Four weeks ago
It was already 10:13am by the time Rhoda arrived at the Megacare Hospital in Asaba. Finding her way to her mother-in-law’s hospital room had proved somewhat difficult because there was no one at the reception to point her to the right direction and she wanted to be home before Odafe returned from work. It had taken her almost an hour via flight to get from Lagos to Asaba, about fifteen minutes to find a cab to the hospital and then there was this bloody traffic on the highway, she cursed as she stopped once again to read the directions to the emergency ward. I have to be home before 7:00pm, she insisted increasing her strides down the hall.
Frankly, she was scared and extremely anxious about her meeting with her mother-in-law. When she had received the message insisting she came for the visit without her husband, several demeaning thoughts had crossed her mind because she knew for a fact that her husband’s family didn’t like her especially her mother-in-law. Rhoda could never forget the night she had first met with Odafe’s parents, that was immediately after their arrival from London. As soon as she had stretched her arms out for a hug, her mother-in-law’s face had molded into a scowl. It was like the air had suddenly been sucked out of the room. That had been one of the most humiliating times of her life, Rhoda admitted. She could never figure out what she could have done to deserve such coldness. Her mother-in-law that night had swept a quick gaze at her and told Odafe there and then that she was never going to approve of their marriage and so the battle had begun.
Nothing had been the same ever since; it was always one fuss or the other. Her husband’s parents had even threatened her life but when she wouldn’t listen. They even took the extreme road and made Odafe suffer for it by repudiating him. Rhoda shook her head sadly as she glanced around the emergency ward in search of her mother-in-law’s room. Stopping at the door, she wondered warily; wasn’t she making a mistake coming,alone? Odafe wouldn’t have allowed her come by herself but he doesn’t know she is very ill, her conscience pleaded. The message she had received had informed her about her mother-in-law’s health conditions and also insisted that the news be kept secret from her husband. So probably she just wants forgiveness, her conscience insisted. The woman was ill and dying, so maybe I should be the bigger person by giving her an opportunity to seek eternal rest; she finally decided as she grinned at the nurse that had suddenly appeared from the door and then walked into the room.
The room was elaborately built to contain three or more beds but there was only one bed at the middle with huge tracking monitors by both sides, all connected to various part of Onajite’s body except her chest. The paralysis must have taken over the left part of her body because the amount of wires connected there were too numerous to count. Beside the monitors was a big table containing various flowers and get-well soon cards. Despite the fragrances proffered by the flowers, the room still stunk of antiseptics and wetness. At the other side of the bed close to the wall was a huge closet and beside it was a shelf containing a basket of fruits, a tall water flask and boxes of cereals. Rhoda could also see something that looked like a tube connected from the bed to a big can identical to a trash can.
Rhoda heard a whisper as she moved closer to the bed to find her mother in law Onajite, lying face up.
“You came” her mother-in-law whispered again as she paused to breathe in more oxygen from the oxygen mask placed on her nose and mouth.
“Yes ma” Rhoda answered as she drew a chair closer to the bed and sat.
“Thank you so much for coming” Onajite continued much slower now than she had first begun.
“No problem ma. Although, since I am to keep this visit a secret from my husband, I have to be back in Lagos before he returns from work” Rhoda explained taking her mother-in-law’s hand in hers. She already had her return tickets, so the sooner they were done, the sooner she would be back in Lagos.
“Ok. I will not take much of your time and please, you have to promise me that you will not tell him about this visit or the fact that I am ill” Onajite insisted, her eyes moist with tears.
“I will not ma. I promise” Rhoda answered squeezing her almost lifeless hands.
“Good, because what I am about to tell you should stay between us. Although if you decide to do otherwise, I will call my son and tell him myself” Onajite instructed her face suddenly fixed intently.
“I’m sorry ma. I don’t follow” Rhoda answered shifting her seat closer so she could hear the faint voice of her mother-in-law.
“I am saying I want you to sign some annulment papers which will nullify your marriage to my son” Onajite answered.
Rhoda rolled her eyes. And I thought she called me out here to ask for forgiveness.
“And why would I do that ma?” Rhoda asked amused that even at the brink of death, her mother-in-law was still as stubborn as a bat.
“Because if you do not do that now before you head back to Lagos, I will call my son up and tell him about that dirty little secret you thought you have concealed so well. You thought I will never find out? I may be ill Rhoda but I have people working for me” Onajite threatened. Rhoda could see her weak smirk beneath the oxygen mask and frowned. What the hell is she talking about now?
“Ma, I don’t know what you are talking about. I thought you called me here to apologize for all the wrongs you’ve done or to tell me that my husband can now return to his family because he may be angry, Ma, but he still loves all of you” Rhoda said disappointed, as she rose and picked up her bag and then, she began to head towards the door. This was a waste of time. But just as she was about to open the door, she heard a chuckling sound and halted. Spinning around she saw her mother-in-law laughing with great difficulty, the oxygen mask dancing on her face.
“You think I do not know about the ridiculous porn video that was shot with you sleeping with a horse, or was it a dog?” Onajite asked chuckling harder.
Rhoda’s mouth dropped open. No, no, no, no!
“See Rhoda, it may have taken me time to dig up such a rubbish detail about you but just so you know, I already have a copy of it safely with someone. All I need to do is call him up and instruct him to send it down to Lagos or Odafe could come down to see for himself….sign the documents Rhoda” Onajite continued, her voice shaking with contempt.
Rhoda wanted to scream. No! God no!!This cannot be happening to me!
“Ma, please I beg you. I cannot leave Odafe. I love him. I truly love him, don’t do this to us.” Rhoda began to plead as she dropped to her knees and crawled over to the bed. She could no longer hold her tears as they began to stream down her face.
“Keep your pleas to yourself Rhoda. If they could stop the ocean from flowing, they would have by now. I do not care about your stupid affection for my son. For five years, you have kept him away from his family. Odafe was a good boy before he met you but look at what you have turned him into. Moreover, I cannot even believe my son is feeding from hands to mouth because of you. You are the biggest mistake he has ever made in his life. Sleeping with a goat, Rhoda? I will rather die than see you remain married to my son. The papers are over there on the table Rhoda, sign them and be gone. Leave my son alone and go back to your promiscuous life….”
“Ma please I beg you. I have no one, no one to go back to. Odafe is all I have. It was a mistake. A very stupid mistake! Please don’t do this to us!” Rhoda pleaded as she got up and stood over Onajite’s bed, her tears falling on the blue overall gown Onajite was wearing. “Ma, please I’m carrying his child”
Onajite began to chuckle again. Her breathe ceasing in gasps. Slowly, she calmed herself. “I honestly doubt if that is even his child. Are you sure it isn’t a goat or a horse that is growing in there? Listen to me Rhoda, I do not care about whatever abomination you have inside of you. You can do whatever you like with it as soon as you are out of my son’s life…you hear me?”
“Ma, please! I beg you in the name of God. Please” Rhoda begged, her voice fading in sobs. She could feel her head spinning now as she wiped her nose, the tears rolling down uncontrollably down her face.
“You are never going to remain married to my son Rhoda or give birth to an abomination for him. God forbid it…..that will be over my dead body Rhoda. Over my dead body!” Onajite yelled but her voice only came out as a whisper but Rhoda could hear the contempt in them, the bitterness, the malice and the hatred and suddenly, she realized she was fed up of it all. She stopped crying and turned to her mother-in-law, a smirk on her lips.
“Ma, did you say over your dead body?” Rhoda asked as a wicked thought crossed her mind. She could hear her conscience begging her to rid herself of such thoughts but it was too late, she wouldn’t listen. All she could see now was the indescribable hate in her mother-in-law’s eyes. The memories of all the pain she had passed through and the thought of losing her husband, her marriage…all of it came flooding in. Rhoda pulled away the oxygen mask and picked up the pillow beside her.
She could now see the sudden look of horror in her mother-in-law’s eyes as she realized what she was about to do and began to plead for her life.
“Rhoda, please don’t do this” Onajite pleaded as the horror in eyes grew. All the hate replaced with fear.
Good good! Like you said ma,‘over your dead body’. Ignoring her pleas, Rhoda threw the pillow over her face and pressed. It didn’t take long for her to stop pothering and then her face became white. Satisfied, Rhoda removed the pillow and set it back on the bed. Putting back the oxygen mask, she picked up her bag, walked over to the table and picked up the documents lying on it. Putting it into her bag, she walked out of the room her face stolid of any emotion.
“Are you done?” someone called out beside her by the corridor. It was the nurse she had seen before waving her over to a desk Rhoda hadn’t noticed was there earlier at the passage way.
“Ah yes. Thank you. She is resting now” Rhoda answered walking towards her.
“Great. Please come and sign here to log out. The receptionist at the entrance door said she didn’t see you come in” the nurse explained throwing open a ledger.
“True. I saw no one there so I had to follow the clues I saw on the walls and tags. Ehemm…can I get water please while I’m signing this?” Rhoda asked feigning up a thirsty face as she picked up a pen and looked down at the book.
“Sure” the nurse replied getting up from her seat and then, she walked into an office opposite the hallway. Seeing an opportunity…Rhoda ran out of the emergency ward.
The DVD-R came to a stop and the room suddenly became quiet except for Omotore who was sniggering behind the chair Ojako was seated on. Captain Efetobo had emptied his glass before and was now refilling it, his face blank. Odafe was on his feet, his arms crossed over his chest. He didn’t know what to say and certainly didn’t want to believe what he had just watched his mother admit to on video or the blank expression on his father’s face. He could feel the tears stinging in his eyes but he fought them back. Across the room he could see that his wife Rhoda had suddenly become dumfounded, her face crowded with overwhelming emotions. She looked like she was about to explode.
“It’s not true. It cannot be true” Odafe finally spoke breaking the silence.
No one made a move to answer.
“That DVD-R must have been fabricated, it had to be” Odafe insisted still too stunned to believe anything. There had to be another explanation, he pleaded with his conscience.
Rhoda said nothing. She remained motionless on the chair, her eyes focused on the shelf opposite her.
Bridget cleared her throat “I’m afraid it is true Dafe. I was there when she was born. I pulled her out myself. She has a big birthmark on her right palm. That was how your mother knew”.
“No! No! No! It cannot be. Please tell me it’s a lie” Odafe cried out in panic realizing how true the statement was- his wife really did have a birthmark on her right palm. He couldn’t hold the tears any longer. They had come falling down his face as he turned to his father for an explanation, some reassurance that all of this was a hoax.
“Don’t look at me” Captain Efetobo mocked. “I warned you. Your mother warned you. There was no length we didn’t go to make sure you didn’t marry her. In fact, I thought threatening to disown you would make you come to your senses but did it?
“How could you dad? How could you and mum allow me marry my own sister. Why didn’t any of you tell me…why couldn’t you tell me she was my sister?” Odafe cried out ignoring his father’s question as a sense of bitterness flooded over him. This time he wasn’t sure his heart could take any more of it. He had committed an abomination and his parents had allowed it happen. He slumped into the chair and from the corner of his eyes he could see Rhoda wailing now, her voice lost in groans.
“Dad, Yes! Why didn’t you? Why couldn’t any of you say something?” Ejaife asked looking from his brother’s distraught face to his father’s. He could also see his sister trying to suppress her laughter and he knew if he wasn’t careful, he could as well burst into his own. But the truth must be told today. There was more to the story. There had to be, otherwise why was it so difficult for his parents to simply admit that Rhoda was their step sister? Something else must have happened to make them conceal such a simple fact. If there was anything he knew, it was the fact that as soon as the cats were out of the bag, he would get what he wanted….and he just couldn’t wait. There were too many secrets in this house enough to throw any man off the bridge.
“Because he wasn’t the father” Bridget answered and Captain Efetobo shot her a cold stare. Yes, there is that, but the real reason was because I killed her father; one secret can lead to another…He wanted to say.
Rhoda’s wail increased to a loud growl. Omotore putting aside her amusement moved to her and began to console her but her consolation didn’t seem to be doing any good. Rhoda just kept on wailing and wailing. And I thought I was the only insane person in this house, she thought as she effortlessly tried to calm Rhoda down. So mum wasn’t a saint after all, not even our golden boy, Odafe…
“Efe, there is something else you need to know” Bridget announced rising to her feet as she looked from Omotore to Ojako, who had been watching the scene in silence lost in his own thoughts. He couldn’t believe this was how screwed up things had become. As a matter of fact he couldn’t wrap his head around the fact that his sister kept such a big secret. Yes, he knew Onajite was great at keeping secrets, he just didn’t know they were these big. Humongous in fact! …how did this happen? How did it? How could Onajite be so stupid enough to let her son marry his own sister? And he thought he was the stupid one screwing his niece? But at least he wasn’t going to marry her or have a child with her.
Ojako threw his hands over his head as he suddenly realized something. He had learned during the wake that the little girl Delilah, Omotore’s daughter was four years old- her birthday 11th October 2009-which meant she was conceived nine months before then, the exact time he was convicted of rape and sent to prison. Three days before that, he had spent the night with Omotore and his condom had broken but she had assured him that she was on her pills. Ojako’s face folded into a panic as he glared at Omotore in despair clueless to the fact that everyone else in the room was looking from him to Omotore in disbelief. Captain Efetobo took his glass cup and threw it across the room, few inches away from his head; the cup smashed against the wall; that was when he realized what was happening….
“How could you?!” Captain Efetobo was now in front of him before he could blink and then there was a punch on his face and then another. Ejaife jumped to his feet and threw himself between his father and uncle.
Odafe shook his head. How more screwed up could his family be? He wondered bewilderedly as he covered his face and wept.
“How could you Ojako, sleeping with your own niece…my daughter?” Captain Efetobo spat out struggling to throw more punches into the man’s face. “What kind of a fool are you?”
Omotore was now on her feet, surprised at her father’s sudden outburst. “Dad, it wasn’t his fault, leave him alone….” She yelled watching helplessly as her father struggled to push Ejaife aside so he could continue his brawl.
“If you must all know…I seduced him, ok? Delilah is even his child” Omotore continued yelling at the top of her voice.
The room went cold and everyone’s jaw fell opened.
“What? Captain Efetobo exclaimed…staggering away from Ejaife and Ojako as if the news had suddenly taken all of his strength.
Odafe decided he had heard enough and began to walk out of the room. Just as he opened the door, he saw the house maid Tina standing by the door with three stern-looking men behind her. They had jackets with the name “NDLEA” on them.
“Please we are here to speak with your father” the sternest of them informed Odafe and he gave way for them to enter. Curious to know why NDLEA officials would be paying them a visit at that time of the night and in the middle of such a family crisis, Odafe lingered.
“Yes? I am he. What do you want?” Captain Efetobo answered resting exhaustively on his table.
“Sir, there is a warrant here for the arrest of your son Ejaife for trafficking illegal drugs and substance including their sales and purchases” the sternest of the three men announced producing a paper from his pocket.
“Arrest?” Ejaife yelled in dismay as he jumped around to take a good look at the man that had been pushed into the room by the other officers. The man’s body was covered in several bruises and fresh blood seemed to be gushing out of his nose. “Acnes” Ejaife recognized him as he felt his breath cut. A handcuff was thrown over his hand as he was being pushed out of the room. He could hear his family, all except Odafe and Rhoda murmuring behind him. His father was yelling at the top of his voice, throwing the warrant paper to the ground and stomping on it. He was calling his guards who had come running into the sitting room to stop the NDLEA officers from taking his son away.
From the corner of his eyes, Ejaife could see that the head of the security was trying to explain to his father that there was nothing they could do. Just as the exit door of their house was knotted open by one of the NDLEA officer, Ejaife heard an unfamiliar voice behind him screaming “Officer! Officer! Officer! It was from another man whose face Ejaife couldn’t recognize and the officer pushing him had stopped to hear what he had to say. Almost as if in a dream, Ejaife watched as this stranger whose face was covered in bruises far bigger and redder than Acnes’s pointed a soiled finger at his father and whispered to his captor,
“Sir that is my boss…the Mystery Customer”
Detective Tega and Detective Sharon pulled to a halt and got out of the car. The bungalow which stood in front of them was simply built and green painted with a cream color around the window sills while the gate was painted black.
“You sure this is the place?’ Det. Tega asked his partner, his eyes still glued to the house.
“Yes it is…at least that’s what the address says” Det. Sharon answered walking towards the house with Det. Tega following behind her. They had to be sure this time, Det. Tega insisted. This was the third house they’ve been in a week and it was always the wrong one, he grumbled. Since they’ve been assigned to this case, they have not come this close.
Tega remembered the day he had been summoned to his boss’s office, thinking he was about to get the promotion he was promised for closing the Cynthia’s case only to be slapped in the face with another case; a more futile one- the murder of Mrs. Onajite Ogheneruno.
“But the press said that the doctor’s report said that she died of ischemic stroke”Det. Tega lamented to his boss.
“One doctor’s report” His boss answered, harrumphing as if to begin some sort of lecture. “The hospital she was admitted wanted to cover up their shame. However, the pathologist who conducted the cremation carried out an autopsy first but the result was mishandled by an I.T student working there. He had mistakenly gathered up the result among his things and taken it home. Fortunately, he found it right before the funeral but the idiot took it to the press first and you know how the press gets about these things especially when it was learnt that she didn’t die of Ischemic attack”
Det. Tega’s eyes grew wider: “She didn’t? But I thought she was admitted in the hospital because of that”
“Yes, she was but she was responding well to her treatment, that was what the last diagnosis said anyway. In that autopsy report, there were however, traces of slow poisons in her blood and tiny traces of anticoagulants too which were slowly decreasing her chances of recovery. Someone or some persons wanted her dead because it seemed like the person or persons weren’t content just poisoning her”.
“No…I don’t think it is the same person because who would be so stupid enough to have poisoned someone and still go back to introduce anticoagulants drugs into her system?”
“Someone who wanted her dead by all means necessary, but those weren’t what killed her” Captain Emmanuel answered his glasses falling down to his nose as he rested back on his chair.
“They weren’t?” Det. Tega asked even more baffled.
“No. She died of lack of oxygen. Someone must have pulled the oxygen mask away from her nose with the intent to kill her because according to the police report, she was found dead with a properly working oxygen mask on her face” Cap. Emmanuel explained throwing the file at him.
“So the person was not content poisoning her or injecting pro-ischemic drugs into her system, he or she was so desperate to want her dead that they went over there to do it themselves?” Det. Tega asked bewildered. Why would anyone want her dead, so badly?
Cap. Emmanuel nodded “or she had so many enemies…very close ones”.
And so they had begun working tirelessly and a suspect was found- Miss Sophia Idehen. She was the nurse on duty, during the time of the murder. She had resigned as soon as the death of the victim was announced and had fled town just before her hospital was apprehended and held accounted for the dead of the victim. Unfortunately, the hospital was acquitted, which had brought them back on the manhunt for this nurse. Fortunately, after three weeks of vigorous search, she was spotted at the airport, about to flee the country. She was questioned and punished, and she eventually confessed to a visit made by some mysterious woman even though there was no record of such a visit. However, she was able to proffer a perfect description of the woman but it took another eye-witness who had seen the same woman fleeing from the hospital that day to authenticate her account and so, this mystery woman became their next suspect.
On the day of the funeral of the said victim, Miss Sophia had called Det. Tega’s phone insisting he turned on the T.V news, which he reluctantly did and she pointed out their other suspect from a group of people seated at the front seat of the church. The woman in question had bowed her head immediately the camera was on her and had used a white handkerchief to shield her face. A little girl dressed in the same black color as this woman’s dress was seated on her thighs playing with some doll. The news caster however made it easy for them by identifying her as the daughter –in-law of their victim, her name-Mrs Rhoda Odafe and with that, Det. Tega had gathered up his things, called Sharon up and they had headed down to the Ogheneruno’s residence but they weren’t in for luck that day. Their new suspect had moved but luckily for them, they were able to get a new address-Lagos.
Sharon hit the bell at the gate several times but no one was answering. Det. Tega pulled open the gate and they walked in. The compound was a small one compared to the one they had seen in Asaba. Knocking at the door, there was no answer but the door was ajar and so they walked in, calling out to the residents of the apartment to reveal themselves but there was no need for that because at the bar, a man was seated with his head bowed over a drink.
“Hello?” Det. Tega called walking briskly towards the bar which was behind the couches. The sitting room was in shambles. The only furniture that hadn’t been broken was the sofas. Even the appliances and whatever that was destructible had touched the ground and they were all now in so many pieces.
“Hello?” Det. Tega called out again this time gesturing his partner Sharon to go to the other side of the room incase their culprit decided to flee.
“What? What do you want?” The man answered his voice still as low as the small liquid left in his bottle.
“Ehemm….are you the owner of this house?” Det. Tega asked squatting down to push aside a broken stool from his way.
“I am….so?” the man asked raising his head and Det. Tega recognized him to be the husband of their prime suspect.
“You are Odafe right? Odafe Ogheneruno?” Det. Tega asked, now standing in front of the bar watching the man carefully as he drank hot liquid from his glass, and bowed his head again.
“What do you want?” Odafe asked his voice as cold as the ice in his cup “I said you could take whatever you want and leave, didn’t I?” Odafe asked pouring the last pinch of his wine into the glass cup.
Det. Tega’s face scowled in confusion. From the corner of his eyes, he could see his partner mouthing that their culprit was drunk. Of course I know he is drunk, he wanted to say but instead he turned abruptly to the man in front of him and asked.
“Where is your wife, Mrs. Rhoda? We have a warrant here for her arrest, where is she?” Det. Tega asked losing his patience.
“Arrest? What for?” Odafe asked rising up his head to meet his eyes.
“For the death of your mother” Det. Tega answered suddenly feeling sympathetic but instead Odafe burst into laughter….
“Why are you laughing?” Det. Tega asked offended.
“Well, whoever you are…you are too late…you should have told me earlier, then I would have stopped her from taking her life so that you could arrest her…” Odafe answered smirking “You want Rhoda? Check the bathtub….I’m sure she is waiting for you”