I want to apologize to those who didn’t get their notification for Saturday’s post. My modem was stolen right from my bag while I was doing last edits on the post on my way home from a meeting. And I lost some cash as well. Oh well, that’s life. So I posted with my old BB phone and that felt like filling a bucket with water using a spoon. Lol! But it’s all good. Enjoy today’s episode.
“Can I smoke?” Desire asked as Leonel put his jeep into gear and exited the premises of the building complex they had just emerged from. They had left Lanre behind with Sugar’s corpse and if Leonel’s calculations were exact, the police were going to be on the scene in less than ten minutes.
The noon sun was cast overhead but it was shy and remained veiled behind thick clouds, leaving the weather slightly cool. Leonel thought of spending a lazy day at the beach with his girlfriend but his mind warded off the idea as a slight movement from Desire caught his eyes. She had gone ahead, without waiting for his response, to light a cigarette. As much as he detested the pungent and choking smell of tobacco, he endured it and allowed Desire her satisfaction.
She took the first drag and held it in for long before she let it out.
“Why are you looking at me?” she asked. “You should be staring at the road.”
He said nothing in response but faced the road ahead even though the vehicle had stopped before a traffic red light.
“I don’t think anything’s wrong with Hamza,” Desire said in a measured, languid tone. “You’re just playing big brother like you did in the past, checking up on little Nafisa to see if she’s okay. Well, I’m fine. God’s wrath has not yet located my address, so I’m still walking in the land of the living. Don’t know for how long, though. What about you? Heard you knocked up some chick and you finally bit the love bug?”
“I think it’s the other way round. The love bug does the biting.”
Desire laughed, her cigarette dangling between her lips. Leonel glanced at her briefly but said nothing as he moved the car forward and navigated into a quiet and narrow street. He had heard the emptiness in her laughter; it emerged from a place that was dark, lonely and very afraid. The fear was not one of death or pain. It was the fear of falling. Falling from the lies her convictions had been built on; fear of being faced with the truth that she had been nothing all her life and had lived in the shadows as a soulless, evil puppet, a perfect model representing a portion of a mad man’s fantasy about how he believes the world around him should be.
Leonel scratched the sides of his lips where his moustache ended and thought of Desire’s words. She had been right about him being worried about her. She was the closest thing he had to a sister and he had carried her in his heart for many years, sometimes keeping a watchful eye over her without her knowledge. He wish he could have done more to stop her from going down the path her life had taken but who was he to go against Captain? Who was he to defy his own father? They shared a strong bond and though he was his favorite son, it still gave him no grounds to waltz into territory where angels dreaded.
“Where are we going?” Desire sauntered back into Leonel’s thoughts.
“To have a drink,” Leonel replied distractedly and went back into his mind.
From a very tender age he was aware of what Captain was capable of doing. He didn’t have to be told; he witnessed first-hand, the pure evil of the man but was helpless to do anything about it. Unlike his twin brother, David, Leonel had been exposed to what Ramsey called ‘the family business.’ But it wasn’t just made up family and it ran underground and held a strong, impenetrable network of veteran criminals—men and women like Captain who used their political powers, wealth and influence to alter the daily affairs of the country, from government decisions to international affairs. The system was a deadly and complex set of connections that offered almost absolute authority to its members and was run by a group of individuals plainly refered to as the Cabal. For many, the Cabal did not exist; it was just a myth created to instil fear into people. But Leonel knew they were for real and knew every single member in the inner caucus, and though he made sure he did everything to ensure his path never crossed theirs, he occasionally found himself being sucked into their world, sometimes playing the villain and other times, the hero. But whatever it was he found himself doing, he had long chosen not to walk the path of his father.
“A beer in the middle of the day,” Desire mumbled. “How nice. And I’m dressed like I just rolled out of bed.”
Leonel parked his jeep outside a house on a deserted street and got down. Desire also stepped out and straightened her hair as she waited for him to walk to her. “Let me guess. This is some private bar or strip joint that you sometimes steal away to when work chokes you.”
A small gate was opened from within the house and Leonel led Desire in. The place was quiet like a graveyard but a couple of cars parked in a small garage space that stood beside the main entrance indicated there was life inside. For all intents and purposes, it was made to look like a residential space but the moment they walked in, Desire discovered her description had been spot on. It was not a strip joint, though, just a quiet drinking spot during the day that metamorphosed into anything it wanted to be at night.
Leonel led Desire through a short, dark corridor that came out to a small parlor that boasted of a mini bar manned by a sleepy bar girl.
“Good afternoon, sir,” the girl greeted and frowned at Desire.
“Afternoon, Joy,” Leonel replied. “The usual. For the lady, get her gin and juice.”
Desire nodded in agreement with his order for her as they took their seat. He positioned himself opposite her, rested his hands on the table and stared into her eyes.
“Are you ready to speak now?” he asked.
“About what?” Desire threw back.
“You killed Captain’s woman in broad daylight. You have balls.”
“I didn’t kill her. She killed herself.”
“And you were there…just watching her while she pulled the trigger?”
Desire lit another cigarette. “We had a thing…”
“Wearing matching outfits?”
“Your father hooked me up with her.”
Leonel leaned back. “Explain.”
“There’s nothing to explain. Your father sold me as a sex slave to his own fiancée and she used me until…”
“You killed her.”
“She killed herself.”
“Because you made her.”
“Sugar liked to get high. On everything. She tried it all. So I gave her Jimsonweed. She had never tried that before. Told her it was heaven. Made tea out of it, sprinkled some powder of it into her yam porridge…”
“That was enough to kill her.”
“Didn’t put that much.”
“Because you wanted the hallucinations, the total absence of euphoria, the walk in the blue, the hysterical deliriousness that takes over the mind?”
Desire smiled. “Looks like you’ve been there.”
“No. I know my poisons. Jimsonweed is a toxic herb that has hallucinogenic properties. If the toxins don’t kill you, the high will. Which one pushed Sugar off the edge?”
“One hour into the high and she started to complain of the table in the room speaking to her. She got off the bed and went to talk back to the thing. Who speaks to a fucking table?” Desire shook her head and blew out thick smoke. “She and her table had their long talk and when she was done, she drew it to the clothes rack and tried to use the duvet to cover it. To me, it was a table; to her it was some guy who worked for Captain that had come to spy on her. She was dead scared of Captain. She believed he destroyed her family politically and when it dawned on her that she was going to be tied to him in marriage, she lost her mind. In her words, ‘I’m marrying the devil himself and he’s taking me to hell.’ So she was constantly in fear of him and because of that she didn’t trust anyone anymore, including her closest friends. She was very sure he had spies on her; she wouldn’t even sleep in her house.”
The bar girl arrived with their drinks, set them on the table sluggishly and walked away.
“So the Jimsonweed started to work in Sugar and you told her to kill herself?” Leonel picked his glass of brandy.
“No… She was standing and so was I…” Desire laughed briefly. “Remember the game Monkey See, Monkey Do? Played it a lot as a kid, Ramsey and I.” She shook her head nostalgically. “Those were the days. Ramsey was always the monkey. But with Sugar, you never get to lead; you always follow, even if you’re just breathing.” Desire dropped her cigarette in an ashtray before her. Then she lit another before she continued.
“So I stood right in front of her and everything she did, I replicated. After a short while she was convinced she was standing, facing her own soul and it was telling her things.”
“And what was this ‘soul’ telling her?”
“That she was very evil and had killed so many people and deserved to die…”
“And you gave her the gun.”
“Her soul gave her the gun; not me. And she didn’t need much persuasion. She readily agreed the world would be a better place without her.”
“Did the Captain order her death?”
Desire lifted her cheek in a lopsided smile and drank from her glass. “Captain simply told me to give her a good time. During our time together she got tired of life and blew her brains. Captain has never ordered anybody to kill anybody. He’s a good man. He only wanted to make his woman happy but Sugar was depressed and dissatisfied with life and was hiding a deep secret as a closeted lesbian.”
“You ever feel remorse after you kill?”
“I’ve never killed anyone in my life.” Desire was as pokerfaced as a blank wall and Leonel died a little inside.
“Nafisa…” he leaned forward. “I’m worried about you. And ironically, it’s really not about you because you’re circling the drain and if you go down it, you deserve it. It’s about Hamza…”
Desire straightened her back and sought Leonel’s eyes.
“He’s mixed with the wrong crowd and they are in possession of some huge cash that belongs to Captain. And Captain has ordered Sefia to drop Hamza and his four friends like flies.”
Desire’s eyes bulged out and she swallowed hard.
“And you and I know that Sefia will carry that instruction to the letter. Nafi, you have to do everything in your power to make sure Hamza survives, even if it’s the only good thing you do on this earth. I need you to get him out of Sefia’s claws… But you know it could ultimately cost you your life, right?”
Desire put her cigarette to her lips and with a shaky hand, she inhaled the cancer stick deeply.
“Still do the right thing. Hamza doesn’t deserve to die like your father did.”
Leonel knew he had passed his message across even though she didn’t reply. He needn’t say more. They sat in silence for a while and then she began to ask him about his life. They talked some, laughed some, reminisced some but he knew she was restless over Hamza. Exactly an hour later, he paid their bill and they left the place. He dropped her off at one of the numerous places she liked to hide out and he drove back to his office to continue his day.
* * * * * * * * * *
A particular yellow cab, worn and rusted with age drove right into a tight space between a jeep and a danfo. The shy sun had finally said its goodbye and retreated behind a thick drape of clouds. But cool as the weather was, commuters heading towards Onikan Bridge were anything near composed. Many of them had been sitting in traffic from Lekki for almost two hours and there didn’t seem to be any hope of the roads easing up. Bottled water, Lacasera and Gala sellers manoeuvred through cars and flashed their products to the people within them. A bus driver and a keke rider got into a minor accident at Bonny Camp junction and the policemen responsible for the easy flow of cars, left their duty posts to the scene, causing further traffic build-up. The driver in the yellow cab, old and worn out like his vehicle, poked his head out his window and rained down obscenities in Yoruba on whom it may bother, drew his head back in and told his passenger, without staring at her, that she would have to increase her fare for the longer period spent on the road. She hissed and instructed him in an inert tone to face his business.
“Ole oshi!” she added with a longer, drawn hiss. The cab driver apologized and stuck out his head again and honked mercilessly at the danfo that was still trying to cut in before him. To worsen matters, the clouds gave way and began pouring rain. The policemen and hawkers disappeared in an instant and out of sheer frustration many of the drivers began to honk their horns. The honking didn’t last long though, and neither did the rain. Just as it started, it stopped. The yellow cab driver cussed the sky for its attempt at infuriating him and decided at that moment to turn on his Fuji music. His passenger shook her head at the noise blaring from the treble-only speakers behind her and wound her watch around her wrist restlessly. The cab surged forward in one glorious movement ahead of the danfo and the cab driver added one last obscenity at his challenger and turned to her.
“Aunty, which side you say you wan drop sef?”
The passenger was about to reply when her phone rang. It was a long-expected phone call and she gestured to the cab driver to lower the volume of his car stereo. She put the phone to her ear and listened carefully to the person on the other line. Saying no words, she ended the call and turned to the driver who was glaring at her in full, Yoruba-exaggerated shock but she understood his expression. She had gotten into the taxi as a dark-haired, grey-eyed girl with a black tank gown that almost swept the floor but now she was blonde with full lips glossing in raging red and she was sporting a blue spaghetti dress that barely covered her bum. She smiled at the driver’s blinking eyes, paid him his fare with no extra change and climbed out of the rickety car.
Sefia was totally aware of the eyes that turned in her direction when she emerged from the yellow cab. She never really understood why Lagosians enjoyed staring rudely but it all worked well for her. Not in her nature to look like a girl asking for it, she occasionally allowed herself the joy of the attention she got whenever her toned biceps which she always hid behind masculine clothes were let loose and her full breasts were exposed. To the onlookers, she was just another typical Lagos babe hustling in broad daylight but Sefia never played dress-up aimlessly. She was on her way to do some damage but she had to make a quick stop somewhere. As she slipped on her sunshades, she raised her head to look through a line of cars ahead of her. She was searching for a silver Toyota SUV with tinted windows and she found it after a short walk.
The passenger door at the back of the vehicle opened and she climbed in. There was no one within except the driver.
“Do you have the numbers?” the driver asked. He was wearing a hooded sweater and darker sunshades than hers; he kept his face hidden from the rear view and side mirrors.
“I still don’t have them but I will, anytime soon.”
“Why is it taking so long, Sefia?”
“Come on, you know how busy I get. I just got in from some job at Federal Palace and I’ve been there all week and I’m going for another…”
“Do you need me to send my boys to get the money?”
“Give me a few days.”
“You have only a few hours. It begins today and in exactly one week from now, that money has to be in my care and everyone that had access to it gone. Captain’s orders.”
Sefia sighed tiredly and shut her eyes.
“Get out.” The driver faced the road ahead of him, dismissing her. Not hesitating a second, she climbed out of the jeep and wound her way through the moving cars again. She stood at the sidewalk and waited for another cab to take her to her destination.
* * * * * * * * * *
Like the majority of Captain’s minions, Sefia came from a poor home. Her mother was a soft-spoken Northerner who had fallen in love with a drunken brute from Ogbomoso. Sefia knew what abuse was from a very tender age and preferred to roam the streets selling ice cold water than spend her time at home or at school. But fate threw her a lifeline one wet morning when a woman found her shivering under her bowl of ice water in the rain. She picked her, took her to a home that looked like paradise, scrubbed away her filth under a scalding shower, treated the sores on her legs, fed her with a heavenly meal, gave her her first taste of alcohol and sat to watch her gulp down the fiery liquid with an audacious and unwavering stare. Afterward, the woman stood and walked to her.
“Call me Aunty Judith. This is your home from now on.”
Sefia didn’t understand a word she said but she kept each syllable in her street-wise memory and days later found someone to translate it into Yoruba for her. It was then she accepted that she was never going to see home again. She didn’t cry, she didn’t fight to be free; instead she faced the new life and brutal training she later received from Captain with a single-mindedness that shocked her superiors.
A decade and two years would pass before she would see her mother again. It was a bitter-sweet reunion because she found her alone and with a failing health. Her father had long vanished from the earth’s surface and the woman was left to fend for herself. From that moment Sefia took the woman’s burden upon her shoulders but she was not permitted by Captain to change her living conditions, even though she was to give her the best of all she needed. It was important that Sefia kept her cover as a struggling girl from a poor home. Sefia was okay with the arrangement; her mother was alive and that was all she cared about.
The daylight was almost gone and the first star was out when the sun made a last, timid appearance in the east. Sefia had long discarded off her blonde hair and blue, mini dress and was now dressed in combats and a tank top as she headed into her mother’s face-me-I-face-you compound. She threw a boyish greeting at the neighbors outside and bounced to her mother’s door which was thrown wide open.
“Mama, why you leave door for mosquito na?” she asked as she walked in. But she was made to stop in her tracks when she sighted an unwelcome character dressed in a nurse’s attire, seated beside her sleeping mother. Sefia turned on the light and cut the stranger’s eyes with hers.
“What are you doing here, Desire?”
Desire’s lips played around a smile that never showed as she winked at Sefia.
“What are you doing here?” Sefia repeated in unmasked annoyance and Desire produced a small vial from her pocket.
“Your mommy’s a trooper. She didn’t fuss; she kept saying, ‘thank you, nurse. God bless you’.”
“You poisoned my mother?”
“Just a teensy, weensy bit. And oh, don’t bother trying to decipher what I gave her. It shows no symptoms but when it’s done its work, she’ll go away without a fuss.” Desire stood. “But I have the antidote.”
“What do you want?”
“You’re asking the impossible.”
“Am I? You don’t know what it means to lose a mother. Want to experience it?” Desire walked to Sefia and swept her entire frame with a lustful gaze. “For old times’ sake, Sefi…” She traced a finger up Sefia’s arms, creating instant goosebumps. She stopped as the finger came to rest on Sefia’s lip and she pushed her face to meet hers. “Rub my back, darling and I’ll rub yours.”
“Get out.” Sefia said in an icy tone. Desire smiled and slowly walked out the door.