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It was Friday evening. Teni was tired and cranky. The whole valentine day drama had left her extremely irritable. From the cakes and other gifts that flowed freely into her office, to the ridiculous red outfits she’d seen all over town. She was worn out. Now she couldn’t chill at any of her joints because they were all crawling with couples. She sighed. She never understood all the fuss over Valentine’s Day. It never made sense to her, not even when she was dating. She eased her car into a parking lot in Ceddi plaza and got out. Even this place was full. She hissed and walked in. Spar was overcrowded and she found it difficult moving through the aisles.
Finally she made her way to the drinks section and picked a bottle of Carlo Rossi, a bottle of American honey and six cans of Smirnoff ice. It was all she needed for the night. She would have loved some suya but she knew it was pointless to attempt going into any of her joints. She waded through the crowd and got to the checkout counter with her basket in her arm. All around her people had flowers and chocolates and cards and what not. She rolled her eyes and fished her phone out of her bag while she waited. She scrolled through her twitter timeline but there was nothing of interest. She sighed. She caught the whiff of a strong masculine scent behind her and she turned around. The man smiled at her. He looked like he was in his early forties. He wore a blue blazer on black pants with a black shirt. The dressing didn’t impress her much. She smiled and turned again to her phone. It took about 15 minutes but finally it was her turn. She paid for her drinks and walked out.
As she got into her car and started the engine, someone tapped her glass. She looked up and saw the man who had been behind her at the checkout counter. She smiled and sent the glass down.
The man smiled back to reveal a perfect set of teeth.
“Evening. You having a party?”
Teni had a puzzled look on her face
“The drinks you got.”
“Oh no. This is a party of one. I’m going home to enjoy a quiet evening.”
The young man smiled.
“A quiet evening on valentine’s day? Now why would a charming lady like yourself be home alone with no date?”
Teni felt the irritation begin to set in.
“I don’t get the point of Valentine’s day. I think it’s just an excuse for people to do stupid stuff. I can do stupid on any day I feel like; I don’t need a special day for that. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to leave.”
She didn’t wait for his reply before she set her car in reverse and drove out of the building. Charming lady indeed. She hissed and continued her journey home. Hopefully traffic would be light on her way home; a lot of people were still in town. As she went past the National Hospital road, her mind went back to her neighbor who she had rushed there only a couple of weeks ago. The woman was a little strange. After her return from the hospital, she had kept to herself and had not allowed Teni access to her home again. Teni found her behavior unusual, particularly after she offered her condolences on the demise of her husband. Now that Teni thought about it, that was when the woman locked up. Perhaps it was all too personal. Teni shrugged. She didn’t mind being shut out. She was used to being by herself either way and she had enough of her own troubles as it were.
Her phone rang and she looked at it. It was her younger sister Deola. She hit the answer button as well as the speaker
“Sweetheart, bawo ni?”
“Mo wa pa. Where you dey?”
“Uh, I’m just driving home. Why?”
“I dey your house dey wait you.”
“Wait, what? When did you come in? And why didn’t you call to say you were coming?”
Teni was tired. Her sisters could be pretty forward sometimes. No prior notification and they would just show up in her house like that.
“Sorry, I told you since that I would be coming to Abuja na. I wanted to surprise you today but I’ve been waiting for a little while now and I realized you might have had other plans seeing that it’s Vals day.”
Teni tightened her grip on the steering. Her sister was just a pain in the neck.
“Right. Smarty pants. You just figured that out. I won’t even say anything to you yet. Make I just reach house. I’ll be home in a few minutes. I’m just going past the stadium.”
She hung up and rubbed her forehead. Her plans for a quiet night had just gone down the drains. Deola was in her house on Valentine’s Day. No way this was going to end well
Ese looked around her at the people that filled the room. Gabe’s mother, his uncles and a lot of people she didn’t know. It all felt surreal; like she was in a Nollywood movie. They had just accused her of killing her husband. The idea was not out of place. Gabe had been a douche bag. A sleazy douche bag. When they first met, he was as smooth and classy as they came; well packaged. Then they got married and his douche bag nature was made manifest.
She had prayed for grace to handle the situation right, grace to speak the right words and grace to not break down in front of any of them. Now was the time to see the results of her prayers. She spoke up quietly from her corner.
“Gabe was having an affair. I did not kill him. The husband of the woman he was sleeping with was the one who killed him.”
She wasn’t even sure where the voice came from but she ignored it. Gabe’s mother spoke up
“If say na true wetin you talk, why you no call dem police pepu make dem arrest the man wey kill am?”
Ese felt sorry for the elderly woman. Gabe had been her only child but there was nothing she could do. He had messed with the wrong people and they had taken his life. There was nothing she could have done about it.”
The woman cut her off rudely.
“I no be ya mama. Nor call me that one. Just tell me na na why you kee my pikin”
Ese swallowed hard. She started again
“Gabe bin dey carry woman-”
“Na him be the fes pesin to carry woman? Him papa nor carry woman? I kill am? Nor be the woman born all Gabriel sistah and brodah?”
Ese forced herself to retain her composure. She was falling apart already and the trials had not even started.
“Nor be me kee your pikin. The woman husband na soldier. Police dey fear soldier, I no fit call police for the man. I dey my house wey dem call me tell me say soldier shoot my husband. I nor even sabi the man rank abi him office. Dem carry am go dump for mortuary. Na there I go see am.”
The room went quiet when she was done speaking. Apparently none of them expected this. She sighed. In their eyes, Gabe was a saint. She was so mad, so hurt, she wanted to yell, cry and punch bring down the building with her bare hands. This was all too much. Instead she calmed herself by taking deep breaths and muttering;
“Many are the afflictions of the righteous but the Lord delivereth her from them all. Lord, deliver your daughter. You said Your strength is made perfect in my weakness. See me through dear Jesus, please see me through.”
“Mama, all dis one wey she dey yarn na tori o. Na she call the sojah man make dem kill awa pikin. All this one nor consign us. Make we dey go see that baba make him tell us wetin we go carry am do. Me don talk my own.
“No. we go leave am fes. Make Gabriel body rest for ground tomorrow. Then we go call the baba make him tell us wetin we go do.
The meeting dispersed shortly after that and Ese retired to her room. There were a few missed calls from Bobby who was lodged in some hotel in town. He had insisted on coming for the funeral and now she was grateful that he did. At this time, she really needed a friend and Bobby was the closest thing she had to one. Her siblings were all outside the country and none of them had been able to make it home for the burial. She smiled a sad smiled as she returned Bobby’s call. She was truly on her own.
Bobby picked up on the first ring.
“Hey, how are you doing? I was a little worried.”
“I’m okay, just tired.”
“Yeah, you do sound like you’ve been to hell and back.”
She managed a smile.
“Bobby, these people think I killed Gabe. They want to call in some native doctor after his burial tomorrow.”
Bobby was shocked.
“What?! In this time and age? That is absolutely ridiculous!”
“You have no idea.”
“Oh boy. That’s really worrisome. Can I come over to see you? I feel like you could do with a friendly hug right about now.”
Ese shook her head.
“A friendly hug won’t do much. If you show up here, you’ll be tagged my ‘man-friend’ and I really can’t deal with any more drama as it is now. I don’t know how much longer I’ll be able to hold up for.”
Bobby felt helpless and angry.
“I’m sorry. What can I do?”
“Just pray for me-”
“Pray? How is prayer supposed to help you now? Tell me something practical I can do to help you, prayers won’t do nothing right now.”
Ese shook her head.
“It doesn’t get more practical than that Bobby. You want to help me, then pray. Your physical presence here will only cause me more trouble.”
Bobby sighed. Pray indeed. Yeah, right.
“Bobby, let me talk to you later, I’ve got my elder brother calling from London.”
She hung up and connected to her brother immediately.
“Good evening Josh.”
“Evening Ese. How are you? How are things going?”
She narrated to him the events of the day and by the time she was done, he was totally outraged.
“Make sure you do not leave that house. I’ll call the commissioner of police for Edo State; he’s an old friend; you’ll have heavy police presence there before nightfall and all through the burial tomorrow. As soon as his corpse is laid in the ground, a vehicle will escort you to the airport and you fly back to Abuja immediately. Not a moment longer, do you understand?”
Ese felt uncomfortable. Her fears made their way to the top.
“Josh, I don’t think I can do this. You want me to just run away?”
“Do you have a better plan? I won’t leave you there for anyone to harm you. If you can book a flight tonight, do that. Don’t eat anything they offer you there tonight and as soon as he’s buried tomorrow, you get the hell outta there okay?”
“Okay Josh. I love you. Thanks.”
“You’re welcome. Just be safe. All these villagers get crazy at times. I’ll hang up and make my calls. Text me your exact location. I’ll call you back when I’m done.”
Ese agreed to do as he said and hung up.
“Thank you Father for sending help my way.”
She dialed Bobby’s number again and waited for him to pick up. As soon as he did, she replayed the conversation with her brother and he agreed to help her book her flight back to Abuja. He promised to be close by but lost in the crowd the entire period of the burial and advised her to get some rest before morning.
Tomorrow would bring trouble. Ese didn’t need a psychic to tell her that. She ignored the plate of rice she had been served and climbed into bed. She called her mother and checked in on the girls. They were staying at the same hotel as Bobby and her daughters were sound asleep. Her mother assured her that everything would be fine the following day and urged her to rest. She turned on her side and shut her eyes but not before whispering “give me grace to get through tomorrow Lord. I just want for all of this to be over.”