This thing called LOVE – GRACE OCHIGBO
“So you are saying there is nothing you can do?”
Elder Achem cleared his throat. He’s getting this same question for the umpteenth time since the clergy man summoned him here. He’d tried to explain that the activities of the Nigerian Police force were somewhat mutually exclusive to that of the Nigerian Army regardless of the fact that both are charged with nation’s security and law keeping, hence his being an army general doesn’t give him any right to tamper with the decisions and submissions of the police. He’s more or less handicapped in this case. That’s aside the fact that he’s reluctant; feeling as though the clergy man was overworking himself. Left to him, the case should proceed to court as it ought to be and let the innocent person get acquitted and the victim, damned of course.
“Pastor sir…” He started but Pastor Festus interrupted him again.
“You see what I’m saying?” Pastor Festus picked something on his jaw. “You see, general! I understand all you’ve been saying, OK? I really do. But you see what I’m saying? We can’t leave my son in-law to-be there with this height of humiliation. You saw how the media almost messed up my reputation some months ago. Now this? It’s no good image for my family at all.”
“Pastor, I feel you should calm down. And…” He was careful not to sound disrespectful. “Ehm… I must also say here that… ehm… forget about the media…” he sought for confirmation in pastor Festus’ eyes first before continuing. “Yes… forget about the media.” He got the confidence he needed to talk now from the pastor’s seemingly attentive look and he sat up proper. “Look, sir… this is a murder case. It’s a serious case. Murder cases don’t get closed up as quickly as you think. This is even more peculiar because the suspect, who is your son in-law to-be, has a reputation of some sort with the police in the past…” Pastor Festus swallowed. “My point is this, sir, even if you weren’t the renowned Pastor Festus Ikani of the whole world; even if Caleb wasn’t linked to your family at all, the lady in question is a top government official. And a murder of such a highly placed person must be dug to its root, sir.”
Pastor Festus swallowed deeply. It’s been two days now since Caleb was arrested from his house and taken to the police station. He couldn’t believe his eyes when the DPO showed him the photo and asked if he could identify the person in it. He’d felt his heart shatter.
‘No!!!’ He’d screamed out in pain.
Angela was gradually finding a footing in her newly found belief in Christ Jesus, or so he’d thought. Well, somehow he’d grown too fond of her that he couldn’t have imagined her being snapped away by the winds of death just like that.
He hadn’t raised an alarm when he saw Angela clinging onto Caleb that night at the hospital’s parking lot because he’d come to understand that Angela had emotional issues to sort out, ever since he got to know her and especially the part of ‘her man leaving her for someone else’. Angela was clingy to a fault. It wouldn’t be out of place to tag her as having an overinflated esteem about herself. Yes. That’s the truth. She loved to be given much more than a lot of attention.
Wasn’t that why she came by the office almost every day since the first day?
What about the obvious dissatisfaction in her voice whenever Pastor wanted to dismiss her so he could attend to other things?
In fact, part of her never-letting-go attitude was what literally compelled Pastor Festus to take her into Unekwu’s wardroom that night. He couldn’t just bear the pitiable, almost-crying demeanour Angela wore after he’d announced his going to the hospital with only Victor instead. Caleb, on his own part, naturally, was the type of Nigerian jollof rice every lady likes and so one shouldn’t wonder if he caught ladies attention as fast as a lady on a glittering golden gown would guys. But for the police to capitalise on just that one night of Caleb’s meeting with Angela and making that enough evidence to indict him as prime suspect didn’t sound logical to Pastor Ikani at all. Unless there was something he didn’t know.
The DPO had said the coroner would get back to them about his findings on the real cause of her death. Ever since then though, the police officers had dodged disclosing the exact findings from their coroner. Pastor Festus wasn’t sure if he wanted to even hear the outcome of the findings or not anymore. He’s been extremely sad… so sad. He had to make a decision. Since he couldn’t prevent Angela from being killed, he could at least prevent Caleb from injustice.
Yeah! Injustice. That’s how he saw it.
“Still elder, I think there is something we can do to savage the situation. There should be.”
Elder Achem put his hand against his chin with eyes concentrating on the ceiling for several minutes. Pastor Festus’ left fingers drumming impatiently on the table in front of him as he hoped for his sanity’s sake that the man would bring out a solution, no matter how insensible or unreasonable.
Elder Achem cleared his throat again and sat up.
“This is very dicey, that’s sure. But… I have an idea.”
Pastor Festus sat up too to face him squarely. “What’s the idea, please?”
(I think they are gradually forgetting about me. Hmmm… right? You feel my predicament too, right? It was that night and this room was overcrowded… very crowded. In fact, their presence almost made my sweet-smiling teacher confused. But that night happened, and that was it… all there is. The next day almost ended without anyone coming around, except, of course, the lady who later came in with my food. It was also past noon today before the older woman and this young man came in here.
Are they getting tired of me for real?
Yeah! I know initially it felt like I didn’t need them and because I didn’t, and still don’t, know any of them, I felt as though I was being kidnapped into an entirely new environment where I was only supposed to just take in and become whatever I was asked to act as. I didn’t feel comfortable being the supposed daughter to the elderly couple. I didn’t feel comfortable being called ‘sunshine’, ‘baby’ and everything else by that one they call Caleb. I didn’t feel comfortable with the mushy, ‘I miss us’, ‘I miss talking to you, Unee’, and all from the one called Vera, not to forget the possessive stares and sometimes, secret words of admiration from the one called Victor. I didn’t feel comfortable initially. But now… now that it seems they are not as enthusiastic about my recovery as the initial times; now that it feels like I’m burdening a group of people; now that it feels as though coming to meet, stay and play with me here is becoming an unfruitful job so much so that they now comfortably leave me at the mercy of a nurse all night and the better part of the day… now I don’t know if I am excited and enthusiastic about recovery. I miss them.
I miss the full house and that’s the truth.
I truly miss the outpour of emotions.
My speech recovery is coming rather fast. I made a personal resolution within me when the therapy started to be able to do a mildly effective speaking by the end of this week. I couldn’t wait to get all up and show them that all their efforts at love and concern are not in vain after all, and that my spirit also is determined to be fine and back.
Now, right here, with all the continuous withdrawal of love and affection since two days ago…
Right now… I don’t see why I should fight to live.
And that’s just the truth!
Eneojo came over to sit on the couch beside his mother. She made sure to sit beside the bed until Unekwu closed her eyes and was asleep … or so she thought… before stepping away from her side of the bed to sit here. The woman looked drained, exhausted and tired. Somehow, Eneojo was thankful Unekwu hadn’t recovered to face the new development on ground. He knew Caleb could be anything, but a murderer? NO. He could, at least, vouch for him in that aspect. Then again, he cannot categorically say that the young would be outright innocent in this whole mess.
Inasmuch as the media had carried the news of his sister’s called-off wedding some months ago, all attention had been on the personality of the bride to-be; daughter of renowned Pastor Festus, the only Princess of Nigeria’s third richest pastor, Pastor’s only daughter forcing herself on a man… funny captions he’d read on various blogs and sites back then. One thing was similar to all – attention was on the bride’s family. No one directly gave out information about Caleb that much and it’s understandable. Caleb’s parents were just average country citizens and not celebrities like Unekwu’s. In fact, the only thing that bore Caleb’s name were just their pre-wedding photos. The media had been more concerned about Unekwu’s prestige than they were about who her fiancé was or most importantly, who she’s been dished out for.
That thought had come to Eneojo’s head as he let his brain drift into thoughts about the recent happenings around his family last night on his bed. The media had literally forgotten that for Caleb to have had the nerves to break out of such glamorously anticipated wedding at the time he did, he must have done it for someone. They’d forgotten to dig out the ‘someone’. Caleb was arrested then for dumping Unekwu four days to her wedding, but no one mentioned who he dumped her for. Hadn’t Unekwu said he admitted he couldn’t marry her anymore because of his unresolved emotions for some other person? This person, most definitely, would be a girl. Unless, well, until Caleb is confirmed to be having any form of sexual orientation. Pastor Festus had accepted Caleb back, against the wish of the entire family, because he’d come to apologise. If they were both caught making out in front of the hospital as the police claimed, it automatically infers that something happened again between him and the girl he’d left Unekwu for. And if peradventure, the girl resulted to or attempted blackmail, Caleb could also decide to silence her, to murder her…
“That can’t be.” He spilled his thoughts faster than he could stop it.
His mother turned to him with her tired eyeballs. “What can’t be, Eneojo?”
Eneojo shook his head. He wasn’t about to relate this his assumptions to anybody. If anybody, it’ll definitely not be his mother. The woman had a beautiful way of overreacting.
“Why didn’t you tell me you picked my call while we were at the police station, mum?” Changing the topic should help reduce the tension around everywhere.
Ajifa shrugged, forming her face into a regret-filled one. “Will you not forgive your poor mother, omami? It totally skipped my head o. All the wahala from two days ago sef. I didn’t even remember.”
Eneojo smiled. You see the overreaction he’s talking about? The woman was already feeling bad and regretful because she didn’t remember to tell him she picked his call. There was no big deal. He brought in this for lack of a better topic anyway.
“No problem, mum. I…”
“The person didn’t even say anything. Eheen! Maybe that was why I forgot. I was very worried and concerned about Caleb, you and your father, and picking up a call that no one was talking, kind of set me off, so I switched your phone off in frustration.”
“And you made my Her mad at me!” Eneojo sounded sarcastic.
Ajifa slowly tilted her head till her eyeballs rested on her son. “Your her?”
“She’s been mad at me, mum, saying barely a day I got back to Nigeria and a lady is already picking my voice.”
That made an unconvincing smile dance around Ajifa’s lips.
“Why is she so picky picky for Christ’s sake?” She couldn’t understand it herself.
Eneojo shrugged. “Mum, if you ask me, na who I go ask?”
Ajifa chuckled loudly this time. It was a good thing that her son had a Her, though picky, but she must love him that much to care, right?
“So?” she dragged the ‘o’ so that it sounded like ‘souuun?’. However she sounded wasn’t the concern, her son knew what she was asking about and that’s all that matters.
Eneojo turned his face away from her glare initially. He was aware of what his mother wanted to know but didn’t know if this was the time to spill it. He’d hoped that the bombshell would go off when Estelle comes for next summer holidays as planned. Then it would be better to give some explanation with the subject present than in her absence. Now he’s regretting whatever brought the idea of using this topic for an escape.
“Mum, I think Unekwu…”
“Don’t try me, Eneojo!” Ajifa’s serious tone cut him off. “So…”
Eneojo knew he wasn’t getting off this trap today after all.
“So so so…” he started, arranging his words in his head first. “Well, mum… I am… I ehm…” Seeing he was stammering so much, he paused to catch his breath. One, two, three, he gained back his confidence.
“She is Italian, mum!” he dropped the bomb and waited for the expected explosion.
Victor quickly slid it under his pillow and sat up, clapping his palms together.
Debby Adams trudged in. “What was that you slid away so quickly?”
Victor’s eyes darted from side to side. He’d suspicions written all over it and was making sure not to come eyeball to eyeball with his mother.
“It’s nothing, mama! Good day, ma…”
Debby Adams ignored the greetings and as she headed in the direction of the pillow where Victor had thrown what he held, Victor occluded her way.
“I already said it’s nothing, mama…”
“Then let me see it if it’s actually nothing. Don’t give me any reasons to suspect you, son!”
Victor gave a shocked glare. “Suspect me? Over what?”
“You walked out of my office, off to where only God knows. Getting back since then, you’ve been locked in this house. Not going out, literally doing nothing other than reading from some book or document or whatever I’ve caught you with a couple of times. Tell me why I shouldn’t suspect you?”
Victor smiled, then laughed, then continued to laugh. He laughed so much so that his mother who was still standing in front of him felt embarrassed. She couldn’t see what was so funny and her countenance wasn’t friendly at all. Victor noticed that after a long while of intense laughter and tried to stop himself. Being taller than his mother, he leaned forward to touch her cheek with his left hand.
“Mama, since when did it become strange for a movie producer and director to read books or ‘read from a particular book’ as you put it? Can’t I be reading a screenplay for our next work?” He made sure to keep his voice plain as much as possible so his mother doesn’t detect the state of his heart from it.
“Lies, son. Lies. Since when did you start lying?” The woman yelled. Hitting his chest hard.
Now Victor knew he needed a tougher way of escape, seeing that the woman had suddenly become hard to convince.
“You know you are lying.” She hit his chest again. Victor stood still, not moving and worse still, not knowing what to say. “Your friend just died, Victor. A girl you’ve become so familiar with, so friendly with in the past weeks just got murdered in cold blood and the next thing you could do, barely two days after, is to start reading screenplays for your next work?” she raised her eyebrows and without waiting for any answer, continued. “I didn’t give birth to a heartless son. Never. Not me.”
Victor saw her point now. What he’s been reading has nothing to do with his dramas or movie productions. It has something… everything to do with what his mother thought he was being nonchalant about. In fact, it was all about that. But how was he going to tell this curious and eager woman the content he’s been reading the whole time?
“Mama… you taught me not to let sorrow get into me.” His voice was easy now and he stared directly at his mother, penetrating her eyes to reach beyond her soul. “You know how horrible and terrible I deal with pain. Remember how I almost removed Caleb’s dentition after he called off his wedding with Unekwu. Also, how I almost killed myself with regret when Unekwu had an accident.”
His mother also returned his stare, trying to see where the young man was driving to.
“I don’t want a repeat of that, mama.” He licked his lower lip. “I don’t want to get so drawn in the pain of losing another loved one. Much more painfully to the cold hands of death.” He winked his eyebrows and a tear dropped.
His mother moved closer to hug him in sympathy. While in the older woman’s arms, Victor smiled victoriously. Times when one’s acting skills becomes a lifesaver. He withdrew from the hug in a hurry.
“Mama, why would anyone kill Angela? She was so beautiful, so innocent, so full of life. How can the world be so wicked?” A tear dropped down his face.
“The heart of a man is desperately wicked, who can know it? That’s what the bible says, son. A man without Christ is wicked by default.”
Victor nodded rapidly as his mother went on to give her own little experience as regarding the heart of men. She never stopped to relate anything similar to wickedness with her late husband’s family. Because to her, they were the dictionary definition of wickedness. They were why she had to struggle and sweat all these years and though she has no regret today, she still felt a bit cheated and short-changed in life.
“Let’s go get your food, son!” she pulled his arms and Victor protested, mumbling some inaudible stuffs about not being hungry. Debby Adams smiled and pulled a little harder.
“If you are ever going to get to the root of your friend’s death as I perceive you want to, you need food in that flat stomach of yours.” She winked and walked ahead.
Victor stood for a while, weighing his mother’s last statement. He wasn’t about to rest, give up or back off. He will come to discover who scattered his plans and probably use that person’s life to get his plans back in shape.
Pastor Festus felt his patience wavering as he stared from Elder Achem to the DPO. The two fellas were talking rather too sluggishly or was it too nonchalantly? He couldn’t place which it was. He’s only aware of the fact that they were not as prompt in taking actions as he wanted. He needed much more than anything else in the world to get this case trashed once and for all.
“DPO, I think there’s a way we could go over this case. It’s a strong allegation and the man might be…” Elder Achem was careful with his choice of words. He was only saying what the pastor felt and not exactly how he felt because left to him, if Caleb can call off a wedding due in four days then he can actually kill. “… I mean, the young man might be innocent…”
“Might?” Pastor Festus sprang up in anger. The type he’d always refer as ‘holy anger’. His eyes burned red in provocation yet he tried to maintain his cool. “What might are you talking about for Christ sake, Elder?” He sought for confirmation and the elder only adjusted in his seat. “Don’t you get it? I can bet that the young man is innocent. He truly is.” He turned to face the DPO now. “You see what I’m saying, officer. I think they’ve met sometimes before that night he came over to the hospital because my daughter, Angela…” his voice went sober. “May God rest her soul. My daughter called his name when she came into the wardroom she’d left earlier to take a call, after which I noticed Caleb looked shocked and kind of battled with recalling her face. I know I caught them in a compromised position quite alright but that’s not enough evidence, officer. Judging from how emotionally vulnerable that girl was, in fact, to me, it’s no evidence at all.” He looked from one man to another to be sure he was still communicating. “Moreover, this lady was emotionally unstable from her fiancé’s abandonment. Emotions surge that way, right?”
Neither the DPO or elder Achem answered his questions. On elder Achem’s part, he couldn’t just wrap his head around his pastor’s behaviour. Why was he so much on the defensive of Caleb? Not as though Caleb had been exactly the perfect gentleman kind of person. He could have been that before but someone who could get Unekwu in the condition she is right now can actually kill anyone. Argue with all your village people, that’s what Elder Achem thinks. Now that Pastor Festus was hell bent on getting Caleb out of the case faster much more than getting to the root of the young lady’s murder, Elder Achem had been trying all day to nullify the possibility in his head that the clergy man might have a hand in the young lady’s death.
“You see what I’m saying? My point is this…” Pastor Festus continued. “I can bet on anything that the young man in there is completely innocent and I’ll appeal to you to let him go.”
The DPO gave him a look mixed with shock and surprise. “The police should let their major suspect go while still investigating the case? I mean no disrespect, sir, but would you let your major susp…”
“What makes him a major suspect, officer.” Pastor Festus interrupted him, jumping on his feet. “Yes. Tell me. What exactly makes Caleb your major suspect?”
“I have three good reasons.” The DPO started. “One. Because as you just confirmed, they must have known themselves prior to that night at the hospital and if Caleb truly pretended not to remember her, then something was wrong somewhere.” He counted his fingers and didn’t take his eyes from the pastor one second. “Two. They both were kissing in front of the hospital barely half an hour after he pretended not to know her inside.”
“I didn’t say they were kissing.” Pastor Festus protested.
The DPO smiled roguishly. “You were not the source of this particular information, man of God. We have a couple of witnesses to this effect. Remember it was in front of a well-lit hospital parking lot.”
Pastor Festus swallowed.
The battle got fiercer by the minute in his mind as he tried to run his head around the possible witnesses that might have confirmed this to the police. He’d only come out of the wardroom with Victor. Victor? Yes Victor. Unless some other people were around and he hadn’t noticed or maybe the hospital had security cameras? He almost smacked his head for not figuring out on time that an hospital as big as FMC had cameras and footages mounted at strategic points in and outside the building. Well, two reasons down, one to go.
“OK! So what’s your third point, officer?”
The DPO looked at him as a father would a helpless son. He wished the whole power was vested on him to release Caleb for the clergy man, but this time… it was beyond him. This was a murder of a top government official. It has become a government case too now.
“Your son in-law to-be had once left your daughter for another woman, right?”
Pastor Festus’ face creased into a deep frown. “That’s a thing of the past now. He’s a changed man. The son of man has set him free and he is free indeed.”
Elder Achem felt like slapping the clergy man on the back and asking him to concentrate and not deviate from the line of conversation. The pastor had an interesting, though annoying at times like this, way of linking virtually all life situations and everything everything to the bible.
“I know, Pastor and I’m sorry to remind you about it. But I’d also like to ask…” The DPO placed his both hands on the table, coming to sit squarely. “Did you at any point know the young lady that caught your son in-law to-be’s attention, so much so that he could call off his nationwide broadcasted, expensively planned and highly anticipated wedding?”
Pastor Festus cupped his chin in a bid to think deep. There… that question right there had never come across his mind. They were angry that the young man could bring so much shame on their family, but that hadn’t lasted as the accident distracted them and few days later, the Saturday supposed to be their wedding, Caleb had come face down apologising and asking for a second chance. Pastor Festus had taken him in and slid other things under the carpet. Now as he thinks about it, he saw he made a mistake in never really finding out who or what the reason for Caleb’s breakup was in the first state.
“I don’t know who he went after.” He admitted, but not wanting to feel defeated, he continued immediately. “I don’t think that’s is important ‘cos Caleb has turned a new leave since then.”
The DPO nodded in the affirmative. His actions seemed sarcastic in a way to Pastor Festus but there was no reason to raise alarm. It was his office and time to do as he deemed fit.
“Alright pastor. There’s somebody I’ll invite right in. When we are done talking and hearing from the person, then we shall decide whether my initial question is important; whether or not it’s a strong reason for holding onto Caleb as our suspect….”
“Somebody? Who could that be?” Pastor Festus voiced out his curiosity. He could feel his own mind beating faster than normal.
“We shall know shortly.” Punching some keys on the intercom. “Sergeant, bring the person in.” He replaced the intercom and stared across the table to the door as though he would hasten the person’s arrival with a little more stare.
Few seconds and there was a tap on the door. Pastor Festus and Elder Achem sat up. The tension in the air was as palpable as liquid fire.
“Come right in.” The DPO called out from his seat and the door opened sharply presenting the sergeant who saluted and gave way, letting the person in.
Don’t ever hold onto someone who wants to be held by someone else.
To be continued next Wednesday.