This thing called LOVE – GRACE OCHIGBO
As the police officer led Caleb to the desk, he felt his hands shiver whilst still locked tightly behind him in iron cuffs. He’d refused to regret. Deliberately. Regretting would mean him giving up. Regretting would mean him condescending to a low estate that’s not good for him. Not now, not ever. The officer dragged a chair out before removing the cuffs from Caleb’s hands.
“You have less than ten minutes.” He announced with an unfriendly voice while walking away.
Caleb sat pretty uneasily on his chair. The four eyes belonging to the two individuals in front of him, unlike other times when they were reassuring, frightened him now. If he’d had no one on his side in recent times, he’s had Pastor Festus solidly behind him. He’d heard how some police officers jested; telling him how unbelievable that the clergy man could fight for a criminal such as him. Pastor Festus, up until right now, was his only hope of assurance left, but here, right here, it looked like the tables were turned against him altogether.
The sound of a wave that flushed across his face shut him up before he could utter anymore word. He realised that his eyes remained involuntarily closed for several minutes as the effect of the resounding slap he just received. The clergy man’s hands vibrated after he landed it against Caleb’s cheeks uncontrollably. Elder Achem held him down, stopping him from giving yet another one or worse so, doing something more dangerous.
“Calm down, pastor sir!” Elder Achem begged, using a soft voice for the first time in a long while.
Anger boiled in pastor Festus’ blood so much so that if one can take a sneak peep into his head, the person would be burnt without delay. It was as though a fiery furnace was sited and mounted somewhere inside his skull and was ready to clear off whoever would do as much as come an inch closer.
“When were you going to tell me?” Pastor Festus roared. His voice was bitter and Caleb could feel it.
Caleb swallowed painfully. Something must have leaked. Even though he had no much details yet, he’s sure and could bet on his surname that the pastor had gotten wind on his relationship with Angela… somehow. He ought to have told him. Well, he planned to. He’d wanted a suitable time to tell pastor actually. He wanted to get a job first, become more stable and responsible before talking. He would settle down with Unekwu and then move on with their lives. He had it all planned out in his head and didn’t think, at any point in his wildest imaginations, that Pastor would come to know Angela so closely, let alone become this extremely fond of her. He didn’t think that he would one day walk into Unekwu’s wardroom and there would be his father in-law to-be introducing the girl he’d jilted Unekwu for as his daughter. He hadn’t seen a lot of things coming to play out. Life just moved faster than he could have ever bargained for.
“I’m sorry… I’m sorry, si…”
“Sorry?” Pastor Festus banged the table in front of him.
Elder Achem motioned him to remain calm if the police mustn’t send them out earlier than planned.
“You are sorry that you claimed to have returned back to your senses yet kept a secret relationship with the girl that made you call off the wedding with my daughter just four days to go? You are sorry?” Pastor Festus’ voice was more of sadness now than anger. “Ah… how very foolish I was. Ajifa was apprehensive. My wife insisted that you were up to no good at all.” He swallowed against the lump in his throat. “I wanted to give you a benefit of doubt, Caleb. Like, I wanted to believe that a man could say a word and mean it!”
The pain in Pastor Festus’ tone was real and palpable. The atmosphere felt damp and humid. His words brought tears to Caleb’s eyes but he refused to let it fall off. He’d promised himself not to cry for whatever reason as he was determined to go through the torture he more or less deserved.
The sergeant had led in a slightly robust yet gorgeous woman into the DPO’s office earlier. The woman had taken her time to walk, taken her time to sit and worse of all, for Pastor Festus’ patience, taken her time to talk. She’d identified herself as Mrs Flora Okpe. Aunty Flora was what Angela referred to her as. She’s been the one taking care of the young girl ever since she lost her other family members in a plane crash. Aunty flora had gone on and on about how Angela grew up traumatised as a child and had withdrawn into her shell until she gradually become a shadow of who she should be. Angela had this bitterness somewhere in her heart and had grown up liking no guy at all back in the states because somehow she’d realised her inability to handle rejection of any sort. The young lady had kept to herself and of course, Aunty Flora became her best friend. In fact, the latter was surprised that Angela had suddenly developed a level of uncontrolled emotions towards Caleb. To Aunty Flora, Caleb’s status was far lower than any of the potential suitors that came for her niece’s hands in marriage in the past and while she’d made it a point of duty to talk Angela off Caleb, she was careful not to hurt her young woman’s feelings.
Aunty Flora reeled out how she had given Angela a couple of ideas regarding winning back Caleb’s heart. How that just two nights ago; the very night she died or was murdered in cold blood or was shot, whichever as the police were yet to make public their findings, Angela had woken her up with incessant calls about messing up and allowing Pastor catch her and Caleb in a compromised position. Aunty Flora said she’d gathered the boldness to tell her niece one truth the latter never wanted to hear. She’d told her to let Caleb go. She’d told Angela to fly back to the states as soon as she can and pick up a job if that would erase the memories of Caleb off completely. She’d tried hard at persuading and convincing the young woman that night and was actually anticipating a call to announce her return flight to America, only to get a call from the police about her death.
Pastor Festus had sat down in shock and in an utterly dumb-folded state by the end of the revelation. He wanted to discard the woman’s claims, saying it was a set-up or something… anything, but when she told him something he wasn’t aware of; when she told him about Caleb’s resignation from work which he’d kept away from everyone up till this time, he had to calmly accept the real situation. He couldn’t even swallow in the realisation that Angela was why Caleb left his daughter, then he struggled also to accept that they both still had some sort of relationship ongoing. Pastor and Victor had driven off to the airport to get Eneojo that night, so they couldn’t say exactly what Caleb did afterwards. He must have followed after Angela to her house to accost and kill her. What?
Pastor Festus couldn’t believe he’d been defending, with all his might, an obviously guilty person. Why didn’t he reason this? He’d been blindly defending the whole time, and now, as he stared at Caleb and with all the revelations dawning on him, he screamed…
“You’ll rot in jail, Caleb. I promise you that!”
The police were back in now, shielding Caleb away from the angry man’s reach while elder Achem held the pastor back from creating more havoc. Pastor Festus tried to wriggle himself off the old soldier’s grip but gave up, seeing the latter was stronger than he was.
“You may leave now, pastor!” One of the sergeants ordered politely while the others led Caleb back to his cell.
“Never you dream of having my daughter’s hand in marriage in your life again, Caleb! Never!” Pastor Festus hurled out angrily at the Caleb that was almost off his sight by now. “I regret the day I met you. I regret the day Unekwu met a criminal, liar and murderer like you. You will rot in jail!” He screamed louder. “…In Jesus name!”
The sergeant led them out of the visiting room. Elder Achem tried in vain at soft words and advises but the clergy man refused to be consoled. He was acting like a wounded lion.
He’s really and truly wounded.
They walked into the big Arts centre. The aesthetics and architectural works of the place was out of this world. Whoever drew the design for this building must either be an Israeli or must have gotten his samples from there because we hear that the greatest architectural designs and homes are in Israel. They moved down the large, well lit and beautifully tiled isle, noticing a couple of people clinging onto photos and portraits hanging gracefully down the white walls. Some helpless romantic duos, some looking like couples, others like some hide-and-seek boyfriend and girlfriend, clung onto each other firmly as they looked in utter admiration at artworks, crafts, woodworks and most awesome of all, paintings. The place was earlier closed down for two days as a sign of respect for the untimely demise of its owner but as everyone expects, life must go on.
The young lady at the counter with a signature smile that looked like a mask on her face jerked onto her feet immediately they got to her.
“I am Detective Samson and my colleague here is Susan. We’re from the Criminal Investigation and Intelligence Department of the Nigerian police force, Lokoja region.”
The lady’s eyes looked helpless and they could see how she literally tried to steady herself on her feet.
“We’d like to ask you some questions, Miss, if you don’t mind!” Detective Samson continued, this time giving out a slight smile that eased her tension just a little bit.
“Would you please tell us how long you’ve been working in this art centre, Miss…?”
“Kate, sir. Kate Obi!” Her voice was jittery as she responded.
“So how long have you been working in this arts centre, Miss Kate Obi?”
“Two years, sir. I started as sales rep before I got promoted to the position of General Manager.”
“Being the GM, it means you run this place for Miss Angela Okpe?” It was the woman Detective Samson introduced as Susan that spoke out now and Miss Kate nodded in the affirmative. She pressed her lips together and continued again. “How often do the owner visit this facility?”
Kate kept her eyes on the paper in front of her first, before bringing it back up. “Miss Angela doesn’t frequent this place. I can say that since she finally relocated to Nigeria, if not until some weeks ago, she could go on three, four, even five months without coming to see us here. She comes only when she wants to ‘relax’ as she usually calls it and during those times, she would be at the painting room doing some of her artworks before leaving.”
Detective Samson nodded his head to a rhythm he alone heard. “She left everything in the hands of her able manager, I guess?” Miss Kate smiled slightly, not showing the fact that she felt a little flattered. “Any reasons why she changed few weeks ago?”
Kate blinked. She didn’t see that question coming; that the man would hold onto that part of her statement. Well, she’s not in the best position to tell the reasons for someone’s actions and inactions. Was she? Angela was a boss… her boss, and she had the freedom to do whatever she deemed fit at any time, and that included her sudden increased interest in visiting a facility she owned more often than not.
“I don’t know her reasons, sir. Though some group of persons used this place as a movie location last week. She must have been around because of that as she’s always with their leader.”
Susan drew nearer. She was the shortest among the three persons talking but her face looked most stern. In fact, Kate was more scared whenever she spoke than otherwise.
“This group, the ones that shot a movie here, do you know them?” Susan asked.
Kate shook her head somewhat in confusion. “I remember my boss giving me a little detail about them. It’s not unusual for movies to be shot in this facility so I didn’t take it to heart much. They are procedures though, one of which would require paying the facility some amount of money…” she fumbled with some papers while talking. “Madam said they were working under the YALI scheme and have a drama group somewhat. Yeah. These guys didn’t pay a dime, and they’re the only team to have used this place for that long. Especially, talking about the not-for-profit something something…” she bent her head better, to search for the form she’d filled for them when they were about using the centre.
“Don’t worry about that, if you can’t remember.” Detective Samson dismissed her search and she returned her attention to them. “Was there any time, point or moment your madam called to sound an alarm, a warning or anything of the sort regarding security? Anything unusual. Just anything?”
The lady looked dumbly back at him. They have, if not better, the best security system in this centre with surveillance cameras mounted almost everywhere in the building. Policemen, vigilantes and sometimes military officers manned the entrance gate. The centre was situated directly in the heart of town so it was literally not about security issues because as much as human safety measures were concerned, the place was security tight.
“Uhhhhmmm! No sir! As you must have seen, this place is security tight and… even though we run twenty four hours every day, security shifts are done orderly. So we don’t have any security…” She spoke slowly, as though to be sure she could hear herself and the witness she was giving.
“So you are saying, there’s been no security alert from your madam before?” Susan spoke out just when she was almost feeling side-lined and forgotten.
Kate nodded from left to right. “None that I remember, ma…”
“Eheen!” Kate interrupted Detective Samson, as a thought flashed back her mind. “I think I remember one scenario.” The two detectives drew nearer with keen interest. “It was late in the night when madam called to ask strange questions. She’d asked if the security was tight and admonished that we should all stay alert.” Her first finger rested against her chin as she tried to vividly remember the call from that night.
“How long ago was this, please?”
“About two weeks thereabouts, sir. She’d sounded extremely worried and scared that particular night. It was unlike madam and she dropped the call before I got the chance to ask if there was a problem or not.”
Detective Samson slid one hand in his pocket. “So you think your madam’s security was threatened that night, or something rather awkward had happened in the day?” He knew the question didn’t sound logical, but he couldn’t help it.
“I am only sure that something bothered madam. Yes. Something.” She jerked up in excitement. “Yeah, I remember. I remember. Her exact words were, ‘did anyone drop by the art centre looking for me this evening? OK… Did any visitor register by the name Victor? Alright. Let the security guys stay alert and you too, stay safe. Good night!’ Yeah… that was it.”
Detective Samson glanced at his colleague before looking back at Kate.
“Victor? Did the name ring a bell to you then or any time after that?”
“Then, no but few days after that was when madam came to introduce the head of the team that wanted to use our centre for movie. The team that made her come here more regularly.” She hesitated, searching the detector’s eyes. “His name is Victor.”
“Mr Victor Adams?”
Victor nodded in the affirmative, leaving the door knob and coming out to face the policemen better.
“I’m inspector John Shaibu and this is sergeant Mona Philips, we have a warrant to invite you over to the station for questioning.”
“What’s happening there, Victor?” Debby Adams’ voice called out as she walked towards the door. She paused involuntarily and her smiles gradually diminished as she sighted the men in uniform in front of her door. “Victor…” She called out first, then wriggled her head. “Officers, good day. How may we help you?”
Victor kept an expressionless face as he stared over the shoulders of one of the officers in front of him.
“Well, madam, I’m inspector John Shaibu and this is sergeant Mona Philips, we have a warrant to invite Mr Victor Adams over for questioning as regards the murder of one Miss Angela Okpe!”
Debby Adams sprang up, as if to push the words back into the policeman’s mouth, where it came from. “My son didn’t commit any murder. They were just friends, close friends.”
The sergeant moved a bit forward. “Why not let us prove his innocence in a legally acceptable way?”
“Shhhh!” Victor shushed his mother. “I’ll be back, mama!”
Victor stretched out his hands, hoping the sergeant would handcuff him, but the latter only put a hand on his back and gently led him away.
Debby Adams stood at the door as a tear drop rolled down her face. The sun had come out and it burnt off the liquid the moment it leaked out of her eyes. She couldn’t imagine her son getting into legal battles and if at all there’s anything, who was she going to run to?
He was all she had.
John Oguche trudged into the sitting room. If not for anything, he’s been worried sick about his wife’s recent distant and withdrawn behaviour. The woman had literally withdrawn to her shell and it was becoming a torn on his flesh. She’d been his major companion, except his herd of cattle anyway. However, the cattle can’t hold a meaningful conversation with him as he loved to, sometimes, talk about time, life, travels and space altogether. The cattle cannot offer him that. So it was right to say his wife was his gist partner.
He’d feared the woman’s life would not remain the same the moment Caleb walked out of this house. She’d cried herself to sleep; sometimes voiced her regrets and muttered some inaudible things about how much of a pest she’d been around her own son and how she should never have plagued or pressured him so much as to drive him away from his father’s house. The most worrisome part was that there’s nowhere she could put her mind to that Caleb would be and worst of all, his phone has been unreachable.
“How are you, Mummy Caleb?”
Joy Oguche jerked up immediately her husband’s voice hit her auditory tube. She didn’t see him come in. Her eyes were fixed on the walls opposite her. The walls were so white and innocent as her eyes seemed to be whitening them with every intense stare.
She shrugged, making some space for him to sit.
“Same old story, Baba Caleb. I hope I don’t die before Caleb realise I’m sore worried.”
John Oguche smiled. “You can’t die…” He dusted off something from the collar of his coat. “By the way, I think the wife of my youth is worrying herself so much over a grown adult. If not for all these, Caleb should have been married and out of this house by now, remember?”
Joy came to lay her head gently against her husband’s shoulders while he rubbed her back.
“I just can’t help worrying, Baba Caleb.”
“Worry does…” John Oguche started, but got interrupted by the ringing from the doorbell. “I’ll get it.”
“Er… Good day?” John Oguche wasn’t exactly sure of what to say as the bright rays from the sun hit his dark face. The faces in front of him looked strange and unfamiliar. His wife had come to join them at the door when she noticed he was taking pretty much time to come back in.
“May we come in?”
“Er… of course, of course…” John Oguche said, making way for the hefty man who introduced himself as Detective Samson and the lady Susan to come in.
Inside, John Oguche and his wife sat down on the edges of their seats. They couldn’t place why detectives would come to their home at this time. Perhaps Caleb had gotten in trouble after all. Joy Oguche on her own part really struggled to calm her raging nerves down before anxiety would shunt blood into her brain.
“We regret to announce to you that Miss Angela Okpe was murdered in cold blood in front of her house two nights ago…”
“Jesus! What?” Joy Oguche sprang up.
She would have literally dropped to the tiled floor hard safe for the timely intervention of her husband. She sniffed in air, then moaned, moaned again, once more and she burst out in a loud wailing. She wailed with intense pain coursing down her chest.
“Angela? Murdered?” She couldn’t believe the sound of that in her own mouth. It felt like bitter lemon, too bitter to swallow. “How? But she… but she just sent us…”
“Well, gentlemen…” John Oguche cleared his throat, quickly blocking his wife from continuing with the talk.
“Ma’am, what were you about to say?” Detective Susan faced Joy Oguche.
The detective felt there was something the man of the house was trying to cover. The woman was trying to talk about something being ‘sent’ right? It’d taken Susan till John Oguche said ‘gentlemen’, for the woman’s last phrase, however faint to register in her brain.
“Yes ma’am…” Detective Samson picked up. “You wanted to say something…”
Joy Oguche glanced at her husband and got the answer she needed from his eyeballs. “I mean, but Angela is a very good girl, innocent and loving. I mean, she’s a daughter I would give anything to have.”
Susan took in a deep breath. Her guts tell her the woman was hiding something, but this was not the best time to press too hard… not here…not yet.
Detective Samson sat up straighter. “Well sir… it’s a complicated case and of course, the governor is involved. More reason we have to thread with caution so the suspects don’t get apprehended for no just cause.”
Joy Oguche and her husband sat up. She’d reduced the sound of her wailings now but not exactly stopped tears from flowing down her face.
“Our sources tell us that she was in a compromised position with Caleb the night before she was found dead…”
“Caleb, my son?” John Oguche asked, looking unbelieving.
The detective nodded and Joy Oguche gave a sarcastic chuckle; the type that would make everyone else think she suddenly started having brain injury. They waited till she was ready to talk.
“No… na… no no no…not Caleb!” She rolled her head around. “It can’t be Caleb. In a compromised position with Angela? No way… no.”
Susan had her complete and rapt attention on the woman. She didn’t know why Detective Samson was waving the woman off too quickly, she seemed to have a lot bottled up in her loins to dish out to them.
“Why can’t it be, ma’am, considering the fact that your son had a relationship with the lady in question few months to his wedding and our sources also affirm that she was the reason he’d called off his most anticipated wedding with the pastor’s daughter.”
Joy Oguche rolled her eyeballs upwards till all that was left was the white part. She then glanced in the direction of Susan. If one wasn’t careful enough to observe, her glare would be mistaken for a scowl.
“Caleb is my son. Yes, they both had an affair sometimes ago. But judging from what I know right now, Caleb had never despised any living being as much as he despises that young woman. He even hates to hear the sound of her name in his ears. He wants to make it right with his fiancée.”
John Oguche wished his wife could just shut up and at least let the detectives talk first before bringing in her own opinion. Taking the lead in police case would eventually lead to one shooting himself on the leg if care is not taken. He could tell… from experience.
Detective Samson glanced at his colleague and a quick smile danced around his face but disappeared before anyone else could notice. They had gotten the lead they needed.
“Would you like to tell us, ma’am, why your son suddenly hates the sound of the name of someone he’d abandoned a prestigious wedding for not so long ago?” Detective Samson’s eyes peered, burrowing into Joy Oguche’s bone marrows.
“Please?” Susan added, with pleading eyes.
John Oguche gave all the eye messages his wife had known him for in the past, but she wasn’t just paying attention to him. She was so eager to divulge information and her husband found it really insensitive but then he couldn’t interrupt her now… not anymore. If he mustn’t be their other suspect. She opened her mouth to talk but the ringing on Detective Samson’s phone interrupted her. The latter glanced at Susan who, on noticing concern in his face, could tell who the caller was. Detective Samson glanced quickly from one person in the room to the other before tapping on the receive button. He waited to hear what the person on the other side of the phone was saying.
“Right away, sir!” He got up and pocketed his phone. Susan followed him up too.
“We apologise, sir. An emergency came up at the station. May we do this some other time, please?”
John Oguche heaved in a sigh of relief. More time to think through. “Anytime, detectives… anytime.” He literally showed them the door. “We’d be here to take your questions.” He shook hands with both officers and followed them to the door. He inquired if they could come see their son and the answer was relieving.
As he closed the door behind them, he returned to face his wife with displeasured look. “What was that?” He yelled, pointing his first finger angrily at her. Joy Oguche shivered in her sitting position on the bare floor.
While in love, that point comes when moving backwards is dreadful, standing still is dangerous and going forward becomes a nightmare.
To be continued.