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-”
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.
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.
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.
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.”
“Are you calling me uptight?”
Nifemi pulled his nose.
“Sometimes. Like, you can be really distant and shielded.”
“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.
“Alright, I’ll head home now. But I’ll call you tomorrow.”
“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”
“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!”
“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.
“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.”
“Naah. That was just fluke. Maybe the girl really did recognise you. If this person had found you, you would be dead by now.”
“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??”
“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?”
“Fam, Nollywood needs to make a movie out of this story.”
“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.
“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.”
“I’ll need more hands from Walrus.” She said to General Yakubu.
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.