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Tola sat behind her desk responding to a pile of emails. She had turned in her reports a week earlier than expected but she was satisfied with the job done. She was still annoyed with the lawyer though. It didn’t matter that he had apologised profusely. She did not send him a copy of her report once it was done and coldly informed him to obtain it from the AIB. Tola knew how to hold a grudge.
She heard a knock on her door and she raised her head as the door squeaked open and an elderly man in his sixties walked in. For a few seconds, Tola wondered why he looked familiar and it suddenly hit her. She had spent days poring over a body with a face much similar to the one before her, only it was at least three decades younger. She stood up hurriedly as Chief Ubong made a complete entrance into her office, followed closely by a young man.
“Good day sir.”
Chief Ubong smiled.
“Good day. How are you?”
“Fine thank you sir.” Tola found herself genuflecting with each word she uttered and she cleared her throat to compose herself.
“I read the reports on my son and his co-pilot. We just picked them up. The funeral is this weekend. But I had to come and thank you personally for doing a good job and not ruining his image as the tabloids have tried to.”
“My pleasure sir. Your son was amazing.”
Chief Ubong smiled again and Tola could not help but notice the tired lines on his face. No doubt the entire ordeal must have been stressful. She had no idea why she even said his son had been amazing. It was not like she knew him in person. She just felt the need to say something to ease the silence. She was following the news and having chief Ubong stand here in her office, she just wanted to hug him and tell him everything would be alright. But she knew better than to attempt that.
“This is Fola, my assistant. Is it okay if he takes your number? In case we need to reach you again?”
Tola nodded vigorously. She picked her card from a holder on the table and handed it over to the younger man who took it with a curt nod. Tola wondered why he was so stiff.
“Thank you. I’ll be in touch.”
Tola nodded and the two men walked out of the room.
She exhaled loudly once they were gone. Why had he come for the body himself? Why not just send someone else?
Her phone rang and she reached for it distractedly.
“Hey Cuppy how’s your day going?”
It was Charles. Her fiancé.
“I dunno. Chief Ubong was just here to pick his son’s corpse and it left me feeling somehow.”
“Aww. I thought you usually didn’t meet with whoever came to pick the bodies from your lab as per personal policy.”
Tola rubbed her eyes which were slightly wet.
“Yeah. He came to my office. C, he looked so sad, I was hurting for him. To have lost 3 kids at once and then to have one of them cut open for an investigation and all those lies people were peddling. He even thanked me for the reports I did. I wish I could have done more.”
Tola sniffed and rubbed her eyes, a little annoyed at how she felt. This was not her first time on the job. Why was she so emotional?
“It’s alright hun. It’s perfectly okay to have a heart sometimes and share in someone else’s pain.”
Tola found herself laughing. It was as though Charles could read her mind. And he did that way too often.
“Right. I need to get back to work. Why did you call? Did you need something?”
It was Charles’ turn to laugh.
“How typical. I call you, you use me to vent, then you try to throw me away.”
Tola laughed again.
“Bobo, stop this. I need to work. What’s up?”
“Nothing really. Just felt the urge to check up on you and now I see why.”
Tola shook her head. His spontaneous calls at the strangest best times were still spooky to her. 15 months of a relationship had not eased the spook in any way. She hung up a few minutes later and returned her focus to her laptop.
Leela struggled slightly to keep up with Ijeoma’s pace in the final lap of their run. It had been a lot more difficult when they started out last week but with Ijeoma’s insistence on daily runs in the morning and at night, she had gradually begun to adjust. It was now almost 6am and the darkness was almost completely gone from the skies. The back roads of Asokoro along which they ran were empty and had absolutely no sign of life.
Leela dropped her pace eventually and maintained a steady 100m distance behind Ijeoma until they got to the house. It was a cosy three bedroom apartment with a basement located at the heart of Asokoro. The house was tastefully furnished; upholstery made from solid mahogany, Persian rugs spread across the entire house and French drapes hanging from each window. But despite the stunning beauty of the main house, Leela and Ijeoma spent all their time in the basement which could not boast of half the effort that had gone into the main house.
As they descended the stairs, Leela reached for a light switch that illuminated the room and revealed two small mattresses in separate corners of the room. There was a work table at the centre of the room that held their laptops, and a vast spread of files Ijeoma had obtained from chief Ubong.
Ijeoma went into the bathroom to shower and Leela stretched herself out to do a few floor exercises. She felt fairly great. Throwing herself into work, following leads and questioning some of Chief Ubong’s staff had all helped her begin to piece herself together gradually. Not forgetting the regular exercises Ijeoma had subjected her to. She knew she owed her apparent recovery to Ijeoma and she was determined to pay off the debt by giving herself 100% to the investigations.
So far, they had nothing. Or so it appeared. Because she constantly felt like Ijeoma knew more than she was letting on.
She counted in her head as she did one sit up after another till she hit a hundred. Then she threw in a few punches at the punching bag Ijeoma had set up in another corner of the room until Ijeoma came out of the shower.
“We need to be out of here in 20 minutes. We’re paying Yakubu a visit.” Ijeoma said.
Leela nodded and made her way to the bathroom.
In less than twenty minutes, she was out of the shower, dressed and ready to go. A car had been made available to them. Some days, Ijeoma drove, other days, she made use of the driver chief Ubong had assigned to them. But today, Ijeoma drove the car, manoeuvring it expertly through the streets of Abuja until she arrived at the residence of the National Security Adviser.
Leela still could not get over how efficiently Ijeoma got things done. It was just about half seven when they were ushered into the living room that appeared more like a banquet hall because of its size. Ijeoma did not sit down. She stood in the centre of the room, arms folded with a brown envelope underneath them, eyes roaming. There were two uniformed men casually standing around and there were six more downstairs. Leela stood beside her, taking in the environment as well and hoping there would be no need for an emergency getaway. Only Ijeoma would come to dine with the devil in his abode.
Major-General Yakubu suddenly made his entrance into the room and the moment he saw Ijeoma, he shook his head.
“Wallahi, you must have a death wish or something for you to show up here.”
Ijeoma tipped her head slightly in his direction with a smile.
“Yakubu. It’s great to see you too.”
The major-general did not return her smile.
“The last time we spoke, you were supposed to stay away from the country for good. Why are you back? And why are you in my home at a time when I am mourning my daughter?” His tone was cold and his eyes held no light.
“I am here to express my condolences chief. And offer you an olive branch as well. You know we do better as friends than enemies.”
Yakubu walked to one of his aides and took a pistol off him. He cocked the gun and pointed it casually at Ijeoma.
“One, you have no friends. Two, you made an enemy out of me by abducting my daughter 6 months ago. Give me one reason why I should not put a bullet in your brains now.”
Leela felt cold sweat trickle down her spine. She slowly began to clench her fists. They were outnumbered. Ijeoma better have a plan, she thought. Yet Ijeoma would not wipe the grating smile off her face.
“Yakubu, you’re barking up the wrong tree. Chief Ubong is not responsible for Aisha’s death. I need you to leave him alone.”
General Yakubu, pistol still raised, moved closer to Ijeoma who maintained her smile but shook her head slowly.
“Don’t get ahead of yourself Yakubu. Don’t make me do something you’ll regret.”
General Yakubu stood right before her and held the gun to her forehead.
“If you place yourself between that man and me, you will wind up dead.”
Leela swallowed and clenched her fists tighter. What was Ijeoma playing at?
Ijeoma’s smile disappeared and her eyes darkened. Her tone was calm, yet steely and she looked right into the General’s eyes as she spoke.
“No one threatens me Yakubu. You know that better than most. Get that thing out of my face.”
Yakubu matched her stare and they engaged in a silent battle of wills that seemed to last forever until Yakubu returned the safety catch on the gun and let it drop softly to the carpeted floor between them then stepped back.
Leela exhaled slowly, only realizing that she had been holding her breath. But she said nothing.
“His son’s careless killed my daughter. Why are you protecting him?” His tone was softer. The raging confidence was gone. And when Ijeoma responded, her voice was void of emotion.
“He was not careless. Here, have a look.”
She stretched out the envelope which had been under her grip and Yakubu looked at her doubtfully.
“What is that?”
“Proof that Chief Ubong’s son was not negligent.”
General Yakubu took the envelope from her and tore it open. He scanned through the documents in the envelope and looked up at Ijeoma who was studying his face carefully.
“This doesn’t make any sense.”
“That email was sent to chief Ubong after he was selected as national carrier even though an official announcement had not yet been made. I have had some of my guys work through endless encryptions to find the source. I have reviewed reports on his maintenance procedures for his fleet. I have painstakingly analysed the last set of checks that were carried out especially on Aisha’s flight. There are gaps Yakubu, but not gaps created by chief Ubong. Someone set out to get him. They hurt your daughter in the process and they are trying really hard to cover their tracks.
If you keep chasing him, you will never get the real people responsible. I need you to leave him alone.”
General Yakubu was silent. He looked at the documents again then turned to fix his gaze on Ijeoma, biting his lower lip till he drew blood.
“Are you going to find them?”
“Will the sun rise tomorrow?”
“Hmmn.” Yakubu drummed his fingers on his thighs, still staring at Ijeoma who maintained her smile.
“Fine. But I want to know everything. And when you find them, I want in on the execution.”
“You are the National Security Adviser. Don’t get your hands dirty. I’ll send you mementos.”
General Yakubu contemplated briefly then acquiesced.
“Fine. But make it painful.”
Ijeoma smiled widely.
“You know I take pleasure in doing just that.”
She turned to Leela and inclined her head towards the door and as they both walked out, General Yakubu called out.
“I owe you one now, don’t I?”
Ijeoma turned at the door.
“Maybe, maybe not. We’re fair and square right now but if I’m ever needing a favour in the future, I’ll call this one in.”
She turned around again and disappeared through the door with Leela behind her.
Uzo rose from the rug where he had been crouched over his laptop and stretched. His back was awfully cramped and he was hungry. He checked his watch for the time and exclaimed loudly. It was almost 10pm. How had the time flown by so quickly?
He walked to the window that overlooked the city and stood by it with his arms folded, admiring how the lights illuminated the streets, the buildings and the cars. He was so taken by the view, he did not hear the door to the conference room open.
“Do you plan to sleep here?”
The voice startled him and he turned around.
Nifemi stood at the entrance of the room, a puzzled expression on her face. Uzo glanced at her briefly before turning back to the window.
“No I don’t. I’m just enjoying the view.”
Nifemi walked over to his side and stared out the window as well. It was a really nice view.
Uzo said nothing to her. Her presence made him only a little uncomfortable. He had been assigned a cubicle right next to hers when he resumed and within the first few days of being there, he had noticed that she was a little flirty. She made jokes and laughed easily, teased him mercilessly and even asked to have lunch with him. Lunch had not been bad. She was an interesting person. But he was still contemplating whether or not to indulge her and to what extent.
As much as he had made all that noise about becoming a woman chaser, he had no plans to get involved with someone who worked so closely with him. It would most certainly not end well. And for the current project they had both been assigned, he was not about to start something he could not finish.
“So when are you going home?” she asked again. She seemed bored by whatever was outside the window.
“Soon. I just need to finish the designs I’m working on. Why are you here anyway?”
He noticed her step back and adjust her skirt. She had a really nice butt and he wondered if she deliberately wore those skirts that accentuated it to garner attention or if she was oblivious to it.
“I was home earlier. Forgot my charger so had to come back.”
They looked at each other in awkward silence for a few seconds and Uzo turned away.
“Actually, I should just pack up and head home. I’m tired.”
He arched his back and frowned as it made cracking sounds. Nifemi cringed and he laughed.
“I’m not breaking anything. Relax.”
“So you think. You have really awful work postures. From your sitting to your crouching over your laptop on this rug. You need to change.”
“Right. So you’ve been checking me out, huh?”
“Dude, you sit right next to me. You’re in my line of sight. But if that counts as checking you out, by all means, sue me.”
Her tone was meant to be light but it came off flat. Uzo looked at her with a half-smile and a raised eyebrow.
“Right. I’m going home.”
He walked back to where his laptop was and began shutting it down.
“Actually you should go to a spa or something once this product is launched. You’ll have earned it,” He heard Nifemi say.
He grunted an inaudible reply. He suddenly did not feel like small talk.
“I didn’t hear that.” Nifemi said
“Oh nothing. I guess I probably should. You should be heading home anyways. It’s late. You’ve got your charger I believe.”
“Indeed I have. Good night.”
She turned around and walked out of the conference room, swinging her hips as she did. Uzo’s eyes followed the motion of her retreating backside and he shook his head.
Nope. Bad idea. Definitely.
Otto woke up with a migraine. She had become accustomed to the pain in a sense because it had been recurrent for the past week. She lay in bed, eyes open but unseeing. Sharon lay beside her sleeping fitfully. Otto envied her ability to sleep so soundly. It was as though Sharon was done mourning and had slipped back to a regular routine.
She worked from the study daily, corresponding with her office and carrying on with life as usual. She had scheduled business meetings for the coming week and had only remained in town for the funeral taking place that morning. The bodies had been brought home and the service of songs was held the night before.
Otto had observed Sharon through the night. While friends, well-wishers and the rest of her family had broken down at different stages, Sharon kept it all together, comforting them and ensuring the night ran smoothly. Otto hated her for it, yet a small part of her admired Sharon as well.
Sharon suddenly woke with a start and Otto turned. She was sweating and her breathing was heavy.
“Good morning” Otto greeted.
Sharon rubbed her eyes and scanned her surroundings suspiciously. She seemed to relax somewhat after taking it all in and she sighed.
“Morning. Sorry. Had a nightmare.”
Otto nodded and got out of bed. She reached for the pill bottle on the dresser and popped two down her throat. The migraine would dissipate later on. Or not. She was past caring. She went into the bathroom to take a shower, the funeral service was in two hours.
Sharon watched Otto leave and she sighed. Otto had become distant. Or maybe it was she who had become distant. She didn’t know. What she did know was the fact that she was keeping a promise she made to Aniekan when he appeared in her dreams; a promise to be strong for everyone especially when they were at their weakest. It was tough but she had managed to numb herself of all feeling by assuring herself that Ani was with her everywhere she went.
She unconsciously rubbed the chain around her neck, an endless loop of hearts. Ani had given it to her on the vacation. Her phone vibrated on the bed and she reached for it. It was Tobe, Ani’s best friend. He had seen her at the service of songs last night and expressed concern over her autopilot mode but she assured him she was fine.
“Hey Sharon, how are you?”
“Still worried about you. I had trouble sleeping last night sef.”
Sharon laughed lightly. Tobe was such a sweet person. He had a lanky frame, unlike Ani’s perfectly chiselled body, and eyes that held you down with their intensity. He had curly hair, courtesy of his Fulani mum and pink lips that were always curved into a smile.
“Tobe, I swear I’m fine. Are you coming to the house or to church?”
“House. I told mumc I would come this morning. She said the driver is taking her and popc so I’ll drive you and Otto. How is she sef?”
“Still shattered. If you want to worry about anyone, worry about her hun. I am fine.”
“Alright then. I’ll be there in an hour.”
Sharon hung up and prayed for strength to get through the day. Because she knew she would need it.
And she was right. The moment, the corpses were laid to the ground that afternoon, she lost it. She simply turned around and begun walking away, talking and laughing to herself as she walked. No one noticed her at first because although it was a small gathering, everyone was lost in personal grief and trying to support the rest members of the Ubong family.
It was Tobe who spotted her and handed Otto over to another friend before rushing off after her.
She didn’t hear him and even if she did, she probably wouldn’t have stopped. When Tobe caught up with her, she was muttering
“He left me. Just like that. Bobo left me. To do what?”
Tobe grabbed her and shook her but she wouldn’t stop mumbling. She could neither see him nor feel his arms around her.
“Sharon! Stop this!”
Sharon laughed. She laughed really loud and hard until she became hysterical. Tobe held her firmly and shook her till she began to cry. Then he hugged her tight and didn’t let go even when she punched him and kicked and yelled. He just held her for what seemed like hours until her tears subsided.
“Tobe, Ani left me. Bobo left me. He’s not coming back.” She said in between whimpers.
Tobe gritted his teeth and rubbed her back. His eyes were wet and red. He had been crying too.
“It’s alright mami. It’ll be alright.”
Sharon sniffed and wiped her nose. She seemed to regain some measure of composure as she said suddenly
“Let’s go back. Where is Otto?”
Tobe held her hand as they walked back to the rest of the group.
“She’s with Bakare.”
The gathering dispersed a few minutes later. There was nothing left to see. Otto rode in the same car as her parents this time, cradled in her mother’s arms. Sharon and Tobe left in his car with Tobe driving.
“Can you take me to a bar please?”
Tobe turned to look at Sharon who had been quiet most of the ride.
He nodded. He could do with a drink himself. They were almost at the Ubong residence when she made the request but he found a way to turn the car around and head back to town. He drove to Zanzibar in Maitama, the one bar he had not been to with Aniekan. They had always made plans to check it out but never did and now he was grateful. He did not want to have to be in a place he had been to with Ani. It would be hard.
They got out of the car and found a nice table in a corner to sit. They ordered drinks but as soon as the drinks came, Sharon said she wanted to leave. Tobe didn’t argue. As he made to leave, she asked that they finish their drinks first. He could tell she was struggling and he mentally prepared himself to indulge her.
They finished their drinks in silence. Tobe found it hard to look at her. He understood how badly she was hurting. And so was he. He had been best friends with Ani for at least 20 years. His failure at flying school had not impeded their friendship in any way. Ani passed and went on to fly while his father set up a business for him. They kept in touch and saw each other quite often. He knew Ani had planned to propose. He had invited him to the family dinner that never took place.
“If I tell you what’s on my mind now, do you promise to not judge me?”
Tobe looked up from the empty Heineken bottle he had been engrossed in.
“Never. What’s up?”
“I just want to get high.”
“Why would I judge you for that?”
“I can’t do this Tobe. I promised him I would be strong and keep it all together but I’m falling apart. I feel like I’m losing control awfully.”
Tobe held her hand and squeezed.
“I’ll fix you up.”
He picked up his phone and sent a text to his cousin.
Roll me a few joints abeg. I dey come house with Ani’s babe. She needs some.
He returned the phone to the breast pocket of the blazer he had on and took Sharon’s hand.
Tobe drove to his cousin’s apartment, again, in silence. Sharon was absorbed in her grief and he was focused on getting her home.
The rest of the evening went by quickly.
His cousin had set out a lot of alcohol alongside the joints he requested and the three of them indulged while sharing their best memories of Ani and Eno.
Tobe watched Sharon’s disposition improve. He could tell when the combining effects of the weed and alcohol kicked in. She was laughing a lot more and her eyes were glazed. It was slightly amusing to see her this way but he was glad still. She needed the distraction from the hurt, as did he.
He did not touch the weed. It was something he had no interest in, instead he took glass after glass of his cousin’s Johnny Walker until the entire bottle was gone. His cousin received a phone call that took him out of the house and as he reached for the bottle of vodka on the table, Sharon’s voice stopped him.
“Make love to me Tobe.”
Tobe stopped his hand mid-air and looked at her.
“Don’t ask, don’t judge. Just do it.”
Sharon had a body that worked wonders on the mind of an average guy. Tobe knew she wouldn’t have to ask twice under different circumstances. But not today. These were certainly peculiar circumstances. His dead best friend’s woman? No way.
“Sharon, I can’t.”
“Don’t make me beg Tobe.”
Tobe swallowed as she stood up and approached him. He knew she was far too intoxicated to be in control of her words or actions but her movements appeared too coordinated.
“Sharon, it’s the weed and the alcohol-”
Sharon put her hand behind her and in a singular motion, her black dress came off her back and into a pool at her feet.
“Please. I miss him so much. Make it stop.”
She took off one handle of her bra down her shoulder but didn’t unhook it.
Tobe swallowed hard. He stood up and made to return the bra strap but Sharon grabbed him by the shoulders and kissed him fiercely.
by Ogechi Nwobia
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