Adaobi didn’t know what exactly it was about her mother’s presence that brought her some calm, but it felt so good she never wanted her to leave. There was something reassuring in the tone she spoke with. It suggested that she had come with the solution of at least one of her many problems.
It took some time for Adaobi to dry her tears and catch her breath. Her eyes were bloodshot and red but there was only so much Chinelo could see in the darkness. She knew her daughter was in tears. She heard the sobs just before she entered the hut. She did not bother to ask what was causing Adaobi to cry. She had a very good idea. With the wedding now only a matter of days there wasn’t a lot of time to play with, and Chinelo wanted to get straight to the point.
The plan Chinelo was about to propose wasn’t made up in a day. She had carefully thought through every possible option, weighing risks against benefits and the likelihood of success. In a situation as grave as this, there was no room for mistakes. Whatever plan they were going to carry out had to be perfect. This meant they couldn’t leave any loose ends. Anyone that was in on the plan besides Chinelo and her daughter could not be trusted, and that meant something had to be done to remove them from the picture permanently. Chinelo was a very wise woman but she had never swum in blood before. She knew very little about keeping people quiet or making them disappear. Her husband seemed to be particularly good at that, though. It was still a mystery to Chinelo how the hair weaver and Afam had vanished from the village. Onwa never spoke of it and she felt not knowing the details was best for her.
The truth about the situation they faced now was that someone had to go. There had to be a third party and something had to be done about this party to make sure the secret never saw the light of day. That was the most difficult part for Chinelo to resolve, but after she spent long nights wallowing in thoughts, she thought of a very clever plan. The best way to make someone disappear was to make sure Onwa handled the disappearance. She came up with a plan that would guarantee that the third party ended up dead or missing.
Adaobi wanted to light a fire but her mother warned her against it.
‘No one is supposed to know about our meeting, we must be careful.’ There was no real danger in anyone knowing that Chinelo came to see her daughter. She was to be married soon, after all. It was expected that her mother offered her some marital advice from time to time. It was just Chinelo being extra careful.
Adaobi moved closer to her mother so that they wouldn’t have to shout over the thundering rain. As Adaobi leaned towards her mother, her stomach turned with a weird mixture of fear and excitement. All of a sudden she had so much faith in her mother and felt very foolish for even considering that her mother would have forgotten or forsaken her at a time like this.
The two women sat on the floor and spoke in whispers about the plan that would seal Adaobi’s secret forever. Chinelo did most of the talking while Adaobi interrupted with questions so as to get a clear picture of what exactly was going to happen. Her mother did not have to warn her about how important it was that the plan was carried out without fail. The plan was complex but every single part of it was crucial in its credibility and the final success. Just to make sure her daughter was not lost and did not understand every part of the plan, Chinelo went over it three times and then she asked Adaobi to repeat it to her. Adaobi laid everything out without missing the minutest detail.
‘Ada’m, this has to work or we are finished. Do you understand?’ Chinelo asked in a warning tone, pulling on her right ear to emphasise the importance. Adaobi nodded and reassured her mother that she was going to play her role to nothing less than perfection.
Major parts of the plan depended on Onwa and the Obi’s family, but it couldn’t be known to them that they were simply pawns in a game to bury a dark secret. Chinelo and her daughter had to depend on predictions they had made on how the situation they were going to create would cause the Obi and Onwa to react. There was a high possibility that the plan could result in the wedding being cancelled. Chinelo had done a lot to limit the chances of this dreadful outcome, but like every plan to bury a secret there had to be risks. If the greatest risk here was the cancellation of the wedding then Chinelo and her daughter were more than willing take it. Somewhere in Adaobi’s mind she actually prayed that the Obi would pull out of the wedding even though her mother explained why he wouldn’t. At least why she hoped he wouldn’t.
Chinelo reminded her daughter that it was a secret before she left.
‘Adaobi, no one, not even your own daughter when you have one shall you ever mention this to. Do you understand?’ In the rain it was hard to hear every emotion Chinelo’s voice carried but Adaobi could still sense the fear in her tone.
‘Mama, I will never tell.’ Adaobi answered just as fearfully. Chinelo was somewhat comforted by the fear in her daughter’s voice. It told her that she was going to be careful. The plan they had in mind would never work if either one of them got complacent or relented for any reason. They both had to be awake in body and mind to make sure it went well. There was not an emotion that prepared you for that as much as the fear of failure.
Chinelo covered her face and raced back to her hut as fast as she could, trying in vain to avoid the raindrops. The moment she walked into her hut panting with fatigue and shivering in the cold worsened by her drenched clothes, she met the last person in the world she wanted to see. Onwa stood right in front of the door. It was impossible to miss his heavy frame. Even in the dark Onwa noticed the fear that gripped Chinelo as she noticed him. She couldn’t control the shock and it made her flinch.
Chinelo prayed that the darkness had covered her fear to some extent as she pulled herself together, recovering from the surprise. Could he know? That was the question on Chinelo’s mind. She never underestimated her husband’s sixth sense for perceiving secrets. It was this sixth sense that had warned him about so many men who had plotted against him in the past. There was a very good chance that he knew something was wrong. Chinelo just hoped he didn’t know what exactly the problem was. She had given him her word that her daughter had not known any man in bed. She could not afford to take it back.
Of course Onwa knew that there was fire on the mountain. He wasn’t here to tell Chinelo what a little mind she had for thinking that she could keep this away from him. He was here to make sure that the fear in her was fresh and strong enough to make her bury her secret deep enough to remain hidden forever.
‘What are you doing outside your hut at this time of the night, under such heavy rain?’ Onwa asked in an unusually calm voice for such a question. Chinelo felt her heart leap and she tried very hard to control her breathing and voice as she searched for an answer.
‘I have just been to Adaobi’s hut.’ Chinelo said, trying very hard not to stutter. She didn’t want to tell a blatant lie because she figured Onwa would have a way of finding out the truth. She could tell him where she had been, but the reason for her visit was her secret and hers alone.
If this wasn’t a very serious problem Onwa wouldn’t have been able to resist a smile. He nodded to himself then he asked another question, ‘And what was it that you had to see your daughter for that couldn’t wait for the heavy rain to stop?’ He watched Chinelo very closely. The moonlight was nothing close to bright but it was enough to let him see right through Chinelo’s lies.
‘You know she has not been very happy about the wedding. I was just trying to assure her that it was all for her own good.’ Chinelo wasn’t sure if the story was good enough to fool Onwa, but it was the best she could come up with. He stood close to the wall so that he could be hidden in the shadows. She strained to see him but she knew that even if she brought the sun with her there was no way of telling what was on her husband’s mind. Onwa had dined with men knowing that they would be killed on their way home and he hadn’t slipped out of character.
He knew what Chinelo’s visit was all about. In fact, he was happy that she had made it because he was beginning to worry. He walked towards Chinelo so that she could see him better. Each step he took caused a jolt in her heart and it took every bit of her self-control to remain calm. Onwa stopped when he was close enough to feel her breathing. Her breaths were deep and harsh but Onwa pretended not to notice.
He leaned forward so they stood eyeball to eyeball, then he spoke in a warning tone, ‘I don’t know what you are planning with your daughter. But I will hold you personally responsible if anything goes wrong at the wedding.’ Onwa said no more and didn’t bother to wait for a reply. He walked into the rain, calmly. He could never understand why people bothered to run in the rain. No matter how fast you ran, there was no escaping getting drenched. Running only increased your chances of slipping on the muddy earth.
As Onwa made his way back to his hut he hoped that his wife and daughter had come up with a way of making this disgrace pass over him. He knew Chinelo very well, and he trusted her abilities in handling issues like this. She was a wise woman. He often thought she should have been a man so he could make her his advisor. He was depending on her not to fail him. The stakes on this issue were way too high.
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