For Tony. Thank you for all your help.
Tobe watched as Sharon ambled around the room, picking up articles of clothing that were scattered all over. She slipped into her black dress silently and put on her shoes, avoiding his eyes the entire time but he knew hers were heavy with shame. He had seen them the moment she woke up in his arms.
He wished he could say he felt the same shame but that would be untrue. No element of remorse. He had nursed a light interest in her while Aniefiok was alive, which he quelled almost effortlessly but after last night, he knew nothing would stop him from keeping her. She had awakened something in him that he didn’t even know existed- it was a raw sexual desire as well as an emotional one too. He wanted to matter to her, to be the reason she moaned and cussed as intensely as she had done the previous night. He wanted to heal her and protect her from hurting again and he had no apologies for the way he felt.
Sharon made to leave the room without a word but Tobe stopped her.
She held on to the door knob but did not turn.
“Sharon, can we please talk?”
Sharon shook her head and Tobe sighed. He got off the bed and went to her side. He tried to hold her but she cringed and he immediately pulled back like one who had touched an extremely hot surface.
“Right. Just say something please. I know you’re upset but just say something.”
Sharon shook her head again and Tobe sighed.
“Fine. Let me drive you home at least.”
He noticed her shoulders drop and took that as a sign that she was in agreement. He walked back to his wardrobe and picked out casual shorts and a t-shirt which he put on, then he walked back to the door.
Sharon opened the door and walked out of the room with Tobe following behind. Tobe picked the keys from the living room and went into the car. He opened Sharon’s door and she got in, still without a word.
She was silent for the entire drive and Tobe gave up trying to get her to talk. As soon as they got to the Ubong’s residence, he parked but didn’t open the doors.
“Whatever it is you’re feeling now, it will pass. Don’t beat yourself up about it. I know how awful things look and feel now but I promise you, they will get better. Just talk to me soon. Okay?”
Sharon didn’t answer him. She opened the door herself and got out of the car. Tobe let out a frustrated sigh and drove off.
Sharon crept stealthily into the house and made her way to the bedroom she shared with Otto. It was just past 7am and she didn’t want to wake up anyone. But she need not have bothered because Otto was awake the moment she stepped into the room. She was lying in bed, eyes staring blankly at the ceiling. She didn’t even turn when Sharon walked in.
Sharon cleared her throat.
Otto didn’t turn.
“I looked for you yesterday, waited through the night, called you endlessly, but you didn’t come.”
Sharon sighed and went to sit beside her.
“I’m sorry. I fell apart yesterday. I couldn’t cope. It’s why I disappeared. Super selfish but I’m really sorry.”
“When are you going back to Lagos?”
Sharon scratched her head. She would go back this very second if she could but now she felt responsible for Otto.
“Depends on you. Do you want me to stay?”
“No o. Go do your stuff. I’m leaving town tonight anyways.”
“Yeah? Where to?”
“I don’t know.” Otto’s tone was flippant. “I’ll sha not be here by nightfall. I need to clear my head. It feels like I’ve been in a trance the last couple of weeks. I need to wake up.”
“Let me go take a shower. I’ll take a flight down to Lagos this evening since you wouldn’t be needing me anymore.”
Otto shrugged and Sharon walked into the bathroom. She took off her clothes and turned on the shower, increasing the heat till it scalded her skin. She told herself she deserved it. How could she have betrayed Ani like that? She scrubbed herself fiercely, weeping as she did so and willing herself to forget the previous night and the insanity she had indulged in, in the name of grief.
And Tobe, how could he be so calm and normal like nothing bad had happened? If she had not woken up naked in his arms, feeling sore all over, or even had vivid flashbacks from the previous night, she would have sworn she was hallucinating. But it was all too real and she knew it was not in her head.
She was utterly responsible. Not even the alcohol or the weed could be blamed for this. It was all on her. She had failed as a person. She was just going to avoid him and shut him out completely. And right there in the bathroom, she made a personal promise to herself, to never touch alcohol or any other such substance, ever again. That resolve made her feel only a little better.
“I’m sorry baby.” She mumbled to herself as she heightened the heat of the shower.
Tinu walked into Williams’ bedroom for the third time that week and she exhaled loudly. The lights were still out, the room was stuffy and judging from the stench, she could tell Williams had neither showered nor opened his windows in a while. She was sure he had not left the room either. He lay in bed, the exact same position as she had last left him.
He didn’t answer and she went on to draw the curtains apart and open the window to let some sunlight and fresh air in.
It was a weak protest, one Tinu ignored nonchalantly.
“Don’t piss me off Will. This has to stop.”
“Get out.” He croaked.
Tinu hissed. She was tired of seeing Williams this way and if this final intervention did not yield result, she would give up on him completely.
“This has to stop.” She repeatedly firmly.
“If you want to die alongside Aisha, then go and jump off NNPC towers but don’t stay around here and mope like you don’t have a life to live. Your dad called me. You haven’t been to work, you aren’t taking anyone’s calls. How long do you intend to keep this up for?”
Williams did not respond. He buried himself deeper beneath his duvet. Tinu walked out of the room and turned on the faucets in the bathtub. Water began filling the tub quickly. She went back into the room and pulled the duvet off and tossed it to the floor. Williams grabbed for the bedsheets but Tinu pulled those firmly as well. There were a few clothes lying about the room and she gathered them into one heap with the bed covers and duvet and tossed them out the door.
Williams was huddled on a corner of the bed when she returned but she ignored him. She took out fresh sheets from his dresser and as she laid the bed, he moved to the couch. Tinu walked into the bathroom to check on the tub. It was almost full. She turned off the faucet and returned to Williams.
“Go soak in the tub. Now.”
Williams did not protest. He walked into the bathroom and shut the door behind him. Tinu left the room and returned shortly with a vacuum cleaner and took her time vacuuming every corner of the room. Williams stayed a long time in the bathroom but she did not bother him. She set out clean clothes on the bed and left the room.
After placing the dirty clothes in the washing machine, she went into the kitchen and fried some yam and plantains alongside some egg sauce. She checked the fridge and found some juice and she set out the table. A few minutes after she was done, Williams came out of the room, looking a lot better than when he first got out of bed.
She pointed to the table and sat across from him as he sat down to eat. She watched him in silence, heart throbbing with a multitude of questions. Just how much had he loved Aisha, that her death reduced him to this?
“When are you going back to work?” she asked.
He pushed the plate away and turned tired eyes to face her.
“I’ve been a mess. I’m sorry you’ve had to deal with it.”
“You’re my friend. It’s what you’d do for me if the reverse were the case.”
Williams shook his head.
“Or not. You’re the kind, selfless and generous one. I abandoned you when it mattered and now that I’m broken again, you’re here giving selflessly of yourself.”
Tinu shook her head.
“No. Let’s not go there. Finish your food.”
She got up and went into the bedroom. His words reminded her of how and why they had started dating the first time. It was after he broke up with Aisha in the face of the realisation that they would probably never work out. Broken and hurting in Nigeria, he had met Tinu and they hit it off, first as friends, before eventually drifting into a relationship. She had fixed him up and taken good care of him until Aisha returned to throw them into chaos again. A small part of her was grateful she was dead. Perhaps Williams would be able to move on for good. But she was not sure what role she was meant to play, if any at all, in this phase of his life.
She had been straightening the bed, all the while lost in thought. So when she turned right round and bumped into Williams, it gave her a fright. Williams steadied her then brushed her lips with his before tightening her in his arms in a warm embrace.
“I owe you big time Tee. But please, I still need you. Don’t leave me.”
“My people are still gathering evidence chief. But I assure you, we will win this case. The toxicology reports for instance, they work in your favour. Also, the AIB is yet to ascertain the factual cause of the crash. And that is crucial to determining how this will swing. But just give me time and let me worry about this.”
Chief Ubong looked at the lawyer who stood before him, one of the best legal minds in the country, and a SAN. Then he looked across at Ijeoma who sat with a smirk on her face while she fiddled with her phone.
“What do you think?”
“That we have a good case-” the lawyer said.
“No not you, her.”
He inclined his head in Ijeoma’s direction and she smiled at him.
“How long till the trial date?”
“A week?” the lawyer had a questioning expression on his face. Quite evidently, he did not trust Ijeoma.
“I can work with that.”
She got up to leave the room but the lawyer stood in her way, while addressing chief Ubong.
“Chief, you need to let me do my job. Who is this woman? Don’t complicate things unnecessarily.”
“You failed to have the matter struck out at the mention. The judge threw all your arguments of jurisdiction out the window. The case does not look good. No matter how you look at it. Families are grieving. They have lost loved ones. They want blood. Or good money. The judge is already sympathetic towards them. There is no way this is going in your favour.”
“Are you a lawyer?” The SAN asked quietly.
“I don’t need to be one to know that this is a shit case.”
He stared at her intently then turned to chief Ubong.
“Chief, do you want me off the case? Looks like you have someone better than my entire team.”
Chief Ubong sighed.
“Don’t say that Jide. Ijeoma is an investigator. You do your own end preparing the arguments and she’ll keep digging for information to feed you with. She found the altered checklist for the planes didn’t she?”
“She did. But let her stick to the regular investigations and stay away from the legal side of things.”
Chief Ubong turned to Ijeoma and she shrugged.
“You’ll settle out of court-”
“Tried that, didn’t work. That lawyer has convinced the families they can get much more than our final offer.”
“Well, let’s convince them otherwise now, shall we?”
She side stepped him and was out of the room in a flash.
Chief Ubong walked slowly back to his desk.
“I apologise on her behalf Jide. Ijeoma is a bit too heady but believe me when I say she is good at what she does. She always delivers.”
Barrister Jide shrugged.
“As long as she isn’t breaking the law. You don’t want this getting messy chief. It’s why we are proceeding with caution.”
“Ijeoma only comes in to clean up messes. I don’t see her creating one herself.”
Barr. Jide whipped his phone out of his pocket and typed a message hastily.
We might have a problem.
He sent it to the designated recipient then smiled.
“Alright chief. I’ll head back to my office now. I’ll keep you updated as I work”.
Chief Ubong nodded and Barr. Jide let himself out of the room.
Barrister Benson walked hastily out of the golf club where he had just picked up another package from the mysterious caller. Trial was set to commence in a week and he was excited about how strong his case was looking already. He had someone at the control tower who would testify that Ani failed to listen to instructions given out in the final moments preceding the crash. He also had documentary evidence to prove that some checks had not been carried out on the plane that crashed even though it had developed some minor faults two weeks prior.
So on the surface, all was well. With any luck, the trial would move speedily, he would get it out of the way and return back to his regular life. He got into his car, shut the door and turned on the ignition but the car wouldn’t start. He tried again and suddenly, a shadow fell over his glass. He felt the person’s presence even before their gentle tap on the glass and he turned around sharply. It was a lady, dressed like she was going for an evening run. He took his glass down.
“Can I help you?”
She smiled sweetly at him.
“Yes. Just a ride out of here please.”
Barr. Benson contemplated briefly. His wife was at home waiting and at any rate, the woman could probably be a prostitute looking for some quick cash without appearing too obvious. This was Abuja after all. He smiled back and shook his head.
“I’m sorry miss. But I’m in a big hurry.”
She nodded, smile still in place and stepped away from the car. Benson took his glass up and tried to start the car again but it wouldn’t budge. The lady just stood there smiling at him. It gave him the chills. He decided to stop trying and just go check out the bonnet, although he didn’t have the faintest idea why the car would refuse to start.
As soon as he stepped out of the car, the lady said
“You should have just agreed to offer me a ride and you wouldn’t have to spend all this time figuring out why your car won’t start.”
“Who are you?”
“It depends on you. I could be your newest buddy or your most recent nightmare. Your pick.”
Benson looked around nervously. The lady appeared harmless on the surface but he wasn’t fooled. Her tone and her general manner made him uneasy.
“What do you want?”
“A conversation. In your car.”
“No. we talk out here.”
“I’m going to make you an offer, you’re going to take it back to your clients and convince them to accept it as compensation for the loss of their loved ones.”
Ijeoma was barely done speaking before Benson burst into loud laughter.
“This is about my case?” He suddenly found his courage.
“Woman, you do not know me. I am not easily bullied or intimidated. Tell Chief Ubong that we will see in court. And if you try this silly joke of a scare tactic one more time, I’ll have you arrested and your case will become even worse than it is now.”
“Barrister Benson. Like every law-abiding citizen, you have skeletons in your cupboard. Don’t make me bring them to light.”
Benson was not sure whether or not she was bluffing but he decided to stand his ground.
“Bullying and intimidation will get you nowhere. Tell Barr. Jide I said so. I’ll be sure to mention this to the judge as well.”
Ijeoma stroked her chin and observed him closely.
“Who hired you?”
Benson laughed. The woman was fishing. She had nothing on him.
“My clients. But that is none of your business.”
Ijeoma rolled her eyes.
“I hate lawyers. They get on my nerves. And you’re really working those nerves right now. I asked a simple question. Who hired you?”
“Lady, if you do not leave this place right now, I’ll have you arrested.”
“You do not want to mess with me Mr. Benson. I could have you arrested in a flash for all your dodgy dealings the past week. But you behind bars means nothing to me. Let me have the information I require and I’ll be out of your hair.”
“Go to hell.”
Barrister Benson turned and stormed off in the direction of the club. He was going to get the security guards to bundle her out. Ijeoma called after him
“I warned you! Your worst nightmare. It’s about to begin.”
In one swift motion, she swung her elbow through the glass of the driver’s seat, sending glass shards flying all over the place. She snatched up the envelope he had placed on the seat and sprinted away in the opposite direction.
“Hey! Thief!! Hey!!”
Barrister Benson turned and ran after her but she moved too quickly and was soon out of sight. He hissed and cussed loudly. He went back to his car and kicked it in frustration as two security guards ran up to him.
“What happened sir?”
Barrister Benson slammed his fist on the car in a rage.
“Get me a taxi! Now! And call the police!”