Shola looked over at Joe. He had a frown on his face, something was bugging her man. They had just left church and he had given her two options “I can drop you off at home or you can come along with me to Dave’s”. She had chosen the latter for three reasons: #1. She could not leave her man and act like all was fine when she knew it was not. #2. It was their ‘Off Day’ anyway, that meant there would be no power at home. #3. She was curious as to what Dave’s place looked like and how he was in his abode. “What is the matter Joe?” she ventured after Joe sped impatiently past a truck, horn blaring. “With?” Joe asked without taking his eyes off the road. “Do not act dumb, Joe! Since you picked me up this morning, you’ve been tense and somewhat angry. Is it something I did?” She asked.
Joe gritted his teeth as he hit the brakes to reduce the impact of a pot-hole he had seen too late. His eyes were fixed on the road, but his mind was far away. “Sorry.” he mumbled to Shola who had reached for the dashboard to brace herself. “Nothing much. Just some issues with the guys.” he explained. “Ok…?” she replied probing for more. “Should have it all sorted today once I see Dave.” he assured her. This he knew was a grossly underestimated version of the situation. The call to Buju had not gone so well. Buju had insisted he wanted Joe or no one else and he had laid it plain to Buju that there was no chance of that, he either took their counter-offer, go with the other man (Esosa) or forget it. Buju had then asked for a meeting with him.
“The guys are not very comfortable with you no more, man.” Dave said looking Joe in the eyes, Joe was a little stunned but managed to say “Go ahead.”. “Yeah. They believe you have gone soft – Attending church, your Abuja business, always around your girl, the whole bant. You know how it is, guys get paranoid fast.” Dave explained pouring himself a drink. Joe exhaled loudly. Through the window he could see Shola gisting with Dave’s twin sister, sitting by the pool, looking pretty happy and content. All of this was her doing. Not that it was wrong, but a guy like him could not be around a girl like her without having to make a few adjustments. Now those adjustments were causing cracks in his leadership structure. “Way forward?” Joe asked, he knew this could still be fixed.
“I’d say you prove them wrong. Now Buju wants to see you again, yeah? Go in there and let him know you don’t do such jobs no more. You have guys you trust. Put in a good word for Esosa, then have a word with Esosa, ensure his head is in the right place. Keep an eye on the whole Op, take control.” Dave suggested. “Sounds good to me.” Joe replied. “Saw on CNN this morning, that zone is getting real hot. Esosa had better be real smart with his moves. African nations are a bitch, bro.” Dave said sounding concerned. “Exactly my point, man! But the boy does not seem to see it that way. He doesn’t even watch the news!” Joe said frustrated. “He’ll be fine, Joe. He’s no rookie. I have made some contacts on his behalf. We can’t pull out now anyway, unless Buju does. We know too much already.” Dave replied patting Joe’s shoulder.
Joe kept staring out the window at Shola. “Marry her.” he suddenly heard Dave say, “Yeah?” he asked. “Yeah!” Dave replied, “From the things you have told me about her, she sounds pretty cool. You don’t find such girls these days. A girl that don’t want you just for your money but actually identifies with you.” he added. “I’m planning to, soon.” Joe replied. “Do it as soon as you can, nothing elaborate, just get it done before she freaks out. Not many girls can stick with folks like us, you know.” Dave admonished. “Got the ring already, just chilling for some free time in her work so we could go on a trip someplace nice and I’ll give her the ring.” Joe explained. “But you do know you are a clown, yeah? Thinking like a helpless romantic! I would not have believed if someone had told me you said these very words!” Dave laughed.
6 days had passed. Joe’s meeting with Buju had been a little tense but Buju had finally accepted Joe’s terms. Joe had demanded more money, explaining to Buju that they would rather run the Op themselves and use their own network of contacts. Buju had not put up much resistance, “Not bad, as long as you deliver.” he had said. Joe stayed back in Lagos and had Esosa move in with him for the next 5 days. They went over the operation together over a hundred times with Dave and Martin dropping by often. Now he had Martin said their “farewells” to a very confident Esosa as he checked in at the Airline counter for a 06:50hrs flight to Casablanca. There he would meet Buju’s supplier, pick up the supplies and find his way to Mali, deliver and get out. Joe gave Esosa a tight hug, punched his arm, said “Stay safe, Bro. Always look out for yourself and stay sharp.” then left.
The next friday, just in from Abuja, Joe was dropped off by Razak at Shola’s office. She expected him and so had rushed through her tasks for the day. When she arrived at the lobby, Joe was there laughing with Ambrose and Okey, another guy from HR. She joined them and after a while, left with her man. He drove them to Radisson Blu, they placed their order and got talking, “You look stressed, sweetheart, why don’t you go freshen up?” Joe suddenly asked. Shola felt slightly embarrassed, she had not touched up her make up in her rush. “Ok, Darl.” She said, picked up her purse and left for the ladies’. When she was done, Shola made her way back to their table, Joe got up to pull out her chair, she smiled gratefully at him and sat down. Next thing she knew, he was on his knees, a beautiful ring in its box in his hands and a huge grin on his face.
“Marry me, Shola.” Joe said, she could not believe her eyes and ears. The applause and catcalls from around the restaurant brought her back from a momentary daze. Completely embarrassed she nodded while trying to get him off his knees. “After this.” Joe insisted, taking the ring off its place in the box and slipping it on her finger. It seemed to take forever as he took his time while showering her with praise and making her promises. “…with all that I am, I promise to make you the envy of women.” was the last one she heard as he finally got up. She stood on wobbly feet as he kissed her with the restaurant erupting in a fresh set of applause. After she sat down and he had gone around to his seat, she found Ambrose standing beside her. “Congratulations, Shola.” he said, then handed Joe one of his phones. “Got it all on tape, bro. My work here is done. Enjoy.” he said, “You!” Shola said accusingly as he walked away.
That night in her bed, Shola was too excited to sleep. She tweeted “He proposed! Ofcos, I said YES!”. On her BBM DP was one of the pictures taken by a waiter of Joe slipping the ring on her finger. Her phone went crazy with BBM messages, tweets, SMSs and phone calls. She had also shared the news with her folks. Pastor Keji saw the BBM DP and called her. “Hello, Ma’m!” Shola answered, “For real?” Pastor Keji asked, “Yes, ma’m! Tonight.” Shola replied. “Great! I’m happy for you. Now that he wants my ‘daughter’ for keeps, ask him to come see me ASAP.” Pastor Keji said, “No problem, Ma’m!” Shola said laughing. She praised Shola for the job well done in getting him to church without failing so far and reminded her the decision was her’s to make adding that they had to inform the church, giving a 6-month notice before the wedding proper.
It was almost a month after Joe proposed with things going on well when Shola decided to make a quick stop at his place on a Thursday evening on her way from work. She’d gotten some groceries towards his usual Friday arrival and thought she’d just drop them in his fridge instead of taking them home and then bring them back again later. They had spent the previous weekend in his Abuja crib and that had been blissful. He had not allowed her do anything; not cooking, not cleaning, nothing! She had never had such a weekend since she was 6 years, aside the Tinapa weekend which had been a hotel stay anyway. They had eaten out all through and a cleaning lady had cleaned the apartment. As she got out of the car she noticed a few other cars among which she recognized Dave’s LR3.
Shola ascended the stairs and opened the main door with her keys. They were all there. She had gotten to know them all now. “Hello, guys!” she said hiding her surprise and curiosity. Joe was not due back till the next evening and had not mentioned a change in plans. She decided to play it cool and ask him later when the others left. Each one gave her a response of some sort, she didn’t hear the usual “Big Madam!” Esosa always said to her. He was absent. She gave Joe a quick kiss where he stood by the wall and rubbed his tommy fondly. He managed to crack a weak smile. She didn’t have to be told something was eating them all up. She knew she may never find out what it was or why her man had returned without informing her he was in town. She knew the drill.
Joe saw them all off downstairs and when the rest had gone, he stood by Dave’s car with Dave already at wheels. “Did I tell you my mum called me?” Joe asked, “She heard?” Dave asked, “Yeah. Apparently Esosa had mentioned to his mum that he was at my place or so. Now that no one has heard from him, she called my mum asking after me. Told her she had not heard from her son who said he was chilling at mine. You can guess the rest.” Joe explained, “He’ll turn up soon, Joe, he’s a tough nut.” Dave assured him and promised to keep the search, though discreet and expensive, going. As Joe ascended the stairs he assessed the situation. Now, shit had really hit the fan. Esosa had gone off the radar with the supplies. Dead or alive? They did not know. Buju was spitting fire and brimstone, calling every hour for updates, apparently the group who had paid him for the supplies were breathing down his fat neck.
“What is going on?” Shola asked as Joe shut the door.
“Nothing.” he replied dismissively. “Joe, do not lie to me! You come into town unannounced for a ‘hushed-toned’ meeting, and you tell me nothing is wrong? Where is Esosa? I didn’t see him.” Shola demanded blocking his path to the room. Joe’s eyes blazed and for a moment Shola was very scared, but she stood her ground. “There’s nothing. Esosa traveled.” Joe said, keeping his cool. “So, why this strange behavior and dour countenance?” she pressed. “It’s nothing. Sorry I did not inform you of my trip. T’was sudden.” he said retreating. She came after him. She did not know where the anger came from but it came and it was huge. She poured a rain of words at a speed she never thought she possessed. Through it all, the only thing Joe did was raise his eyebrows.
Joe dressed up for his meeting with Buju, it was 10:46pm and had started to rain lightly. Shola had left saying he was driving her crazy and when he was ready to talk, she’ll be at her place. He knew he could not attend to that now. He had bigger fish to fry. He hoped to be done with this mess quickly and then go find his girl, win her back. He was glad she had not insulted him nor called off the relationship. She had not even threatened to. “Think, Esosa. Think Mali. Think One Point Six Million Dollars worth of supplies.” he told himself as he left the house. He was not going to this meet unprotected, guys were already on ground. Still, he did not like it all one bit, but then, ‘a man had to do what a man had to do’. He felt somewhat exposed as he drove out of the estate, this was the wrong time to be in a fight with Shola. He needed her prayers.
He wished he could just sit her down and tell her exactly what was going on, but he knew he’d lose her if he did. If she knew he had not gotten out, but still deeply involved in running stuff and the enormity of this particular operation, the gravity of the sin that surrounded it… He just could not. “Fuck you, Esosa!” he swore. He tried to figure out where this had all gone wrong. Esosa had made contact in Casablanca, moved the supplies from the boat to a truck and then disappeared. Did he make it to the Malian border? Did he divert the stuff? Joe did not know what to think. He was deep in thought as he drove towards Buju’s bar. He did not notice the black Nissan Xterra that had followed him all the way from the estate gate.
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