Leonel stood before the entrance door of Igwe’s plain-looking quarters and allowed a soldier frisk him before he was let in through a glass door into a small anteroom.
His uncle, Maxwell, who was Igwe’s bodyguard and personal aide, raised a hand to stop him as he neared a door leading to Igwe’s sitting room.
“His Excellency is still asleep, Leo; he cannot be disturbed.”
“Come on, Uncle Max. I need to see him. It’s seven in the morning.”
“Why don’t you come back by ten?”
“Work. I’ll be busy then.”
“Well, he’s not up yet.”
The door connecting to the anteroom opened from Igwe’s sitting room opened and Igwe stuck out his head.
“It’s okay, Max.”He looked at Leonel. “Come in, son.”
Leonel followed him in and shut the door behind them.
Unlike the other ostentatious rooms in the villa, Igwe’s personal space was simple, humble and retro. Everything modern in the room was made to look inconsequential, giving the place a 70’s feel. There were three couches, a center table, a ceiling fan, no air conditioner and television, two expensive landscape paintings and six photo albums of family and close friends on a magazine rack. The curtains were green and yellow and had a way of reflecting the daylight coming from outside in varying colors.
“What do you want from me this early, Leonel?”
Igwe sat on a couch and tapped the space beside him, inviting Leonel to settle in.
“I’m not staying long, Gramps.”
“What is the problem? I don’t like the look in your eyes.”
“Ishi is the problem,”
Leonel started out and scratched his sideburn with his thumb.
He obeyed but sat on the edge of the couch.
“What has he done?”
Leonel explained the Kyenpia situation in detail, then he rose up and pushed his hands into his pockets.
“I am not letting it slide, Gramps.”
“I will speak to him and to her as you have just requested.”
“I’m not interested in the talk you’ll have with him; I just came to let you know that whatever happens to him, I won’t be held accountable. I understand that he wants to get back at me because of what happened with Zia but Gramps, that was more than a decade ago. I was a kid; we were all kids. How can he call himself a pastor and seek revenge like this?”
Igwe sighed. “From what I’ve gathered, Dozie loves Kyenpia. This is not a revenge thing.”
“I don’t care.”
“I will talk with him but Afamdi, do not do anything to your cousin.”
Leonel stood up. “Gramps, I think the time has passed for that warning. And please, let no one interfere like you all did the last time. This is between he and I.”
He started for the door and Igwe called him back.“Afamdi!”
“Have a great day, Gramps.”
He walked out.
“Guy, wake up!”
Lanre flung open Ishi’s bedroom door.
Rudely jolted from an eight-hour sleep, Ishi threw off his duvet angrily and glared at him and the Dobberman Pinscher that had accompanied him.
“Why you carry dis animal enter here na? Wetin dey do you? Person no fit sleep again?” Lanre picked a drumstick from a plate of jollof rice in his hand.
“We got a break on those PSP’s.”
Ishi’s frown intensified.
“Wetin be PSP?”
“Paper stars and planes.”
Ishi hissed and covered himself up again.
“The scribbling on the papers don’t belong to Doctor B. David recognized the writings as Captain’s.”
“How dat one take concern me? Lanre abeg, dey go,” Ishi begged from beneath the duvet but Lanre continued.
“The dates are in chronological order and they mark significant events that have happened in Naija since the 1970s. But the ones we have identified in recent times are ghastly happenings, specific religious riots in the North, assassinations of prominent men, car crashes of top politicians, bomb blasts in Abuja, the annihilation of two whole villages in Bayelsa, important business deals that have altered the economy, international trade agreements, and other events that the team is still working on.”
Ishi threw off the duvet again.
“We’re seven of us. Officially, we don’t exist but we range from military intelligence to the national security service to the police force. We call ourselves 43 and we’re not the only ones investigating the Cabal. There’s another in Abuja and others around the country.”
“Why you dey tell me all these things? No be top secret dem be?”
“Na you wan know na.”
“I no wan know again. I don already tell you and Dave; abeg, leave me out for this Cabal thing. I don do my part.”
“From the PSPs, Captain marked out three days in your family reunion. We have a strong feeling the coup will happen around that time. But we need more. Names, actual voice recordings, videos, pictures, anything that can help us. And Doctor B still had more on the Cabal. We have to go back into that house, Ishi.”
“No. I’m done. I no come dis life to dey pursue bad guys. My job dey behind the pulpit, abeg.”
Ishi made to cover himself again when Lanre stopped him with his words.
“Heartbreak go kill you. You go die for Kyenpia.”
“How dat one come enter the gist now?”
Lanre gave an amused face.
“Why you no go office today? You dey sleep since morning because of woman. You be oshi.”
“You dey craze. You no see say I no sleep for two good days?”
“That’s why you no wan answer her calls abi? Ehn? Baba bom-boy, abi na baby girl una dey expect?”
Ishi fired off a surprised glare at him.
“If I be you, I go find one hole go hide myself because if Leo descend on you, na die be dat.”
Ishi grunted incoherently, tumbled out of the bed and walked into the bathroom, closing the door behind him.Lanre threw what was left of the drumstick into the air and his canine companion went after it. He picked another piece of fried chicken from his plate and went on. “
“But she dey in love with you sha!”
The bathroom door opened and Ishi poked out his head.
“She dey in love with him too,” Lanre added with a goading smile. “She’s torn. She doesn’t know what she wants. Nasty-ass love triangle.”
“Did she tell you this?”
“She wears the necklace you gave her last Christmas every single day. She gave you one of her extra keys, allowing you unlimited access to her personal space; she no give me key. You talk to her on the phone almost every night, even after seeing her at the office all day. Which other evidence you dey find?”
“But she sleeps with him.”
“She don share herself between two of una. You stand half a chance, chairman. No pour sand-sand for your garri. But seriously, just find one nice hole go hide yourself because if Leo discover wetin you do, I no fit save you.”
Ishi withdrew into the bathroom again.
KYENPIA’S APARTMENT/ THE REFUGE/ EVENING
Kyenpia threw her door open and stood behind it with sleepy eyes. A warm mug of hot chocolate she took a few minutes earlier was working its way into her slowly. She was hoping to catch three hours of sleep before she went for her nightly radio show by 10pm.
“Good evening, Miss Joseph.”
Kyenpia didn’t recognize the immaculately dressed man in a black suit before her. He was holding a stretched but polite smile she guessed came from years of training.
“Good evening. How may I help you?”
The man handed a cream-colored envelope to her and she opened it carefully, making sure her eyes never left his. She pulled out a card and looked up at the man again.
“I will be waiting downstairs, if you don’t mind.”
She nodded and walked back in, shutting the door and locking it behind her. She looked at the card once more and read out loud:
If it is not too much to ask, would you mind dinner with me in my home tonight? I would prefer if you kept this between us. My chauffer would be waiting.
Igwe Refuge Nwosu
Kyenpia put down her hands and became instantly flustered. She began to pace up and down her tiny room.
To go or not to go?
She opened her wardrobe and shut it.What right had he to require of her presence without prior notice? Did all wealthy people have brain issues when it came to treating others with respect? Did they always have to let their money speak for them?
She opened the wardrobe again and pulled out something informal, a casual pair of jeans that would require a top and a sweater. There was no need looking all dressed up for a man who couldn’t respect her enough to give her sufficient time to prepare.
But he was no ordinary man. He was a legend, a distinguished gentleman that believed he was larger than life itself. The last military head of state of Nigeria, one of the most influential men in black Africa, a biochemist with a host of other doctorate degrees, titles and worldwide awards to his name. He founded The Refuge with forty-eight branches nationwide and he was also co-founder of Bowley Trust Fund that took care of orphans all over the continent. And when it came to business, he was solid, owning a telecoms company that was the second largest in Africa and was now spreading to the Mideast.
He was one man who presently held no political posts but had a voice that resonated in the halls of power.
Kyenpia stood before her bathroom mirror and studied her reflection closely, at her growing pregnancy that was yet to show, and wondered how she managed to get herself in her present state. She only wanted a child; no, needed another soul she could love unconditionally because she believed she couldn’t love another individual in any other way, having been bereft of an enduring heart a long time ago. All she could manage were brief romantic thrills along the way that appeared with fierce fervor and fizzled out with distractions.
Now she realized a little too late that she had gone in too deep to find her way back, and the familiar world-weariness that always attacked her brief affairs was nowhere near her doorstep. She was left alone to manoeuvre out of her dilemma because she had gone in the way of humankind and fallen in love. Twice. It was compelling her to do things she naturally wouldn’t accede to, like accepting to dine with a man she didn’t really like for no other reason than wanting to respect his grandsons.
She walked out of the bathroom after lifting her face with little talcum powder and honey lip gloss. Her hair was lightly held up in a bun and long earrings adorned her neck. She picked a handbag for the evening which contained her phone and wallet and headed to the door. Then on a second thought, she stopped, turned around and decided her room needed to be cleaned before she left.
The vehicle Kyenpia had been chauffeured in came to the residential area of the famous Elyon Villa, made a curve around a fountain and headed for the parking lot. It halted after stopping perfectly in a designated spot and before she could let herself out, her door was opened and she was helped out.
She showed her appreciation and walked silently behind the chauffer who led her through a short pass with overhanging plants that formed a sort of canopy above them. They appeared before a small garden that held the same type of plants. It was barricaded by a round, picket fence painted green and Kyenpia could hear the sounds of night-time, something she sorely missed at the Refuge. Her gait slowed considerably as she walked into the garden.
She was starstruck upon her first sight of the legend that was Igwe Refuge Nwosu. All that she had been told about the man did not prepare her for the ambience he excuded. At eighty-eight, Igwe was an image of authority and grandeur. His wrinkles, silver-gray hair, a slightly bent pose and a limp caused by gout only added to his stateliness. Dressed in matching denim and a pair of pam slippers he looked laid-back and approachable.
Kyenpia wiped sweaty hands on the sides of her sweater discretely as Igwe’s eyes welcomingly strolled in her direction. He was already seated for dinner but he had company, a man who looked to be in his mid-forties. Both men bore a distinct resemblance in their eyes which were glassy, weak and appeared somewhat reluctant; the same eyes Leonel had.
“Please, don’t stand there like a stranger, my dear. Come closer,” Igwe called in a frail voice and the man with him, his son, Maxwell, stood from his chair and invited Kyenpia in.
She could pick out the calming fragrances of flowers that blended with the array of food on the table. She could also whiff out the distinct smell of fresh mangoes and her stomach churned in response as Igwe took both hands of hers, pulled them together and blessed them each with a light kiss like he had known her a long time. She wasn’t so sure how to respond, so she remained standing and maintained a blank but open exterior.
Kyenpia noticed he had a slight Igbo accent which he made no attempt of hiding. Maxwell drew a chair and she found herself sitting beside Igwe before a four-sitter table.
“My cook made a bowl of fruit salad with mostly mangoes for you and also chicken and black bean soup with loads of pepper. I heard you suffer from hyperemesis.”
“Only mildly. It’s let up a little now and the nausea is manageable.”
“I don’t know why the cook thinks you would like this but he’s good at these recipes and was there when two of my wives were pregnant. I will be having a strange and tasteless meal because of my health issues; I can’t seem to digest much these days. So how are you, Kyenpia? Did I get the name right?”
She nodded and he smiled.
“I heard you have to be on air for your radio show by ten. I don’t intend to keep you long, and please, do accept my apologies for this off the cuff dinner.”
“You’re special, you know. You’re carrying my first great grandchild-that I’m aware of. God knows I have more children than I have teeth.”
Kyenpia laughed and he watched in enthralment as she charmed the atmosphere. Even at his age, Igwe knew what sheer elegance was and the woman before him personified it. But if she was observant at that point, she would have seen his smile turn sad at her. She would have noticed he had actually stopped laughing and a look of dread had taken over briefly.
“What do you want with my grandson?”
The question had dropped from nowhere.
“What do you want with Leonel? Money? Connections? The name?”
Kyenpia was still frozen at the question and the ease she had gathered before was slowly creeping away from her.
“He has a wife, waiting for him as these things go. She is his ex and a late friend’s granddaughter.”Kyenpia had prior knowledge of what Igwe just revealed but she kept a straight face as Igwe continued.
“When they were together, they were perfect for each other”
“You’re bullying me,” Kyenpia interrupted with a stumpy voice and bent head.
“Do you love him?” Igwe asked and she looked at him and looked down again to start toying with the chicken on her plate.
“You don’t love him, Kyenpia. You’re just using him and you’ll be done as soon as you have the baby.”
Kyenpia’s lips trembled tensely.
“I know you’re captivated by the wealth and the name and I do not wish to leave you in the cold because you are an orphan and I have an ordained obligation to your likes and that is why I will help you.”
“I will not leave Leonel,” she replied with a solid voice.
“I just want you to sign a deal.”
He motioned to Maxwell who materialized a file out of nowhere. At the sight of it, Kyenpia instantly felt claustrophobic despite the open air.
“This family swims in wealth, Kyenpia, and you can never be accustomed to our style of living. It is way above you.”
The file was pushed to her.
“So my deal stipulates that you leave Leonel on your own volition and leave this town and disappear completely from his life—you and your baby—and you’ll get twenty million naira wired straight into your account.”
“I beg your pardon, sir?” Kyenpia’s bottled temper blew out. “Is this why you invited me? You want to pay me off to leave the father of my child?”
Heedlessly, Igwe continued. “Option two states that you can choose to have the baby and hand it over to me and get thirty million naira instead. But just like the other options, you will not come near this family again.”
“Please, excuse me.”
Snowed under and yet trying to keep her lid on, Kyenpia stood up and walked a good distance away from him.
“What do you think, Maxwell? Will she pick an option or will she stick with Leonel?”
Maxwell was silent; the old man was not expecting an answer from him.
“I see what he likes in her. She is like his mother, stubborn and independent. But poor girl, she doesn’t know I’m doing it for her good. I bleed every time some hapless person wanders off into this family and gets destroyed by it.”
“Why don’t you just tell her that, sir?”Maxwell asked.
“And take away her ability to choose? All the women that have made it here stood strong against all odds. If she chooses to remain she has to earn her right to bear the name.”
Maxwell’s phone rang and he looked at it.
“Business,”he said to Igwe.
“I’ll take it. Call her back here.”
Maxwell handed the phone to Igwe and walked to Kyenpia.
“His Excellency will see you after he’s done with his call.”
He looked at Igwe and then lowered his voice till he was out of earshot. “If I were you, I’d pick option one. Take the money and leave.”
Maxwell strode away and Kyenpia restrained herself from looking at him. Igwe ended his call and she walked back to him.
“Have you come to a conclusion?”he asked. Kyenpia looked at Maxwell who took no notice of her; she turned her head to Igwe.
“May I speak with you alone?” Igwe gestured Maxwell away.
“Mr. President, maybe no one has ever stood up to you, sir, but I will. Your money irritates me.”
Igwe looked at her with slight surprise.
“But it controls you. It has so blinded you till the point you feel you can play god. And as for my relationship with Leonel, it’s between two of us and no third parties are welcomed. So, my answer to you is no, I will not make any deal with you. At all. Not now, not ever.”
She finished with a definite nod and Igwe smiled, admiring her nerve instantly. He opened his mouth to speak but she interrupted him with a sudden movement of her hand over her tummy. Her face contorted in a frown.
“Are you alright?”
She composed herself. “Yes, I’m fine. I just felt something strange. I’m sorry, I have to go.”
Kyenpia picked her handbag and made to rise up but Igwe laid a gentle hand on her.
“I have upset you. And I express regret. Please, stay.”
She sat but held on to her handbag until he took it from her and placed it on the table.
“I know you’re upset with me but trust me, Kyenpia, I only have good intentions for you and this baby.”
He stretched out his hand. “May I?”
There was brief hesitation from her but she turned to him and he gently placed his hands on her tummy.
“Where is the strange movement you felt?” he asked.
Kyenpia looked at him uneasily but his right hand applied a steady pressure to her left side and Kyenpia felt a movement from within her. She let out a surprised smile.
“It’s just your baby beginning to move, Kyenpia. Nothing to be scared of.”
“But it’s just fourteen weeks. I’m barely three months pregnant.”
Igwe pulled back with an introspective face. He shook his head, smiling nostalgically.
“I had a lot of kicking in my green years. I felt all my children and grandchildren kick in their mothers’ wombs. It’s a fetish for me.”
He looked at Kyenpia and returned his hand to her stomach.
“This baby of yours is very spirited.”
Kyenpia creased her brows.
“Don’t be worried. Your baby is fine. Stand up, let’s take a walk.”
They both stood and he led her back the direction she came, with Maxwell tailing behind.
“I need you to be careful, my dear. This family is about to become your worst nightmare and they will strike your heel so bad you’d fall. They live to see such moments and when they come, I’ll be here for you. All the same, I wish you and the baby the best.He handed her the file in his hand.
“Whenever you change your mind, call Maxwell and he’ll get to me immediately. You are of top priority and I will take your call at any time, dear. Oh, lest I forget…”
He took out a black, velvet jewelry pouch from his jean pocket and gave to her, holding her hands.
“Every Igwe child has one. This belongs to your son.”
“It’s a girl.”
“Is that what the scan says?”
“I refused to let them tell me the sex, but I know it’s a girl.”
“Kyenpia, these eyes may be old and weak but I see a boy in your future. Maybe not now but I do see a boy.”
He drifted off into reflection briefly but returned to her with a smile.
“You and I are going to be very good friends.”
He kissed her forehead.
“You’re as stubborn as a donkey and I know you’ll stay. So take care of my grandson, whichever one you end up with.”
The statement left her stunned.Was he referring to Ishi? Was it something he was told? Were they watching her, following her? How much more did these people know about her?
A crooked smile stretched Igwe’s lips when he saw the turmoil on her face. “Kyenpia, knowledge is realizing that the street is one-way; wisdom is looking both directions anyway.”
He tapped her cheek gently and walked off into the night. Maxwell walked towards her, dialing her phone. When it rang, he said, “Store my number. I’ll be waiting for your call if you change your mind.”
He escorted her to the parking lot and bade her goodnight. Left alone, she opened the jewelry pouch Igwe had given her, took out a dazzling blue diamond the size of her thumb and held it up to the bright security light above her. Afterwards she touched her necklace and lifted it to the light and noticed the small stone in the pendant was the same as the diamond in her hand. The necklace was a gift from Ishi the Christmas before and Leonel had given her something similar, a white gold bracelet with tiny, blue stones which she had never worn. As she sat in the back of the vehicle heading back to town, Kyenpia used the backlight of her phone to peruse the document Igwe had given her.
The first offer was mouth-watering. It presented her with freedom and a shot at a new life with her baby alone, away from Leonel and Ishi and the war that was going to break out between them soon. As she felt another flutter in her womb, she couldn’t dispel the feeling of the danger that came along with it. And only one line remained in her head from the entire evening.
Take the money and leave.