“Sorry, I had to do this, Hamza,” Lanre said, going behind Hamza to untie him from the chair that had held him captive for nine hours. “It was necessary.”
Hamza was silent. He didn’t really have anything to say to Lanre. So much had ensued in the past forty-eight hours that his brain was still reeling from the shock of information and happenings that he didn’t have the staying power to voice out what was on his mind.
He massaged his sore wrists and wiggled his feet to restore the flow of blood as Lanre stood before him again.
“I had to do a serious background check on you to find out relevant information that would help in my investigations. First I needed to know if you were sent by someone.”
“I was not,” Hamza said in his defense.
“Second, I needed to know who was going to be worried over your disappearance…” Lanre said walking to the door. He poked his head out and Hamza used the occasion to look around him. Just as he had suspected, he was in a room full of freshly printed material. Stacks of glossy-paged magazines piled up from the floor to the ceiling behind him. A small window stood high up, close to the ceiling, and from the reflection it cast, Hamza could tell there was little daylight outside.
Lanre returned with one of the guys that had abducted Hamza earlier. He had a handgun tucked in a holster on his waist and he gave Hamza a threatening stare.
“Give him something to eat and meet me at the hotel,” Lanre ordered, turned around and began walking away.
“Is this the plan?”Hamza asked. “To keep me hostage? For how long? I should have just traveled out as planned.”
Lanre didn’t turn back. “I’m only trying to save your life, Hamza.”
He continued outside the door as Hamza stood from the chair.
* * * * * * * * *
Lanre opened the door and welcomed Hamza in. The presidential suite had a small but well-designed parlor and an adjoining bedroom. Lanre offered Hamza a cozy chair before a low round table that held a small manila envelope and an exact replica of Hamza’s recently discarded phone. Lanre pulled out photos from the envelope and spread them out on the table. Hamza looked at them, surprised to find they were photos of himself and his friends at various times in the last three months. Lanre gave him a moment to peruse them before he put them back into the envelope and passed them to him. On closer inspection, Hamza could see clearly written on the manila ‘we are watching you.’
“A similar envelope has been sent to all your friends and as I speak, they are planning to meet at Tade’s Bar to discuss about it.”
“I thought you said you were working for the good guys. How am I sure it’s not you people that killed Tina?”
“You can’t be sure. And it’s your choice to walk away now.”
“What do you want from me?” Hamza just about interrupted him. “You kidnapped me and tied me up and now you’re showing me all these pictures and God knows where you resurrected my phone from. What do you want?”
Lanre pushed the phone to him. “We have restored your SIM card and all your contacts. This phone is clean, unlike your old one. But it is being monitored by us…”
“You’re bugging it.”
“Something like that. Now here’s what you’ll do. You’ll convince your friends to go back to that house where the money is and get the money.”
“I don’t want the money anymore,” Hamza said strongly.
“Neither do we. We only want you in that house with this phone. All you have to do is make sure it stays on. I have chipped the camera to run automatically so wherever you go, make sure the phone has full view too.”
“Hamza, abeg stop behaving like a woman and do as I say. Convince your friends to find their way back there.”
“I don’t care about what you’re looking for in that house. All I want to know is if I’m safe.”
“You are, as long as you stop bitching about and stick to everything I say. I have people watching you round the clock.”
Lanre turned on the phone and immediately it began to ring.
“It’s T-Man,” he told Hamza. “Take your call.”
Hamza looked at the screen and saw the name ‘superstar’ and wondered how Lanre knew it was T-Man calling. It scared him to think Lanre knew every little detail about his life. He picked up the phone and walked away from the table. Lanre turned to his own phone and attended to an incoming message. It was a photo from one of his girlfriends; she was shopping and wanted to know what color of lingerie he would love to see her in later that night.
Not tonight, he typed back.
She replied with a sad smiley.
Besides, I like u beta fully dressed. I like to unearth u.
She sent a happy smiley.
Allow me serve u breakfast in bed 2morrow.
She sent a wide grin smiley. He sent back a kiss and the conversation was over.
“You should get going.” Lanre looked at his watch. “If anyone asks where you have been, tell them you traveled to Ibadan on request from your boss. We have you covered for that.” Lanre strolled to the door and opened it. “Your bike is waiting downstairs.”
Hamza walked out and Lanre shut the door after him.
* * * * * * * * *
ST ANDREWS HOSPITAL
Their hushed voices fell on Captain like the dull sound of a gentle shower over a rooftop. There was a melancholic drone to the hum that stirred him deep from his twenty-five hour coma. He fluttered his eyes slowly, moved a finger or two and groaned. From the curtain of his eyelashes, he saw Judith faintly. She turned around and looked at him and he knew he was going to get better. Judith was not just the mother of his last son; she was his pillar, his counsel and the poison that had slowly eaten away what little was left of his heart. Seeing her face as the first thing after emerging through the doors of death was all he needed to forge on.
He tried to speak but another groan came out. Judith walked to him and held his hand lightly, filling his insides with the comforting fragrance of her perfume. She said something he couldn’t make sense of. He tried to look at her but his eyelids weighed a ton. Hence, he fixed his blurry gaze in the direction of the other person in the room, his son, Leonel who stood at the foot of the bed, staring back at him. Leonel was also speaking but Captain could not put words to his sounds.
Judith’s grip on his hand was firmer now and she squeezed him warmly. His doctor walked in, tailed by a nurse. Judith moved away and stood in a corner as the doctor and nurse attended to him. Captain felt hands probing and touching him, he heard more voices in the room, he felt his body move slightly but his hazy eyes remained in one place still. On Leonel.
He was a grown man standing before Captain but all Captain saw was his little nine year old son, holding to the bed post with tears in his eyes that he fought not to show his father.
“Are you going to die?” nine year old Leonel asked Captain who was lying on his hospital bed, a ghost of himself. There was hardly any part of his body that was not injured. He was wrapped up in bandages and his left leg was suspended up in the air. The doctors were positive he was going to survive but they predicted he would take long to repair. Gangrene was slowly eating at his flesh in several places and it was obvious that he was going through major psychological trauma, for there was no night he did not stay awake screaming in abject terror at the unseen persons he claimed were torturing his body. The best psychiatrists and psychologists were called in to help but no one could get the full story of what had happened to Captain after he disappeared on the Christmas Eve of 1985. He was gone for almost one year and came back a different man, mad at every turn and totally deficient of feelings.
“Do you think I’m going to die?” he asked Leonel. The boy shook his head slowly. “Then why are you asking that stupid question?” His voice came out in a gruff.
“Because…” Leonel held tight the bed post and shifted from one foot to the other. “Because mommy died and–”
“Your mother did not die!” Captain snarled but Leonel didn’t flinch. He simply wiped the tears away from his eyes in one swift movement lest his father scold him for being a baby.
“But everybody is saying that she has died.”
“Who did you tell that she is dead?”
Leonel lifted his shoulder and dropped it to plead innocence. “Nobody.”
“Good. Keep it that way.”
“When are you coming back home? I want you to come back today.”
“You stayed without me for a whole year, Leonel,” Captain said in irritation. “You can survive a few more weeks. Now stop being a girl and go and call Judith for me.”
Leonel didn’t want to leave but he nodded obediently and walked out of the hospital room. Judith walked in a while later and stood by the doorway. Her arms were crossed, and she bore a distressed look on her face. Upon seeing her in that state, Captain was highly irritated. For some reason, he couldn’t stand any further show of sympathy towards his condition. Concerned family members and the not-so concerned had shed enough tears for him. He was worn out by the pity.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” Judith asked him, holding on to her anguished face.
“Tell you what?” he narrowed his eyes questioningly.
“What they did to you, what they took from you?”
He was still looking at her with the same question on his face. “What are you talking about, Ju?”
Judith stepped in and shut the door behind her, then she ventured further and stood before him, her eyes resting on his body.
“Can I see?” she asked and he gave his acquiescence with an eye movement she alone understood. She slowly lifted his hospital gown with shaky hands, the muscles on her neck tensing by the second. She paused for a bit and then threw back the gown to reveal his genitals. But she found… nothing. Just a large, raw scar where his sex organs once were. She swallowed strongly and with every gut in her, stared at the place for almost a minute before she let the gown down again. When she lifted her eyes to meet his, her face bore the same cold mien his was carrying.
“Satisfied?” Captain asked. “They have taken your man away from you, Ju,” he said with a lump in his throat. “The bastards fed me to sewer rats that ate me slowly in a stinking tunnel right in the heart of Casablanca. But before that they fucked me every single night. Every damn night, Ju. Men like me ravaged and despoiled me! How do I ever forgive and forget that?”
Judith shut her eyes to the first assault of tears.
“I used to hear cars pass right over me, I heard the voices of people just above, I heard the calls to prayer from a small mosque nearby five times a day. I even became part of history when I heard the first construction sounds of the Hassan Mosque. It was then I started to believe in God. I’d pray to him asking for retribution, for revenge, to see my sons again, to inhale the free air of my country again; I even begged for death. But they didn’t want me to die. So they’d treat me of my wounds and sometimes give me a good meal to eat and just when I’m thinking it’s over, they’d start all over again…”
“Who are these men, Luke?” Judith sobbed angrily. “Who are they?”
Captain swayed his head from left to right slowly. “I never saw them. I was blindfolded the whole time.”
Judith used the heel of her palm to wipe at her nose furiously. “But you know who is behind it?”
“Kentoro Abassi?” Luke smiled a little, grotesque smile.
“He’s telling everyone that you killed his daughter. He is pressing to have you arrested and tried for her murder.”
“I wish him the best with that. Emem will never be found.”
Judith lifted her head slightly to his statement. “Did you kill her?”
Captain looked into Judith’s eyes for an extended time, his expression showing nothing, but he eventually answered. “I did.”
His head slowly turned in the direction of the only window in the room. There he saw Emem standing, the light from outside piercing through her in an array of colors. Judith followed his gaze and saw nothing but light blue curtains being blown in by a gentle breeze coming from outside.
“It was an accident.” Captain kept his gaze on Emem. “None of us meant it. Just one of our silly fights and it went wrong. Terribly wrong. And all I saw was the knife going into her throat… and then it was over. She died in my arms.” He turned back to Judith. “I buried her where no one will find her. She’s never coming back.”
“Thank God! She was insufferable”
Captain looked back at Emem and found her gone. The wind outside had stopped blowing and the curtains stood deathly still.
“What should be done to Kentoro?” Judith asked.
“Nothing yet, because he doesn’t stand alone. Many are my enemies, Judith; those who hate me without reason are numerous but I’m not afraid of them. Like a lion, I will lie in wait, no matter how long. But I will get them. We will get them.”
“Are you going to die?”
Captain could now pick out Leonel’s full form and the caustic expression on his face as he remained standing at the foot of the bed, his tall frame imposing over the narrow hospital bed.
“Because if you’re planning to die, I’d advise that you hold it off until you see my child who is still on the way. And while we’re yet on the subject, I’m in love. Not that I expect you to know what that means.”
“I once had a heart, you know,” Captain replied.
“And you went and killed it with booze and cigarettes.”
“I know about your girlfriend, Leonel, and I am happy for you.”
“Then stay around a little while and christen our baby in the family tradition, then you can croak after that.”
Captain laughed silently at the son who shared a painful secret with him; the only one he referred to as the son of his loins. Underneath the collar of his shirt, Captain saw glistening, Emem’s gold rosary. Leonel had kept it all these years.
“So, please do away with the smoking and alcohol…” Leonel continued.
“But I exercise,” Captain stated.
“It’s not enough,” his doctor countered, writing something in his chart.
“Just…please, don’t die yet,” Leonel added in a playful tone but his words carried deep emotion. He gave Captain a tight squeeze on one of his feet, gave a hug to Judith and left the hospital room. The doctor and nurse stayed a while longer and after concluding with their observations, they also left.
“The worst is over, so I’ll be leaving immediately,” Judith said. Captain invited her to him with a ‘come hither’ of his forefinger. She walked to him, bent over and kissed his lips gently whilst holding his hand. As she turned to leave, he held her back.
She looked at him.
“I don’t want anything as little as a tummy ache to catch Chioma. I can see the blood in your eyes.”
“This same woman was the one who sold you out to the people that almost killed you!” Judith spurted out angrily. “This same woman! And now she appears in your life after twenty eight years and you almost die – again?!”
“Do not touch her, Ju,” Captain repeated firmly.
“I cannot guarantee–”
“I said don’t do anything to her.” He squeezed Judith’s hand in his strongly but she yanked it away and walked to the door.
“Judith?” he called tiredly but she was gone. He breathed out heavily and let his eyes survey the room and it was then he saw her. Emem was kneeling exactly where Leonel had stood, her lips moving in silent prayer as she clutched the same gold rosary Leonel had around his neck. Captain could hear every word she was whispering. It was ironic that while she was alive, she was a mute and communicated with her fingers alone. Now she was made perfect in his eyes. Her voice like a bubbling brook prayed for him fervently and he slowly closed his eyes and went into slumber.
* * * * * * * * *
In her usual manner, Desire was smoking a cigarette. She had let down the windows of her SUV and sat in, listening to music from the radio. Also in her hand was a bottle of mineral water which she consumed sparingly. She was parked across the street from Tade’s Bar, a sleazy place that was run by a sleazier man who was bent on consuming every bottle of beer that came his way. It was a wonder that he had not run out of business, but thanks to people like Tony, Moses and Richie who constantly frequented the place, he was still flourishing.
Desire sat and watched the three friends now as they drank to their heart’s satisfaction, all of them wearing faces of grief, sitting outside the bar under a worn out canopy. Absent was the loud banter that usually accompanied their gatherings. All three guys and Sefia were in silence. Hamza was not with them.
Desire took a sip of her mineral water and continued watching them. She was willing to wait for as long as they remained at the bar. One of them was going to die that night—a soul for Hamza’s—and they would continue to go until she finished every one of them. Killing them would give her immense pleasure, for it will ruin Sefia’s assignment, putting her in deep trouble with Captain. If Tony, for instance, ended up dead that night, he died with the information Captain was looking for and that was going to bring Sefia’s mission to an end. Desire knew Hamza was not dead; she hadn’t tried his line in the past two hours but she sensed strongly that he was alive somewhere, yet it did not stop her from doggedly pursuing her mission. And that was to see Sefia ruined.
She lit another cigarette and coughed at the first intake of smoke. Her eyes watered and she squeezed them and concentrated on the party of four outside Tade’s bar. She saw Richie rise from the table. He staggered slowly, trying to keep his balance. He shook himself and stood straight as he shook hands with everyone left at the table. He picked his phone and car key and began to make it across the street to the line of cars parked illegally on a straight line.
Desire started her engine but kept her headlamps off. Having parked on an adjoining street, she could still see all of Tade’s Bar from her position. As fate would plan it, Richie’s car was parked just at the T-junction where both streets connected. Desire waited like a predator, counting every tottering step he took as he moved from Tade’s to his car; then when she felt it was time, she locked in her seatbelt, let up her windows, revved up her engine and drove towards him like a bat right out of hell. Richie did not see his death coming as she rammed hard into him and his car. There was a deafening crash and a loud racket of sirens as metal collided with metal and human flesh.
Desire’s head hung over her inflated airbag but she was not yet done. In her hand was a jackknife which she employed in deflating the airbag as she put the jeep in reverse. She spared a tiny second to look in Sefia’s direction and almost laughed when she saw her expression of raw shock as she stood frozen with her hands holding the sides of her face. Having now gone a short distance, Desire changed gears and with almost the same speed as the former, she crashed into Richie again who was presently meshed with his contorted car. Distantly Desire heard the screams of people and knew it was only a matter of seconds before they descended on her. She reversed the jeep and made a turn at the street opposite Tade’s Bar, driving away into the night with the sound of loud music in her ears.