Click HERE for the first episode of ‘In the Shadows’.
Zaneta stood still for the seamstress. She seemed very professional. She had agreed to meet her in the car park of the Mall today, a Sunday, after church.
She couldn’t the remember the last time she had made a dress – she simply bought whatever she needed. But this was pretty important. A colleague at work was getting married. Not just any colleague, her best friend at work. Zaneta had almost been made chief bridesmaid. She had somehow wiggled herself down and onto the bride’s train instead, giving up the bridesmaid role to the bride’s friend from school.
She had attempted to give the woman her “steady state” stats over the phone – 34-27-41, but she had been adamant to meet her in person for the measurement.
“You are taller than I expected” the seamstress said with a smile
“5’9″, ma” Zaneta said looking at the woman’s car – a Toyota Venza.
She thought it was pretty cool. She’d been looking out for nice cars of recent. She had recently turned 25 and on that day had decided it was time to get a car and move out of her Uncle’s place in the Ikeja GRA. The plan was to move to the Island since her office was in Lekki.
Two nights ago, she had approached her uncle with the idea of getting a car as well as moving out and he had immediately agreed to her getting the car but as swiftly disagreed with her plans of moving out.
“You are safer here” he had said.
She had tried to object but had gotten a lecture on personal safety and security instead.
“Find the kind of car you want, have them get it, fix it up for you and all. But I can’t let you live alone and away from here. At least not yet” he had said then handed her a copy of a book he had ordered for everyone in the household.
It was a book on keeping safe in dangerous times, something written by a private security expert with a focus on kidnapping. She had taken the book from him and left quietly. It had been in her bag since then. She was yet to open it.
The seamstress was done. Zaneta thanked her and walked away. She was tired of her uncle’s paranoia. She understood he was a politician and businessman but still….
“Who buys books on kidnaping for everyone in his house?”
He was her late mum’s younger brother. He had taken her in at the age of 6, rescued her from the clutches of her father’s new wife. A witch who had her father and his siblings under her thumb. Her uncle had returned from abroad, married into money and then taken her in. From that point on, he and his wife had become her parents. The sad thing was they had never been able to have kids of their own.
Zaneta sighed as she walked into the coolness of the mall and out of the searing heat of the sun.
By a twist of fate, she had become the adopted daughter of one of the Nation’s most popular politicians in recent times – his party’s shinning star. The one everyone was fingering for the Vice-Presidential ticket in the coming elections. He was a firebrand, always on TV, radio and online taking on and speaking out against the present government and the coming “New Order”. Everything apart from actual campaigning. In fact she often wondered why he had not been arrested or sued for something or the other.
She found lots of solace in the fact that they didn’t have the same surname, so 99% of the people she knew didn’t know he was her adopted father and maternal-uncle. She often listened to or read online about political debates and majority never failed to mention him in one way or another. A lot was often said about him, but very rarely did anyone say his words were false. Best stroke against him she had heard was that he was the attack-dog and image launderer of the opposition.
She walked into the grocery store, picked up a basket and got picking out the items on her mental list. Close to half an hour later, she joined a checkout queue. It was quite long. She set down her basket and took out her phone. It was a habit of her’s to read ebooks on her phone whenever the opportunity presented itself.
“Nice phone” she heard a voice say.
She looked back expecting to see some kid her age or slightly older gawking at her. She knew she had great looks, like Agnes – the bride-to-be, would say – “Super Sexy Pear”, this attracted a lot of male attention. She had honed her skills at dismissing or outright decapitating advances of the male folk.
She was surprised to see a well dressed, serious-looking man looking from her face to the phone she held. She waited a few heartbeats expecting him look at her figure – he didn’t.
“Thank you” she said.
As she was about to turn her head back in the direction of the counter, he spoke again.
“Miss., could you, please, help me watch these for a minute? I forgot the dog food. I’m sorry to bother you” he said apologetically.
She looked into his eyes, they still looked serious. No prank or horseplay there. She looked past him, no one was behind him. It seemed neither of them had a choice.
“Ok” she said.
Immediately, he left the queue and headed back towards the shelves. She watched him for a bit. Brown khaki pants, blue check shirt, tucked in, matching belt and shoes, neat haircut. Impressive. Then she looked down at his basket and instantly felt sorry for him – A loaf of wheat bread, two cans of baked beans, a pack of cheese, three 1-litre packs of orange juice, two sardines and a bag of red apples.
‘Who lives like that?‘ she asked herself. ‘A single man who lives alone with a dog, I guess‘ she answered herself.
A few minutes later, it was almost her turn and the man had not gotten back. She had been dutifully moving both baskets along and was hopping she would not have to let people from behind go ahead of her because of some stranger who went looking for dog food at the last minute. She was hoping her kindness was not going to bite her in the ass.
It was her turn. As she placed her items on the counter, she decided if he didn’t show up, she would simply pay for his basket, get a separate receipt and if and when he showed up, she would get her money back. And if she waited a few minutes more after checkout and he still didn’t show she’d simply go home with the items. She would eat them or….
‘Hell No!‘ she thought, ‘What if they were poisoned?‘
She shrunk away from the basket at her feet as she watched the cashier process her items.
“N3045.50. Cash or Card?” the cashier asked.
“Card” she said pulling out her card from her purse.
As her card was being processed, she looked back one more time for the dog owner – No sign of him anywhere.
She was asked to punch in her PIN, she did then looked down at the stranger’s basket contemplating leaving it. The cashier followed her gaze.
“Your’s too?” he asked, a little confused as he handed her the receipt for the transaction.
“No. Mine” she heard a voice say behind her.
She turned around to find the stranger standing there like he had been there all the time. It was almost spooky. If his smile hadn’t been so sincere, she would have been freaked out. He placed two tins of dog food on the counter, then continued where she had stopped off moving his items onto the counter.
“I’m sorry I took a while. A sales rep was selling me those” he said, nodding at the dog food.
“It’s fine” Zeneta said as she began to move away.
She fully expected, 110% in fact, that he would call or come after her, introduce himself and try to get her name and number. She had seen that hundreds of times.
But it didn’t happen.
She was somewhat disappointed that he had not come after her. She smiled to herself. No, this was not some deep cry for attention, she assured herself. He seemed like a pretty decent and extremely cultured older man. It would have been nice to talk. Maybe find out what sort of dog he owned. She almost laughed as she stepped into a pizza place. She’d just order takeout and be on her way. She had tons of work to catch up on.
She made the walk back to the road with her orders, ignoring propositions from cab drivers. Sunglasses on, she kept a steady course in the blazing sun. At the road, she began walking to the bus stop to find a cab. She had learnt that parked cabs were more expensive than those driving through. Hopefully she would find one who had just dropped off someone and was looking out for a fresh fare.
Her eyes were on a cab that was some way down the road, she hoped it was empty and would not be stopped by some other passenger. It was getting closer and her hope had risen – it was unoccupied, when she noticed a dark blue SUV reverse into the spot the cab would have stopped.
She was about to walk away, towards the approaching cab, when the driver called out
“Hello” he said
She was going to take a brief glance at him while keeping her pace. She looked and recognised him. It was the ‘dog owner’. She held back a smile.
“Hello” she replied
“I can not in good conscience leave you out here in this heat” he said
Now she smiled, dabbing at her forehead reflexively.
“Where are you headed?” he asked unlocking the doors.
She could see he had no hesitation as to giving her a ride. She knew even if she had said “Akwa-Ibom” he’d reply with something like “That’s on my route”. She had seen it play out lots of times.
“G.R.A.” she said, still standing where she was. No moves to approach and get in the car.
“Let’s see… Not my way. But if you can show me how to get back on my route from there, then that’s fine” he said
‘Nice‘ she thought
“Where are you headed?” she asked
“Gbagada Estate” he replied
“Ok” she said remaining still.
By now the cab she had hoped for was long gone and people were beginning to observe them.
“You know how to link that?” he asked
“Yes” she replied with a smile. ‘Like does he actually think I didn’t know Lagos that well?‘ she thought.
“Great! So we have a deal, then?” he said, pushing the door open for her.
“I guess” she replied, stepping into the car.
It turned out to be a quiet ride. The CD was playing some tunes she recognised as old gospel music. Orchestras, though. More like a band really. A military band maybe. Songs she only heard in ancient churches.
She was dying to ask him about his dog, she didn’t know why. Maybe because it was the one concrete thing she knew about him and a safe enough topic on which to strike off a conversation. But she hesitated, not wanting to interrupt his obvious enjoyment of his music.
“His name is Raiden, he’s a Boerboel” he suddenly broke the silence.
“Who now?” she said, lost.
They were the traffic lights at the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital. The light was red.
“My dog” he said, glancing at her.
“Oh! I didn’t quite catch that” she said apologetically, then bit her tongue. ‘Why am I being apologetic?‘ she wondered ‘And how did he know to tell me that?‘
“My dog is a Boerboel. His name’s Raiden” he repeated.
“Raiden? Like Raiden from Street Fighter?” she asked, recalling she had heard the name someplace.
“Mortal Kombat. Yes.” he flashed her a grin.
‘Was that a shy boyish grin just now?‘ she wondered.
She couldn’t help the laughter.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry” she said when she stopped “You play Mortal Kombat?” she added.
“Played” he corrected with a smile, eyes fixed on her’s.
“Wow!” she said slowly. ‘He’s not as old as I imagined. Mid-thirties, max.‘ she thought recalling the older kids, neighbours from way back, who played Video Games all holiday, depriving the girls access to the TVs.
The light turned green and he moved off.
“Where are we headed exactly, Miss?” he asked, keeping straight towards the G.R.A.
“Ladoke Akintola” she replied, “Know it?”
“I believe” he replied
“Zaneta” she said.
“Zach” he said.
“I hardly meet people with names that start like mine does”
“The ‘Z’, yeah?”
She stood and watched the blue SUV disappear around the bend. She had read the brand and model. She liked it very much. Volvo XC60 T6 AWD. She turned and began the walk to her street. There was no way she would have allowed a random stranger drop her at the house. She had had him drop her on the wrong street but not far from home.
When she was getting her stuff just before she got off, he had asked for her contact – no surprise there – and she had simply given him her card. He had pulled open a compartment, looked in it, then back at her face with an embarrassed smile, before saying he was out of cards. She had told him it was fine, added her thanks, repeated the directions to him and gotten off.
“Zach and Raiden” she said giggling as she slipped on her sunglasses.