Tinu pressed the bell repeatedly in Williams’ house but no one came to answer it. It was strange. Williams’ car was in the driveway. They had spoken two days ago and she knew he was in Abuja. Williams did not like the idea of having domestic staff so whenever he was in the Abuja residence, they only came during the day and left in the evenings. It was 10pm and so he had to be home alone.
Tinu checked her bunch of keys and found one which she put in the lock and tried. Strangely it opened. She was shocked that Williams had not changed the locks since their fall out six months ago.
After the kidnap, Aisha had recovered from the stabbing rather quickly and Williams had dumped Tinu unsurprisingly. Or she had dumped him. The entire thing was a blur. But there had been a lot of bad publicity for both of them and the bloggers and gossip outfits had a field day reporting about how Williams had been cheating on her and how she had been played and how their engagement had been a sham. It was all a mess and for the first 2 months, she could barely leave her house.
Talking to Williams had been difficult. She was hurting and proud and it was the same for Williams. But eventually their parents called them and tried to talk some sense into them. Williams had chosen Aisha who was completely off the radar the entire time and although it hurt some more, she tried to understand the hold Aisha had over him. It was something she would never have. So she gave in and tried to piece her life together without any connection whatsoever to Williams.
Last month, she ran into Williams at the private screening of a friend’s movie. Aisha was not there and after some awkwardness, they went to a corner to talk. Williams said he missed being friends with her and didn’t like that things were always so awkward between them. Tinu agreed and they started trying to rebuild an easy friendship. It had been working okay. He checked in once a week and Tinu was quite comfortable with it.
Then she had seen the news tonight and she knew she had to see him. She had called his phones but his lines were either busy or ringing out and at some point, they were all off.
Tinu walked through the living room calling out to his name but receiving no response. She went into the bedroom and noticed the bathroom door was slightly ajar. Tinu pushed the door open slowly and screamed. Williams was passed out on the floor. She rushed to his side and shook him vigorously.
She turned on the shower and dragged the cord to Williams’ face, spraying water over him as it gushed out. She heard him cough and splutter weakly and she tossed the cord aside.
“Will! Are you alright?”
Williams’ eyes were blank and it frightened her.
“Here, get up”
She tried to lift him but he was too weak and they both crashed to the floor.
Tinu got up and left his side temporarily. Her phone was in her bag on the bed and she took it and dialed a number.
“Hello aunty, I need an ambulance please. I’m at Will’s place at Minister’s Hill. He’s unconscious. Please hurry.”
She rushed back to Williams’ side and raised his head and placed it on her laps. Her aunt would have an ambulance there in the shortest time possible. She ran her private hospital to perfection.
Sure enough, in about 15 minutes, the sound of sirens broke the silence of the night. Tinu went to open the door and two young men helped her lift Williams gingerly into a stretcher and into the ambulance. She spied one of Williams’ phones on the floor in the bedroom and picked it up.
Tinu rode with Williams in the back of the ambulance. He was still conscious but his eyes were blank and unfocused. Tinu was frightened, yet a small part of her was resentful because she knew what had reduced the seemingly strong Williams to this unconscious heap. She had known from the moment she saw the news that Williams would be devastated and that was why she had come over.
News reports had it that Aisha Yakubu had been a passenger on a commercial airplane that crashed on its way to Abuja from Lagos earlier that evening. And something about the way Williams looked told Tinu that he would likely not recover from that loss.
She looked at Williams’ phone in her hands and tried two password combinations before successfully unlocking the phone. The screen opened up to a text chat between Williams and Aisha. The last message on the phone being from Aisha and reading:
Boarding now. I love you so much Liam. I fear I never say it enough. But this babe is crazy about you. May we never be apart again. See you tonight.
Tinu didn’t know when the tears began to drop from her eyes.
Nifemi ascended the steps of the massive building that towered before her. The walls were made of glass and her reflection greeted her at every corner. It was something she still had not gotten used to even though her office had moved into the building 6 months ago. She adjusted the tissue skirt she wore around the waist, pushed the elevator button and waited as the lift made its way down. Soon she heard a ding and the doors opened. She walked in, pushed the button for the 11th floor and checked her appearance in the mirrors on the wall as the elevator made its way up. Her makeup was flawless, thanks to Victoria. She smacked her lips and adjusted the head wrap that concealed her braids. She patted her well rounded butt and smiled to herself. The squats were beginning to pay off.
When the elevator doors opened, she walked out, smiling a greeting to everyone she met as she made her way to her cubicle. Once settled, she pulled out her laptop, turned it on then plugged in her phone whose battery was flat to charge. She opened her office mail and scanned through new mails absently then suddenly gasped.
She quickly reached for a pair of heels under her table and slipped them on then rushed off to the conference room. She was 20 minutes late for a meeting.
Her team lead who was seated at one end of the table scowled at her as she walked in but she pretended not to see him and took a seat at the table.
“So, next up, we’ve hired a new Publicity Strategist to join the communications department. He’ll be resuming tomorrow.”
Nifemi stared at the Business Unit manager as she spoke, mouth agape. A new publicity strategist for her unit? Someone to take her job? What was that supposed to mean?
As though, the manager could read her mind, she continued.
“The company is expanding and we need more hands because soon, there’ll be more work than some units can handle. So as much as we can, let’s all be accommodating of new staff.
Nifemi, you’re our PR person and you will be working closely with Uzo when he resumes. Please offer all the support he’ll need.
Moving on now…”
Nifemi zoned out of the meeting.
Thirty minutes later, she was making her way back to her desk when her team lead stopped her.
“Why were you late to the meeting?”
“Because it was meant to be for 10am and nobody sent me the memo when it was moved to 9am.”
Nifemi knew her team lead did not like her and the feeling was mutual but it didn’t matter because she was really hardworking, very smart and always got the job done. His dislike for her was something personal. When she was given the job, it was in place of Mr. Taiwo’s niece whom he had tried to bully HR into hiring in spite of her poor performance at the interview. The HR manager was firm on her choice of Nifemi and there had been an argument in front of Nifemi on the day she resumed. The matter appeared to have been resolved privately later on but Mr. Taiwo had gone ahead to frustrate her on the job.
Wherever possible, he tried to undermine her or make her look bad before her superiors. And failing to notify her early of the change in time for the meeting was one of his many little annoying ways. And as usual, he would deny it.
“I sent that mail early this morning.”
“8:30am was not early this morning sir. But it’s fine.”
Mr. Taiwo shrugged and walked on ahead of her to his office. Nifemi remembered the new guy who was meant to be resuming and she went after him.
“Sir, you guys hired someone to share my tasks and didn’t think to inform me?”
Mr. Taiwo looked at her like one would regard a recalcitrant child.
“It’s my team, I’m the team lead. I matter when such decisions are being taken, you don’t.”
Nifemi smiled. He was trying to get under her skin. She simply turned and walked away. There was no use getting worked up. She returned to her desk and saw that she had a flurry of messages on her phone.
Her battery had been dead since Sunday afternoon because the transformer in her area had gone bad. Being offline hadn’t bothered her. She had stayed indoors and gotten the much needed rest ahead of a busy week. The company was gearing up to the launch of a new product and it was crunch time. She tossed her phone aside and logged into her laptop. If she attempted to respond to any of those messages, she would not get any work done.
Otto’s eyes were red and tired. Her hair was a mess and her clothes disorganized. She had not slept through the night. No one in the house had. She looked at Sharon who was in a corner of the room in a similar state. They had gone from crying and screaming to whimpering and crying again without tears.
Otto had a severe migraine but she was barely aware of it. She had refused food and medication and every form of attention. The house was crowded with people and she had managed to find some solace in Aniefiok’s room with Sharon. They locked themselves in and after failed attempts to get them out of the room, everyone had given up.
The room was tidy and mostly empty. It was the family house and Ani didn’t live there. He only had a room for nights when he came and slept over or when they had family functions. Like the mini reunion they were supposed to have had.
Otto’s memories of Aniefiok are filled with so much fondness. They were the closest of all the siblings and from little fights as kids to lying and covering up for each other as teenagers, to discussing serious matters as adults, there was not a single thought Otto could hold on to that would not break her heart. She was exhausted. It wasn’t just about Ani. She remembered Enokela and how all her friends gushed over him endlessly. Enokela who was the witty one, ever smiling, always with a kind word or joke to share. And Ima. Her only sister who she disagreed with on a lot of issues but whom she loved to death. All three of them gone, just like that. It was too much to take in at once.
It had come as a shock when her mother yelled from the living room that evening. She rushed out of the kitchen where she had been slicing vegetables with Sharon to meet her mother grabbing at her chest frantically and screaming some more. Then she read the news bar. Then her head started spinning. Then she rushed to her phone and began dialing Ani’s number as well as Enokela’s and then Ima’s.
She prayed fervently that it was not their flight even though a part of her knew all the details matched the flight Ani was piloting. She made calls to her father that didn’t connect as well as calls to some friends that worked with the airline and at the control tower. But nobody responded to her.
It wasn’t until an hour later that people started flocking the house that Otto knew it was true. Her siblings were dead. Her father was led into the house by his best friend who was a retired pilot and one look at her father’s face told her all she needed to know. Her life was over.
Otto had not cried her last tears yet. There was yet more to come.
Sharon on the other hand was pretty much gone. She had met Aniefiok 3 years ago at a mutual friend’s wedding. She was one of the bridesmaids and he was the best man. At the after party, they had gotten into a dance competition and she beat him effortlessly. Aniefiok had not been that good a dancer but he was energetic and his energy had compensated for the moves he lacked.
She had followed him to his hotel that night, both of them drunk and had woken up the following morning to discover that he had not touched her. Sharon was stupefied. When she asked why, he said he was not the kind of man to touch a woman without her clear consent and given that she had been inebriated the night before, he had refrained from making any moves on her. Sharon did not believe he was a normal human being.
She did not see or hear from him for a while after that because he ran a very busy schedule as a pilot and she had kept busy with travelling the world as a business consultant. Then a year later, they ran into each other again at yet another wedding and this time, they made efforts to stay in touch. A few drinks here and there and they started dating months later. Their relationship was a little over a year old but Ani’s younger sister Otto did not like her. Otto believed she was too self-obsessed and condescending but Sharon did not care. When Ani insisted she join them for their family trip, it had only been with a promise from her to try and connect with his siblings, especially Otto who Ani said was the most important of them all.
Thankfully, they had managed to put their differences aside and bond over their mutual affections for Ani.
Sharon regarded Ani as perfect. His body, to start with was something that had been well-architectured and divinely crafted. Well-toned muscles resulting from dedicated workout sessions at the gym, a nicely trimmed beard that made all the ladies swoon and brown eyes that constantly had her drowning in them. He was not too tall. They were just about the same height so she hardly wore heels when they hung out. And he had a nice butt which she liked to smack occasionally. He always found it slightly embarrassing but Sharon did it nonetheless for her personal amusement.
Ani had a habit of walking around shirtless, in slightly baggy pajamas that hung loosely around his waist whenever she spent the weekend at his house. He had a tattoo just above his waist and Sharon fell in love with it every single time she saw it. Sharon knew that pilots had a reputation for being randy but she also knew that Ani was different. He never gave her reasons to doubt his loyalty to her. But she knew Enokela was a different ball game entirely. Enokela chased women with reckless abandon and she knew that the only reason he never made a move on her was out of respect for his brother.
As she thought about Enokela, another tear slipped down her eyes. Enokela had been the first of the Ubongs to accept her and make her feel at home when she started dating Ani. Enokela was too playful, never having a serious moment because in his famous words, “life is too short to be carrying face abeg. I cannot come and die.”
But now he was dead. Sharon was hurting for the loss of Ani who was effectively the love of her life. She had scarcely given much thought to settling down but Ani had made her desire that- a family of her own, a home, kids, stability. She was estranged from her family and spent her time travelling for work because it made her happy. It was because of Ani that she had chosen to get a stable job consulting for a technology firm in Lagos. She was allowed to work remotely and come in only three times a week.
Now Ani was dead and he had taken all her dreams of a happy ever after with him. She still could not believe it. She half-expected Ani to walk into the room and envelope her in one of his famous bear hugs. But no matter how many hours she spent locked in with Otto crying, Ani would not show up.
Otto’s voice was barely a croak. Sharon turned to her in silence.
“Is the pain ever going to stop?”
Sharon shook her head slowly as her eyes pooled with tears and began to run over. The pain was never going to stop. Not for her who had lost her soulmate and certainly not for Otto who had lost all her siblings.
Chief Ubong sat in his study, looking but not seeing. He had not slept in 48 hours. They were the longest 48 hours of his entire life. The Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) had suspended his airline and the Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB) had launched an investigation into the crash. Pretty much all the bodies of the victims had been recovered. He had delivered a couple of short press releases, barely keeping himself together in front of the team of journalists that swarmed his residence and office on both occasions.
His PR manager had told him it was okay to break into tears in front of the cameras as it would help gather some empathy for him but he was not interested in putting up a show. He managed to comport himself for the few minutes the interviews happened and retreated into his office afterwards. He had made phone calls and reviewed documents in his feeble attempt to understand what had gone down.
The airplane had been serviced just the week before. He had engineers from China come in and do maintenance and they were certified to be in good shape so he could not understand why the plane would have a fault. The board had begun digging into Aniefiok’s personal life as well as that of Adnan. Adnan had been known to him as well.
The Black box had been recovered and processed. It wrecked him to hear his son’s last words even as he struggled to regain control of the plane. Enokela’s frightened voice had been in the background as well. Both men had stated that they loved their parents and siblings and had requested that Sharon and Nneka respectively be told that they were loved. Chief Ubong only had to listen to it twice before he decided it was more than he could handle.
Questions surrounding the air-worthiness of the plane as well as Ani’s state of mind had been prevalent. The aviation minister who had been recently appointed was anxious to be regarded as efficient and after expressing sympathy for his loss had gone ahead to personally look into the investigation.
Chief Ubong knew the crash was no accident. He also knew it had nothing to do with his son’s competence or state of mind. About a week ago, he had been notified by someone high up in government of progress made towards making his fleet the national carrier for the nation. The news had excited him because he had not only worked extremely hard to get there but had invested good money greasing the right palms. Shortly after that, he had received an anonymous mail threatening him if he did not back out of the bid.
He had not paid much attention to it because he did not imagine that anything this drastic could happen. Beyond ensuring due diligence in the maintenance of his airplanes, he had taken no further action. Then this had happened. Whoever it was that made the threat had made good their word. Now it was up to him to find out what exactly they had done to cause the crash and who it was that was responsible. Someone had murdered his children and over a hundred other Nigerians in cold blood. He would ensure that they did not get away with it.
He opened his iPad and read Ijeoma’s email one more time and shook his head. There had to be away to get her back into the country. She was the only woman he could trust to find the killers and make them pay, because this was certainly beyond the legal forces of the nation.
A knock sounded on the door and he looked up. His personal assistant, a smart young man in his late twenties walked in with a worn expression on his face. It could only mean one thing. More trouble.
“What is it Fola?”
“We’re getting sued sir. A class action suit by some of the families of the victims. They are claiming gross negligence. They want two hundred and fifty million naira each.”
Chief Ubong rubbed bloodshot eyes and sighed deeply. Fola handed him a folder and stood at a respectful distance
“It’s worse sir. Some of the preliminary reports of the investigation appear to have been leaked. And they don’t look good at all.”