Lanre heard them arguing again. It was the fourth time in three days and they were going at it heatedly. He yawned. He was tired and the meal he just had was getting him lazier. Standing over Kyenpia’s kitchen sink with the tap running and the dishes clanking against each other noisily, he could still hear their raised voices from Kyenpia’s bedroom. The argument was over Kyenpia’s accommodation. Ishi wanted her in a more comfortable place since she was two months gone in her pregnancy but she was insisting that her one-bedroom apartment was okay for her. Lanre supported Ishi on the matter but he didn’t understand why Ishi pressed so hard when the father of Kyenpia’s baby, Leonel, made no move to relocate her to one of his homes on the Island.
Everyone knew about Ishi’s intense love for Kyenpia but Lanre felt Ishi was crossing a dangerous line with her when it came to the pregnancy. Leonel was his cousin and also a long-time rival. If he discovered Ishi still held interest in his woman it was going to cause a family feud and a really bad one. Both cousins had not been in speaking terms for over fifteen years.
Lanre rinsed the last dish in the sink and left it to dry on a rack. He had offered his culinary services to Kyenpia for the week because of her condition. The pregnancy was a difficult one, plaguing her with the mother of all morning sicknesses. Leonel was too busy to constantly be with her and Lanre took it upon himself to be there as much as he could. Kyenpia had taken the place of his younger sister who was murdered in a fire along with his mother eleven years ago. He had been inconsolable then and no one had been able to reach him but Kyenpia did when they met years after. Like Ishi, it was a gift of hers to speak to bleeding hearts and restore them. She became Lanre’s balm and he became the family she always wanted.
“Lanre, I dey go downstairs.” Ishi popped into the kitchen. Lanre pretended he didn’t hear the last part of their argument and how badly it ended.
“Talk to her. She has to move,” Ishi said in a whisper and left. Lanre turned off the tap and dried his hands on a towel.
For an entire week, happenings played silently on his radar but they were mere phantoms. With the exception of Ezra Rahman’s wife’s death, nothing was worth his attention. The news reported the woman was killed by hired assassins who claimed they were sent by Ezra’s enemies. Lanre hadn’t known what to make of the information initially but when his team embarked on investigations and odd, ill-assorted pieces began to pop up, he knew the murder of the woman was one for the media. He wasn’t surprised when each day brought with it a new reveal of the wonderful humanitarian she was before she was brutally murdered. Someone was doing everything to make the nation fall deeper for Ezra and hate the only known enemies he had—the government. The ill-assorted pieces still remained awkwardly distributed in the big picture but Lanre fit them all perfectly together and things were beginning to make sense.
He walked into Kyenpia’s bedroom.
“Tell Ishi to stop fussing.” Kyenpia was flipping through the channels on her television rapidly. “I’m fine and can handle myself here. I don’t need one more person worrying about me. Leo is doing that well already. He’s not even talking to me now because I said I’m not moving. He wants me to be going around with a driver and having a housemaid and not doing any work until after the baby is born. And I told him, ‘dude, just because I’m carrying your child doesn’t mean you call the shots! It’s half my baby too.’ My life is simple and I love it! I go downstairs to work and come upstairs to eat and sleep! Gbam! My baby should know that not everybody is stinking rich!”
Lanre knew Kyenpia’s rant was to hide what was really eating her. With her, he also pretended he had not heard the final part of her argument with Ishi. He rubbed her cheek tenderly. “Calm down, Kay.”
She smiled tiredly.
“I have to run,” he told her.
She nodded and gave him a hug as he opened the door.
* * * * * *
Ishi sat in his car in silence. The temperature was unpleasant and he could feel his skin perspiring underneath his t-shirt but the heat was the least of his problems. He heard the alien sound of his own body moving as he rested his head on the steering wheel. His heartbeat was loud but not as much as the thoughts that jarred themselves up in his head. He couldn’t remember the last time he had been so confused and so sad at the same time. It seemed some unseen power chose that day to rain sadness on him.
But hadn’t he sensed it from the moment he woke up and found it really hard to keep a straight thought during his morning devotion? Hadn’t he felt it in his spirit as he went about his office duties? Didn’t that familiar voice in his head keep telling him to stop for a moment and pray?
But what would the prayer have done to Doctor B’s corpse that was rotting in the earth somewhere? Even if God appeared and Ishi had asked for one miracle, would he ask to raise the dead from the grave or would he request that time be reversed and he be born in a different family other than the Igwes?
His name was Ishi Eresoyen Andrews. A name his grandfather disapproved of. But it was the name he had chosen to be known by. From an early age, he felt the Igwe name was a curse. People expected more from him as an Igwe; others called him a thief and a murderer to his face because of the rumors they heard about his family, and of course there were the obvious ones that wanted to be around him just because of his wealth. Hence, when he became of age, he adopted his grandmother’s maiden name, being the only one amongst his siblings to follow in his father’s ways of hiding his real identity. But with time, the Eresoyen name became prominent due to his father’s renowned work in medicine.
Ishi also made a reputation for himself in his job as a youth pastor and humanitarian. It was difficult trying to keep a low profile but he did his best and stayed away as much as he could, from his extended family’s constant drama. And yet they had found some way to draw him in.
This time they came with hell and painful revelations. Ishi wasn’t sure he was going to revive from all that he was just told by his grandfather.
He moved away from the steering wheel and pushed his seat back to rest his legs comfortably. The parking lot of his grandfather’s famous villa was not exactly a place to ponder over issues but Ishi discovered that he could hardly move his muscles, let alone drive. He was drained of will.
With the exception of the nagging voice in his head that kicked off his day and predicted that things were going to go bad, nothing else in his daily routine that morning had indicated bad news was awaiting him. But the moment he and Lanre climbed the flight of stairs that led up to Kyenpia’s room, his bliss of ignorance ended.
Kyenpia was changing out of her office clothes when they walked into her apartment. She finished undressing in the bathroom and when she emerged, she was wearing something freer. Ishi commented on how beautiful she seemed to be getting by the day and she smiled back. He saw something odd in the smile but he banished it to the place he had dumped the nagging voice in his head.
While Lanre cooked, Ishi stretched out comfortably on a loveseat and talked about a few random things with Kyenpia. She had an easy personality and a witty tongue. Her smile was always from the heart and even when she tried to hide it, it reflected in her eyes. She was drop-dead gorgeous with a creamy, chocolate-colored skin tone; then there was the long, lustrous African hair that fell down to her shoulders that Ishi was always tempted to run his fingers through. Kyenpia was a dream to Ishi, one that he never wanted to wake up from.
Lanre served them a meal of boiled yam and vegetable stew and they ate while watching some random Chinese movie on TV. After the meal, Lanre walked to the kitchen and Ishi turned to Kyenpia.
“How is the baby?” he had asked and the odd look he saw before returned to her eyes. She replied that the baby was doing well and he brought up the issue of her accommodation. It sparked up a heated argument between them but Ishi let it go in the end and they sat, watching a reality show while they both cooled off.
“Ishi, I have something to tell you.” Kyenpia put aside her half-consumed food and sat up. Ishi looked for signs on her that could make him predict what she was about to reveal but he saw nothing.
“The baby might not be yours.” Her voice was steady and held no hesitation at the edges. It was a typical Kyenpia reveal; she didn’t know how to get unnecessarily thespian with issues.
“Come on, Kay. That’s my baby in there.” Ishi said with calm. She had to be kidding. She was carrying his child.
An agreement between them on a rainy evening two months ago had sealed their fates together. It had always been his desire to have her get pregnant for him through the normal means but destiny chose something different for them. Kyenpia’s ovaries were taken out to ensure she stayed free from a looming life of ovarian cancer. Afterwards her eggs were kept frozen for the future but Kyenpia feared her health was hanging by a rope. She wanted a child out of wedlock and Ishi offered to give her one. The only obstacle between them and that dream was Ishi’s rival, Leonel. By right he was supposed to be Kyenpia’s sperm donor but Ishi had pleaded for a chance to be part of her life. His reasons were basically selfish, although there was also an underlying fear of the type of world Kyenpia was getting into with Leonel. Ishi knew what it meant to be an Igwe woman and he didn’t want that for Kyenpia.
“Leo also thinks the baby is his,” Kyenpia mentioned and again it was done in an unruffled manner.
“That was the whole idea, Kay.” Ishi rose to a sitting position. “Leo is not supposed to know that I am the father of the baby until you feel it is right to let him know.”
“Yes, it seemed like a good idea then but Ishi, I thought about what it could all mean and I just couldn’t treat Leo like that, so I had both your sperm samples labelled as X’s at the lab and one of them was chosen for the whole IVF thing.”
“So…you could be carrying Leo’s baby?”
Kyenpia nodded. “I’m sorry.”
“Kay, this is utter betrayal.”
“But I didn’t want to betray Leo too. I just couldn’t see myself lying to him. You wanted me to lie to him.”
Ishi didn’t deny her statement. It wasn’t one of his proudest decisions to put her in a position where she had to be deceitful to her boyfriend and he constantly asked God to forgive him for it but it had been just that one shot he had with her.
“Kay, the only reason I put you in that position is because I know him and I know you. One of you will get tired and walk out soon. Is that what you want for your child? Besides, Leo cannot keep to one woman. It is in his DNA!”
“Last I checked, you two share the same blood.”
“I am different, Kay. And I’m not judging Leo but I know what he can do and I don’t want you to get caught in his constant state of instability. It’s not for you. You deserve more.”
Kyenpia’s lips lifted in an uneven smile. “I know you love God, Ishi, and you’ve done well to live a godly life but in the end, it all boils down to the blood that runs through your veins, the blood you’re denying. And with everything you just told me, I realize you’re in deep denial about who you really are and it will never change the fact that you’re still an Igwe.”
Ishi’s face had turned to stone at her last statement but she was not yet done with him.
“And you’re wrong about Leo and I. We have something strong. I love him.”
Her last line stabbed Ishi straight in the heart with one brutal jab and he watched as ten years of loving Kyenpia was made to nothing right before his eyes. He had always counted on her cold nature when it came to matters of the heart to keep her away from other men until a time when she got tired and realized he was still waiting on the line. For years he watched the men in her life come and go; each one who tried to love her was done away with in an instant. She had no heart to accommodate another’s. She possessed a brain where most women kept their hearts and private parts. And on that, he had banked his future and emotions…
Ishi was beginning to get uneasy with the heat in his car. He turned the car key in the ignition and let his windows down. The air outside was erratically breezy, blowing cool air one minute and turning still the next. It was 7:33pm. The sun had finally set and the blinding security light in the villa’s parking lot went on. It was Ishi’s cue to drive home but he still felt heaviness bearing down on him, leaving him with weariness. He thought of going to a hotel and staying there for a while, abandoning his life for a short time.
That is the only way you can escape the trouble that awaits you.
“Trouble. Deep trouble,” was how his grandfather, Igwe had put it. “That is what you have in your hands, Dozie.”
Ishi wasn’t crazy about the name Igwe loved calling him. Andrews was his name at birth. Ishi was the name of the Japanese doctor who helped his mother birth him; the name his mother insisted they called him. Chiedozie was what his grandfather named him. It was prophetic. He was to heal and repair broken souls. Still, Ishi did not like the name. And he hadn’t liked what the old man was telling him while they sat in his private sitting room at the villa, together with Lanre and two other members of the family.
As Igwe was carrying on, Ishi was craving for a moment alone. He had just heard about the death of his friend and mentor, Doctor B, and also just found out about Lanre’s other secret life as a security agent. The information was too much for him to take in all at once but Igwe felt he had to hear more, and that it was unwise keeping further truth from him. The Blackberry Bold 1 Lanre had intercepted was brought out, replete with a functioning battery and a keypad and it was handed to Ishi.
“There’s a video there, a recording he left for you…”
“Seen it,” Ishi said.
And there came absolute silence from the other four people in the room while he watched the video. When he was done, his face held bewilderment. He demanded explanation for what he just saw and he got one too many secrets flying into his ears all at once. He caught words like army, murder, fraud, billions, government, coup, Captain, Cabal…
He slowly got to his feet as the people in the sitting room kept talking, each person piecing a big puzzle from their own tale. The moment they were done, he began a dawdling laughter that had no mirth in it. They all watched him in silence and the laughter died on its own.
“I think I’m going crazy, Gramps,” he addressed Igwe. “The Cabal does not exist. It’s just a silly story about this group of dangerous men in the government that murder people and steal funds.” He took his eyes away from Igwe and looked into the eyes of the others. “Come on, there’s no such thing as the Cabal. And you’re saying it’s run by Captain? My uncle? Your father, David?”
David was sitting on a long couch with Lanre, his hand caressing a glass of cold beer. He leaned forward to answer Ishi’s question.
“Ishi no take wetin we just tell you as play. We’re dead serious, chairman. That video you just watched was no joke.”
Igwe spoke next. “The Cabal has been planning a coup for over ten years with a private army of trained men and women, a shitload of money in their possession, secret backing from countries with interests in Nigeria, a complete cabinet that will take over from all the principal government officials, and finally a man ready to climb the seat of power the moment they have fully subdued every last person that is against them.”
“The plan is simple,” David continued. “Build chaos in the nation and make the leaders of no use. Then come right around to save it and establish a new order.”
Ishi took out his glasses, peered into them thoughtfully and put them back.
“Wow. That’s… I never believed that the Cabal really existed.”
“So you’d rather believe that all you’ve heard about Captain and his group of friends are just rumors?” Jacan asked. He was the final person in the room; Igwe’s son and Captain’s younger brother. He once worked for the Cabal but deflected when he turned to God. He was able to save his neck only because he was related to Captain. Presently he worked at The Refuge and constantly travelled around with Ishi doing missionary work.
“I don’t know what to believe but a coup? Do you guys know what it means to plan and execute a coup, even in the smallest country?”
Jacan breathed deeply and looked at Ishi. “When I was with the Cabal, we were trained like soldiers and were always told that one day we would fight for and defend the new Nigeria. Every person who died by our hands, we believed, was dying for the good of the country.”
“Pastor Jay, you were in the Cabal?”
“For twenty-two years. And I killed for Captain and his dream of a new Nigeria. He and his Cabal have eaten deep into every sector of government, and almost all private industries pay some kind of tax to him without even knowing it. Drugs, fraud, all types of crimes have his name spelled on them. He has taken his entire life, his blood and soul, and systematically invaded each system that runs this country. The Cabal was created for just one moment alone and before the end of next year, we will all see it.”
“Wow.” Ishi wore his glasses and leaned on the headrest of a single couch before him. “What was Doctor B’s business with all of this? How did he find out? Because from what I know, he always told me how much he hated Captain.”
“He must have been lying to you,” Igwe replied. “I adopted Benjamin and his sister as little children. I raised both of them on these grounds.” Igwe turned up his volume for emphasis. “At that time this villa was just a house and an orphanage and also a garrison for the 82nd division… Ben and Luke were quite close then. Even when I sent Luke outside the country to school, I made sure Ben went along. Nobody had Ben’s brains, it was said. He was always ahead of his teachers. Some students got into a fight once, and one had a deep cut on his arm and didn’t want to report it to the school authorities; Ben treated him and from then on, he was called Doctor B. B stands for brains, not Benjamin. But he and Luke were close even after they went separate ways.”
“In 2002, they reunited,” Lanre took over. “Captain needed someone from family whom he could trust with storing sensitive information for him, someone who could also help him transition his numerous businesses into the modern age and Doctor B fit the bill. Doctor B also held undisclosed personal data of everyone in the Cabal—every phony business transaction, every inconsequential bit of news that does not hit the media, every murder, incriminating text messages, personal files and folders—anything that could bring them down. So you can imagine what type of info Captain has on top government officials and how he is going to liberally use it when the time is right.”
“And Doctor B claims all that information is in my hands now?” Ishi asked.
“Yes,” answered Igwe. “He says he left it all in the planes and stars.”
“Gramps, Doctor B is…was your son. So you should know how crazy he was. Sometimes he was too much for me to handle. What on earth does he mean by stars and planes? Did he leave something at the airport? Is it a book with that title? What is it?”
“He says you know.”
“I don’t know!” Ishi threw his hands up in frustration. “Believe me, I don’t!”
“I believe you, Dozie. But you have to do everything to get that information to us because you are sitting on a time bomb. And that was what I meant earlier when I said you have trouble in your hands. He left a puzzle for you to unravel because of security reasons but there is no time. You have to use your brain to figure it out.”
“Make una help me see trouble. I don’t know what planes and stars that crazy man is talking about”
“Dozie?” Igwe chided.
“Forgive my language. May his soul rest in peace but I’m too confused to even understand anything I just heard now. My head dey hot, abeg. I wan go house.”
And having said those words, Ishi called it a night and walked out of the meeting. With each step he took towards the parking lot, he felt his heart being pounded to the ground. By the time he got into his car, his body was all water and he was destabilized. He bled for Doctor B’s passing, he mourned the loss of his freedom from his family, he struggled with the agony of a love lost and a broken heart and he crumbled under the burden of having in his possession a collection of the veiled secrets of men’s lives that could kill him and any other person who came across it.
Someone stood by his door and he turned in the direction of the person. It was David and for a second, Ishi thought he was staring at Leonel.
“How are you holding up?” David asked and Ishi shrugged. “Chairman, go home and rest abeg. You need am.”
David walked off and Ishi could hear the sound of a car leaving the area. He started his own car and turned on his CD player. Rush of Fools was a peaceful distraction from the tumult that stubbornly held his anguished core. He eased the car out of the parking lot in a lazy pace and headed home.