Shola sat down for the first time since she arrived the hospital over 4 hours ago. ‘Dekunle had assured her all will be well. He had been very gracious to her. When she called Kola, he had said ‘Dekunle was the only doctor he knew who fit what they needed at the moment. She’d been too ashamed to call ‘Dekule after how their chance meeting in Calabar had gone, so Kola had taken the lead and placed the call to Dr. Adekunle Sonaike. Luckily for them, ‘Dekunle was just getting off his night shift, and the call had caught him a few minutes into handing over. He had told Kola to get the patient down to the hospital immediately, he’d wait for them. Kola had relayed the message to Shola and given her the address of the hospital on the Island. Shola noticed ‘Dekunle was surprised at her arrival with Joe but he’d concealed it pretty well.
The admission process had been swift and treatment had promptly began. Shola had requested and gotten a private room after the initial surgery to stitch his head and thigh. She knew Joe would want that. It was in a penthouse of some sort on the top of the building. ‘Dekunle had warned her that it was pretty expensive, but she’d insisted recalling Joe’s ‘No hospitals’ demand. Joe had been stabilized and put on drips. He was yet to come to, though, and this worried Shola. The bills had started rolling in – scans, tests, admission fee, card fee, medications, the works. Shola was not bothered; One of the instructions Joe had given her was that she brought all the money she found in his wardrobe. She had not counted it, but she knew she had over a million Naira and a few bundles of foreign currency in one of the bags in the BMW downstairs. “OMG!” She murmured as she rose, her thighs and back ached.
Shola got all the items from the car – a small travel bag that contained new clothes and toiletries, his passport, PSPVita (she found that funny), the small black pouch, the money (she still did not count) and his phone. Out of curiosity, she looked through the phone. To her amazement, it was blank. No contacts, no call logs, no messages, no apps, nothing! It was as if he had done a factory reset. She checked the account balance, it read N1768:39. She dialed her number, it showed it was Joe calling her on her own phone. “What sort of thing is this one now?” she asked herself, troubled. Why would he have done that? It was the first time she had really gone through his phone (he never went through her’s either) but she’s seen him use it and was sure it had information and stuff on it like any phone in use should.
Pastor Keji opened the door waking Shola from a brief nap. “My Darling!” she said giving Shola a big hug. Shola let out a sigh of relief. Kola entered and shut the door. “Welcome, Ma’am!” Shola said, surprisingly glad to have Pastor Keji here. “How is he? I had been in a meeting all morning, didn’t get your messages till after.” She said looking at an unconscious Joe. “He’s stable, they say.” a tired Shola said, showing the older woman to a seat. The private room was well furnished and could easily be partitioned to grant the patient another layer of privacy when needed. Shola was glad for the comfort here, it would make her stay at least bearable. “What actually happened, Shola?” Pastor Keji asked. It was just herself, her Pastor Keji and her brother in the room, Shola told the story from her chance intrusion on a meeting on Thursday evening, to Joe’s admission here.
When she was done, she was crying and Pastor Keji had to hold her in her arms. “I don’t know what is going on. I’m confused.” She wept. “Why did he say ‘No hospitals’? Do you know?” Pastor Keji asked, “I don’t know.” Shola replied shaking her head still crying, “Shhh! Everything will be alright.” Pastor Keji assured her. Pastor Keji stayed with her, made sure she ate, made her laugh and generally brightened her up till she had to leave at about 8pm. “Have to go home to P.Dipo and the kids.” she’d said referring to her husband who was also a Pastor in their church. Kola left with Pastor Keji to drop her at home and also go home himself with the message that Joe’s condition had deteriorated and he’d been admitted, hence Shola had to stay back with him. “Honey, it’s just you and I now.” Shola said resuming her seat beside Joe’s bed, “I know God will heal you.” She added holding his limp hand.
Shola opened her eyes. Her head was on a bed, she was sitting in a chair. It was the hospital, it was not a dream after all. This was truly happening to her. She had slept off while praying for Joe, her hand in his. She had on the Movado he’d given her at the Calabar Airport and made to check it when she realized Joe’s fingers had actually wrapped around her’s. “Joe?” She called, he made no sign to indicate he’d heard her, he looked just as unconscious as he had been since. But it was a good sign and she was thankful for it. She quickly typed a message on her phone to ‘Dekunle, one-handed, telling him what she’d seen. He’d replied her saying that was great and he’d be by to see them later. Shola took a picture of their entwined fingers, it also showed the engagement ring on her’s, and used is as her BBM DP with the PM “God completes what He starts.”
“How long has he been doing drugs?” the Consultant asked Shola. It was Monday morning, the Consultant had come for the morning rounds. “Drugs?” Shola asked dazed looking from Joe’s sleeping face to ‘Dekunle who looked away. Obviously he had known but had not mentioned it to her. “Yes, the tests showed it up.” the Consultant affirmed. “I had no idea…” Shola began then it hit her – the small black pouch! The syringes and all. Luckily, the Consultant did not press any further, “Your fiance took a real bad knock to the head in that fall. Its bad, but I expect he’ll sail through. There was a severe concussion, but no serious damage beyond that. Let’s keep him stable.” he said, did some scribbling, gave instructions to the nurses, threw Shola a re-assuring smile, that said “Your secrets are safe with me”, then left.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” Shola asked ‘Dekunle later in the day. He’d dropped by before leaving for the day. “I thought you knew.” he shrugged. “You think I’d knowingly get engaged to a junkie? Like seriously?” she asked “Is this even an argument?” he asked. “‘Dekunle, all I’m saying is that you should have at least told me.” Shola insisted,”So that?” he shot back staring down hard at her. “Listen, Shola, all that stuff you told us about he being attacked by robbers and later falling? I didn’t buy any of that. But as long as it does not affect the dispatch of my duties in any way, it is really none of my business. However, if you really know so little about your man, then I think you have some serious issues you need look into. Just saying!” he added, raised his hands in mock surrender and left the room. Shola felt angry but deflated, she knew ‘Dekunle had spoken the truth.
Shola stayed on in the hospital, for another two days, going only to work, dashing back at lunch time and returning as early as she could. Good thing the hospital and her office were quite close. She needed Joe to regain consciousness. He would tell her the truth about all this, even if she had to slap it out of him. She wanted to be there the moment he woke up. On Wednesday, a system downtime prevented her from doing any tasks until almost noon, so she skipped her lunch break to catch up on some deadlines. As she made to leave the office at the stroke of 5pm, Ambrose walked in. “Rushing off again! Ha! You no dey try at all.” he said laughing. “I don’t live on the Island like you, Sir.” she replied smiling. “How’s Joe? He’s been off the radar. He good?” he asked as they walked out together. “Yeah! Traveled out. He is fine.” she said with the best smile she could muster. Ambrose looked at her funny, but said nothing more.
Joe had told her he had no intentions of telling anyone or seeing anyone when she had asked him who she could call to help them the night all of this had begun. She had to stick with that, lie to anyone and everyone. He was fine. He was out of the country. As she ascended to Joe’s room in the elevator she wondered how much longer things would remain this way. She met a female doctor and two nurses around Joe’s bed, her heart stopped, she dropped her bag and keys making all three ladies turn around. Shola’s fear that the worst had happened was suddenly flipped over when she saw Joe propped up on pillows smiling at her. She fell to her knees, raised her hands and began to cry tears of joy. “Hey, Baby, come here.” she heard his voice, faint, coarse, low, but still Joe’s. Quickly she got up, ran to her man and kissed him, bumping her head against his’ slightly causing him to moan. “Easy, madam.” the doctor said laughing.
That night Joe was woken up by Shola to take a call, “Who is it?” he’d asked, “International, I’ve not picked.” she’d noticed the number had the +41 country code. “Hello.” Joe said cautiously. “Hey, man! Its me.” he heard Dave’s voice. “Hey, man! I see you made it”Joe said smiling, “Ja!” Dave replied laughing, “How’s the weather?” Joe asked, “Snowing bitches, man! Where are you?” Dave asked, “Stuck in a Lagos. Getting treated.” Joe replied explaining how he’d been stabbed and then had passed out hitting his head the next day. “Weeping sad, Bro. I’m sorry. Any one else been in touch?” Dave asked, “No. Been out anyway, just came to earlier today.” Joe replied. A few more minutes talking and they said goodbyes. “Who was it?” Shola asked. “Dave.” he replied, “Is he around?” she asked, “No.” was all Joe said. Shola hit Google Search and threw in ‘+41 country code’, in a second the results told her they were truly alone.
A week into Joe’s recovery, he and Shola sat eating dinner, when he suddenly said “Turn that up!” The TV was tuned to a local station and the news was running. It was a crime scene and the reporter was describing how gunmen had killed 11 people including the owner of the night club about two weeks ago. One of the staff was interviewed, she told the reporter there had been a fire alarm and as they made to exit the building, the men had started shooting and killing. A police chief was interviewed next, he said the usual ‘investigation on-going’ stuff and the news moved on to other things. “Turn it off.” Joe said. He suddenly looked pale. “What is it, Joe?” Shola asked. “Nothing.” Joe said looking away. “You were there, right? That’s where you got injured.” Shola said, “I don’t want to talk about it.” he said, “Oh! No way, Joe. We are doing this right now. I saw your gun!” Shola said bolting out of her seat.
Joe looked her in the eye, “Yes, that is where it happened.” he said swallowing hard. “My God! Joe!” She exclaimed. She had hoped her conclusions were wrong, but here it was, she was correct. “We took a deal, a deal I had initially turned down, the guys overturned my decision and we took it…” he began and went ahead to tell her how Esosa had disappeared, how he had gone to see Buju to find a way out, the blackout, the shootings, the man in the stairwell, everything. When he finished, Shola could not find her voice. “Babe, I had everything going fine, but it spun out of my control and -” he was saying when anger ignited Shola’s vocal cords “Out of your control? Joe! Are you God? You sound like you can control events and happenings. 11 people are dead, your cousin is missing, lost in a strange land, maybe dead, and you talk about being in control? Just listen to yourself!”
“Babe, please!” Joe said eyes ablaze. “Joe, what have you become? You deal in Arms? You shoot people? Jesus Christ!” Shola exclaimed. “Would you rather me than him? I was fighting for my life, dammit!” he defended. “Why were you even there in the first place, Joe? Your choices got you there.” She shot back, pacing the room. “You know nothing of my choices, woman!” Joe roared.”How dare you lecture me about choices? You have no idea what I have been through. What I have had to face up to and do!” he added in a tone that sent a chill down Shola’s spine. She kept as far away from him as the room would allow. “Joe, I’m sorry I spoke that way, but this is not right. There is no way it is right. Arms? Hundreds of people will die. That cannot be right.” She said gently. “Don’t you think I know that? I tried to avoid it.” he replied feeling exhausted.
“Sit down.” he said indicating her chair at his bedside. She did. “I came back to Nigeria in December 2009….” Joe told her the story of his stay since he got back. How he had lost all the money he brought back in a bloody armed robbery incidence, then fallen out with his Dad. Being the only child of the union of his parents, the step-siblings were strangers, and scattered around the globe. He was truly alone, too proud to go back to his mum. He’d met Dave who introduced him to internet fraud and then Buju who needed young and smart European Union or American citizens to run little errands around the world. He loved the travels, needed the money and enjoyed the adrenalin rush. He was a real-life operative. He simply did what he was told, ensured his survival and went his way. He kept his mind clear to keep his conscience uninvolved. After two years he and Dave set up on their own, made it big and the rest was history.
“The tests showed you’ve been using drugs.” Shola ventured after a long silence. “I only use stuff when absolutely necessary. I’m no fool.” Joe countered. Now she had heard it all. She didn’t feel the repulsion she knew she should. No matter what, she still knew she had to get as far away from him as possible. As long as she was around him, she’ll keep getting drawn in, unable to break away, unable to think this through. But then, she had to play her cards right, “So, what next, Joe?” she asked, “We leave the country, babe. Its not safe to hang around no more. Those Malians are real pissed.” he said with a sigh. “We?” she asked. He frowned as he looked at her, “That’s what I said, Shola.” he said. It was her chance to lay it down to him, verbally give him the ultimatum she had drafted in her mind. Tell him to go get his life in order and then, maybe, they could give it another shot. Their fourth try, it would be.
“Ok, hon.” she heard herself say. He pulled her in and kissed her deeply as tears rolled down her cheeks. “I’m scared, Joe.” she sniffed, “Nothing’s gonna happen to you, Shola, not as long as I live.” he swore.
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