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Chief Ubong sat still in his chair, his heart rate slowing down so much, it almost stopped. He stared at Ijeoma for a few seconds, as though trying to ascertain if she was indeed real. He did not know when the tears came to his eyes.
Fola moved from his side and stood staring from chief Ubong to the woman who stood in the doorway and back.
Ijeoma strode casually into the room and sat down across from Chief Ubong.
“You’re here.” He said
Ijeoma smiled and nodded.
“In the flesh.”
Chief Ubong did not say anything else. He just sniffed and wiped his eyes.
“It’s been a long day.”
He turned to Fola and nodded. Fola walked out of the office and shut the door behind him.
“I was going to email you again. It’s been almost a week.”
Chief Ubong held her eyes for a long time and exhaled loudly.
“I don’t have anyone else to turn to. The NSA was just here. His daughter died in the crash as well. I had my people send an email across. Apparently my condolences meant nothing. He just threatened me.
I can’t believe everything that has happened. I’ve been trying to get myself together. It’s been rough.”
“I can imagine. Actually, Yakubu is the reason I’m here. The moment I heard he lost his daughter, I knew you were a dead man. He is uh, quite vengeful.”
“Ijeoma, help me. Please.”
Ijeoma cracked her knuckles and her blank expression returned.
“What do you want me to do exactly?”
Chief Ubong did not hesitate.
“Find the killers. Make them pay.”
“I will need a few things to get started.”
“Anything you want.”
“A small apartment. Preferably 2 bed. Have all your files sent over. And I mean every single thing on the crash and your company records from the past month.”
“Done. Oh, I’m getting sued too. Can you make that go away? I don’t have money to give to those families. I just don’t have it anywhere. My insurance company will most certainly not pay. At least not the ridiculous sum they’re requesting.”
“Have the files sent over first. Let me know the families suing. Everything you have basically. And if you have any thoughts or theories surrounding who might be responsible, I’d like to hear them.”
Chief Ubong rubbed tired eyes.
“I don’t have any suspicions as regards a specific individual. I just know I got a threatening email after I got word that we were to be appointed national carrier. Shortly after, a crash occurs with 3 of my kids involved. No way that was an accident.”
“True. Forward that mail to me.”
Ijeoma pushed her chair and stood up.
“My condolences again chief. I am truly sorry for your loss.”
Chief Ubong also rose and extended an outstretched arm to her.
Ijeoma shook his hand firmly then withdrew hers.
“I’ll be at the Hilton till the end of the today. You can send someone to me there once you have my accommodation sorted.”
“2 hours. Fola or my driver will be with you in two hours.”
Ijeoma nodded, turned around and strode out as casually as she had come in.
Nifemi was stretched out on the couch in her living room slurping down a milkshake noisily. The room was simple, yet beautiful. It had a general white theme with hints of purple visible in the window drapes and a few abstract paintings hanging on the white walls.
Victoria walked into the room wearing a frown. She was really tall, light skinned and had some heavy dark spots on her face, made even more evident by her lack of makeup.
“Can you stop that noise? It’s disgusting.”
Nifemi grinned and slurped some more then dropped the glass on a side stool beside her and belched loudly.
“You are so gross!” Victoria said as she smacked Nifemi’s arm.
Nifemi giggled and sat up.
“And you’re so uptight! What’s eating you?”
“It’s these darn spots on my face! They seem to be getting worse. The useless cream I spent 12k on is actually a bleaching cream. And that girl was swearing on her great grandfather’s grave that it wasn’t. I’ve got a shoot this weekend. How the hell am I supposed to do it looking like this?”
Nifemi smiled sympathetically. Victoria was a model; well, a struggling one, hoping for a big break and so far the break was yet to come. So she went to endless auditions and was lucky to get an occasional gig like the one coming up this weekend. She was also a makeup artist but it was not something she took seriously and Nifemi could not understand why.
“I’m sorry babe. Just do your power facebeat na. Should be fine.”
“I told you I’m trying to quit wearing heavy makeup. Don’t you ever remember anything?”
“Omo, you’re sha super grumpy today o.”
“I’m sorry. How was your day?”
Nifemi’s face lit up instantly.
“It was good! Really good! Had lunch with Uzo and it wasn’t bad at all!”
“Is there any man you won’t sink your claws into?”
“Hey!” Nifemi protested. “That’s not true. I only hunt the good ones.”
Victoria rolled her eyes. “Right. Like that makes a difference.”
“Anyways, what’s the deal with this one? Married? Dating?”
“Strangely enough, he’s single.” Nifemi said. And at the look of surprise on Victoria’s face, she quickly added.
“I know, I know. But there’s just something about him that has me really curious.”
Victoria shook her head.
“That’s how it starts. Soon you’ll be falling in love with him. The mysterious men are bad for business. You know this better than any.”
Nifemi cackled so loudly, Victoria clutched her chest in mock concern.
“Edakun, this one is now mad o”
Nifemi laughed some more.
“Lovers. Abeg, abeg. Team Forever Baby Girl. I am President of Baby Girl Inc. No one is falling in love here. It’ll just be business as usual.”
Victoria shook her head and massaged her temples. Clearly, she was not convinced.
She and Nifemi had been good friends for 6 years. They met during their service year in Ibadan. Nifemi had been born and raised there and worked her NYSC posting there. Victoria on the other hand had landed there while trying to get posted to Lagos. After the 3 weeks of camp, Victoria tried unsuccessfully to get reposted before eventually giving up and moving into Nifemi’s house.
At that time, Nifemi was in a long distance relationship with a guy she dated all through her university days. He had gone abroad for his masters right after graduation and talks of marriage upon his return were in the works for the period he was away.
A few months to his proposed date of return the guy suddenly stopped communicating. Nifemi never understood what happened. He just suddenly blocked her across his social media platforms and never replied to any of her emails. Nifemi was crushed. She made efforts to contact his family but after a while, they all became cold towards her. It didn’t make any sense.
For months, she cried herself to sleep, with Victoria consoling her. She waited endlessly for an explanation but none came. The guy disappeared into thin air and her relationship with him ended just like that. It took Nifemi 2 years to get over him. And that only happened because she started dating another guy. The relationship had gone on for a year before Nifemi realized he was married.
At that point, she gave up on relationships entirely. She just could not find the strength to commit to anything. But she harboured a level of resentment for the male folk and in time, she earned her title as serial hunter. It started out as a joke initially but she noticed that with a little effort, she could get men to fall in love with her and she would leave them hanging just as both her exes had done.
She never dated. She just made a lot of male friends whom she led on and made emotionally vulnerable before pulling the carpet under their feet. And whenever they tried to express their hurt or disappointment to them, her response always was “but we were never dating. You made assumptions. We are just friends.”
Victoria also called her the Queen of the friend zone and always, she would laugh. She enjoyed emotionally manipulating the male folk in her life. But she was careful in her selection of men. The only ones she went after were those who were either married or in meaningful relationships so she could use their commitments to her advantage when she was about to hurt them.
“Business as usual huh? Victoria commented. “Issokay o. Let’s be watching.”
“Don’t get all Thomasy. Have some faith in your babe. Come on. Let’s place a bet. How long till he falls in love?”
“Femi, if he’s single and falls in love with you, you have nothing to fall back to.”
Nifemi looked at Victoria oddly.
“I don’t understand you sometimes o. I said I’ve got this, why are you stressing?”
“Fine.” Victoria acquiesced. “2 months?”
Nifemi’s smile returned.
“One month. Max, 6 weeks. We work together. He won’t see it coming.”
Victoria smiled and nodded.
“Work ya magic baby.”
The sound of repeated knocking on her door annoyed her. She had not left her bedroom in the 3 days she had been home and she knew it was likely her father coming to complain because the chatterbox house help he got must have told on her. She covered her ears with her pillow and tried to ignore it. Whoever it was would give up and go.
But she was wrong. 5 minutes went by and the knocking persisted. Leela got out of bed, a murderous expression on her face as she unlocked the door. But the sight before her knocked her expression over and left her gaping.
Ijeoma’s look was stern.
“What is with you and this ceaseless romance with misery and self-pity? Don’t you get tired?”
“I’m not in any romance with misery.” Leela retorted defensively.
Ijeoma rolled her eyes and pushed her way into the bedroom.
“Oh please. I have my ears to the ground. And the last six months of your life have clearly been a heap of shit. At what point do you plan to get it together?”
Leela stared at her, sulking and saying nothing. Ijeoma was annoying. It was not just her generally bossy nature but also the air of confidence she strutted about in, with a body that was perfectly flawless. She had on a sleeveless hoodie, revealing arms that no one wanted to be punched by and had tucked them nicely in a pair of skinny jeans that favoured her flat tummy and small waist. She also had a pair of black leather boots on her feet. The woman looked like a model and her looks worsened Leela’s grumpiness.
Ijeoma stood across from her, arms folded, waiting for a response.
“I asked you a question missy.”
“I don’t know.”
“Let me tell you something.
When Maiva died, I was just like you. Broken, depressed, miserable. I wanted to just die because it felt like my life was over. Maiva was the closest thing to a family or love that I had. The closest and the only. So when I lost him, I knew I had lost everything. But unlike you, I did not let my misery overwhelm me for long. I knew that if I remained that way then Maiva’s death would have been for nothing. I would have lost on both sides- my best friend and my peace of mind.
So I decided to go after Walrus. Planning and strategizing the entire operation made me feel alive again. It gave me a sense of purpose. It wasn’t about avoiding my pain. I tackled it head on and determined to conquer it rather than the other way around.
But you? You have let misery get the better of you. And Gbemiga must be turning in his grave just watching you like this.”
Leela fought the tears in her eyes.
“It’s not. I loved Maiva to death. I’m pretty certain you felt the same way about Gbemiga. It’s the only reason his death has you falling apart like this.”
“It’s not just about Gbemiga. It’s about Uzo too.”
“What about Uzo?”
“I love him. But not in the same way I loved Gbemiga. And it’s hard reconciling both. Because I feel guilty about Gbemiga’s death and being with Uzo makes me remember all the time. I have tried to move on with Uzo but it’s just so hard. He probably hates me now.”
Ijeoma shook her head.
“And this is why you need to be more head than heart. You can’t always approach your life from an emotional angle. Sometimes just invoke outright logic. You and Uzo cannot be together. And whatever it is you feel for him, I guarantee you, it isn’t love. Nothing about your relationship with him was true and that will always be a wedge between you guys. And guess what will also make the wedge bigger? Gbemiga.
What you have with Uzo is plain old, familiar comfort. You keep going back to him because as unreal as what you had was, it’s familiar. So you think that if you work hard enough, you will transform it into something real. And I bet you also feel responsible for him in a sense because you know he grew to love you and you’re hoping you’ll be able to measure up. But Leela, you have to let this go already.
Matter of fact, you’re no longer Leela. You’re back to Yemi. The best agent in the business. You need to let the past go. And you need to do that like yesterday.”
Leela sighed. Ijeoma was right. And this was a wakeup call she badly needed.
“But I have nothing else to do with my life. I quit my job. I have no close friends.”
“No wonder you’re drowning in misery.
Well, I have a job for you.”
Leela’s eyes were suddenly tired and doubtful.
“I don’t know if I’m ready…”
“I don’t care what you think or know. There’s a job for you to do and you will get on board with it.”
Something suddenly occurred to her and she furrowed her brows.
“Hey, how did you find me here?”
“It’s me we’re talking about. There is nothing I cannot do and absolutely no one I cannot find.”
Leela swallowed. She was slowly beginning to feel better. Ijeoma’s presence felt more like a reassurance than a threat. Everything would be alright. She just needed to realign her thoughts and energies. And what better way to do that than to sidle up with the boss lady herself.
“What do you need me to do?”
“Pack a bag. We have a plane crash to investigate and a court case to strike out.”