Shola sat up in bed. Joe had just got off the line. He called to say he was going to be back in the country tonight. Finally the nightmare was over!
A few days into their second try at a relationship (Third, if you counted the puppy love they shared in JSS), Joe had gone on a ‘business’ trip, one that had lasted for close to a month. She didn’t like it one bit. He called regularly, each call brief and from noisy places just to let her know he was fine and ‘No, he did not know when he’d he back’. Each time with a different number that was unavailable when she tried to call back. During his absence, she had kept herself busy, learning to drive with his car while also reveling in the reminders of him the car brought her. A reluctant Kola had been her tutor.
She had been taught in church to listen to the witness in her heart, be sensitive and all. She could not deny there was a kind of ‘Check’ in her heart about Joe’s trip. Something was not right. She had investigated the numbers online and found their area codes were scattered vastly over the United States. He had told her he was going to Italy when she had seen him off to the airport; no mention of the US. She had, however, reminded herself to trust him, if she did not, this would not work. So, trust, she would until she could ask him to his face. In the meantime, she needed to get something fabulous to wear to the airport tonight. And for the first time, she’ll be picking him up and driving him home herself. The thought in itself made her smile.
Three days after his arrival, Joe got another car, a BMW X6 2012. He believed he deserved it. The trip had been pretty risky, the payoff was good and anyway it was his last job for the guys. It was time to focus on his legit business concerns, put some money in properties and settle down. He thought about Shola. He’d gotten her something too: a Galaxy Note 10.1. The job at the bank had not come through yet but Ambrose had assured him it would pretty soon. He’ll just wait and let her get the job or any other, then he’ll propose. He had learned the value of humans above stuff. His dad’s was the example that had served to teach him well. With all the wealth he had, the man had died alone in a hospital in the UK. None of his wives or kids were there. Definitely not Joe. They never did see eye-to-eye.
Two weeks later, Shola drove out of the church premises with Titi and Kola. Joe was throwing a small party for her at his place. She had gotten the bank job. These days, she drove the Crosstour. She’d gotten used to the feel and Joe had not asked for it since he got his other car, the one Kola would not shut up about. She was excited, “I want to pick up a few things at the mall” she said. “The traffic going in there on Sundays is crazy” Titi said. She had invited Titi. She could trust her not to judge but at the same time, give her an honest opinion about Joe. It’ll be the first time she’ll meet him in person. “The car behind is flashing us” Kola said looking out the rear windscreen, “Who is it?” Shola asked confused, “I have no clue. You can pull over and find out?” Kola suggested. “Is that safe?” Titi asked. “Park at the bus stop.” Kola said.
Shola pulled over at the next bus stop as Kola had suggested. The tailing vehicle went past then pulled up infront of her. The driver got out first followed by another guy. Both walked towards her side of the car “Definitely not the Police” Shola said, “SSS?” Titi ventured, “Not in a Range Rover Sport.” Kola countered. Shola wound down, flashed her sweetest smile, said “Good Afternoon, Sirs”, the guys looked at each other, then back at her without bothering with a response of any kind. “Is Joe back?” the driver asked. “Yes, he is, Sir.” Shola replied, she could not help it. They looked at each other once more then made to leave. “Who are you, Sirs?” she asked, then quickly added “So i can tell him you asked after him” when they glared at her. Still, they made no effort to respond, walked back to their car and drove off.
“What was that about?” Titi finally found her voice. there had been something menacing about the guys. The way they moved and talked. “I wonder. I’ll definitely ask Joe!” Shola said getting back on the road. “I got them both on camera. Their number plates too.” Kola said passing his phone forward to the girls. “Ha! Kola! What if they had seen you?” Shola asked. “They could not have. I’m here behind tinted windows, remember?” Kola replied smugly. An eerie silence fell upon the car for most of the rest of their journey. Shola was so rattled she drove past the mall exit and straight on to Magodo. She just wanted to get to Joe and tell him what had happened. No one commented on her decision.
The mood was pretty set when Shola pulled up at Joe’s. Quite a number of other cars were parked. The three of them joined 6 other guys, not counting Joe, in the apartment. After greetings and pleasantries where Shola was introduced as “my grilfriend, the celebrant”, Kola as “her brother” and Titi as “her friend”, the guys gave their names, but in her state, she could not recall what they were once they were done saying it. Joe had introduced them; one as “my Oga”, one his cousin and the rest friends. The moment it was over, she took Kola’s phone and practically dragged Joe into the room. Quickly she showed him the pictures – one of the guys by the car’s window and the other a zoomed shot of their car showing the number plates, then explained what had happened.
She could practically see him switch mode. Moving quickly, he drew the curtains shut then peered out from one corner while moving her away from the window. “Were you followed?” He asked “Followed?” Shola asked confused. Joe threw her a hard look, “I don’t know…, I…don’t think…so.” She stammered. “Ok. Lemme ask the guys.” He said leaving the room with Kola’s phone. Shola stood at the door looking into the sitting room as Joe passed the phone around. She could see Kola and Titi also watching. Now they had all seen the pictures, no one seemed to recognize the guys nor the car. The mood in the room changed. Shola could have sworn they were not the same guys who had been so cheery and sweet when she’d come in.
The one Joe had introduced as “my Oga” got up, for the first time she noticed he had a cane for support, he moved pretty fast for someone with a bad limb. In a flash, he was at the window peering out just like Joe had done, then he turned and asked the same question Joe had – “Were they followed?” Joe mumbled something she could not make out. The guy with the cane got out his phone “Bezzy, Joe’ll send you some pictures in a bit. Get back to me ASAP!” he barked after dialing a number. With that, he moved to the door, opened it quietly, looked out cautiously and was gone. In moments all six had left and Joe was in the room again with her. She wanted to ask a hundred questions, but Joe’s face was not like he would entertain any, plus he was in such a haste.
He grabbed a bag and opened it, inside were essential toiletries, two shirts still in their packs, a small towel and a mobile phone. He threw in his International Passport and 8 bundles of N1000 notes. Shola had only seen stuff like that in movies, but this was her man acting like some spy or something. “Let’s go.” Joe said taking her by the arm and shuffling her out into the sitting room. “Kola, get the car ready.” he said tossing the keys to the BMW at Kola who caught it and was out the door in an instant. “Give me the keys to the Honda.” he said turing to Shola once more, quickly she rummaged in her bag and produced the keys. Joe took them and threw them into his room. “I don’t want you driving that car no more.” he said, then “Titi, please, let’s leave.” while he shuffled Shola out the door.
Shola sat at the dinning table, oblivious to the burning smell of the food she was preparing, wondering what exactly she had gotten herself into. It had been over three hours since they had dropped Joe off at the airport. He had insisted they left immediately and head home straight. It had been a very quiet ride. They had dropped Titi off at her bus stop, where they managed faint goodbyes, “It is well, dear.” Titi had added squeezing Shola’s hand as she got off. Thankfully, Kola had been silent even when they were all alone on the ride home. He seemed to be deep in thought. All she could do was weep silently. She didn’t know what to make of it all. ‘Who were those guys?’ She thought ‘and why had Joe and his friends reacted the way they had?’ ‘Where had Joe actually gone?’
Her mum’s shouts of “Shola! Shola!! ki l’on jo?!” snapped her out of her thoughts. She suddenly smelled and saw the smoke, immediately, she dashed into the kitchen and remedied the situation, the food itself was past saving though. Her mum was in the kitchen scolding her sternly, “Where were you?” she asked, “At the dining table, ma.” Shola replied, “And you could not smell what I could in my room?! What are you thinking?” her mum went on. Shola could not answer as tears began to roll down her cheeks. “Phone call!” She heard Kola calling from the living area, she had left her phone there and could now hear it ring. It was Joe, she could tell from the tone. She rushed past her mum and out of the kitchen. A loud hiss from her mum trailed her exit.
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