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Nifemi’s palms were cold and clammy and Uzo watched her wring and unwring them together in mild agitation. The moment the elevator doors shut before them, he’d turned to her and asked casually with an amused expression who the guy outside was but Nifemi said no one. He knew there was definitely more than she was letting on. This person had thrown her off balance and he could tell she was struggling to maintain her composure.
The ride up was short and soon the doors opened before them again and they walked out into a hallway, all the way down till they met ushers at a doorway who led them into a hall. Uzo noticed how Nifemi’s countenance instantaneously transformed into an amiable one, blowing air kisses around strangers’ faces and laughing like she had not just shared a kiss with a dementor. He determined to mind his business and go on with the business of the day. If she wasn’t willing to share, he wasn’t willing to push. He smiled warmly and shook hands with people she introduced him to and eventually moved on to monitor the interns setting up the company’s roll-up banners and the brochures.
Nifemi listened half-heartedly to one of the top-shot investors in the industry ramble about new start-ups springing up all over the country and soliciting his funds. He wasn’t sure he wanted to take any more chances having lost money to a couple of failed start-ups. She wished he would just shut up. She needed a bathroom break. Her composure was cracking at its seams and she needed to fix it real quick. It was her outfit that had him running his mouth. He was one of the lewd ones and she was in no frame of mind to play nice.
He made to hold her waist casually and Nifemi stepped back. She suddenly checked her watch and feigned surprise.
“Oh wow. I was supposed to meet my boss at the lobby 5 minutes ago. Really sorry sir, I’ll be right back.”
The elderly man smiled, nodded and winked at her. Nifemi held a plastic smile for all the two seconds it took her to turn away from him before she hissed and hurried off to the bathroom. Once in, she locked herself in a stall and leaned on the door. What in the world had just happened? Where had Fola appeared from? This had to be a dream. She pinched her arm and winced instinctively. No, it was no dream. Fola was actually here. At the Oriental hotel. They had just bumped into each other. She laughed. Of all the scenarios she had pictured in her head, it had to be the most cliché one that would come true. And nothing, no amount of anticipation or mental simulations could have prepared her for it.
She buried her face in her palms and exhaled loudly. She felt drained. All the energy she had saved up for this event was gone. She just wanted to go home and curl up in a ball and cry? Did she really want to cry? She wasn’t even sure what or how she felt. After 6 years. She reached into the pocket of her blazer and retrieved her phone to dial Victoria. Victoria picked up on the second ring.
“You’re calling me in the middle of your Exhibition? What’s the emergency? Did Uzo propose to you in front of the guests? Are you dying? Did Mr. Toba have a stroke and die??”
Nifemi listened to Victoria’s rushed words and suddenly found herself laughing with tears gently streaming down her face. Victoria was a perfect friend for her. She laughed while the tears flowed silently but couldn’t speak. Victoria immediately sensed something was wrong.
“Femi, what’s wrong?” she asked softly.
Nifemi couldn’t speak. She just broke into soft sobs.
“Boo, talk to me. What is it? Where are you?”
Nifemi sniffed and took a deep breath.
“Fola is here.”
She felt Victoria freeze on the other end of the line.
“Which Fola? How??”
Nifemi rolled some toilet paper off the hold and blew into it.
“The same Fola. He’s here at the Oriental. We bumped into each other at the elevator.”
“You have got to be kidding!”
Nifemi sniffed and tossed the used toilet paper down the toilet bowl then flushed.
“You think I would raise that bastard’s name to make a joke? Ha. He’s here.”
Victoria was quiet. Nifemi rolled off more tissue and walked out of the stall. She stood before the mirror and shook her head. She had smudged her makeup.
“Are you okay hon?”
Nifemi nodded as she dabbed her face with some tissue, trying to fix the damage.
“I think so. I just want to disappear from here first. Like, I need to process. I was with Uzo when we saw him sef. I just pretended like he was no one. Uzo asked and I said it was nobody.”
“But of course. Were you supposed to pour your life’s story there?”
“Were you crying?”
“Just small o. I think I was just overwhelmed. And then the things you said when you called.” She laughed again and Victoria laughed alongside.
“Ehen nau. You that once you go for these meetings or presentations, you will throway cell phone like Allen babes off paynt-”
Nifemi doubled over in laughter. Victoria was so silly.
“I kuku thought someone had to be dead or dying for you to be calling me at this time. Apparently someone was back from the dead.”
Nifemi laughed a little more and soon regained her composure.
“You will kill me one day this woman. How do you know how Allen babes off pant? How did you even say that thing sef?”
“Paynt, pah-yint.” Victoria emphasized.
Nifemi chuckled and massaged her head with her free hand.
“I am tired of you o.”
“I’m sorry boo,” Victoria said, her voice suddenly taking on a serious note.
“Just try to get through the day and put this behind you. When you come home, we can rant and cuss all we want. But for now, don’t let that waste of a human being ruin all the hard you have put together. Go out there and make the best darn presentation of your life. Network, build contacts, just do your job, okay?”
Nifemi stood before the mirror, phone to her ear and she smiled.
“You’re welcome. Where are you?”
“The bathroom. Standing in front of a mirror and mulling over ruining your makeup.”
“It’s nothing boo. You’re in front of a mirror. Speak to that woman staring back at you. What do we always say to her?”
Nifemi smiled and her eyes softened. She cleared her throat and spoke firmly.
“You are one hell of a woman Nifemi. The world is at your feet. You are royalty. All you do is win.”
She smiled and wiped a smudge off her cheek. The look was not too bad. She could try to fix it up a little more once she got off the phone.
“Exactly. Go out there and win baby. Call me when the exhibition is done.”
“Thanks Vicky. Love you.”
“Love you too bud.”
Nifemi hung up, stared at her reflection in the mirror some more then took a deep breath. She dialled one of the interns on her phone and requested the girl to bring her bag to her in the restroom. She would brush up her makeup and return to the exhibition. No way Fola was going to throw her off. He would not win this time.
Otto walked out of the tattoo parlour feeling really exhausted. Her entire body hurt. She had started off the day getting her nose, ears and bellybutton pierced and now the tattoos. She didn’t mind the physical pain much. It was a convenient distraction from the anguish in her heart plus it made her feel better in a way. She had planned to walk back to the hotel but with the amount of protests her body was putting up, she knew she would pass out before she was halfway there if she attempted it.
She decided to call a taxi instead. A quick google search found her dialling the number of a taxi company in no time. She gave her name and specified her exact location then waited for the driver to show up. Aberdeen was such a random city. She had travelled a lot with her siblings but for some reason they had never come up to Scotland. Twice they had made plans but failed. The night of their funeral when she made the decision to go off grid, she decided she would visit cities they had planned to visit together but had been unable to conquer. She would do it for them.
The taxi showed up almost immediately and Otto got in, giving the address of her hotel as she reclined her back in the seat. Of the 3 tattoos she had gotten, the one on her chest with the initials of her siblings was her favourite. It was heart shaped, with red ink and hints of yellow on the side. The initials “A.E.I” were inscribed in black ink at the centre of it. On her left arm, was a dragon spitting fire, at the end of which was written ‘survivor.’ On her right wrist,
“πάντα”was inked boldly in black, the Greek word for “Forever.” She was really light skinned so all her tattoos were easily visible but she spared no thought for what anyone would think or say.
The guy at the tattoo parlour had been kind and interesting. He asked so many questions and listened attentively when she spoke about wanting the tattoos and what her reasons were. He helped her decide which ones to get and explained to her that they all symbolized strength and an eternal connection to her siblings. Even though they had passed, they would live on forever in her heart and their passing would not break her as she would remain a survivor. She was grateful for all his words and once at the hotel, she popped in some sleeping pills she had brought with her from Nigeria, turned out the lights, drew her curtains and fell asleep. She still had plans to go around the city but that would only be when she woke up.
“Who is this woman?”
“A ghost pretty much. No one seems to know who she is or where she came from.”
The older man who had asked the question regarded his much younger companion with a grimace. Everyone called him the Bishop. Not because he had any affiliations with any religious body but because he had a silver chain with a cross permanently hanging around his neck.
“I’ll tell you what she is. An inconvenience. And you know how much I hate those.”
He struck the golf ball with his stick and watched it careen through the air to the other side of the field.
“I’ll get one of my boys to sort it out sir.” The younger man said somewhat nervously.
“No. If you could, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. Get me my phone. I need someone who hunts ghosts for a living.”
The younger man did as he was told and watched as the Bishop placed a call across.
“Vlad, I’ve got a small matter I need you to take care of. I need a head and I need it in 48 hours.”
A voice heavy with a Russian accent grunted back at him.
“Your golf cart look nice. I take a ride in it and you tell me about this head.”
The Bishop smiled. Vlad had an unusual sense of humour. He hung up and waited. In 5 minutes, a tall Caucasian man sauntered down the field in his direction. He looked up at the man with a bald head whose casual ensemble of shorts and a flowery shirt failed to diminish his intimidating figure. He looked like a tourist missing from a movie set. Vlad smiled at the Bishop, revealing 4 missing teeth in the front row of his dentition.
“I tell you all the time to not smile.” The Bishop said, a bemused expression on his face.
Vlad grinned even wider.
“So much sunshine my friend. I have to smile.”
They shook hands.
“Somewhere in this city, a woman is complicating business for me. I’ll have pictures and an address sent to you in 2 hours. Can you make this clean and quick? She won’t be missed.”
“And how is it that you’re conveniently here when I need you?” the Bishop asked leaning on his golf club.
“You’re the Bishop, I am Jesus. Lo, I am with you always.”
Vlad patted him on the back, took the golf club from him, picked up a ball from the set in a bag lying by the corner and set it down. He angled himself appropriately then struck the ball. It didn’t go too far. The Bishop chuckled.
“Don’t play golf when you retire otherwise your retirement will suck.”
He patted Vlad on the back and walked away, making yet another phone call.
“Email me the house address and at least 2 clear photographs in 30 mins, or my dogs will have your tongue for dinner.”
Vlad watched the retreating figure of the Bishop and cracked his knuckles. He was a trained Russian mercenary, now a freelancer. He went wherever the money was good and his skills were yet to be matched. He had never missed a target, had killed more people than communities were made of and for some reason had never been caught. He was called the ghost hunter because he specialised in seeking people who did not want to be found and then he made them disappear permanently at the request of whoever was crediting his account. The Bishop was someone he had worked well with in the past. He admired him and was loyal to him. Last night, he got word that the Bishop would likely be needing him for an assignment and he only needed to follow him discreetly for 12 hours before the phone call came across. If he got the information in time, he would complete the assignment tonight and go back to his country tomorrow. Nigeria was getting too hot for him. It didn’t matter how many times he visited, he could never adjust to the weather.
Leela hurried down the stairs into the basement breathing heavily.
“You were right! Barrister Jide is actually the biggest scum of the earth. He has been dragging the case and he has no intentions of winning it. He is not on Chief Ubong’s side.”
Ijeoma looked up from the laptop screen she had been staring at nonstop the last 6 hours. She was comparing reports she had gotten from Chief Ubong’s staff to the evidence she had seized from barrister Benson and a lot of things did not add up. It was obvious there was a snitch somewhere and someone had been altering evidence. The question was who?
“What do you have?”
“Remember how you told me he said the AIB were still investigating and he had nothing? Well, preliminary reports had been sent to him to help with the trial but he discarded them.”
Ijeoma rubbed her eyes.
“It doesn’t mean anything. He could have regarded them as inadmissible. Maybe he had his reasons.”
“How do you regard important documents which can help your client’s case as inadmissible?”
“It’s possible the other party can argue that whatever results held so far can be deemed inconclusive till the final results are out. Leave it alone Yemi. It could be anything.”
Leela frowned and Ijeoma shrugged.
“We both dislike and mistrust him. But I need something more than my guts to convince chief Ubong that his trusted friend is screwing him over.”
“Does the name “Bishop” ring a bell?”
Ijeoma’s eyes darkened.
“I was at the golf club today. Went there on a hunch and I flirted with some of the staff. Barrister Jide has been there a number of times to meet with someone called the Bishop. Two days ago when you snatched that folder, Barrister Jide had met with that same Bishop and had given the folder to someone at the bar to give to Benson when he showed up.”
Ijeoma licked her lips swallowed. Her eyes looked tired and she suddenly buried them in her palms and massaged them. Leela watched her in silence.
“I need to sleep, then go for a run and clear my head.”
Her tone troubled Leela.
“Who is this Bishop? Is he of any relevance?”
“He makes the devil seem like Jesus.”
“I always get the worst of the lot whenever I work with you, don’t I?”
“Good is boring. You should know that by now. I’m going to nap.”
Ijeoma walked to the bed and set her alarm for 8pm, 2 hours later.
“So when are you going to tell chief Ubong?” Leela queried.
“As soon as he gets back from Lagos in a few days. I’d rather tell him to his face. But you do some more digging and see if you can find any other concrete evidence. Is there a money trail anywhere? Find it. I need something on paper.”
Leela nodded and turned to leave the room. “I’m going to find food. I’m starving.”
As she retreated, Ijeoma called out.
“Hey, did you get all the data on the families?”
“Yep! I dropped the folder earlier today but you weren’t home.”
Ijeoma nodded, turned on her side, shut her eyes and promptly fell asleep.
Fola sat on the bed in his hotel room, his expression pensive. He’d always known that this day would come, yet it had taken him completely by surprise. Nifemi looked so very different from the last time he had seen her. He almost did not recognise her. The curves seemed to have emerged from nowhere and her face was more beautiful than he remembered. He needed to speak with her. He knew there was no explanation that would justify what he had done but he was willing to try anyway.
Bumping into her had all but ruined his entire morning. He had been distracted at the meeting he had with chief Ubong and the insurance officers and the moment it was over, he had hastily made his way back to the room and taken a cold shower. Now he was here on the bed, thinking of the one major mistake he had made that had changed the course of his life.
His phone buzzed and he looked at the screen. It was chief Ubong.
“A couple of friends are at an exhibition that is just wrapping up in one of the halls here. Join me please so can have a talk with them. I need as much money and support as I can get right now.”
“10 minutes. Be outside my door in 10 minutes.”
Fola reiterated that he would and waited for chief Ubong to hang up. He picked a shirt different from the one he’d had on earlier and decided he didn’t need a tie. He just threw on his jacket, put on his shoes and walked out. Exactly 10 minutes later, chief Ubong walked out of his own room and they made their way to the exhibition hall together.
He saw her again before she saw him and he stiffened up. She was standing beside the guy she had been with earlier on and she had that intense look on her face that indicated she was concentrating deeply on whatever it was that he was saying. Chief Ubong turned to him
“Is everything alright Fola? You have been incredibly distracted all day.”
Fola blinked and shook his head.
“Sorry sir. Everything is fine.”
“Then be here 100% please.”
Fola nodded and chief Ubong walked up to a man in his sixties. It was the same man Nifemi had been speaking to earlier.
“Eddy, how you dey na?”
The man turned to chief Ubong and a sad expression overcame him.
“Ah, my brother…”
He hugged chief Ubong warmly and chief Ubong smiled.
“I’m so sorry for your loss. I would flown down but I didn’t know how to face you.”
“It’s okay. I haven’t even been entertaining guests. Between the funeral and the trial, there’s not much time left for anything else.”
“Ah. True. I heard about that. Jide is representing you right?”
Chief Ubong nodded.
“You’re in good hands then.”
“Oh, very good hands as a matter of fact. He has been really helpful. But I could do with a little more help you know.”
Eddy’s eyes were encouraging.
“I need 10 million naira. My insurance officers are being difficult. I cannot get any claims till the investigation is over and even at that, you know those guys. They’ll find a way to get out of it. It’s a lot of money at stake.”
“Hmmn. I just threw in a lot of money into one of my companies that is launching a product soon. You know how I like to plant money all over. But I’ll see what I can do. It might not be the entire sum. But I’ll find you something.”
Chief Ubong nodded and they shook hands.
Eddy turned his head and spotted Nifemi as she made to exit the room with Uzo.
“Er, Nife!” He called out. To chief Ubong, he said, “I want you to meet one of my people. Very beautiful girl.”
Nifemi turned and saw him. She swore under her breath but smiled brightly. Uzo made to walk away but she held him firmly.
“Come and save me abeg.” She said between her teeth.
The two of them walked over to Eddy and chief Ubong and that was when Nifemi spotted Fola standing behind chief Ubong. Her smile faltered briefly but she managed to keep it together.
“Nife, this is chief Ubong, my good friend.” Nifemi thought his name and face were slightly familiar but she wasn’t sure why.
“Good day sir.” She nodded respectfully and chief Ubong smiled.
“Nifemi is the face of Brimmings Solutions. They are the ones launching the product I was just telling you about. An absolutely brilliant lady, you should see how she rallies all our clients. I have never met a more efficient PR person all my life.”
Nifemi smiled generously and Chief Ubong nodded again. She noticed Fola standing awkwardly behind him but she avoided his gaze.
“Thank you sir. And may I introduce Uzo? He is new on the PR team and also does our graphic designs. He designed the logo we used here today.”
She nudged Uzo forward and Uzo shook hands with both men. He held on a little too long to chief Ubong’s hand, an uneasy expression on his face and chief Ubong smiled.
“I take it you know me.”
“I do sir. My condolences.”
Nifemi looked lost still but she said nothing.
“Let’s get you something to drink” Eddy said to chief Ubong. And the two of them walked away, leaving Fola, Uzo and Nifemi standing awkwardly around each other.
“Ifemi, can we talk? Please?”
Uzo looked at Nifemi and she nodded then he stepped back.
“First, I’m sorry. I know how empty that sounds but I really want us to talk so I can explain myself.” Fola said urgently.
Nifemi shook her head.
“We have nothing to talk about.”
Fola reached out to hold her arm but she stepped back.
“Don’t touch me.”
“And don’t call me that either. Just don’t.”
She crossed her arms over her chest and tried to maintain a normal expression.
“Don’t you want to even know what happened? I loved you Femi. You were everything to me. You were at the very core of my existence. We had something absolutely magical. I know I ruined it but aren’t you even curious as to what happened?”
Nifemi bit her lower lip and said nothing.
“One hour. That’s all I’m asking for. We have a conversation for an hour and then you can decide whether or not you still want to talk to me. But please, don’t spend the rest of your life wondering. I know you want answers and I want to do right by you. I owe you that much. Please.”
Nifemi’s shoulders fell and Fola knew he had gotten through to her.
“Please. I’ll take your number and you’ll give me a time and location. I’m only in town till Saturday.”
Nifemi silently reached into her handbag and produced a complementary card which she had to him.
“Thank you, thank you, so much. Thank you.”
Nifemi turned and walked back to Uzo.
Uzo tried to hold her arm as they walked out of the room but she shrugged him off. They walked on in silence till they got to his car. Her feet were killing her and all she could think of was getting home and soaking in her tub. It had been a long day.
“Can you take me home please?”
“Where is home?”
“Ogunlana Drive. Surulere.”
“Interesting. You live close to me. No wahala. What about your car?”
“I’ll pick it up in the morning.”
She got into the car after he did and asked suddenly.
“Who was that Chief Ubong man?”
“Oh. You don’t know him? He’s the owner of Miranda airlines. The plane that crashed last month.”
“Oh.” Nifemi said in a small voice, “I had no idea”.
Uzo made no further comments. He simply kicked the car and drove off. There was something in her posture, the way she reclined in the car seat and shielded her eyes with her hand that created a déjà vu moment for him. He tried to recall if they had ever been this way together before and he suddenly realised she reminded him of Leela. He had not spared her a thought in a long time.
He wanted to ask her if she was alright but he kept his mouth shut. Her phone rang and he listened to her tell someone she was on her way home and also mention that Uzo was bringing her. When she hung up, he finally gave in to his curiosity and asked.
“Are you okay? Do you want to talk?”
She had returned to her default position and she simply shook her head. Uzo nodded and concentrated on the traffic before them.
An hour later, he was parked in front of her house. There was a young lady standing in front of the gate. Nifemi alighted from the car without a word to him and he came down as well. She walked to his side and said,
“Thank you Uzo. It’s been a long day. Go get some rest, I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Yeah. You too.”
As he made to get back into the car, the lady who had been standing in front of the door walked up to them and Nifemi smiled tiredly.
“Uzo, this is Victoria, my best friend. Vic, this is Uzo, the new guy at the office.”
Victoria looked at him oddly as they shook hands.
“Don’t I know you?”
Uzo shook his head, smiling uncertainly.
“Naah, I doubt it.”
Victoria shook hers as well.
“No. I’m good with faces and I never forget a face. I must have seen you somewhere before.”
“Or you must have seen my doppelgänger. I seem to have a few of those around.”
Victoria smiled placidly, unconvinced.
“Nice to meet you anyways. Thank you for bringing her back.”
Uzo nodded, got into his car and drove off.
“What was that about?” Nifemi asked.
“Nothing. I’m just certain I have seen him somewhere, and my spirit is giving me an uneasy vibe.”
“Hian. Edakun, keep your uneasy vibes o. I’ve had too much drama for one day and I am tired.”
“I’m sorry darling. Come here.”
Victoria pulled her into a tight hug.
“I got you some milkshake and loads of cookies. Come and tell me about Fola rising from the dead.”
Nifemi yielded into the hug and eventually they walked into the house together. She kicked off her shoes and sat in her favourite comfort chair as she spilled all the details of her meeting with Fola to Victoria. Victoria was intrigued
“So are you actually going to meet up with him?”
“I don’t know yet. I guess so. I’m actually just curious.”
“Sha be careful. I don’t trust him one bit.”
Nifemi laughed. “You don’t trust anyone. See how you were harassing Uzo as if-”
“Hold on a second!”
Victoria leapt out of the couch she’d been sitting in, startling Nifemi. She reached for her laptop that was lying on the floor and hurriedly opened up a google page. She typed in a few words and hit the search button.
“What is it?” Nifemi asked, rushing to her side.
“I think I know where I know him from. Just hold on.”
Victoria tried another combination of words in the search engine and groaned in frustration.
“I swear it’s him.”
“What are you talking about?” Nifemi asked, a little scared.
“Remember one story that went viral on all the major blogs some months ago?”
“About a love triangle between a model and two other guys and how the model and the guy she really loved killed the other guy? The guy lived in Lekki. Remember nau.”
Nifemi’s brows gathered in a frown.
“I think your Uzo is that guy. I don’t know why I can’t find the full story anywhere any more. Not even pictures. But I’m almost completely certain that Uzo is that guy. He looks different now with beards and stuff but you know me Femi. I never forget a face.”
The blood drained from Nifemi’s face and she sat there staring at Victoria whose expression was worried.
“I’m sorry boo, but he’s got to be the one.”
Ijeoma woke up with a start. Something was off. She sat up in bed and tried to recollect her immediate memories and the fact that she had to do that startled her. She remembered the conversation with Leela and she remembered setting her alarm to wake her up in 2 hours. But her instincts told her 2 hours weren’t up yet. The room was pitch black. They never turned off all the lights. At best, the study lamp on the centre table was always on.
She groped around the bed for her phone and couldn’t find it then she suddenly sat completely still and listened. She adjusted her eyes to the darkness in the room, trying to make out objects and figures but nothing was visible. As slowly and as quietly as she could, she stood up from the bed and tried to walk to the stairs which were just by the light switch but strong arms suddenly grabbed her and circled around her throat. Ijeoma kicked, shoved and spluttered as she tried to free herself from her captor’s grip but it was pointless. She had been taken by surprise and the more she thrashed about, the tighter the grip around her throat became. Her eyes began to tear up and she slowly felt the life begin to drain out of her. Her struggles reduced to the barest minimum and the moment she stopped thrashing, Vlad laid her body down on the floor.
by Ogechi Nwobia
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