Leela tossed the pancakes she was frying and soon set the first one out on a plate. Uzo stood behind her arms folded across his chest, his eyes looking but not seeing. He simply could not get the image of Nathan’s swollen face out of his mind. How could anyone be that brutal? And what exactly was his supposed biological mother involved in that had people dropping dead and others getting beat up just because they wanted her?
His first instinctive reaction after seeing that picture was to go back to Lagos but Leela’s common sense prevailed and when he got over the shock waves, he had to admit that it was a bad idea. If they could do that to Nathan, he would probably end up dead within hours of showing up in Lagos. And as much as he hated what was going on right now, he would very much rather be alive.
He blinked and looked up to find Leela standing directly in front of him. He hadn’t heard her move.
“You weren’t listening to me.”
Uzo blinked again and rubbed his eyes which were a faint red from lack of sleep.
“Sorry.” He mumbled.
“I said you should not worry. If my boss said they’ll get him out today then they will. Nathan is in safe hands.”
Uzo gave her a half smile.
“I want to believe that. I desperately want to. Nathan doesn’t deserve this.”
“Trust me, he’ll be fine.”
Leela turned back to the frying pan and tossed another pancake. A few minutes later, she had set out pancakes in two plates and she carried them both to the dining area while Uzo followed closely behind.
While they ate, Leela tried to process things in her head. It had been 5 days now and still no trace of Ijeoma. All that her boss had been able to share with her was that someone had tried to hack their systems following the email they had sent to Nathan. Hours after that, Nathan’s badly beaten face was in Uzo’s mail. Nothing was adding up.
“Where’s your mind?” Uzo asked.
Leela looked up, a piece of her pancake clinging to her fork very close to her mouth.
“You’re not here. What are you thinking about?”
There was silence between them for a few minutes then Uzo spoke up again.
“What’s the update on the woman though?”
“The one claiming to be my mother. Where is she? Why won’t she just turn herself in or go to the police and end this madness?”
Leela smiled and chewed on a piece of pancake.
“Trust me, if going to the police were an option, we wouldn’t be here right now.”
“So where is she?”
“Umm. To be honest, I don’t know. She disappeared since the night of the shooting and no one has heard from her or been able to find her since then.”
Uzo’s tired eyes widened in shock.
“Is this some sort of game?! How does she put people’s lives in danger and just disappear like that?!”
“I don’t know Uzo.”
“Or is she dead?”
Leela pushed her empty plate away, surprise framing her face.
“Good Lord no! She better not be dead.”
Uzo continued indifferently. “So assuming that she’s dead, are we going to keep hiding out here forever?”
“Uzo, your mother is not dead-”
“She is not my mother. Stop calling her that. I don’t know who this impostor is but I swear I am not going to let her ruin my life or the lives of people I care about. One week. If she doesn’t show up in one week, I’m going back to Lagos. If the people come for me, it will not make any difference. I’ll simply tell them I do not know who she is and that she could very well be dead for all I care.”
He pushed his chair back and walked out of the living room.
Malik calmly walked the length and breadth of his office as he listened to his contact at the state CID yell at him over the phone. He didn’t argue or complain. The guy had every reason to be angry so he let him vent. But he was barely paying attention. So what if some SAN had come demanding Nathan’s release? So what if the guy got suspended? His own life was hanging by a thread. As far as he was concerned, he would rather be without a job than be in his current situation.
“Yo, listen, listen. That’s enough. We’ll pull some strings and get you back to work in no time. You can stop whining.”
The person at the other end of the line launched into a long tirade of expletives and Malik sighed. He dropped the phone on the couch without ending the call and walked out of the room. Let him sulk all he wanted. When he realized he no longer had an audience, he would get his act together.
He nearly bumped into Kazeem as he left the office. Kazeem had a look on his face that told him there was trouble.
“What’s up?” Malik asked.
“He wants to see you.”
Malik scratched his head and shrugged as he walked off in the direction of his boss’ office. There was nothing to report. Nathan was a dead end. Uzo and his mother were still in the wind. The only thing he knew was that the people watching Uzo were a high level security team but he didn’t have any names or leads. It was most frustrating. How they had managed to get an SAN down to the state CID within hours of his sending out those pictures surprised him slightly. You had to be very highly connected to be able do that.
As soon as Malik walked into the office, he took in a sharp breath and froze. Seated across from his boss was his girlfriend Zara looking all pretty and innocent while his boss smiled at her crookedly.
“Oh hi Malik! How nice of you to join us!”
Malik struggled with his breathing as his throat tightened. Zara turned to him and smiled.
“What are you doing here?” He asked coldly.
Zara’s eyes dropped and his boss chuckled.
“Oh calm down Malik! I invited her over. You didn’t tell me how pretty your girlfriend is. Were you afraid I’d snatch her?”
Malik forced himself to breathe, counting to 5 on each breath he drew in and each time he exhaled. Zara looked from one man to the other, uncertain what was going on. Why did Malik look so rattled? She had been surprised when she saw the car outside her office with a driver who said he had instructions to take her to Malik’s office. A place she had never been to. She knew he was a consultant but didn’t know where his actual office was located as he was always working at some client’s office or the other.
The driver had said Malik was getting promoted and they wanted her to be a part of the little surprise party they were throwing for him. Now she was here but there didn’t seem to be any party and Malik looked like he wanted to break something on someone’s head. She stood up and walked towards him and noticed the clenching and unclenching of his fists. Why was he so mad?
Malik exhaled one last time and forced a tight smile across his face. Whatever his boss was up to, he would play along.
“Sorry darling. Long day. Come here.”
He opened his arms and she walked into them. He kissed her neck and rubbed her back while he scowled at his boss.
“I see you’ve met my boss.”
Zara nodded, unconvinced by his pretend smile. Something was seriously amiss.
“Well, Malik, Zara is here because you’re getting a promotion.”
His boss nodded and brought out of a bottle of whisky and three glasses. He poured shots into the glasses and smiled at them again. Zara looked slightly uneasy. She never drank alcohol.
“Here, come have a glass.”
Malik did not move. His boss laughed.
“Really? Come here my friend.”
“Zara doesn’t drink.”
His boss faked an apologetic look.
“Oh really? My bad. But you do. Come have a glass.”
Malik did as he was told and his boss clinked his glass against Malik’s.
“Congratulations Malik, you’re going to be heading our new office in Azerbaijan!”
Zara eyes grew big. Malik smiled and bit on his lower lip. He held on to the glass but didn’t drink from it.
“I’m so proud of what you have done for our firm here in Nigeria but you see, given the recent happenings of the last few weeks, I had to come to the conclusion that you were in need of a promotion. You have worked really hard-”
Malik interrupted him. “Can I see you outside for a minute sir?”
His boss smiled and nodded. “Sure.”
To Zara, he said “excuse us please” before walking out ahead of Malik.
Once behind the door, Malik exploded.
“You have no right to bring my girlfriend into this! Absolutely no right! You must leave her out of it!”
His boss laughed heartily.
“You seem to forget just how powerful I am Malik or even how much I hate getting disappointed.”
The smile disappeared and his tone was cold.
“Find me that boy and his mother otherwise, I’ll leave the chopped pieces of Zara’s corpse on your desk. You have one week.”
He walked back into the office and Malik followed him heart racing. His boss smiled at Zara.
“Your boyfriend here doesn’t seem to like the idea of being very far away from you. I can work out something better for him here to let him know how much I appreciate his services to my company. But only after he completes the assignment I just gave him. Try to convince him now will you?”
Zara nodded and smiled. She took Malik’s hand and noticed it was trembling but she said nothing. Together they left the office. Malik led her down a hallway into a room that was tastefully furnished. She smiled when she walked in, smiling even wider when she spotted the picture of both of them on his desk. He wasn’t a publicly affectionate person so it surprised her.
“Okay. Your office is nice, your boss is weird and you are terrifying me with all these scary looks on your face. I know you baby. Something isn’t right. What is it?”
Malik licked his lips. He badly wanted a cigarette. Everyone knew the boss was crazy but involving Zara? That was a bit too much even for him. How was it his fault that Uzo and his mother were missing? What sort of miracle was he supposed to perform? And what was he supposed to say to Zara?
He placed his hands lightly on her shoulders.
“Look, my boss is psycho so sometimes, he does some really irrational things. But-“
His phone began ringing and he stopped talking considering whether or not to go pick it up. She smiled and inclined her head in the direction of the sound and he went to pick up the phone.
“Hello?” He ran a hand over her long weave casually as he listened. Suddenly his entire face lit up like a Christmas tree.
“Are you sure?!”
Zara looked at him oddly.
“Alhamdulillah! I’ll be there in a few hours! Thank you!”
He hung up and hurriedly dialed a number.
“Book two tickets on the next available flight to Kaduna.”
Zara’s face was the perfect image of a puzzle.
“What’s going on?”
Malik grinned. “The assignment my boss gave me has just been made easy.”
Zara smiled uncertainly. “Okay. But what’s this assignment and what is really going on?”
“I can’t say. But trust me, this is good news so you can be happy for me.”
The door opened and Kazeem walked in. He paused when he saw Zara and Zara smiled at him.
“You have to leave now babe, I’ll call you much later so we can talk properly. This is urgent.” Malik said.
Zara nodded and hugged him tight, brushing his lips lightly with hers before she left. She knew in her heart that this relationship with Malik would not go anywhere; if the day’s happenings were anything to go by. Something was terribly amiss, her guts told her. And she would not let her heart mislead her again.
As soon as the door shut behind them, Malik pumped his fist in the air.
“Someone sighted Ijeoma in Kaduna. We need to move fast.”
“Ijeoma, we are done having this conversation.”
“I have been following your work Likita. I know what you can do. I know how much progress you and your friends at Shika have made with this research.”
“I don’t care what you think you know! I will not do a facelift for you! It is criminal, it is a new field for me and I am not about to lose my license on your account!”
Ijeoma exhaled loudly and said nothing. More than 12 hours after showing up at his office, Dr. Haliru was still not succumbing. He had checked her into a motel for the night after telling her he had to think about it and then showed up this morning to tell her he would not do it.
She needed the surgery done if she was to ever live a normal life again. Same thing for Uzo. This was more for Uzo’s sake than hers. If she did not clear this mess, he would live the rest of his life looking over his shoulder and she could not have that on her conscience. Not even if she was lying stone cold in a grave.
“No Ijeoma. I am sorry. I will not do this.
I’ll arrange for a driver to take you away from here at noon. If you need money, I can try to help you raise some cash. But when you leave here today, I beg you, do not show up anywhere near me again or I’ll have you arrested and I mean it.”
Ijeoma was silent. She had desperately hoped he would not be this difficult. She watched him walk to the door and just as he placed his hand on it, she asked.
“How old is he?”
Dr. Haliru turned.
“Imrana. How old is he?”
And then he wished he hadn’t. Something in her eyes sent chills across his body. Gone was the placating look. In its place was a cold, almost lethal look. One that reminded him of the character Medusa from Clash of the Titans
“He’s like 18 or 19 right? Bright, young man with a great future ahead of him. How would it feel to hear that he committed suicide at his university because he suddenly got frustrated with his academics?”
Panic drowned Dr. Haliru’s face. “You wouldn’t dare!”
“One way or another Likita, I always get what I want. We could do this the easy way or the hard way. You choose. The clock is ticking.”
She stood motionless staring at him and Dr. Haliru thought he would faint. How was this happening to him?
“I don’t have all the time in the world likita.”
“You will burn in hell.”
“For threatening you? Oh no. I’ve done worse things my friend. But you know what they say. Allah is merciful.”
Dr. Haliru shook his head and brought out his cellphone.
“Oh, one more thing. Just in case you’re thinking of having me killed during the process, I’ll have you know that your son would be dead in a matter of days should anything happen to me and then your wife would follow. And Fati? Your favourite sibling? She’ll be next in line. And it will go on and on until you come to the realization that you made all that happen and that life is not worth living and then you will take yours. And then, then I will rest in peace.”
Ijeoma’s smile stretched even wider.
“So get your friends on the phone Likita. We’ve got work to do and very little time.”