger to acquaintance and eventually to becoming a core, integral part of your life and daily experiences. More time with the family. We all got together in the same space at the same time for the first time in years and it was amazing.

For no apparent reason, the lows began to return again at the end of the month and I found myself struggling yet again.

Lesson for the month: The strength of your relationships is a function of how much you invest in them. Good relationships don’t just happen, you grow and nurture them.

August

August was an okay month. More writing, more connections with amazing people, more hangouts/grooves, more of all the good stuff generally. Until someone I regarded a friend manipulated our friendship and broke my trust. Certain things are hard to recover from but forgiveness came over time.

Then the countdown to my departure began. Just like that, the summer holiday was over.

Lesson for the month: Our choices often yield unintended consequences so as much as possible, think through them carefully.  

September

Back to school and into a new flat with an amazing woman. Stress-less flatmates are underrated, honestly. Spent the entire month settling in. Attempted taking on a writing gig that was super stressful, I honestly don’t even know what I was thinking when I took it. I walked away eventually, smartest life choice ever.

There were some fun moments mixed with a little bit of drama but it was the harmless kind of drama which I indulged for a little bit before choosing to walk away because I have since learned to be deliberate in all my dealings and to act purposefully.

Lesson for the month: Know your limits. Human not machine

October

Returned with season 2 of Hunter’s Game as the characters would not let me be. Writing it gave me such a high. Lol. Another mock trial competition and this time, we won! I was so excited. New friends, deeper connections, then a magical trip to the Enchanted Forest that brought back childhood memories of Enid Blyton’s books. Sheer joy.

Had a small health scare which turned out to be nothing. Still haven’t gone to see my physiotherapist though. Sigh. I no dey hear word.

October was good generally, then an old crush resurfaced. But I can’t for the life of me fathom why we just have the worst timing. Hehe. Or maybe I can. Some things are just not meant to be.

Lesson for the month: Find pleasure in the simple things of life, that way, they are never too far from you

November

One word- stressful. There were days where I was so mentally fatigued, I really had no idea how I made it through to the next. Made a couple of trips and saw friends I hadn’t seen in 4 years and the timeout was great but I returned to find the stress I had taken a break from still waiting for me. Lol.

November was honestly the most intense month this year. I questioned myself a lot; my plans for the future, my goals, my life choices. Lol. I had a lot of self-doubt and uncertainties and they bothered me greatly. These had been building up steadily through the year and they finally got to a climax where I found myself having no answers and no sureties.

But it was at this point of hitting ‘rock bottom’ that I began to find myself again, slowly. It began with deeper connections with people who held my hands and opened my eyes. It came through my faith in God, a solid reassurance that there is one who sees the end from the beginning and who always goes ahead to make crooked paths straight.

Lesson for the month: You are never alone

December

It’s been a fine mix with mostly all the good stuff.

Got feedback on all my essays, no more Ds, just As and Bs, Yay! Then came the exams where lecturers threw curve balls. But it didn’t matter to me because I had already accepted by this point that the essence of education is not good grades but actual knowledge and skill sets which can be deployed to solve real problems. So what if I’m unable to memorise all the case law? Do I know the general principles of law required to solve the problem? Yes? Then end of discussion. But the process of preparing stressed and stretched me so much, I was glad when it was finally over.

For my highlights, I received lovely, well-thought out gifts from truly amazing friends. Both times, I never hessperedit. Imagine having a delivery man at your door with a package for you when you know full well you didn’t order anything. What made it extra special was, the sender wasn’t even in the country! The second gift was a collection of Enid Blyton books. This actually brought tears to my eyes. Those books mean a lot to me and revealed to me that people who care about you pay attention to all the little details. My friends are thoughtful and kind and I remain eternally grateful for them.

Current status: Enjoying an incredible Christmas holiday with cousins I haven’t seen in over 15 years. Also hanging with old friends, exploring new cities and generally having the time of my life.

Lesson for December: Choose contentment, you are more than enough.

That was my year in a nutshell. My greatest joy was discovering how much writing I did this year which was infinitely more than I did in 2015. Yay for growth! My biggest lesson was finding personal contentment as well as staying in my process. The ideal life I want for myself will not happen overnight so I must stay in the process and build gradually. I seem to keep ‘learning’ this lesson every year. Lol.

For 2017, my plan is simple.

  • Live vivaciously but make responsible choices.
  • Read a lot more.
  • Travel some more. My goal is to visit at least 4 new countries. A girl can dream no?
  • Throw fear out the window and choose love, peace and happiness.

How about you? How did your 2016 go and what are your plans for 2017? Please share in the comment section. Enjoy the best of the holidays!

I remain loyally yours,

@Oge_writes

 

Hunter’s Game: Season2 Finale

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Yassss! We are finally here! The last episode for the season, for the series and for the year! Thank you guys so much for being here. I couldn’t possibly have made it without you. My health has definitely improved and my exams went well. I finished on Thursday and now I am set to relax and have the best holiday ever. Hope you guys have great plans for the holidays as well.

I’ll be back again towards the end of the month to share my end of year review and I hope you guys check it out and share how your year went with me as well. After that, I shall see y’all next in the new year.

I will try and write during the holidays. I’ve got so much lined up but writing is in my DNA so I guess it goes without saying that I will scribble a thing or two in anticipation of the new year. Who remembers Damage Control? Yes, we are returning next year. In case you never read the first few episodes, go and play catch up please.

But for today, enjoy this episode. I’m making up for the short episode last weekend as promised. Almost 7,000 words, an expression of my true love for you guys. Enjoy.

Previous episode

***

Nifemi kept trying Uzo’s number through the hour that morning but all she got was the automated voice telling her the number was not reachable. She began to feel a sense of panic when he didn’t show up at noon and his number was still not reachable. It was certainly unlike Uzo to be away from work without prior notice and without a word this late into the day.

Towards close of business, she had made a mental note to obtain Uzo’s house address from someone in the HR department when she received the email from the HR team informing the entire office that Uzo had been involved in a serious accident and had been flown abroad for treatment urgently. Nifemi gasped as she read the entire message and her eyes soon clouded with tears. Her head was spinning and she found herself falling through time and landing on Friday night, the fun she’d had and the promise of a call that never came. She cried when she thought about the fact that she had been low-key upset when his call didn’t come through the weekend and how she had been too proud to get in touch with him first. She wanted to bash her head into a wall. If only she had known. The email didn’t have much details other than that the rest of the staff should keep praying for him and they would be waiting for more word from the family.

As soon as she got home, she went crying to Victoria who tried and failed to soothe her. Victoria soon gave up.

“I don’t even know why you’re crying like a baby. I thought you said weren’t catching feelings for him. Since when did he become important to you?”

“So I can’t care about a person again?” Nifemi asked through her tears

“No, you can. But your reaction is not proportionate to the situation and it’s beginning to annoy me. He’s not dead. He’s not your boyfriend yet somehow you’re here crying like a new bride whose husband just died.”

Nifemi sniffed and tried to gather her wits together. Victoria was right. She was overreacting. Uzo wasn’t dead. And maybe, just maybe she probably cared about him a lot more than she was willing to admit even to herself.

“Although I must add it’s quite suspect. He meets me, I say he looks fishy, then you confront him then suddenly he has a mysterious accident and disappears.”

Nifemi hissed.

“You’ve started again abi?”

Victoria tapped her forefinger on her temple.

“Think. That’s all I’m asking.”

“We are not having this conversation.” Nifemi said as she stood up and walked out of the room. Victoria shrugged. She didn’t care.

***

Sharon held the test result in trembling hands and tried to fight the tears gathering in her eyes but she was unable to. They came down slowly in tiny droplets. Kunbi stood before her, a kind smile on his face.

“You okay?”

Sharon smiled through her tears as she shook her head and nodded at the same time. Kunbi laughed. .

“Come here.”

He opened his arms for a hug and Sharon went into it. He held her close for a long time and Sharon exhaled deeply. Relief coursed through her body as she thought of the implication of the test results she held. The baby was certainly Ani’s. There was a mini Aniekan growing inside of her; a baby that would help her always remember the man she loved. She couldn’t be more thankful. The child was not going to be a reminder of a costly mistake but a reminder of a beautiful and powerful connection she had shared with an amazing man.

“I’m going to be a mummy Kunbi,” she whispered into his shoulder. Kunbi chuckled and squeezed her tight.

“Indeed you are.”

When she eventually stepped back and wiped her face, Kunbi asked

“Are you ready? Can we go?”

Sharon nodded and Kunbi took her hand and led her out of the hospital and into his car. They were back at his place in 20 minutes and Otto was waiting. She and Kunbi had talked the previous night and he had succeeded in getting her to release some of the hurt and frustration she was dealing with. She still had questions and Kunbi’s reassurance that she would make it through the phase left her feeling better than anything or anyone else could have done. She had also promised to ease up on Sharon after Kunbi mentioned the possibility that the child Sharon was carrying could be Otto’s niece or nephew.

Now she looked at Sharon expectantly, and when Sharon nodded with a smile, Otto leaped on her and squealed excitedly.

“It’s Ani’s baby?!! It’s Ani’s??”

Sharon laughed and tried to steady her.

“Yes, yes it is.”

“Oh I pray it’s a boy! Daddy would be so happy! Even if it’s a girl! I would love her and spoil her so much!”

Sharon laughed at Otto’s enthusiasm. It was infectious. She was amazed at Otto’s ability to translate from zero to hundred so quickly. The lady never ceased to amaze her.

“Oh my goodness, I’m going to be an aunty!” Otto was still gushing and Sharon was smiling contentedly. She felt Kunbi’s hand hang loosely around her waist and for the briefest moment, she felt like it was Ani. She leaned into him and Kunbi firmed up his grip. She looked at him and smiled. Kunbi was truly precious. She mouthed a “thank you” as her eyes glazed and she turned again to look at Otto who had now launched into a monologue of possible baby names and what plans the Ubong family would make for the baby.

Later that evening, with Kunbi off to a meeting, Sharon and Otto lay in the guest bedroom scooping from a bowl of ice cream and munching on some chicken wings, talking and laughing.

“No, he was legit the smelliest homeless person I have ever seen.” Otto was saying

“Only you will make fun of a person like that.” Sharon responded with a laugh.

“But it’s not poking fun. I was just calling it as I saw it. I was tempted to drop a can of body spray in his coffee cup. Would have served him better than a pound coin.”

Sharon laughed some more and shook her head.

“I swear I’m going to give up on you soon. You’re too much.

How come I never knew you were this funny?”

“You never asked.” Otto responded with a grin. “I certainly do try.”

“Indeed you do.”

Sharon sighed contentedly and rubbed her belly.

“I think I’ve had enough food to last me a lifetime. If I eat any more, my baby will be fat and round.”

Otto giggled.

“Don’t be like that please. Eat food so that the baby can at least have life. Please don’t be like all those people that obsess over their bodies especially when they are pregnant. Allow your baby grow.”

Sharon giggled.

“Sounds so much like something Kunbi would say. You’ve been around that man too much.”

Otto grinned.

“He is hot though. And so funny and smart. What’s the story with you two?”

Sharon bit into a chicken wing lazily.

“What kind of story?”

“You tell me nau. The story of your friendship. Did you guys date?”

“Naah. Kunbi and I go way back but we have always had a platonic friendship.”

“Hmmn. No crush, no moment of indiscretion ever?”

Sharon laughed.

“Nope.”

“I find that hard to believe” Otto said sitting up and facing Sharon squarely.

“Why? You think I’m in the habit of screwing all my friends?”

“No. But you guys just seem so close and I’ve seen how he looks at you. It’s hard to believe your friendship is purely platonic. Abi someone friend-zoned someone?”

Sharon laughed again.

“Otto, I have very few personal connections with people. It’s largely because I travel a lot and my life is complicated. But each connection I have, I value on its own merit and I try to preserve. Getting romantically involved with Kunbi will ruin our friendship.”

Otto observed her as she tried to take in what had just been said.

“Naah. I’m still not understanding.”

“I don’t know how to explain it. I love Kunbi but not in a romantic sense. We have been friends for about 6 years now. And in all that time, I have actually never thought of dating him. We used to see each other every other month and now it’s like once or twice a year. But each time we see, we just catch up like good friends. If I’m ever down or struggling with anything, I go to him. Well, things I couldn’t talk to Ani about. But dating him? It has just never come up. It’s possible to just be friends with a guy you know. I mean, Kunbi is nothing like any other guy I know and I feel like trying to convert what we share into something else would ruin it. Besides, he has a girlfriend he is entirely over the moon for.”

“Ah. I see. It’s because he has bae then. And you were with Ani. So if he were to breakup with his girlfriend, maybe you two could hook up.”

Sharon massaged her temples.

“I give up.”

“Well if you don’t want him, me I want o. He is hot! He is rich and he is an artist. And then he loves God. And he has all the answers to all the issues of life. How can you not want to keep that kind of person forever?”

“I do have him forever Otto, as my friend. And that is more valuable to me than a relationship. Now stop trying to put ideas into my head please.”

Otto nodded.

“Okay o. Have you bought our tickets to return home?”

“Tickets? Thought I was only buying mine.”

Otto looked at her suspiciously for a moment and Sharon shrugged, a smile peeking out of the corners of her mouth.

“Eku ise o, credit card wrecker.”

Otto rolled over in laughter.

“I love you Sharon, I swear!”

“No, you love my money. I’ve sha bought the tickers.”

“Awww. No, really, I do.”

Otto suddenly threw herself at Sharon in a hug.

“I really do love you and I’m glad I’ve got you.”

Sharon smiled.

“Me too hun, me too.”

***

 “But you aren’t scratching your eyes out yet so how do you hope to convince me that you are bored to death?” Leela said into her phone. She listened for a response and laughed quietly.

“You’re not okay. There are lots of novels there Uzo, knock yourself out.”

“I can’t believe you’re the only phone call I get in a day.” Uzo said with a feigned sulk.

“Who would you rather be talking to? The man trying to have us all killed?” Leela asked, her tone light.

“No. This hot girl at my office actually. I was supposed to call her last weekend till you carried your reggae and came to spoil my blues.”

Leela laughed loudly.

“Pele. I’m sure Harrysong will be able to fix her up. She must have realised by now that even her boo has a boo.”

“Which boo? You? So that you will carry the powder that you crushed my heart into and now throw it into the Atlantic Ocean? Mba, no thank you”

Leela snorted.

“You’re not okay. I need to go oga. Your mother would kill me if she gets back here and sees I’m not done with this task yet. We’re taking this guy down tonight. I really need to finish up with this blue print.”

“Alright. Thanks for checking in anyways. I actually appreciate you. You’ve been kind to me the last couple of days. Suspicious, but I’m thankful still.”

Leela shook her head.

“You’re impossible to please.”

“As are you.”

“Take care of yourself sir. Eat. Read. Chill. Like I’ve been telling you-”

“Consider this a mini vacation.” Uzo finished off.

“Exactly. Bye sir”

Leela hung up and smiled. There was a guard assigned to watch Uzo at the safe house. Every day for the last 3 days, she had called the guard’s phone to check in on Uzo and keep him company for at least 20 minutes, seeing as he had no other interactions with the rest of the world. They had built a steady, easy rapport. She looked forward to their conversations. He had forgiven her and they had both moved on from their failed relationship. All was right with the world again. Or so she thought.

A few seconds later, Ijeoma was bursting into the room through the main door and yelling for her to duck. Ijeoma made a bee line for the table where the blue print of the Bishop’s house in Abuja lay as well as their guns but the warning came a second too late or perhaps Leela failed to register it properly. Leela turned her back to the door to reach for her gun and the moment she raised it and turned around, she felt something cold and hard hit her chest. She took two more hits as she staggered back and crashed through the table, falling to the floor. She heard a lot of yelling, feet pounding, more screaming and more shooting and suddenly everything began to fade out. She saw Uzo’s face smiling at her as they lay in bed in his room at the Lekki house, next she saw Gbemiga smiling at her and stretching out a hand to her. She smiled back and raised her hand to meet his outstretched one then everything went black.

***

Ijeoma slowly regained consciousness but she did not open her eyes immediately. She lay on her side and tried to mentally register where she was and what had happened. Her joints were stiff and her body ached. Her head hurt as well but she was only vaguely aware of it. She remembered returning from one final meeting with Yakubu. The moment she got into the house, three hefty men appeared seemingly out of nowhere and lunged at her. She ducked just in time and fled into the operations room where she had her weapons, the moment she burst into the room, she had yelled for Leela to take cover but she had been too late. The men were right behind her and one of them fired off his gun at Leela who had tried to reach for hers. He had aimed straight for the heart and didn’t miss. Leela was dead in seconds. She remembered taking her gun and firing blindly for a few seconds before the men grabbed her. She was sure she had hit one person. Someone had stabbed her arm and she passed out.

The room felt dark and she finally risked opening her eyes. It was indeed dark. She wondered how long she had been out for. It had been noon when she returned to the new house they had been operating from and now it was pitch black. It had to be late at night. Her eyes adjusted to the darkness and she could not make out any figures. She was definitely alone in the room. Her hands were bound tightly behind her and her feet as well.

She needed a plan. If she was still alive, it meant one of two things, the Bishop wanted to kill her himself or he wanted to use her as leverage for something else. Either way, she determined she would not go down without a fight. Leela’s death hit her badly and further fuelled the rage she was feeling. The poor girl did not deserve to die.

She heard a small click and shut her eyes immediately. The door opened, someone pulled a switch and the room was at once flooded with light. She heard a voice which she assumed had to be the Bishop’s.

“Wake her up.”

She felt a kick in her side and she bit her lip to stop herself from groaning. She turned and opened her eyes. The light blinded her briefly and she blinked multiple times to adjust to this new found brightness.

When she looked up, two men towered above her. They were the two people who had attacked her earlier in the day and standing a hundred feet away from them was the devil himself- the Bishop. She was mildly disappointed. He looked like a regular person. There was nothing evidently sinister about him. But she knew by his age that he had to be the one and when he spoke, he confirmed it.

“You know, in all my years in this business, it’s the first time one person has taken down two of my best guys in such a short time. You are quite impressive.”

Ijeoma said nothing and her expression was blank.

“And to imagine that I have you here, before me like this? That’s a major turn on.”

Ijeoma recoiled on the inside but still said nothing.

“Do you have a tongue?”

Ijeoma did not move.

The Bishop smiled.

“Give us a minute” he said to his men. The two men left the room and shut the door behind them.

“Ijeoma, I have read your file. I know a lot of things about you. But let me warn you, you don’t want us to remain enemies. I am going to make you an offer and I’d like you to consider it. You have skills I have never encountered before. And I am sure you know who I am and what I am capable of. Why don’t we work together?”

“Over my dead body” Ijeoma spat.

“Don’t get theatrical Ijeoma. I will have you stripped and whipped and tied to my bed. I will ram my shaft into you till you beg for mercy and even then I will not stop until you pass out. Then I will wait till you come to and I will have my men repeat the process. We will all take turns with you till you drop dead. Nobody says no to me, ever.”

Ijeoma felt chills go over her entire body. No one had ever threatened her like this before and she knew it was not an empty threat. She swallowed hard and cleared her throat.

“What do you want?”

“Good question. You. And I want to be a gentleman about it. What would it cost to get your loyalty? Because that is the only way we can work together.”

“You already have me here. You have threatened me. What else do you think you need in order for me to comply with your every whim?”

The Bishop smiled.

“I want to untie you but I’m a bit concerned about you getting violent.”

Ijeoma was silent.

“Take a little more time to yourself. These walls will be your new home till I can find something to leverage on. I feel we aren’t quite at an agreement yet. Until then, no food, no drink. Just a few conversations here and there till I am certain I have you in total submission.”

He walked out of the room and shut the door. Ijeoma sighed. She could go 5 days without food. It was the most she had ever done but combined with the Bishop’s other torture methods she had heard of, she didn’t know how long she would last. She had nothing to leverage. Her manipulation skills would likely not work. She said a desperate prayer for Yakubu to come up with a plan for her rescue because with what she knew about the Bishop, if Yakubu didn’t come to her rescue soon enough, she would remain his prisoner for a really long time and that was one thought she did not relish in the least.

***

 Yakubu crushed his fist into barrister Jide’s cheek and the latter tasted blood.

“You better start talking now otherwise I will leave a bullet in each major joint on your body and leave you to bleed to death.” He barked.

“I- I don’t know anything.” barrister Jide stuttered.

Yakubu picked up his gun and cocked it.

“You must think I’m joking.”

“I swear, I don’t know. I don’t know where he lives or how many people he works with.”

Yakubu fired a shot carelessly in barrister Jide’s direction and it grazed his arm. Barrister Jide yelped.

“I am not playing here. Ijeoma means a lot to me and by God I will kill you if anything happens to her.”

He tossed the gun aside and stepped out of the room to find Malik waiting. Kazeem was dead. He had been killed when the men showed up at the house. Malik was only lucky to be alive. He had arrived from getting lunch shortly after the men attacked.

“What have you got?”

“Bode has been able to retrieve some information on the hard drive we found. It’s from Leela’s laptop and we’re trying to see-”

“I don’t want to hear anything about you trying! Find her! Just find her!” Yakubu yelled.

He was frustrated. The men who had taken Ijeoma had also taken the laptop she had been working with and all the files they had in the house as well as the blue print of Bishop’s house. There was simply no information to work with and Yakubu was back to square one.

Once back in his study, he made a phone call to the CDI, the man in charge of the Defence Intelligence Agency, requesting for any information whatsoever that they had on the Bishop. He yelled at the officer who talked about not wanting to give out classified information and compromise an ongoing investigation for the sake of Yakubu’s personal needs and the rest of the conversation went downhill. 20 minutes of yelling later and there were still no results. He was even more frustrated. Someone knocked on his door and he ignored it. The door opened and a man in his mid-forties walked in. He was completely bald and Yakubu wondered if he had ever met him before.

“Who are you? And how are you in my home?”

The man bore a sombre expression.

“You would know if you bothered with your emails or phone calls. I have been trying to get in touch with you the last few hours.”

“Please answer the question. It appears you do not know whose home you’re standing in.”

“My name is Kunle. I was Yemi’s boss. I got news a few hours ago that she’s dead.”

Yakubu sighed.

“Oh. I’m sorry about that.” He said distractedly. “The body has been deposited at the morgue of a private hospital. I can arrange to have it moved to whatever city you require whenever you’re ready for a funeral.”

“That’s not why I’m here.”

“Why are you here then?”

“I know where to find the Bishop.”

***

“You can leave for the night. Be back here tomorrow morning at 9am.”

The two men looked at the Bishop oddly.

“You sure sir?” one of them asked cautiously

“She is tied up in my basement. No one knows where she is. You destroyed the files and killed everyone you met in the house right?”

The men nodded.

“Good. You know how I am about my privacy. I shall see you in the morning.”

Both men nodded and walked out of the house.

The Bishop poured himself a shot of brandy and went up to his bedroom. He took a few sips from his drink and turned off the light and as he lay in bed, his thoughts strayed to Ijeoma. She was a lot more beautiful than her pictures portrayed. The fact that he couldn’t read her thoughts intrigued him even more. He wondered what she thought of him. If she was frightened, she did not let on. He wondered how long it would take for her to break.

The Bishop tossed and turned in his bed for another hour but he was still unable to sleep. Eventually he got out of bed and went downstairs. He picked up the brandy bottle from his bar alongside an extra glass then made his way to the basement. It was almost 1am.

When he turned on the lights, Ijeoma stirred. She had fallen asleep.

“I’d like for us to talk.” The Bishop said.

Ijeoma saw something in his eyes and she gave him a half smile which disappeared immediately.

“About?”

“Did you just smile?”

“No. I reserve my smiles for my friends. But you, you’re certainly no friend of mine.”

Ijeoma sat up and rested her back against the wall.

The Bishop set the bottle and glasses down between them. He poured into both glasses and held one up to Ijeoma’s lips.

“Have a sip.”

Ijeoma sighed.

“I haven’t eaten all day. If I take any spirit on an empty stomach, I’ll be passed out in a matter of minutes. Are you trying to have a conversation or something else?”

The Bishop smiled.

“Actually, a bit of both.”

He pressed the glass to Ijeoma’s lips and she took a sip and sighed. He pressed the glass again and Ijeoma took a bigger gulp this time before he set it down.

“How did you manage to kill Vlad?”

“I got lucky,” she responded simply. “He had almost snuffed the life out of me when my partner returned and managed to distract him. It was easy after that.”

The Bishop nodded.

“He was dear to me. I should be pissed but I am only impressed.”

“I guess we’re even then. Your boys took someone who was also dear to me.”

“Someone dear to you? I didn’t think that was possible. Your file read no family, no friends, no close ties, nothing.”

Ijeoma smiled stiffly. He didn’t know about Uzo. That was good. Unless he was playing at something. She decided to tread carefully.

“I had a son.”

“No way. He didn’t show up anywhere. He died?”

“I dunno. I gave him up for adoption at birth. Never found him again. I guess each time someone tries to look into me, I keep hoping they find him but so far, no one ever has.”

“Maybe you’re just not meant to find him or maybe he’s dead.”

Ijeoma shrugged and looked at the drink again and the Bishop raised the glass to her lips. She took another gulp.

“You’re not drinking.” She said to him. He smiled then took a gulp from his own glass and grimaced.

“You are quite something.”

Ijeoma smiled.

“I think not. But you on the other hand, you are quite the legend.”

The Bishop smiled.

“Really?”

“You know I’d heard so many stories I swore they weren’t true. I was certain you were a myth. Yet here I am, a guest in your home.”

The Bishop watched her carefully. Her eyes were glazed and there was a certain pitch in her voice.

“So you admit you’re a guest and not a prisoner.”

Ijeoma smiled and angled her head for another drink and the Bishop obliged her.

“You have me here, we’re having drinks. Never mind that my arms are stretched and bound tightly or that my joints are badly bruised. You actually have me talking. I call guest!” Ijeoma laughed softly.

The Bishop smiled. The effects of the alcohol were kicking in faster than he imagined. Blood coursed through his veins so fast, he could barely breathe. Maybe, just maybe he could have her tonight.

“And if I untied your hands?”

Ijeoma swayed to the side and slid slowly to the floor.

“What hands?” her speech was slurred and her eyes blinked a few times before they shut.

The Bishop stared at her. Was she asleep?

“Ijeoma?” He tapped her arm which was so tough.

Ijeoma blinked her eyes open then struggled to sit up.

“Sorry. Tired. But so thirsty. More.” Her speech was still slurred.

The Bishop held the glass to her again and she took another gulp from it before crashing to the floor again, this time spilling some of the contents in her mouth on the floor then letting out some silly laughter like a drunken 16 year old.

The bishop took two huge gulps from his glass and set it down. Then he took a swig from the bottle and set it down. The alcohol further fuelled the desire that had been burning in his loina. He stretched Ijeoma on her side but she looked too awkward so he proceeded to untie her wrists and once he was done, she still didn’t move. She was definitely passed out cold. He turned her on her back and spread her arms out while on his knees, then proceeded to take off her top, his heart pounding with intense desire.

The moment the top came off, he kissed her flat tummy but before he could go any further, her strong arms suddenly gripped his neck tightly and began to choke him. He fought back and they both tumbled over on the floor but Ijeoma did not let go, even with her feet still bound, she maintained a firm grip till she had him on the floor again. They crashed into the wall and Ijeoma slammed his head against it, once, twice, until he stopped moving. There was no blood so she was certain he wasn’t dead. She rolled over from him grabbed the brandy bottle which was close by and slammed it against the wall. Armed with the broken bottle, she stared at him, expecting him to move at any moment and when he didn’t, she hastened to untie her feet. She dragged him away from the wall and bound his hands and feet as quickly as she could. Her head did feel woozy but the adrenaline rushing through her made it possible to function almost effortlessly.

She went to the door and stood by it, bottle raised, in case someone came running through. She waited for a few seconds but no one did. Then she unlocked it and opened it cautiously. The house was deathly quiet. She tried to remember the blue print she had seen but it was difficult. She made her way upstairs and into the main house. She searched around and eventually found her phone and a few other personal belongings in the master bedroom. But the house was also empty. No other person was around. He must have sent his men away. From what she knew about him, he liked his privacy.

She dialled Yakubu’s number and his voice came through on the first ring.

“Hello?” he sounded cautious.

“Yakubu. It’s me.”

“Alhamdullilah! Ijeoma!!”

“I’m going to call you back in an hour. I just needed to confirm that I am safe. Don’t do anything. Just stay put till I call you back.”

“Ijeoma?”

Ijeoma rung off. Next, she went into the kitchen and picked up a few items then she made her way back to the basement again.

The Bishop was already awake at this time and clearly he had tried to free himself.

“You raving lunatic of a woman!”

“Oh shut up! You really think it would have been that easy? If you read my file like you said then you would have known to never underestimate me.”

“You will regret this. I assure you. You don’t know who you’re messing with.”

Ijeoma left the room and returned with a chair from the dining room.

“You and I are going to have a little conversation. And after that, I will send you off on your journey to hell.”

She saw the fear in his eyes.

“My boys will be here before you know it.”

“No they won’t. Unlike you, when I do my homework on people, I do it really well and leave no stones unturned. You never like additional company. Your house is soundproof and you have no means of contacting them. So I know for a fact that they are gone for the night. It’s just me, you and your retribution tonight.”

She slammed the chair across his back then set it right again. She dragged him across the floor and forced him into the chair then she picked up some extra rope she had returned with and tied him firmly to the chair. There would be no escape for him.

For the next hour, Ijeoma inflicted one cut after another on different parts of his body. The cuts came to a total of 122. Each cut, she said represented a passenger on the Miranda airplane that crashed and the extra two were for Yemi and Kazeem who his boys had killed. After each cut, she proceeded to pour some pepper and salt into the wound. The Bishop raged, cursed and cried but Ijeoma did not relent. By the time she was done, he was almost dead and there were blood stains everywhere but Ijeoma did not care.

She stood back, took a picture of him and returned her phone to her pocket.

“I hope you enjoy dinner with the devil tonight.”

She turned away and walked out of the room, locking the door shut behind her then she placed another phone call to Yakubu.

“It’s done. Come get me.”

***

Uzo stood in his living room, staring out the window. He had been distraught since he returned to Lagos. He had been informed of Leela’s death and it had affected him more than he thought was normal.

“Come on man. Stop doing this to yourself.”

“I’m filing for asylum in the US.” Uzo said distractedly.

“I can’t do this. I can’t be here. The nightmare will never end.”

“And your mum?”

“Please, stop calling her that. That cold, unfeeling robot couldn’t even do me the courtesy of telling me about Leela’s death herself. And I’m sure she was responsible somewhat.”

“Uzo, you don’t know for sure. Just let it go.”

“Don’t tell me that Nathan. I’m going to start processing the documents tomorrow. Leela’s former boss is helping me. After her funeral, I’m getting out. I really cannot do this anymore.”

“And Nifemi?”

Uzo shook his head.

A day after his return, Nifemi had swung by the house, like she had been doing every day since she got the news at the office. She had not expected to find him there or looking that physically healthy either with no scars. They had ended up in a fight and he had blurted the whole truth to her. Nifemi was stunned. Then she tried to kiss him but Uzo was having none of it. The loss of Leela was still fresh in his heart. Nifemi told him she thought she was in love with him but he told her it was all in her head. He ordered her out of his house and they had not spoken since then.

“What about her?”

“Uzo, I know you enough to know that you feel something for her. You’re just being stubborn.”

“Even if I do, this is not the time or place. It will not even end well. So what’s the point?”

“You never know man. Don’t shut it down completely. Give it time. If you move there, keep communication open.”

“Nope. Whatever it is she thinks she feels, it’ll be gone in a matter of weeks, I guarantee.”

There was a knock on the door and Uzo sighed. I don’t want to see her. Please tell her to go away.

Nathan went to the door. It was actually Nifemi outside but she pushed past him and went to face Uzo directly.

“I want you Uzo. I have never been more certain of anything in my entire life. I am hurting deeply because I know you’re hurting as well. This is nothing like I have ever felt for anyone before. Don’t do this please. Let me love you. Let me help you heal.”

Uzo shook his head.

“I am a wreck Nifemi. You don’t want to get caught up in this mess.”

“I do. And it doesn’t matter how you try to push me away, I will keep coming back. I will wait for as long as it takes.”

Uzo sighed.

“I’m leaving the country.”

“I will come with you too. I don’t care where you go.”

Uzo massaged his temples. This woman was unrelenting.

“Six months. If in six months you still feel this way, we will have a conversation and try to work out something.”

Nifemi smiled and kissed him suddenly. Uzo tried to protest but eventually gave up. There was something about the fragrance she was wearing that made his head spin. Or maybe it was the manner in which she claimed his lips. But something told him he would not be able to wait six months.

***

“I’m leaving tonight. For good this time.”

Chief Ubong nodded.

“Thank you for everything Ijeoma. You have no idea how much peace you have brought me.”

“I’m glad I could. We burned down the house. All evidence has been destroyed. Not a single thing can be traced back to you.”

“Thank you again. Meanwhile, I got the best news today. Ani’s girlfriend is carrying his baby. I’m going to be grandfather.”

Ijeoma smiled tightly.

“I’m happy for you. Please take care.”

She stepped out of his study and went past the two young women chattering happily in the living room. She could not bring herself to talk to Uzo because she did not know what to say to him. Yakubu had told her he had taken up the asylum option and they would help process his move to the US. She was grateful for it but she knew her time in his life was definitely over. She could not afford to get involved again.

Chief Ubong returned to the living room to meet Sharon and Otto.

“Daddy this is the first time I’m seeing you happy in weeks. I’m so glad Sharon is having this baby!” Otto said enthusiastically.

She was certain Sharon’s baby was the reason for the light that had returned to her father’s eyes but she would never know the truth. Chief Ubong opened an image on his phone and smiled again as he stared at the Bishop’s corpse taken just before Ijeoma had burned down the house

“Me too honey, that has made me so happy.”

He finally decided to delete the picture. He had gotten revenge for his children’s deaths. He was thankful for the ones he had remaining and even more for the baby on the way. But above all, he was thankful to and for Ijeoma, the one woman who had made it all possible. Her hunting skills were truly legendary and he marvelled at how she had been able to successfully uncover the Bishop’s plot and bring him down.

He recalled her statement about being gone for good and smiled. He doubted that Ijeoma would be able to stay inactive forever. It simply was not in her DNA. Not as long as evildoers remained in the world.

THE END

the-end

 

Hunter’s Game S2 (11)

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Previous episode

Dear lovely people of the Oge_writes/Yougeecash Community,

I must apologise for how long it’s taken for this post to come up today. Shout out to those awesome people who have messaged me and hounded me all day. It felt great to know there were people eagerly anticipating the story.

But I must let you know that this post is being accompanied with a lot of personal love and hugs and kisses. I am neck deep in exams and battling a flu (aka running nose, headaches, slight fever) as well. But I decided to write this episode against all odds because I love you guys that much. So I hope you enjoy.

And by way of information, this is the penultimate episode. Next week Saturday will have us reading the final episode as we draw the curtain over Hunter’s Game. Please make it a date on the blog.

Before you complain about the length of the episode, it’s short, I know. But I will make it up to you next week. You have my word

Enjoy the episode while I go make myself some nice chicken peppersoup. I deserve it, no? xx

***

Nifemi lay on the couch in the living room reading a book. It had been a lazy Sunday for her. She had spent the whole of Saturday doing laundry and cleaning up the entire house. She also cooked for the new week and stocked up the freezer. Once she woke up on Sunday, she didn’t bother taking a shower. She just brushed, took some food and stayed in bed watching shows. Towards the end of the day, she picked up on her reading and stayed glued to the book while hugging a bottle of wine until nightfall.

It was 8pm when Victoria sauntered into the living room, bright eyed and excited. Nifemi was up from the couch in a flash, crushing her in a bear hug.

“Jeez, woman, you have me for the entire night. Go easy” Victoria said laughing.

Nifemi giggled and pinched her arm

“Because I missed you abi?”

Victoria yelped and tickled her chin in return

“That was painful! Don’t miss me again abeg.”

Both ladies laughed and Victoria subsequently added

“Missed you too luv. I-B was amazing though. When you mix work with fun, the best!”

“There’s no difference between work and fun for you. Sha bring gist.”

Victoria set her small on the floor and together they took to one of the couches.

“One of my director guys called to say there was this filmmakers’ workshop in I-B and some top producers would be there so he wanted me to do like a meet and greet stuff. It worked out pretty perfectly. I got a role in one of the producer’s upcoming series. Then we spent the rest of the weekend partying hard and today, I reckoned I’d had enough.”

Nifemi squealed in excitement.

“That’s amazing babes! I’m so happy for you.”

Victoria smiled with feigned grace and flipped imaginary hair in the air.

“Thank you, thank you very much!”

Nifemi burst into loud laughter and Victoria joined her eventually.

“So tell me, how did your weekend go?

Wait…”

Victoria regarded her suspiciously.

“Wine and a book? You’re avoiding something or waiting on something. Or someone”

Nifemi rolled her eyes and looked away guiltily.

“Oh lord, this woman!”

“Noooo,” Victoria held up a hand and sat up in the couch.

“I know you. I know you too well. Something ain’t right.”

“Or you think you do.” Nifemi said laughing.

“What? A girl cannot enjoy a good book and wine by herself again?”

Victoria’s eyes shone brighter than her smile and she clapped her hands excitedly.

“I know you Femi, start talking.”

Nifemi rolled her eyes.

“Smh. I went out with Uzo on Friday night.”

Victoria’s smile disappeared, replaced almost immediately by a frown.

“Even after what I told you?”

“Calm down Vic. He wasn’t the one.”

“How do you know that? Wait, let me guess, he told you.”

“Yes. And he was really upset that I thought he was a murderer.”

Victoria sighed and rubbed her forehead in exasperation.

“Femi, what did you think? That he would say yes and confess to the crime?”

“No. That he would look guilty or try to cover it up, not look disappointed in me like I had broken his trust.”

Victoria shook her head.

“I’m not buying this Femi. But okay.”

Nifemi sighed.

“There’s no winning with you. It’s fine.”

She got off the couch, picked her book and the almost empty bottle of wine then walked out. Victoria called after her but she ignored her. Victoria followed her into the room and stood by the door while Nifemi plopped into the bed with her back to the door.

“I don’t want to talk again please.”

“Femi, really? Come on. It’s nothing to be upset over. I was just saying-”

“You’re always just saying. You never trust me even to deal with my own life. Like, I can’t bring gist to you without you trying to lecture me.”

Victoria felt bad. That was not her intention at all.

“Babes, come on. Okay, I’m sorry. That has never been my intention. I’m just trying to look out for you. I’ll take your word for it. It wasn’t him.”

“You’re just saying that.”

“No, I mean it. I’m being overprotective and I’m likely overthinking this. Please just tell me how the date went.”

Nifemi turned to her and smiled reluctantly.

“It wasn’t a date jor.”

“But you sha went out.”

Nifemi smiled.

“Yes. And I had a blast. We saw a movie then went to karaoke. Vicky, that guy can sing and dance for Africa. You should have heard his rendition of Sam Smith’s Stay With Me. It was too beautiful.”

“Osheyyy lover girl!”

Nifemi laughed and shook her head.

“No be only. I told you I’m only hunting him. It’s just a game”

Victoria smiled smugly. She didn’t believe the game was still on. If anything, the game had changed and the hunter had become the hunted. If the light in Nifemi’s eyes were anything to go by. But she didn’t want to argue and risk upsetting her a second time that night.

“Issokay. So when is the next hangout?”

“Funny you should ask. He said we should do this again sometime but I haven’t even heard from him all weekend. He did say he would call yesterday. Still nothing.”

Victoria stifled a laugh.

“I think he’s probably on a mission as well. He’s trying to make you fall for him.”

Nifemi snorted.

“Fat chance. I’ll see him at work tomorrow and if he doesn’t say anything about not calling, I won’t even ask. We can both pretend Friday night never happened.”

Victoria laughed.

“Awww. Someone is getting a little sensitive.”

Nifemi smacked her and turned on her side of the bed.

***

Sharon stood around the arrival lounge, nervously wringing and unwringing her palms as she waited for Otto to go through Immigration checks. She spotted Otto’s tired face first and Otto’s eyes brightened in a smile when she saw her. They shared a warm hug and sat down beside each other.

“It’s really great to see you. I feel like you’re my sister now. The only thing close to a sibling I have.” Otto said.

Sharon swallowed hard as she contemplated Otto’s possible reaction to her betrayal.

“Same here hun. How was your flight?”

“Not bad, I just feel so tired-” she yawned and continued “I didn’t get much sleep last night. I feel like my brain hurts from too much thinking.”

Sharon smiled and stroked Otto’s locks. They were beautiful and had grown over the last few months.

“And you? Are you feeling any better?” Otto asked

Sharon smiled sadly and turned her face away. She didn’t know where to start, if this was the time or place or even how Otto would react.

“Sharon, is everything okay?” Otto’s voice and eyes mirrored her concern and Sharon felt even worse.

“I swear you can tell me anything Sharon, it’s literally just us two.”

Sharon sighed.

“I got drunk and high on the night of the funeral and I slept with Tobe.”

Otto’s eyes widened and she let out a shocked gasp before pulling both hands off Sharon’s laps and covering her mouth.

“Wow!”

Sharon shook her head and turned away.

“I know you must be really disappointed and pissed but I’m sorry-”

“Are you okay?”

Sharon turned to face Otto and was shocked to see tears in her eyes.

“Hey, why are you-”

“I can’t imagine how awful you must feel.”

Otto impulsively hugged her and Sharon found herself crying again. It was most annoying. Why were her lacrimal glands hyperactive this weekend? Beyond that, Otto hadn’t even heard the worst of it. Sharon gently eased her back and she wiped her face as Otto stared at her with her own tear-stricken face.

“That’s not it. I’m pregnant.”

“Oh.” Otto’s voice was small this time and she looked away. Sharon burdened by her own guilt looked around as well and suddenly spotted Kunbi walking towards them. She felt a mixture of relief and trepidation. It wasn’t all over yet.

Kunbi was a head taller than Sharon, had the regular build of a guy and a permanent smile on his face. A smile that always made everything better.

“Hi sweetheart.”

He held Sharon in a warm embrace for the longest time and when eventually they pulled apart, he said

“See ehn, if it weren’t for my baby and the fact that I’m a one woman typa guy, I would have asked you to marry me right away. You are much more gorgeous than I remember.”

Sharon found herself laughing. Kunbi had not lost his charm one bit.

“It’s great to see you too hun.”

Kunbi kissed her on the forehead then turned to face Otto who was still seated on the chair, shell-shocked.

“And trust Sharon to have a side-kick who looks every inch as gorgeous and as feisty as herself.” He stretched a hand to Otto.

“Hi, I’m Kunbi.”

Otto ignored his hand and turned to Sharon, eyes suddenly burning with rage

“You’re pregnant???”

Sharon wished the ground would open and swallow her. She stood rooted to the spot, ignoring the curious glances being cast in their direction and hoping that Otto would keep it together.

“It’s one thing to cheat on my brother, but then you go and get pregnant??”

Sharon turned to Kunbi, eyes pleading for help. She saw shock make a brief appearance on his face then quickly give way to concern but no judgement. This was not how she intended for him to find out. Kunbi clasped both hands together, still facing Otto.

“Can we take this out of here? Please? We’ll go to my house then sit down and try and talk.”

Otto did not say anything. She picked up her bag instead and walked out of the airport. Kunbi took Sharon’s bag and whispered to her, “it’ll be okay.” Then they walked out together.

The ride home was quiet. Kunbi driving with Sharon seated beside him and Otto sulking at the back of the car. When they got to his house, a modest 3 bedroom apartment, he took their bags inside and led them to the living room. Portrait paintings and pencil drawings hung all over the room, extending to the elevated area of the dining and as annoyed as Otto was, she could not resist the urge to go close to them.

“May I?” she asked gruffly.

“Sure.” Kunbi said with a smile.

There was a landscape painting with two figures by the beach watching the sun set. Otto ran her hands over it, her breath catching in her throat.

“That’s my favourite.” Kunbi said from behind her.

“I painted that last year when I went to Zanzibar.”

Otto gulped.

“What??”

He smiled. These are all mine. I paint, I draw; I’m a visual artist.

Otto was impressed.

“Wow! That is so cool!”

“What were you doing in Zanzibar though? Honeymoon?”

Kunbi laughed and shook his head.

“Naah. Not married yet. Personal retreat. I like to go away sometimes and just think. Painting or drawing helps. It’s destressing.”

Otto nodded.

“So you’re an artist on a professional level or you paint just to de-stress?”

“I’m an Energy consultant. Studied in Nigeria, did my Masters here and got a job here. I’ve been here for 4 years now. I paint to de-stress. I have sold a handful but only because people didn’t know anything better to do with their money.” He finished with a small laugh.

“Wow.”

Kunbi held her hand and said softly,

“You know, if you say those words a few more times and a little bit faster, you’d sound like a siren and maybe the fire service would get here soon enough to put out the fire that I can sense burning beneath the surface.”

Otto laughed self-consciously. She liked this guy already. She tried to guess his age. Definitely late twenties. And he was cute too. Yeah, she was definitely crushing on him.

“Sorry. I’ve just had a rough time.”

Kunbi nodded.

“I can tell. And I’m guessing that’s why Sharon brought you to me. Clearly, she’s also had a rough time.”

Otto rolled her eyes.

“Rough enough for her to cheat on my dead brother with his best friend and end up pregnant.”

“I’m right here you know,” Sharon finally spoke in a small voice. She had remained standing in the centre of the living room the entire time saying nothing.

Kunbi led Otto back to the living room and had her sit on a couch right across from Sharon and himself.

“So I don’t know anything about what’s going on but I’m hoping that you’d both be able to talk to me and somehow we’ll make a way out of the maze we’re currently stuck in. Yeah?”

Sharon nodded meekly and Otto shrugged.

“Can I just take a walk outside for a bit? If you have a garden or something.” Otto said unexpectedly.

“Sure.” Kunbi led her to a back door that opened into a beautiful garden and Otto smiled.

“I love you already.”

Kunbi grinned.

“Well that’s certainly not something I get every day. I’m glad you do.”

He walked back into the living room to find Sharon seated exactly as he had left her. He sat next to her on the couch and pulled her close into a hug. Sharon was too tired to cry any more. She was silent for a few minutes but soon she found her voice and she told Kunbi everything, leaving no details out. The best thing about being friends with Kunbi was she could always count on him to speak objectively without judgement and always provide a solution to whatever mess she had landed herself in. It didn’t even matter that they had not spoken in about a year. Kunbi was a permanent part of her life, always lurking in the shadows, ready to come through whenever she needed. And as expected, he did not fall short.

“How far along are you?”

“I don’t know. I didn’t do a hospital test. Just checked myself at home.”

“It’s possible that this child isn’t even Tobe’s. You slept with him 2 weeks ago and you’re pregnant now? But you said Ani made love to you the morning before the accident. And that was 4 weeks ago. Why don’t you go check the actual dates and we’ll take it from there?”

Sharon’s heart thumped with hope. Hope she was afraid to fully latch on to. What if Kunbi was wrong?

“See, Sharon there are consequences for every single one of our actions. Directly and indirectly. You were hurting when what happened with Tobe happened and the direct consequence that followed was the guilt and now probably a baby. But for some reason I cannot place, I am convinced it is not his child. Regardless, you must forgive yourself for the past. Then talk to God to help you accept and deal with Ani’s death.”

Sharon nodded vigorously.

“I feel like God hates me. He must be tired of all my back and forth.”

Kunbi laughed.

“I tell you all the time, God’s love for you is not predicated on your love for him or your attempts at righteousness. It is not based on reciprocity. He loves you regardless. Fight Him all you want o, accept Him o, He still loves you all the same.”

Sharon sighed.

“I wish I could have what you have Kay. That unyielding and unwavering confidence in God; that assurance that He always has your back irrespective of whatever happens.”

“Blind trust. It’s hard because it defies logic. But it brings me peace.”

Sharon sighed again.

“I’m worried about Otto. She seems to be losing her faith. It’s also why I brought her along. To lose all one’s siblings that way. I don’t want her to get lost completely Kay.”

“It’s not up to us to fix her Sharon. Sometimes we must lose ourselves in order to find ourselves again. You know my journey and how I came to this point. Let her.”

“But will you talk to her at least? Tell about your past as well?”

“Sure. But I’m just saying, it’s not a guarantee of anything. Let her question, let her be mad at God even. But eventually, it’s up to her to decide. You can encourage, pray and offer support but you cannot convict. That is what the Holy Spirit does.”

Sharon looked at Kunbi with a smile and she exhaled loudly.

“I swear my life would be an absolute shit-show without you in it. You are everything Kunbi. Thank you so much.”

Kunbi held her eyes for a few seconds.

“I’m here for you dear. Anytime.”

Otto walked back into the living room at that moment.

“So, when do we get to talk?”

***

The Bishop swayed from side to side in his hammock hanging firmly under the sturdy mango tree in his garden. It was a really cool Sunday evening and he was enjoying the breeze. But while his outward appearance portrayed relaxation, his mind processed ideas at a thousand thoughts per minute. It had taken him about 12 hours to obtain Ijeoma’s file the moment he realized Vlad was dead.

He was impressed and that was not something that happened often. He contemplated recruiting her and how much she would cost. Someone like her would come in very handy especially considering the number of elections taking place across Africa and the number of politicians that had contacted him for help. He would not kill her. He would just find a means of purchasing her loyalty. Everyone had a price. He just needed to figure out what hers was.

But before purchasing or commanding her loyalty, he would need to capture her first. He only needed to deploy 4 of his most trusted agents. He didn’t have that many of them these days and he preferred it that way. He strongly believed the more people a person had around them, the more vulnerable they became. So if people didn’t know who he was or the powers he wielded there would never be any hope of catching him. This was his biggest strength. His ability to remain invisible and live and act vicariously through a select few.

His instructions were simple. Find Ijeoma, kill any and every one that served as an obstruction but bring her to him alive. He had given them 48 hours to complete the assignment and he expected that they would come through.

His current residence was on the outskirts of Abuja and his mansion of a house was far from regular habitation. He liked the seclusion. He would keep Ijeoma prisoner there till she bowed to him and gave in to his demands. He got off the hammock and walked into the main house. Her file still lay open at the bar table. He looked at the printed pictures of her and smiled lustfully. Perhaps he would have a go at her as well. That body was too perfect to be admired alone. In his sixty two years of existence, no woman had ever made his blood boil over with desire as much as the woman in the pictures before him. He poured himself a shot of whisky and went to his favourite rocking chair, a dark smile on his face as he thought of all the things he could and would do to her.

Hunter’s Game S2 (10)

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previous episode

Williams woke up with a start. He looked around the room and discovered he was by himself, as was to be expected. But for some inexplicable reason, there was a void in his heart, a yearning for something he could not immediately place his finger on. He just knew he felt some latent sadness that he could not account for and as he sat up slowly in his bed, it soon hit him. Tinu had been here last night. He sighed. There had been an argument, raised voices and she had stormed out of the house saying she would not be returning until he got his shit together.

He was still struggling with Aisha’s death, almost a month later. He thought he was getting better- Tinu had been helping and when he tried to think of why they had ended up fighting last night, he couldn’t wrap his head around it. He heard his doorbell go off in the distance and he ignored it at first but whoever they were, they simply would not go away. He eventually dragged himself out of bed and into the living room. When he looked to see who it was, he found himself hurriedly opening up the door.

Tinu walked in, a kind but firm expression on her face. Williams followed her into the living room and when she turned suddenly to face him, he came to an abrupt halt to stop avoid bumping into her.

“You and I need to talk.”

“Sure. Go ahead” Williams said as he scratched his head. He wasn’t sure what to expect.

“You have been using me-”

“Tinu-”

She raised a hand to object to his interjection.

“No wait, let me finish. You have been using me to fill the void Aisha’s death created and I resent you for that. The reason we fought last night was because I had a lot of pent up annoyance that you tipped over with your careless statement. You told me I am not Aisha and you honestly thought I wouldn’t flip?”

“But there was a context to that” Williams protested weakly and Tinu rolled her eyes.

“You’re missing the point. I don’t give two shits for your context. I’m not trying to be Aisha. And the truth is when we dated the first time, I was only a seat filler until whenever it was that she would return. And she did return and claim your heart. But now she is dead Will and she is never coming back.”

Williams was subdued and he stared at his feet.

“I care about you Will. I always have but I can’t keep letting you use me and hurt me like this.”

“So you’re gonna leave me too?” Williams’ voice was small and Tinu felt a tinge of guilt but that was it.

“Just for the time being. I know I was insensitive last night and said some really hurtful things but that’s why I’m back here so we can have a civil conversation. I don’t want to be used anymore. Your grief is not something you can deploy as a shield for your inadequacies. You have not treated me right at all. You only call when you need something. And every single time I answer and show up at your doorstep, you manipulate me into having sex with you, then you feel better then I end up feeling like thrash because I know there’s nothing in it for you. You do not care about me as a person and your grief is an insufficient excuse to keep manipulating me. I won’t let you do that anymore.”

Williams stared at her in silence. Her chastisement hit him hard but he knew he would not last a week without her. He needed her friendship. She had been there for him like she had said and he had failed to notice how awfully he had treated her. But she was right. In all her consistency, he had never once bothered to find out what was going on in her life or how she was faring as a person. It had always been about him and his needs.

“What do you want me to do?” He asked humbly.

“Don’t call me or reach out to me. Deal with this on your own and if at the end of your mourning you’d like us to still be friends, give me a call.”

Williams nodded slowly.

“Ok…”

Tinu gave him a curt nod.

“Good bye Will.”

She turned around and walked briskly out of his house and suddenly that yearning, that latent sadness Williams had woken up with overshadowed him again like a cloak wrapped thickly around his shoulders. How was he to find his way without her?

***

Sharon sat on the toilet bowl in the bathroom of her exquisite suite and stared at the two lines in the strip she held in her hand. Her heart stopped and the entire room zoomed out into one looming, dark space. All she could hear was a soft buzz in her ears. Her mind lacked the capacity to conjure any coherent thoughts and all she could imagine was that this was not happening. No way. It couldn’t possibly be happening. The tears came to her eyes and she fought them back weakly. She had no one to blame but herself, what use would tears serve?

After what seemed like hours, Sharon finally got off the toilet seat and flushed. She walked shakily out of the bathroom and back to her suite, her head was still buzzing. Her devices lay just as she had left them- laptop open in an excel sheet she had been working on, iPad emitting music from the YouTube app and her phone charging in a corner. She stared at them and had a sudden urge to throw them against the wall but common sense prevailed. She sat beside the laptop instead and moved her fingers across her trackpad, looking but unseeing at the screen.

It was the email notification that caught her attention and brought her back to earth. Otto had finally responded to the email she had sent two days ago.

Hi Sharon, I’m good. In Aberdeen, got some tattoos and piercings, been to a strip club, kissed some lesbian chic. Basically trying out all the wild stuff in life. You know it’s too short. Hope you’re well.

-Otto”

Sharon was not certain what hurt her heart more, the fact that Otto seemed to be on a train wreck or the fact that she just discovered she was carrying Tobe’s child. She went to the fridge in the corner and retrieved a bottle of water. A few shots of vodka would have sufficed to clear her head but she was not rescinding on her alcohol abstinence. She had to find a more effective way to manage stress and all other unpleasantness.

She wondered what she was to do. Otto’s tone in the email did not indicate that she needed saving and even if it did, did she have the capacity to fix things? Hadn’t she also embarked on her own self-destruct mission, the evidence of which would rat her out in a few months? Who was she to turn to for help anyway?

Certainly not Tobe who had been trying desperately to get in touch with her. She remembered his stupid outburst the day she was leaving the country. He had tried to contact her for two days without any luck and had showed up at her apartment without any warning. Then he had launched into a sorry tale of love and feelings and a future and a legacy and preserving Ani’s memory. Nothing he had said that evening had made sense and the moment she was in a cab heading to the airport, she’d discarded the entire conversation. There was no way she could call him now 2 weeks later and say she was pregnant.

She was still contemplating her options when another email came in.

“Can we talk sometime please?”

It was still from Otto. Sharon sniffed and typed out a response, asking for a means to contact her. Otto responded with a Skype ID and Sharon called immediately. When the call connected, neither of them had anything to say and after a couple of failed starts which involved them talking at the same time, Sharon exhaled and asked

“Are you alright love?”

Otto shook her head.

“I’m struggling. I have so many questions without answers. I know how much Ima loved God. How she used to tell ‘Kela that he would end up in hell for chasing so many women and ‘Kela would always say he would only be assigned 70 virgins in heaven. But I’m just here wondering, why did Ima die? Was she not religious enough? She was the uptight one, the one that used to see visions every time, how did she not see this coming? And what about ‘Kela and Ani? Are they burning in hell?”

Sharon swallowed hard.

“If I said I knew the answers to your questions Otto, I would be lying.”

“But what if there is no God?” Otto asked

“What if we’re being sold lies by all these preachers and religious houses? What if people just cease to exist when they die and what if there is no after life?”

“I don’t know Otto. I’ve been struggling myself. But not with my faith. I haven’t even given God a single thought.”

“Well maybe you shouldn’t. It’s pointless.”

“Actually, I think I should and I would. I haven’t been honest with anyone about how much Ani’s death hurt. I haven’t tried to deal with the pain. I have just shielded it and done stupid stuff. But I actually want to start fixing it now.”

Otto saw Sharon’s eyes ake on a new light and she was confused.

“Okay? I don’t see where this is going.”

“Do you still have a valid Schengen visa?”

Otto nodded, “Yes.”

“Okay. I’m in Ibiza at the moment. I’ll get us tickets to France. There’s someone I think we both need to speak to.”

“Sharon, if this is a pastor, don’t bother.”

“No, he’s not a pastor. He’s an old friend. And he is someone I ought to have reached out to a long time ago.”

Otto’s eyes clouded.

“You think we’re going to be okay?”

“I know we are hun. I know we are. Just get your things together. I’ll book the tickets for tomorrow and we can both try to go about dealing with our hurt the right way. For their sakes. It must hurt them to know we’re falling apart this way.”

Otto let the tears drop as she nodded.

“See.”

She raised her sleeve up and showed off the tattoo on her left arm. Sharon smiled.

“You are truly a survivor Otto. And this will pass.”

They talked for a few more minutes before Sharon hung up. She felt immediate relief. How had she not thought to reach out to Kunbi in all this time? He was just what she needed and she knew his promise of all round availability to her at any time would forever be in play. She scrolled through her contacts on Whatsapp and found his name. She called him on the app and the moment his voice came through on the line, Sharon fell apart.

“Sharon?” He called softly. But she could not stop the tears. She just let them flow for a long time while he tried to soothe her over the phone.

“I’m sorry Kunbi. But I need you.”

“I am available to you hon, you know this. What can I do?”

“Where are you?”

“At home in Paris. Why?”

“Can I come see you tomorrow evening?”

“Of course darling. Where are you? I would be more than happy to have you.”

“I’m in Ibiza at the moment but I intend to come tomorrow and I’m bringing someone with me. Our lives are falling apart and I need you to do what you always do.”

She heard his smile through his voice.

“Anytime. What time is your flight? I’ll come get you from the airport.”

Sharon shook her head and wiped her eyes.

“I haven’t booked it yet. Just needed to double check that you were in the country.”

“Well I am. And I’ll see you tomorrow. No matter what it is, I speak to your heart this moment. Peace be still.”

Sharon held on to those words long after the conversation ended. They were the reason she was able to eat and subsequently fall asleep later in the day.

***

Uzo rolled the car to a stop in front of Nifemi’s house, a smile spread generously across his face as he bobbed his head to music from his car stereo. Nifemi had a similar smile plastered across her own face. It had been a great night.  They had seen a movie as planned, then headed off to Shaunz bar for karaoke and drinks on a whim. On the way there, Uzo had asked again about Fola and Nifemi told him as much as she could without making herself appear too much like the victim. She and Fola had dated, he went abroad and broke things off without a reason. She didn’t say he stopped talking to her, just that he had ended things without a reason, only to surface six years later with a tale she did not buy. Uzo had been gracious after the revelation. He neither bashed Fola like most people in his shoes would have done, nor did he make too much of a fuss over Nifemi. He had just carried on with other conversation after saying that life happened sometimes and that he thought she handled Fola’s reappearance well.

At karaoke, Nifemi was impressed by his strong vocals which were evident in his rendition of Sam Smith’s “Stay with me.” She would never have guessed that Uzo could sing or that he would be a Sam Smith fan either. But he had shocked her, even more so when he hit all the right notes towards the end of the song. His rendition had earned him an explosive applause at the bar and she had been proud.

They had then performed Sia’s “Cheap thrills” together and the song gave her such a rush, especially as she held Uzo’s eyes flirtatiously while they danced, mirroring each other’s fluid body movements. She had not had that level of sync with anyone in music and dance, yet the chemistry did not bother her. She barely acknowledged it anyway.

But seated in the car in front of the house now, she was somewhat reluctant to get out. It was almost midnight.

“Are we going to stay here all night with that smile on your face? Because I swear I don’t mind. It’s the most beautiful thing since Picasso.”

Nifemi laughed somewhat self-consciously.

“Watch yourself sir.”

She opened her door and got out. Uzo followed suit, walking her up to her doorstep.

“This was great-” Nifemi started

“Just great? Please, it was awesome, fantastic, mind-blowing, mad exciting, etc, etc”

Nifemi laughed softly.

“You should drink more often. See how alcohol causes you to loosen up.”

Uzo pouted

“Are you calling me uptight?”

Nifemi pulled his nose.

“Sometimes. Like, you can be really distant and shielded.”

Uzo grinned.

“I have trust issues.”

He held her eyes under the radiance of the moonlight and for the briefest moment, he thought about claiming her petite lips. Nifemi smiled nervously.

“What?” she asked.

“You are beautiful” he responded with the softest of tones.

Nifemi brushed her hand over her hair and kept on smiling without a word.

“We should do this again. Maybe not too soon but definitely again.”

He stepped back and Nifemi nodded.

“Sure.”

“Alright, I’ll head home now. But I’ll call you tomorrow.”

Nifemi smiled.

“Good night Uzo, and thank you for an amazing night.”

“My pleasure.” He dipped his head slightly in a mock bow then walked off to his car. Nifemi stood at her doorstep, watching him till he got into the car and drove off, then she smiled to herself and went into the house. Six weeks, too much, this was almost week 4 and Uzo was already tipping in her direction. Just a little more prodding and he would fall.

Uzo thought there was something slightly odd about her smile as he drove away but he shrugged it off. Why ruin a great night by overthinking things? He would never have guessed that Nifemi could sing and dance like that and the way they had connected over karaoke? Too much. He had never shared anything this intense with anyone his entire life. Perhaps it was too soon to tell but there was some chemistry there and he would likely be exploring it. To hell with his talk of not messing around with colleagues. Nifemi seemed to be into him too. He would follow the trail and see where it led.

He was home in less than 15 minutes and as he walked into his house and turned the lights on, he jumped in fright.

“What the hell??”

He clutched his chest and backed away, towards the door.

Leela who was seated on a couch in the living room smiled at him.

“Hello you, I was beginning to wonder if you’d show up at all.”

Uzo felt the entire energy drain from his body.

“No. No friggin’ way. You’re not here and we are not even about to have a conversation.”

He walked past her into his bedroom and slammed the door shut, turning the key in its lock.

***

Uzo woke up with a mild headache. Someone was knocking on his bedroom door. And that made no sense because- he suddenly remembered the night before and he sighed. Of course Leela was in his house. It had not been a dream. He got out of bed, unlocked the door then walked back to his bed and climbed in.

Leela opened the door and walked in.

“Glad you’re finally up. Good morning.”

Uzo ignored the smile.

“Don’t come here and pretend like we’re all good. What do you want?”

“You seem rather pissed.”

“Don’t do this Leela. No more mind games. I am tired of them. And no more pretending like you don’t know what you did. Of course I’m pissed at you. You can’t keep disappearing and reappearing in my life at will. I am not a puppet.”

Leela went close to the bed but remained standing, arms folded across her chest.

“True. You have every right to be mad at me. But trust me Uzo, whatever I did, I did with your best interests at heart.”

“If you’re trying to piss me off further, it’s working. Just stop talking. My best interests at heart? What am I? Some lost dog? You left me after we got back from Zaria. Not a word of warning. Then you reappeared saying you wanted to make things work, then you left again. So don’t expect me to throw you a prodigal child’s welcome party now. You certainly weren’t missed”

Leela smiled.

“I’m not asking for a welcome party. I’m not even asking to be let back into your life. That’s not why I’m here-”

Uzo held up a hand.

“I don’t want to hear it Leela. Every single time you show up, there’s always trouble or hurt in the horizon. I swear I’ve had enough of those to last me a lifetime.”

Leela let out a frustrated sigh. This was not going to be easy.

“Uzo, I’m sorry I hurt you. I’m sorry for every single time I have caused you pain. But believe me, I wouldn’t be here in your room unless it was absolutely necessary. Believe it or not, I care about you and every time I left it was because I didn’t want to drag you down to the dungeons with me. I had personal demons I needed exorcised. At first I thought that coming back to you would take care of that but I was wrong. So I am sorry. But please, you need to hear me out.”

Uzo looked at her in silence for a while.

“What do you want this time?”

“You mother sent me.”

Uzo’s eyes grew wide.

“Wait, what? No way, no friggin’ way! You have got to be kidding me!”

“Uzo-”

“I knew it!”

He leaped out of bed and began pacing the room.

“The nightmare is about to resume isn’t it?”

“Uzo, calm down. Not necessarily.”

“What do you mean by not necessarily?” Uzo snapped.  “Can’t I just have a moment of peace?”

Leela’s impatience was mounting but she bit her lip to contain it. Let Uzo vent all he wanted. He needed it. She watched him pace about some more before she spoke to him calmly.

“Your mum suspects someone will try to use you to get to her. She only needs you to go underground for a few days until she sorts this out.”

“Is there any time someone isn’t trying to use me to get to her? Why can’t that woman stay out of trouble sef? Why is she always pissing people off?!”

Leela smiled. She had wondered the same thing as well.

“This wasn’t deliberate Uzo. Your mum was truly retired but someone made her return to the game and this time, for a good cause.”

“Sure.” Uzo remarked sarcastically. “Always for a good cause.”

“Is that why that girl claimed to recognise me? They have found me already then!”

Leela’s brows came together in a frown.

“What girl?”

“My colleague’s best friend. About 2 or 3 days ago. I dropped my colleague at home and the girl claimed to recognize me then told my colleague I was the guy from the murder scandal. I guess your people didn’t do such a fine job of cleaning up after all.”

Leela smiled.

“Naah. That was just fluke. Maybe the girl really did recognise you. If this person had found you, you would be dead by now.”

Uzo gulped.

“See, I’m tired of all these death threats abeg. Can I just live? You know, have a moment of peace? Or better yet, a regular life where guns aren’t going off and dead bodies aren’t showing up at my doorstep? I do not like the theatrics at all.”

“We don’t choose what happens to us in life Uzo. We get dealt random cards but we take them anyway and we play to win, not claim that the cards are unfair and give in. I need you to brace up. This will not be as tough as the other time, I promise.”

Uzo washed his palms over his face.

“What do you want me to do?”

“Pack a small bag. I’ll send you off to Ado-Ekiti until the coast is clear. Your mum says Walrus has a safe house there. You should be fine.”

“Walrus ke? Aren’t those the same guys that tried to kill us 6 months ago? Are you insane??”

Leela sighed.

“Uzo, can you just trust me and stop asking me 21 questions? Please?”

Uzo shook his head.

“Nope. Thanks to you, I already have a great deal of trust issues. I’m not going anywhere until you tell me what exactly is going on. And you seem to forget I have another job now. You can’t uproot me from this one like you did the last one. News flash, I actually like this job.”

Leela rubbed both palms together and exhaled into them to calm herself.

“A month ago, a plane crashed on its way from Lagos to Abuja. The man who owns the airline reached out to your mum to say he suspected foul play because 3 of his children had died in the crash. Your mum did not show up until he started getting threatened. And when she did, she recruited me to help investigate the crash and see if there was someone behind it like Chief Ubong was alleging. It turns out someone is actually behind it. A ruthless former warlord. He sent a hitman after us 2 nights ago but we took him down. Your mum is concerned for your safety Uzo, so she asked me to come down here and get you to a safe place while we resolve the matter.”

Uzo was subdued.

“Wow. This is real? Like, this is happening in Nigeria?”

Leela nodded.

“Fam, Nollywood needs to make a movie out of this story.”

Leela smiled.

“Just like you to make a joke out of this.”

“But I’m not making a joke. I’m being honest.”

“Pack a bag Uzo.” Leela waved him off. “Something small, like a week.”

Uzo nodded and walked to his wardrobe. He pulled out a small bag and began loading items into it.

“So are you coming with me to this safe house? And what about my job?”

“I’ll have someone get you an extended sick leave from the office. Hopefully if this is sorted in the short time your mother plans, you’ll be back to work. And no, I am not coming with you. I need to help your mum out. You’ll have no phone or internet for the period you are gone.”

Uzo stopped in his tracks.

“You say?”

“Uzo you know the drill already. And you can’t tell anyone.”

“No way! I’m telling Nathan at least. Can’t have him going crazy with worry.”

“Alright,” Leela acquiesced. “But only Nathan. Because the story your office is getting is you were involved in an accident and have been flown out of the country for treatment.”

Uzo sighed and resumed packing his bags.

***

Chief Ubong woke up from his short nap as the plane taxied along the runway. He was finding it hard absorbing all that had happened over the weekend. After Ijeoma’s call to him on Friday morning, barrister Jide had called him in the evening to say he couldn’t find Ijeoma, just like Ijeoma had predicted he would. Chief Ubong was incensed but he played it cool and said he had not heard from her but he was sure she was out there getting her job done. He added that it was just like Ijeoma to disappear for a few days then return with results and assured barrister Jide that she would turn up sometime soon.

It was Sunday morning and he was just back to Abuja. God help barrister Jide if he showed up at his house because he would likely snuff the life out of him. Fola took his bags as they get off the plane and on the ride to his house, he called Ijeoma.

“I just got back in,” he said, the moment her voice came through the line. “Will you come to me or do I come to you?”

“Where are you?” she queried

“Just leaving the airport.”

“Alright. I’ll text you an address. Meet me there in 30 minutes.”

Chief Ubong said he would and hung up.

He tried to imagine what would have become of him and his business if Ijeoma had not shown up. He would probably have been dead by now. The loss of his children had killed a part of him but the loss of his business and a failure to get retribution would have put him six feet below.

Thankfully, Ijeoma had come through on the negotiation with the families and money had been wired to them on Saturday. His lawyer would be notified on Monday that the suit had been dropped and he was to pretend like he didn’t know anything about what Ijeoma had done. He kept wondering what to do with barrister Jide subsequently because he knew that when this whole thing was over, he would need to do something. No one who betrayed him like that was worthy of any form of mercy.

His phone buzzed with Ijeoma’s text message and he gave the address to the driver. To Fola, he turned and said

“We’ll drop you off when we get into town and you’ll take a cab with my things back home. I have a meeting I must attend urgently.”

Fola nodded. “Yes sir.”

Exactly 30 minutes later, Chief Ubong was being ushered into a lush living room whose length and width stretched out like a ballroom. Ijeoma was already seated there and beside her was the young lady she once introduced to him as her partner. There were flags mounted in different corners of the room and pictures of a man somewhere around his age in military uniform littered the walls. Chief Ubong recognised the face and frowned.

“Exactly why am I standing where I think I’m standing?” he said to Ijeoma.

“Because I have answers both of you seek and he’ll be instrumental to wrapping this whole thing up. Take a seat.”

Chief Ubong did as he was told. Major General Yakubu walked in shortly, dressed really casually.

He nodded to chief Ubong and shook hands with Ijeoma.

“You have something for me?”

Ijeoma nodded and turned to address both of them.

“Yemi checked out the 3 other airlines you sent to me chief. The Bishop is a major shareholder in all three of them and he could not afford to let your airline be rated above any of the others. When the threats he sent to you did not work, he decided to do something drastic by crashing a plane. He got lucky because he found the one flight that happened to have almost all your children on it. He planted a mole at your company. Some obsolescence checks were meant to be carried out for certain parts of that plane but those tests were never completed because this mole saw to it. But what actually crashed your plane chief, was fuel starvation. The fuel valves on that plane were positioned incorrectly. The end result was that the two engines were pulling fuel from a single tank. So this had nothing to do with pilot error. It was human sabotage.”

Chief Ubong and General Yakubu looked at her quietly when she was done speaking. Ijeoma waited for a response and when none came, she continued.

“The Bishop is no longer an illusion. We know he exists, we know he is dangerous and we know he did this. I only have one question for you both. What would you have me do?”

“Bury him” Chief Ubong said quietly.

General Yakubu nodded.

“Make it painful and agonising.”

Ijeoma nodded.

“I’ll need more hands from Walrus.” She said to General Yakubu.

“Done.”

Chief Ubong stood to leave.

“Thank you Ijeoma.”

“Don’t thank me until it’s over chief. Let me deliver on this first.”

“My confidence in you is unwavering.”

He turned to leave and Major General Yakubu followed him out as well and offered an apology. Leela yawned and Ijeoma packed up the files they had come with.

“You haven’t slept in 48 hours. Fix that. Because we have work to do.”

Leela nodded and yawned again and the two of them walked out of the room. It was sunny outside and Ijeoma donned on her aviator sunglasses as they got into the car. This would be her last assignment and something whispered to her in the corner of her mind that she would not end it alive.