This thing called LOVE – GRACE OCHIGBO
Fear gripped Susan on that grounded position for several minutes. She scanned her eyes through the multi-spaced iron gate leading into Angela’s house, especially to the security man’s house from where they’d gotten a once-dipped-in-blood knife. Many thoughts about how one can live in a tightly secured yet unsecured place ran through her head. The paradox of life indeed.
She sluggishly got into Detective Samson’s car and for some weird reasons felt her eyes water with tears. She pulled out her rosary and quickly muttered a word or two of prayers for her partner, who in her head, must have gotten in so much danger already. As she started the engine of the car, her eyes reflexively caught something. She tried to slid that away but for professionalism.
“Good evening, sir and ma.” She greeted, trying hard to force a smile at the obviously baffled couple that came to open their door. Brief introduction and she was let into the house.
“Junior, please go upstairs.” She heard the woman order a boy, roughly ten, if she’s not mistaken.
“No mum. I gotta finish this video game.” The little boy responded, not moving an inch, neither taking his eyes off the game pads in his hands.
“I say go upstairs, Junior, we have a visitor.” The woman called to him again.
“You can take the visitor to your room for all I care.”
Whoa! Such insolence! Susan thought.
The woman of the house felt embarrassed but tried to hide it.
“No more ice rocket for you, Junior!”
“You can go to hell with your ice rocket, mum. Who cares?”
Susan felt irritated on her insides. If only she would be allowed to grab the young lad up by his throat and teach him some vital lessons and good mannerism on how to respond to one’s parents.
“I’m sorry, detective, he’s not always like this.” The woman pleaded with Susan and walked towards where her son laid scattered with candies and empty cups of smoothies on the floor.
“Junior, please go upstairs now.”
Susan watched the woman plead with him, and more irritatingly for her was that the father of the boy just stood and wasn’t even saying anything to salvage the situation.
Junior groaned, leaving the game pads and letting them hit the tiled floor hard. He let out a loud frustrated hiss and stood up. The redness in his eyes was unmatched and his hands were rolled into a fist. Susan couldn’t comprehend such arrogance. She wasn’t brought up that way and was not about bringing anyone up that way either, not even her daughter. Discipline is the core of life.
The boy kicked the pillow behind him and then kicked one of the empty cups so it almost flew to hit Susan’s left shoulder.
“I’m sorry about that, dear.” His mother apologised. “Junior, you don’t do that. Now apologise to the ma’am.”
Junior looked at his mother in disgust before walking in the direction of Susan. Susan hoped for her sanity’s sake that the boy doesn’t try anything funny close to her. She may wound him right here and now with the much anger already welling up inside her.
“Be out of here already…” The boy yelled. “witch!” He spat and dashed off, making for the stairs.
“I’m really sorry about that, detective. Junior doesn’t like to be interrupted whenever he’s playing his video games.” The woman said with a feeling of guilt and embarrassment coursing down her spine.
“I know this is an estate and everyone live by themselves, but then I think you can know one or two things about the person in the next compound, right?”
She’d decided to neglect the abusive boy and get on with the reason she entered the compound in the first place. Taking thought to the boy’s last statement and the way he called her a witch would mean her following him to that his room upstairs and beating the living daylight out of his empty skull, cos that’s how she sees his skull… empty and devoid of senses; empty of morals and respects. Many thanks to the parents.
“Yeah!” The man, who had been quiet the whole time, spoke now. “I know that a single rich lady lives in the next compound.” He hesitated as his wife pointed suspicious looks at him. “I mean, we were at a seminar where she also attended and I was surprised to see – when asked to indicate address – that we live just beside each other.” He felt his wife take in a deep breath. Hopefully, he’s been cleared off questionings in bed later tonight. “Babe, you remember the arts centre we visited sometimes?”
His wife nodded in the affirmative.
“Yes. I also learnt that she owns it.”
The woman looked wowed and surprised.
“I don’t think I’ve seen the lady before…” She started. “But her gateman comes to sit down with Isah here at times. I think I’ve seen them on two or three occasions I unexpectedly came back home in the afternoon.”
Talking about the gateman now, Susan seized the opportunity. “Do you have any information on the gateman and where he may want to travel to?” She briefly gave them scanty details about how they’ve not seen her gateman since the night she was murdered in cold blood and how they’ve not been able to gather any information on the man.
Susan realised the much they knew was all they’ve told her and regardless of the fact that those were not enough information, if anything must be found, she was grateful for the audience in the first place. As they saw her off to the door, she tabled her profound appreciation, her official card and how they were always welcomed to divulge whatever information they find out in her absence. She requested to see their own security man and they obliged her.
“Madam, walahi, I no know where I travel go.” The man named Isah explained. “I see am that afternoon, but I no tell me say I de travel go anywhere.”
Susan looked very patient while listening to him. “But do you know his name? Do you know where else he lives in this town, his family, anything else?”
“Eeeeeeh!” The security man exclaimed, putting his last finger on his lower lip. “I no know im family. I no know anything. I know only my name.”
Susan’s curiosity rose.
“My name is Sediq. Yea! Mallam Sediq. Yowa!”
Susan didn’t know if any other name of this security man was important to her or not. She needed the name of Angela’s gateman and not anyone else.
“Detective, he’s telling you that the man’s name is Sediq.” The man of the house bailed them all out. “Or, as they often refer to themselves, Mallam Sediq”
“Yowa!” Isah sounded satisfied that his message had been passed across correctly.
Susan turned to the couple. “I really appreciate your help. Don’t forget to call if anything. We’ll be here faster than you can think.”
She thanked them finally and asked if Isah could join her search Angela’s security post again. That agreed, she walked out through the gate with Isah on her heels.
Detective Samson stood, gazing at the dilapidated house. He shivered, as though, ice had replaced his spine. The cold air enveloped his entire body so much so that the multiple layers of clothing he had on could not protect against the deathly cold. The walkway leading up to the house were cracked; weeds and dandelions poked out from those cracks. The moonlight cast a ghoulish glow on the house. The house’s walls showed black decay by neglect. Patches of original paint hinted at the house former prosperity.
“How can anyone live here?” He thought within himself.
Cobwebs covered the corners of the doors. The house surely was fit for the kings and queens of the supernatural. The door begrudgingly creaked open. A musty, dank odour crept into his nose. The house was dead silence except for the intermittent creaks and moans. Black and brown mould dotted the ceiling in clusters, evident of rain seeping through the roof. Detective Samson quietly entered the dark living room. He’d been sure his gun was well cocked while on his way here. Windows covered with dirt, the calm moonlight struggled to penetrate the darkness in thin thread rays. Sharp shadows roamed around the room. The sofa and chairs overturned, revealing deep grooves on the ground where they used to sit. Wallpaper curled on the floor. Picture frames hanged off-centred. Sharp shadows roamed around the room.
He drew out his phone and dialled the number that had called him earlier.
Switched off again.
He made his way back into the hallway, a slimmer of light came from behind a door. He approached and opened the door. Lo, he’d reached the bathroom. The single window was mildly dirty, a flood of light flowed into the room. He arrived at the foot of the staircase. He stood and peered at the top, wondering when a twisted head person will crawl down and before having him for dinner, they must have had a really tough fight. He summoned courage and tiptoed his way up the stairs. Each step intensified the moaning and creaking as if the steps could collapse at any moment. The wind intensified outside, the rustling of the leaves and branches were louder. He turned to the right and met a destination, maybe a final one, who knows? The door did not give way easier, a forceful push was needed. In the end, he opened to a dust laden room that made him sneeze involuntarily.
Glancing from one end to the other and hearing no sign of anyone in this whole dilapidated gigantic structure, he knew it was time to leave. As he lifted himself gently down the rugged staircase, his mind travelled about. About why anyone would live here before even calling him to meet. And if not living here, where’s the person who called, at least? All these thoughts clamoured for answers and on getting to the door, his phone buzzed. He reached out to his gun instead. He’d put the device on vibration but the sore fear that gripped him from that unexpected vibration almost tumbled him over.
Calm down, boy. He muttered to himself as he dipped his right hand in the pocket where he’d kept his phone.
It’s like someone was watching him. All the while he had this feeling of eyeballs on him every step up the building and back but now the text on the screen of his phone confirmed it.
He gently opened the door, as though careful not to remove the wretch left and walked with the guidance of the moonlight in the direction where the text said. Everywhere was dead silent and the only noise were those from squeaking birds and chirps from rodents who have taken the abandoned house for a habitat.
Detective Samson made sure his eyes were wide awake and every direction in front, around and even behind him came to focus at the same time as he approached the back of the building.
“Yeah. Was it scary?”
A thick baritone voice startled him from behind and he jerked quickly in that direction.
Whoever it was, he couldn’t make it out from the darkest spot the fellow stood. All detective Samson could see was a hefty man dressed on all blacks, with a hat and a walking stick, and more importantly, smoke came from the direction of his face which connotes he had a pipe.
Detective Samson felt his blood dry up as the man gave this order. He hadn’t come this far to chicken out, had he? He took his first step, and it was like he suddenly bore the weight of the whole world on one foot.
Anone thought he heard bangs from deep inside his sleep, but as his mind finally jerked back to consciousness, he realised that someone was banging his door in reality, and whoever it was, did it really hard. He pulled, from the side of his medium sized bed, his alarm clock and wondered why it hadn’t woken him up until now. Rubbing a palm on his face to be sure his eyes were seeing correctly.
Who the heck would be angrily banging his door at this early hours of the morning?
As the merciless hit came again, this time, threatening to pull down his door, he quickly snapped off the bed. Fumbling with the duvet, he almost tumbled over but managed to land his leg on the floor before his head would first kiss it. He hissed in his head a thousand and one times on his journey to the front door. It had better be something reasonable, to have to wake him up this way.
He waited, but no response, only that the bangs had stopped. He took in a deep breath and gently opened the door. He felt a force flush through his face as he opened the door. The person pounced on him heavily, throwing him to the ground. As he struggled to defend himself, at the same time catch a view of who the intruder was, he realised the punches were too much for his weak ribs to bear.
“You?” Victor punched his mouth harder, blood spilled on the floor. “How dare you?”
The anger boiling inside him could boil two sack full of iron beans. And it wasn’t mellowing down an inch. The punch, the hit, the blood-dripping mouth didn’t make any meaning to Victor.
“How could you even…?” He landed one blow in his stomach alongside each word he voiced out.
Anone found himself losing life with every of Victor’s hand that landed on him. He was also trying to decipher what the latter was talking about. Victor noticed the confusion in Anone’s eyes and withdrew a bit. Dipping his hand into the inner chest pocket of his jacket, he pulled out what he was sure Anone would recognise very well.
“So how is the day over there, baby?”
“Same old feelings, sweet.” She sounded tired. “The years have passed and instead of hurrying to class, I now have to give lectures. Everything should be more exciting now, except that you are not here!”
Eneojo squinted against the bright light. His woman can like to hold onto one thing for as long as she deemed fit. He hadn’t even the time to think of going job hunting since he returned to Nigeria and had been moving from one problem to another. He’d told her he was still trying to rest, sip in the weather and adjust back to the Nigerian system but saved her the part of the very many painful events that had been happening in his family. There was nothing Estelle would do about the situation even if she learnt about it and judging from the fact that he wasn’t completely sure of his mother’s disposition towards his choice, Eneojo deemed it fit to not meddle his love affair in the family mess. Thankfully, the press weren’t exactly carrying the recent events so much this time like the case of the called-off wedding.
“You have to endure, Sweet. Summer comes and you’d be on the next flight to Nigeria.” He used his most reassuring voice yet.
“Yeah Baby! I can’t wait to come to Nigeria. The most-talked-about giant of Africa. The mere thought of it makes your absence bearable.” She was giggling where she was.
Eneojo’s phone was on speaker so her voice came pretty loud. He’s been awake for over two hours now. His body had adjusted to his insomniac habit over the years, so much so that he can’t sleep later than 3am no matter the time he went to bed. As was his custom abroad, he’d use the early hours of the morning to sort out journals and a handful of information on the internet. It’s commendable how he holds on to strong virtues like his devotions, which he would never miss for anything in the world in the early hours of the morning. It was much easier ‘cos they were also online devotionals. He would listen to a couple of his father’s morning devotions on YouTube channels. All these and his day was good to start.
“You’d love Nigeria when you eventually get here. Plus, this summer is about to be the beginning; just one of your… our several repeated trips down to a place about to become your second country.” Eneojo grinned widely as though the lady on the other side of the phone could see him. He noticed her silence and somehow could read whatever was going through her mind.
“I’d love nothing more than to be with you forever, Sweet…” She hesitated. Her voice low and almost a whisper. “For as long as you want me.”
“Estelle…” Eneojo sat straighter on his bed. “I think I’ve proved my love enough in words. All I need now is a lifetime to prove it to you.”
Caleb moved forward until he was sitting on the edge of his chair. “Thanks for coming this early, barrister.” He glanced at the neatly dressed gentleman with well combed and trimmed beards.
“I had to come as soon as your brother, Mark, said to.” He ran for few minutes about his magnanimous and truly wowing working experiences.
He had sometimes in the past defended the company Caleb’s younger brother, Mark, works for from an incriminating financial accusation. Caleb didn’t know if the details were important though as every passing second brought the sentence of ‘death by hanging’ nearer his body. But then he was patient, listening to all the pomposity that should be typical of a very successful barrister. It wouldn’t be fair to kill his morale just yet, especially that the tales of his victorious legal battles increased hope in Caleb.
“First, I need you to tell me the whole truth. Trust me, that’s the only way I can help you now. I need to know the entire truth, Caleb.”
Caleb glanced around the empty room as though he, suddenly, wasn’t sure that it was just his lawyer and him in here. He dipped a hand into his pocket and fumbled with something his eyes appeared not convinced about whether to bring it out or not. Finally, when the paper came out and it was handed over to the lawyer, the latter literally ripped it open in eagerness. His eyes darted from one corner of the paper to the other as he read through quickly. Sometimes, he stole glances at Caleb, as if to register his attentiveness, and the latter kept urging him to go on.
“That was delivered to my mother the very morning before we ever learnt about her death.” Caleb said slowly.
The barrister looked more intensely at the paper again. This time, he read out the content.
I call you mama because of the way you looked at me that evening when I walked in on you and your husband in the house. Your look was that of a mother to a child she adores and things hadn’t been the same way with me since that day. I took your word for it. You promised you were going to convince your son to see me as his best option, but today, mama, as I write this, I realise and finally admit that it’s not Caleb’s responsibility to fulfil every single dream of mine. It never was his responsibility, mama. And while I write to thank you for your efforts thus far, I’d also say not to try any further. I have decided to discover what it’s like to be without Caleb… on my own.
Can I really do that? You may ask.
Maybe that’s my problem, mama! I’m so used to everyone knowing and loving me that I wouldn’t let anyone get to know the real me, the helpless me. But if there’s anything I’ve learnt as a volunteer ‘actor’ in the past weeks is how to always make a clean exit. I don’t know what’s next at the moment but I want you to know that I let Caleb go from my heart.
I love you, mama.
The barrister finally muttered the courage to set the paper down on the table separating them.
“It was delivered to your mother that very morning?”
Caleb nodded in the affirmative. He was tired and many more lines added to the once fine, now haggard, creases on his face.
“Does the police know about this letter?”
“My parents and I think it’d indict me the more. I just learnt about it from my parents yesterday and we’ve kept it to ourselves.”
“Good!” The barrister gave an impressive nod while arranging the sheets he’d brought out earlier back into his expensive looking briefcase. “Keep it that way!” He got up and Caleb followed him up.
“Are we done? Where are you going to, barrister?”
He eased a forced smile enough to completely unsettle Caleb instead of its original intention.
“I’d be right back!” He patted Caleb’s left shoulder and dashed out as fast as a lightening.
Vera walked into her office feeling angry. The kind of feeling that comes from no reason one can distinctly hold onto. Her mother had gone speechless after her confession last night and it had become practically impossible for her to breathe let alone utter anymore words. The rest of their conversations had ensued later that night when they both sat at the table for dinner. They’d said a short prayer for the food, committing everyone else who didn’t have and asking God to provide for them. Midway into the meal was when her mother spoke.
“About what you told me earlier…” She started, holding Vera’s gaze to be sure she had her full attention. “There’s no harm in loving someone else… anyone…” Vera heaved a sigh of relief, just when something else – the truth was about to hit her. “What I don’t see as right is in loving your friend’s fiancé.”
Vera heaved in a deep breath and held it. She’d at several points, since the whole saga with Caleb occupying virtually all her thoughts, considered the possible dangers that came with making public her feelings. Unekwu would get back on her feet soon enough, and they’d be required to share emotional tales as usual and there she would have to tell the truth, only the truth and nothing but the truth. However was she going to tell Unekwu that she fell in love with Caleb? That they’ve both shared a kiss right in her wardroom. It may be just once but it meant a thousand times to her. She wasn’t even sure if Caleb had these same degree of emotions towards her. She wasn’t sure if that night was merely one of those nights for him, and that was all it was and meant to be.
“It can’t be!” She’d convinced herself.
She could tell from the hurtful way Caleb appeared that afternoon, on hearing Pastor Ajifa announce her relationship with Anone. Caleb had disappointment and hurt in his eyes and those were qualities that described the weight of love, right?
Shortly after dinner, as she laid on her master sized bed, thoughts and tons of thoughts filled her mind. Perhaps it was a lost battle she was about to begin anyway. She’d fallen asleep in that state.
“See who we have here.” Mr Ken’s voice startled Vera.
She hadn’t been informed by her secretary that someone was already waiting up for her in her office. Perhaps the lady had said it and she hadn’t paid attention to hear or her absentmindedness and hurry involuntarily scared off the lady. Whichever way, she should act courtly towards her boss, especially having him here after such a long time.
“You don’t barge into people’s offices because you are the state manager, sir. That’s what courtesy is about.” She threw her bag where it should be and took her seat across the table.
Mr Ken smiled roguishly. The two ladies appears hard-to-get to him but he sure would crack their bones soon, and after that, suck every single marrow in there.
“It’s uncalled for to come late to work too, especially now that you are the acting manager of this branch.”
He’s always maintained that making Vera act in the stead of Unekwu until she recovered was not exactly the best idea but who was he to flutter what the national board had decided? Even though the birds in the air knew the decision was strongly influenced one way or the other by Pastor Ikani, one of the most revered clergy men in the country.
“I didn’t mean to, sir.” Sounding very officially polite to Mr Ken was on the menu this morning and she could serve forever. “Taxi system is still somewhat poor in this part of the globe.”
“Your chauffeur isn’t disposed to drop you off today?”
Vera scoffed. The man can only try to get on her offensive side in vain. Not now. Not today. She had better things to put her emotions into much more than Mr Ken… rather, Mr Player Ken. Somehow she knew Mr Ken had been spying on her. But what does it matter? She owed him no explanations by the way. And… because Anone took her to and from work in the week since her car had fault again didn’t make him her chauffeur. He had, for whatever reason, not come today, and the amazing part was that his phone reported ‘not available’. She had tactically delayed to see if he’d come around or not and that’d contributed to her lateness to work.
She noticed Mr Ken’s jaw drop tiredly in utter frustration. The lady was strangulating every step at a healthy conversation long before it had life. It was tiring, but if there’s one character Mr Ken had, he’s never tired. Unless the second human in the conversation doesn’t have a ‘Wo’ attached to his nature, Man.
“I guess I came ahead for the board meeting due in twenty.” He continued, but Vera already rose up her laptop and started typing away. She acted like his words were not to be heard at all and that infuriated him even more.
“I thought to say Hi… and also to say something very interesting you may like to discover about your Lover boy Chauffeur!”
Vera quickly rose up her head in eagerness and her typing hands froze in shock. Her eyes bore fears and only one question. “Hope nothing happened to Anone?”
It took another hour of questioning, discussion and explanations before the official on the front desk at the post office finally agreed to check their records. To the man, and as it should legally be, a third party shouldn’t be privy to any information passed between two parties using the post office as a medium but as Barrister Chuks explained the delicate and little-timed case on his hands, the official obliged.
“The letter was delivered to Mrs Joy Oguche by…” He traced the lines to the side of the big notebook with his hands. “It was delivered by Mr Obinni.”
Barrister Chuks tried not to appear too lost. “That means Mr Obinni was the person Angela handed the letter to in person?”
The official frowned. “Oga, you don de ask plenty questions o. You no say I no suppose check this thing on normal ground.”
Barrister Chuks withdrew a little. The post office official was sounding extremely rude and not wanting to help. How could one be that cold, especially after he took his time to explain the situation earlier?
“Thank you very much for your assistance, Mister. I don’t take it for granted.” The man didn’t even do as much as look at Barrister Chuks. He suddenly found interest in some details written on another page of the same book and Chuks felt bad, but he had to thread with caution. He was the one in need of help after all.
“Please, this Mr Obi… Obi… Obinni…” he finally got the name correctly. “Where is he? May I, please, see him?”
The official sized Barrister Chuks up with a disdainful look. The whole scenario looked absurd and out of place but not as much as the dilapidated state of the building. Chuks could even dare to say only the security man he’d met at the entrance and this rude official alone worked here, but how can he be sure? The advent of technology had overridden the place of posting letters and he couldn’t help but wonder why Angela had to post a letter to Caleb’s mother when she could just send a text, or better still, send someone on an errand. The official here just confirmed the time the mail was entered into their voucher from Angela as being 7:10am. The time of receipt by Mrs Oguche here tallied with what Caleb had told him. The only bother Barrister Chuks had was the entry time.
The police reportedly patrolled around Angela’s estate at about five o’clock in the morning. They confirmed from the state Angela was found that she’d been long dead before they arrived. Unless it was her ghost that came to send the letter? Something was unclear.
Mr Obinni who entered the letter into the voucher had the answers he was looking for and he needed to see Mr Obinni as soon as possible.
“Mr Obinni, sir…” He started but the angry response from the official shut him up.
“Mr lawyer or whatever you call yourself. Don’t disturb my peace this morning.” He sounded a stern warning. “Mr Obinni. Mr Obinni. Mr Obinni since morning. Abeg I no de live with Mr Obinni o. If e de work you go see am, if e no de, e mean say e go leave.”
Barrister Chuks’ eyeballs widened. A thought flashed his mind and he drew something out of his pocket. With tightly closed hand, he forcefully placed it in the official’s hand. The latter glanced inside his palm and expectedly, his face lightened up in a smile.
“Oga Barrister, I will call for Mr Obinni right away!”
Wow, he can speak correct English, Barrister Chuks thought.
Barrister Chuks walked over to the seat offered by the official who went calling for Mr Obinni. He prayed and wished things would pull through from here. A huge explanation needed to be made, thankfully, the person that’s supposed to explain was approaching him already from a distance, accompanied on his heels by the official who went to get him.
As Mr Obinni drew nearer, Barrister Chuks heart pounded in his chest. He couldn’t imagine the implication of the thoughts crossing his mind. However the case may be, he had to hear the delivery man out first and foremost.
Leaving sometimes is the best option because you both may be meant to be together perfect apart.
TO BE CONTINUED…