Ogechi Nwobia is back with the second season of Hunter’s game. you know what that means, right? Enjoy!
(If you missed season 1, click HERE to catch up)
The sun was a fine shade of golden brown as it commenced its ascent above the ocean. It was just about 5am and Aniefiok stood at the balcony of his hotel room, a cigarette hanging loosely between his lips as he absorbed the view before him. He could hear the waves strike the rocks gently and the fronds of the palm trees flutter lazily. It was the last day of his vacation and he was bent on taking it all in, creating a memory that would be eternally stamped in his heart. Not that he needed to anyway. The last two weeks with his siblings were unforgettable.
Ani took one final drag of the cigarette before putting it out. He cast a glance into the room where Otto and Sharon were spread out on the bed and he smiled. Because two weeks ago when he insisted that Sharon join them for their vacation, he was sure one of the women would kill the other before the end of the trip. But somehow, it had all worked out. Otto had argued that Sharon- his girlfriend- was not family and so should not be with them. Yet he had insisted because he planned to get married to Sharon and needed his siblings to get used to her. Sharon was here to stay.
The ring he was going to propose with was still tucked nicely at the bottom of his box. The girls had gone partying the previous night and returned too late and too drunk for him to propose and Enokela had suggested he put it off till dinner with their parents that night. That would make an even bigger statement.
“What you doing out here bruv?”
Ani turned and smiled.
“Thinking about my life.”
“Yes, you’ll be 33 in a week. You’re an A-class pilot with several thousand miles under your belt, a 7-figure bank account and a woman who worships the very ground upon which you walk. What’s not to think about?”
Ani grinned and shook his head.
“I’m not brooding though. Just chilling, like happy.”
“Well, good. Coz if anyone should be brooding, it should be me.”
“What’s up baby brother?”
Eno smacked Ani’s arm.
“Don’t call me that. I keep telling you.”
Ani laughed a little then started coughing.
“See? That shit you keep smoking. You’ll die before you’re 40.”
Ani laughed and coughed some more.
“Something’s gotta kill a man though, no?”
“Real though, what’s up? Why did you say you’re the one to brood?”
“Nneka broke up with me last night.”
Ani’s eyes dimmed in sympathy and he crossed well-toned arms and leaned on the balcony.
“Dang. That’s rough. Why? What happened?”
Eno looked away.
“Well, a little birdie let it slip that I shagged one of my air hostesses and had her abort a baby she was apparently carrying for me.”
Ani snorted and quickly covered his face as he fell into another spasm of laughter.
“I hate you” Enokela said.
“This one’s on you, you know. You should have been careful. Or better yet stayed faithful to the woman you claim to love.”
“It’s not my fault. The women love me, they won’t let me be. What should I do? Turn them down? That would be rather ungentlemanly.”
Aniefiok let out loud guffaws that broke the peace of the morning and Enokela looked at him oddly.
“What’s wrong with you?”
“You dey mad o!” Ani said. “Better craze dey worry you. Ehn, since the women love you, why are you now here crying over Nneka? Replace her already na.”
“You know I can’t. She was special. I really love her. And I was planning to clean up and just be committed to her.”
“Sure. After 2 years of fooling around yeah? Or you’ve forgotten how many second chances she’s given you to clean up.”
“Mehh. You’ll help me beg her abeg.”
“Nope. Fix your shit.”
Ani took one last look at the sun over the ocean then checked the time on his fuel band.
“Going for a run. Wanna come?”
“Sure. I need to think up the perfect apology for Nneka when we get back. I swear if she forgives me this time, I’m done playing.”
“Yeah and the Pope will quit his job and become a stripper. Face it ‘Kela. You’ll always be a baby boy. You were made for this life and this life was made for you.”
Enokela tried and failed to stifle his laughter.
“You’re useless, I swear.”
Ani walked into the suite and Enokela followed him. They cautiously picked up their running shoes and went into Enokela’s adjoining room to change.
“What time is the flight tonight?” Eno asked
“5:30.” Ani laced his shoes as he responded.
“Is Ima working your flight too?”
“Yup. Fun times.”
Enokela laughed. Ima was Ani’s immediate younger sister who was an air hostess. The two did not get along very much, but Ima was closer to Enokela who followed her directly. Otto was the baby of the house and the only one of chief Ubong’s children who was not in the Aviation industry. Even on the vacation, Ima had gone off with her own friends and had only hung out a couple of times with her siblings. But Aniefiok, Enokela, Sharon and Otto had done everything together the entire period.
Ani suddenly felt his phone buzz in his pocket. He retrieved it and read the text message reminding him about resuming work that evening.
“Like I could forget. I’ve missed flying.”
“I’ve missed the pretty things in skirts yo.”
Ani laughed and shook his head
“And you say you want to change. Fat chance.”
The two men walked out of the hotel room and shut the door quietly behind them.
Uzo woke up with a start, his heart thumping wildly in his chest. He reached for the bedside lamp and switched it on and his corner of the room came alight with a dim glow that brightened gradually till the entire room filled with light. Beside him, Leela stirred and Uzo exhaled slowly, releasing air from his mouth into a cupped palm. He did not want to wake her up.
He found it strange that 6 months after the ordeal, he still had occasional nightmares where either he or Leela wound up dead. Tonight, someone had shot at them both and they had locked their hands together as he felt the life drain out of him. He got out of bed and checked the time. It was 2am. He went to the water dispenser in his living room, fetched himself a glass of water, and returned to the bedroom to find Leela awake.
“What’s up? She asked.
Uzo contemplated lying to her but the look on her face told him it was pointless.
“I had another nightmare.”
Leela bit her lips and contemplated for a bit.
“Maybe you should see someone.”
“No. It’s stopping. Or it stopped.”
“And started when I came back.”
Uzo sighed. There was something about Leela. He did not know what it was yet but there was just something about her.
When they returned to Lagos after their ordeal, she stayed with him and tried to help him adjust back to a normal life. Two days after their return, she helped rent him a house on Bode Thomas in Surulere. It was a nice one bedroom apartment that was super cozy. Being in a smaller house and having her act normal around him had helped him settle in. Exactly two weeks later, he came home from work and discovered that she was gone. There was not a single trace of her and there was no message. He had absolutely no means of reaching her.
Her exit broke him and he tried to understand why she left but it did nothing to abate his hurt. He tried to piece himself back together. Nathan helped. They hung out together a good number of times. Nathan brought women to him but Uzo always ignored them. But in time, he adjusted to Leela’s absence and fell into a routine of work and weekend hangouts but never staying out later than 7pm.
Two weeks ago, he returned home from work and found Leela in his bedroom. He had almost passed out. She apologized to him for abandoning him, claiming she had needed some time to sort herself out and saying she was back for good if Uzo would accept her.
Nathan was opposed to the idea but Uzo could not say no to Leela. He realized that day that he had never really gotten over her. She moved back in and they were taking their relationship- if you could call it that- pretty slow. But at that time, Uzo had quit his job and was on the lookout for something new.
And she was right. It was the third nightmare he was having since her return.
“Leela, it’s not you, it’s just-”
“I brought back memories. Maybe this wasn’t a good move.”
“So now what? You want to leave again?”
“No. Just maybe give you some time. I quit my job at the agency so we could have a fresh start but-”
“You didn’t do that for me or for us. It was because of Gbemiga.”
Uzo wanted to slap himself the moment the words were out of his mouth. He had no idea why he had uttered them.
Uzo was frustrated. He walked out of the room and back into the living room to lie on the couch. This was the problem. There was just something about her that made it almost impossible for them to be normal. It didn’t matter how much he tried. Conversations were mostly awkward Maybe Nathan was right. Maybe they just weren’t meant to be. Maybe he should let her go once and for all.
Her voice broke into his thoughts, surprising him slightly because he hadn’t heard her enter the living room. He pretended not to hear her and offered no response.
Leela knew he had heard her even though he didn’t respond. She was genuinely sorry. She thought the time apart would help her sort out everything she was feeling but she was wrong. She had spent a month in France then another month with her dad back in Zaria but nothing she did gave her peace. She had not stopped blaming herself for Gbemiga’s death and that was really the reason she quit the agency. Gbemiga had meant more to her than she knew and she did not imagine that she could take on any other assignment with his blood on her hands.
She had gone to see his mother at some point and the woman rained curses on her. She accepted them in humility, telling herself it was a small price to pay for Gbemiga’s death but even that did not help make her feel better. She travelled some more and eventually returned to Uzo. She apologized and promised herself that she would try to make things work between them. Maybe being with Uzo would fix her. But even this wasn’t working. She was all out of options. Maybe this was what people meant when they talked about hitting rock bottom.
No job. No love. No meaningful relationships. No purpose. Absolutely nothing to live for.
She walked back into the bedroom and shut the door. By morning, she would leave. Uzo did not deserve to deal with her and the baggage she was carrying.
Aniefiok adjusted his headset in the cockpit and turned a few knobs on the board. His co-pilot was Lebanese and he smiled at him.
Aniefiok nodded. There was a knock on the cockpit door and Ani turned to open it. Enokela got in grinning.
“Let me just sit here for the ride man. It’s weird sitting in the cabin. You know that.”
Ani shook his head and turned to his co-pilot.
“Do you mind?”
The man grinned and shook his head.
Enokela shut the door and smiled.
“Let’s do this.”
Aniefiok rubbed both palms and cleared his throat as his began to address his passengers.
“Good evening ladies and gentlemen. This is your pilot Captain Aniefiok Ubong and with me is first officer Adnan Gabir. We would like to welcome you aboard Miranda airlines taking you to the Nnamdi Azikiwe International airport Abuja this lovely Sunday evening. Please fasten your seatbelts as you get in and ensure that your hand luggage is safely stowed away in the overhead lockers above you.”
Another knock sounded on the cockpit door and Enokela opened it. Ima, poked her head in.
“Last passenger just boarded. We should be ready in 5.”
“Thanks Ima.” Adnan said.
The moment Ima shut the door behind her, Adnan said to Ani.
“Hard to believe you two are siblings. You rarely speak.”
“That’s just how we show love to each other.”
His phone buzzed and he checked it.
“Otto and Sharon are such slys. They’re already in Abuja.”
“At least they’re bonding. Free them.” Enokela said.
Ani typed out a response.
Give Sharon a peck for me. Love you both. See you in 2 hours.
A voice came on over the radio.
“Flight MJ 135, you are cleared for takeoff.”
“Alrighty. Buckle up” Ani said.
As he fired the engine of the plane, Ani felt a slight tremor in his tummy but he paid no mind to it as he powered the airplane and taxied down the runway.
The sun had long since completed its return home by the time she took her evening run. Her trail was different tonight as she ran through the city for the first time. It had always been through the beach or some other trail close to home but this night, she took a different, longer trail, just for the fun of it. Her ears were plugged into her iPod, Eminem’s rap filling her ears and fueling her heart rate as she maintained a steady pace of 3:38.
After completing 6km, she commenced her return home, her pace dropping slightly to 3:50. In 30 minutes, she was back to her small cottage overlooking the Jibacoa beach. She peeled her soaked tank top and tights off her body and went into the bathroom for a cold shower just as she turned on the television in her room.
When she came out of the shower, she sat in front of the television, drying her short hair. She needed to cut it again. The hair grew way too fast. She suddenly noticed an item on the news bar:
“Breaking News. Passenger plane crashes in Nigeria, killing all 120 passengers aboard.”
“Holy shit!!” Ijeoma exclaimed.
She turned up the volume of the news and listened as the reporter provided updates of a plane crash that had taken place hours ago. It was 3am in Nigeria but quite clearly, no one was asleep. The airplane was one in the fleet of Miranda airlines owned by Chief Victor Ubong. At that time, the passenger manifest was being read. The journalist reported that 3 of Chief Ubong’s children had been on the flight, one them was the pilot, the other a flight attendant and the third one apparently hitching a ride. The black box had been found and investigations had commenced.
Ijeoma buried her face in her palms. This was completely shocking. Chief Ubong was well known to her. He had actually arranged the private jet that had taken her off to Cuba six months ago. How could such a thing happen to him? She briefly contemplated reaching out to him but changed her mind. They were not exactly tight buddies. He owed her a favour and had repaid it by ensuring her safe passage out of Nigeria. No need to get emotional over his loss.
She turned off the television and changed into something light for the night, then walked into her small kitchen and fixed herself a cocktail. There was so much madness going on in the world, she would rather remain oblivious to it all.
She took her drink back to her room then turned on her Netflix and relaxed in her bed.
Against the backdrop of the movie dialogue, Ijeoma heard a ping that signified a notification for her email. She paused the movie, picked her iPad and checked. The mail had come into a Gmail account she had not used in months.
Check the news. There was a crash. Someone just murdered my kids. Come home. I need your help.
The sender was V. Ubong. Ijeoma stared at the screen for a long time before taking another sip of her cocktail. She slowly typed out a response;
My condolences chief. But I’m retired. Never returning to Nigeria.
She sent the email and shut down the iPad before returning her attention to the big screen in front of her.
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