“Take your call.” Joe said, “I’ll call her later.” Shola replied setting her phone aside, “I insist.” Joe pressed, got up, walked to the fridge and poured himself some fruit juice. He really didn’t need this extra pressure and distraction at this time. Knowing that some people he could not place were looking for him for reasons he could not fathom. He had run a lot of operations in a lot of places with a whole lot more set ups than he cared to remember. These two could have come from any of a number of operations or set ups. Now, for his sake, all of his crew were in hiding. He had decided to blame himself, since no one else had been “contacted”. He was the weak link, somehow the guys had known what car he drove and what route his car was taking on that particular Sunday.
Now he was under extra pressure to redeem himself. Was he being paranoid? Bullshit! In his line of work, one could never be too careful. His network of contacts was up and buzzing. The identities of the two guys would be discovered pretty soon, he had been assured. The next step would be to find out exactly why they were on his trail. The vehicle registration number was a huge plus. Kola was smarter than he’d given him credit for. He’ll find some way to reward the boy when the dust settles. If all of this goes well, Kola’ll end up his brother-in-law anyway.
He looked over at Shola. She was what he’d always wanted in a woman, there was still the drawback of her being sort of lax with her security and then, the sex thing. Both of which could be taken care of in short order. Hell! No one was perfect. Something told him deep inside that Shola was the one. He would not lose her. No way!
Shola was getting uncomfortable with the call, she had reiterated to Pastor Keji that she was fine, all had gone well and she would be back by tomorrow afternoon. “Yes, ma. I’ll come and see you immediately I get back.” Shola said for the umpteenth time, rolling her eyes. She looked over at Joe. He stood with a look of deep thought on his face, glass in hand, staring out at the dark lake. She would have given all she owned to get a transcript of those thoughts. Again, her eyes caught the ring on his pinky, the one that had done instant damage to the girl’s face at mall, it made a small shiver run up her spine. Pastor Keji said a surprisingly short prayer, said goodnight and with that hung up. Shola did not like the fact that Joe had had so much time to prepare for the talk about to follow.
“Listen, babe, nothing is going to happen to you. I will make sure of that, whatever the costs to me.” Joe said. They were sitting out on the balcony, the wind was slow, cool and relaxing, Shola was curled up beneath a blanket in her seat. She had pressed him to fulfill his promise by telling her all he was about. He continued by explaining to her that no one rose this far this fast without stepping on some toes and pissing some folks off. He did not know why the two guys that had stopped her were looking for him, he did not know how they knew he had traveled, he knew nothing of them. They knew stuff about him, his car and its route and maybe more and yet he knew nothing of them. That was a cause for concern for him and his crew. He explained how they all had gone into hiding for the past 2 weeks, shelving all their plans and work.
“I was to be in Abuja this week to meet with some clients I had contacted who had shown interest in getting some home fittings from me.” Joe lamented, “Awww! Sorry, dear.” Shola said, “Its Ok. But this is why I can’t tell you all you want to know, Shola.” He said starring straight right into her eyes. The stare in itself was destabilizing, the words even more so. Shola struggled to find the correlation or at least get on the reasoning plane he was on. It felt like she had not been paying attention, but she could swear she had been. Hesitantly, she asked “How do you mean?” slowly sitting up. “Shola, when those guys who found you asked about me, if I was back, did you hold out on them? Did you give them a false answer? A vague answer? Refuse to answer? Demand they answered your own questions too? Demand that they identified themselves? Did you stand up to them? Did you bluff?” Joe asked.
For a moment, she was quiet. Now she saw where this was headed, “No, Joe. I was scared.” she replied softly.
“Of course, you were, dear, and I don’t blame you. But the truth remains, you are not prepared for this yet.” he said making an encompassing hand gesture. “So, –” she began slowly, he cut her off with another hand gesture
“So, you left there and drove straight home. They could easily have followed you and….” he left left the rest to her imagination.
“Till this moment, we do not know if they followed you or not. Heck! We do not know anything.” he added. “I’m sorry, Joe. I panicked. I just wanted to run to you and tell you.” she defended.
“I know. I know. Anyways, we will fix this, I’m sure. But that is not the issue. The issue is, babe, your knowledge of certain things will make you a risk to me. You already know plenty. There are just certain things you are not ready for.”
“It’s not that I enjoy keeping you in the dark, babe, but imagine what happens if you know ‘all‘” he made a quoting gesture with his fingers “and some people decide to ask you, not very nicely, and of course not in public about these things?” Joe asked.
The thought alone made Shola cringe. She knew, just like he did, that she would spill, sing like the proverbial bird. She could not find a response.
“Same reason I didn’t tell you where you were going on this trip. Look, baby, just trust me to handle my business.” he said getting out of his seat and coming to her, “Come get some sleep. It’s almost midnight.” he added, lifted her easily out of her seat, carried her to the bedroom and placed her in bed.
“Joe, we are in this together. Your business is mine and mine your’s. You really should share with me.” She said making a weak effort at getting him to talk. She didn’t sound the least bit convincing and she knew it. He didn’t budge, “In good time, Honey, I promise.” he said.
Shola turned and realized she was alone in bed. She found her phone on the bedside table and checked the time: 6:13am. Apparently she had slept off while gisting with Joe. She was still dressed in the clothes she’d had on yesterday. She got out of bed and found a note on the dresser: “Off to the gym!” it said. She striped, went into the bathroom and had a long bath while she thought over the events of the previous day. A few minutes later, she heard Joe call out her name, “In the bathroom!” she called back. He wanted to know what she would like for breakfast, she said she’d have whatever he was having. She got out of the bath in a bath towel, Joe was in bed busy on his iPad, he did not seem to notice her, so she kind of got changing into fresh under garments.
“You could have asked me to leave.” Joe said getting out of bed and taking off his T-shirt, “I need a shower anyway.” he added heading to the bath. Shola laughed then threw him a tongue-out. He stopped, took three steps in her direction and planted a kiss on her lips, she responded letting the towel drop to the floor. She only had on her underwear, Joe was down to his gym shorts. He put his arms around her and pulled her into himself setting off a million alarms in her head. She knew she was precariously close to the edge here, she should stop, but his hands were making bolts of charges course through her body causing something that had gone to sleep for many months to rise up within her. She felt the bed connect with her bare back. Things were moving fast. There was no going back, she was about to break her promise to herself right here, right now.
“I berra take that shower!” she heard Joe’s voice, husky with passion. In an instant Joe was off her, up and through the bathroom door. She was suddenly aware of nudity the moment she heard the bathroom door slam shut. She pulled the duvet over her body, only her panties were in place, she was suddenly cold. “Oh! My God! What just happened?” she murmured.
“That was close Shola!” she added, jumped off the bed and quickly got dressing up. She was not about to give this insanity a second try. By the time Joe got out, she was ‘safe’ in the living area eating her breakfast of toast, scrambled eggs and coffee. He joined her at the table in a bit while speaking on the phone, after a few minutes, he handed her the phone “Esosa” he said, “Hello” she said taking it, “Big Madam, good morning!” Esosa greeted making her laugh. He could not make it down to see them as promised and was just checking in. She thanked him, asked after his welfare then handed him back to Joe.
“Kola’s asking if he can take the car to church.” Shola said. She was chatting with Kola while she ate. “Sure. Does he know when to pick you up?” Joe asked, “Yes. I already told him.” she replied as she typed the permission to Kola to take the car to church, he responded with 6 dancing smileys. She smiled but sent him a straight-face smiley. She and Joe spent the next few hours in the suite. He was busy on his iPad and phones while she watched TV, chatted and tweeted. “Thank you Lord, that was close” was her first tweet of the day. At noon Joe called for a cab to get them to the airport. Soon they were on their way and she was quite sad the weekend was coming to an end. He tried to lighten her mood by reminding her he’d be back with her in Lagos the moment they were certain of their safety.
At the airport she claimed her boarding pass – Business Class like she’d known it would be, then went back to Joe who was standing with her stuff. All three bags were hand luggage. She recalled she’d come here with just her handbag, she was very grateful and had thanked Joe many times for the items. As they said their goodbyes, Joe produced a watch from his pocket, it was the feminine piece of the one he wore, a black Movado. He took her Swatch off and put it her bag then put the new one on her wrist. “Keep your eyes on it, dear. I’ll be back in no time.” he said smiling. She was speechless. She managed a few ‘thank you’s when she had finally recovered. “I love you, Shola.” he said planting a kiss on her forehead, “I love you too, Joe.” she replied throwing her arms around his neck.
She was still standing with Joe just being plain happy when she heard a familiar voice say “Hello, Shola.” she turned around to find ‘Dekunle – her ex. In some other circumstance, she would have felt bad to be seeing him again. He was the one guy who had hurt her the most, broken all his promises to her and broken her heart in a thousand pieces on his way out of her life. But this was no ordinary circumstance, this was the most favorable circumstance ever! Getting over the initial surprise and sour taste the chance meet had brought, she said “Hi, Kunle!” she knew how much he hated being called that. Dude always insisted he was “‘Dekunle”, Shola could not care less at the moment. She looked him over and wondered what she had ever seen in him anyway.
“What are you doing here?” he asked throwing a micro glance at Joe. “Oh! My manners!” Shola said instantly holding on to Joe’s arm, “This is Joe, my boyfriend. Honey, this is Kunle, we were course mates back in school.” she introduced both guys. She could see ‘Dekunle was deflated by the casual manner she described him, not even glorifying him as her ex. Both guys shook, ‘Dekunle managed to say “I’m ‘Dekunle”, Joe only said “Aii” with that slightly uninterested look that said he had more important things to do. He’d heard all about ‘Dekunle from Shola, but since she’d decided to play it this way, the least he could do was go with the flow. “Why don’t you get back to the hotel now, dear? I’ll be fine.” Shola said to Joe. “Okay. Have a safe flight.” Joe said kissed her on the lips, threw a nod ‘Dekunle’s way and left.
‘Dekunle offered to help her with one of her bags, she let him. He told her he had come for a friend’s wedding and was heading back to Lagos too. They could seat together on the flight he suggested as they cleared the customs check. Shola smiled, this could not be better, “Sure,” she said, then “I’m up in Business. You?”. She almost laughed out loud at the look on ‘Dekunle’s face. He said he was flying Economy, no point doing Business, bla bla, bla… Shola was not listening. ‘Dekunle was always justifying his short comings, she had gotten past all that trash now. “See you in Lagos.” Shola said, got her bag from him and headed off to the VIP lounge. She found a seat by the window and sat with a huge smile of content on her face. “Rubbish boy.” she said to herself watching him through the one-way glass.
The flight had been a smooth sail and she was glad to be back in Lagos. Kola’s SMS came in the moment she turned her phone on. He was already here and waiting. She called him to bring the car around to the exit at Arrivals. ‘Dekunle found her again at the exit. “Getting a cab?” he asked, “No. Kola’s getting me.” she said, inwardly shaking her head at his folly. “Oh! OK.” he said retreating somewhat. “We could drop you off someplace.” she said laying out the last ounce of nicety she could find in her heart for the creep as Kola pulled up in the X6. She got in the back and asked ‘Dekunle to get in too. “Where do we drop you off?” she asked after he’d exchanged pleasantries with Kola. “Ikeja bus-stop is fine.” he said.
Shola placed a call to Joe telling him she was fine and in Lagos, on her way home, then she called Pastor Keji to find out if she was home. Pastor Keji sounded super-relieved and could not hide her pleasure at hearing Shola was back and on her way over. ‘Dekunle tried to engage her by making small talk. She showed no interest, her mind was preoccupied by what was going to be said at Pastor Keji’s. She thought back on Joe’s reasons for insisting upon her ignorance where the details of his work and crew were concerned. she’d gone to Calabar to get answers. It seemed she had come back without any, had found more questions and gotten herself thrown deeper into ‘this’. Whatever it was. She stared down at her new watch, “I’ll be back in no time” Joe had promised.
They’d dropped a very shrunken ‘Dekunle off where he’d asked to get off and were headed for Pastor Keji’s in Berger. Kola was bringing her up to speed with developments at home and church. Their Dad was back and had asked after her repeatedly. Titi had also asked after her in church. There was a vigil coming up on friday. She took it all in then switched topics to general stuff. They were on Pastor Keji’s street when her phone rang. It was Joe. Her heart skipped a beat as she picked up.
“Hello,” she said
“Where are you?” he asked,
“In the car. On the road” she replied,
“We found them” he said.
She had no doubts as to who “them” were.
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