He didn’t realise it was his house until his buttocks sank into the brown cushion directly facing the TV. It was the particular spot he sat everyday after work either to watch TV, write notes, read newspapers, or have his meal (usually with a bottle or two of beer). The depression in the chair was born out of age and frequent use. Around him, sitting in the cushions on both flanks, were men he could recognise but couldn’t place where they had met. They were staring at him like he had just pooped in his shorts and it was stinking badly.
“Hope you guys know you’re in my house and sitting in my chairs?” Cas asked.
“Yes we do.” One of the men on the cushion flanking his on the left said. “I brought you here myself.”
“It doesn’t matter.” Cas said and stretched on the sofa. “Just stop looking at me. Get back to where you came from, or find somewhere to place your heads and sleep. I need that right now. I’ve got somewhere to go later in the night. I need to rest a little first.”
“Where would you want to go to later in the night?” The man sitting in the cushion by the right said. His voice was deep and firm, the voice of authority.
Cas opened his eyes and slightly raised his head to get a better look at the man who had just spoken. The man looked so familiar; he just couldn’t place it. It also appeared the man was having an understanding malfunction. Hadn’t he just told him that he needed some rest? He had better understood that he meant to have his rest and not an interview session. He laid back on the sofa.
He was turning to face the other side of the chair with his eyes closed when a shrilling sound rang in his ears; the pain that accompanied it was more prominent. He scrambled out of the sofa, his senses wide awake, and his hand clamped on his cheek. The man who had landed him the slap stood tall and unshakable beside him.
“I always get a reply for every question I ask.” The man with the voice of authority said.
Cas drew his hands slowly from his burning cheek, and with this action, came partial recollection. He knew who these men were now and the knowing made him feel small and queasy. They were the policemen he thought he had evaded (he wasn’t even sure of that anymore). They were right here in his house instead of at their positions outside his house.
They weren’t supposed to be in his house. Or had he done something wrong?
He didn’t think so.
The last two hours, he’d been extremely exhausted and had fallen asleep on this sofa. Had they decided to come check if he was still in the house? And should that have warranted such a slap?
“Why did you slap me?” He asked.
The man (whose name must be Chikadibia, he thought) stared at him and smiled, the way you’d smile at a lunatic who wasn’t making any sense. He gestured to the man standing beside him. The man started towards Cas. He shrank into the sofa.
“No more.” He cried. “What do you guys want from me?”
“Information.” Agent Chikadibia said.
Inspite of his fear, Cas laughed. The whole scene was playing out like a movie. They had him captured, they wanted information, and he would say to them: Look men, I’ve got no useful information for you.
“What information do you want?” He asked instead.
Agent Chikadibia looked at his men and they all took their leave. He relaxed in his chair and crossed his legs. A smile played on his lips and his face looked far and dreamily into the ceiling.
“People say love turned you into a fool. I don’t believe that.” He said.
Neither do I, Cas thought but remained silent.
“I had this girl I was seeing back in the days. I was twenty-four then and she was twenty-seven. It didn’t matter a thing to me because I was bigger than her and I knew how to be in charge. She gave me the respect too, plenty of it, so that you would never know the relationship was imbalanced in the age aspect. We were on for a year, the best year of my life, then something happened.”
“What happened?” Cas surprised himself by asking.
“She came to me one morning and said it was all over. I don’t want to continue moving with a boy, was the way she put it. I was shocked beyond words. She was a very respectful girl, so I didn’t know where the words were coming from. The words were in her voice and they came from her, alright. I laughed and told her it was April fool, though it was the fourth day of July. Then she did the unimaginable. She walked up to me and smacked me on the face, hard enough to rock my head sideways.”
“Why would she do that?”
“She wanted me to know it was real.” Agent Chikadibia got off his chair and strolled over to the basket where Cas kept old newspapers. Cas’ eyes trailed after him.
“And what did you do?”
“I walked out of the house and decided to become an officer of the law.”
“Just like that?!”
The policeman picked a paper at random, opened it to an advert page and studied it carefully. He folded it afterwards and brought it with him to his seat. He set it on the centre table and tapped on it rapidly.
“I didn’t want to make the news.” He said.
Cas looked at him in silence, visualising the story he had just heard. He tried to understand where it merged with his. He either couldn’t see where or he wasn’t allowing himself to see where.
“Don’t let your story make the crime section of the paper. You’re still young, you’ve got plenty of useful years ahead of you. Love and let go when it’s time to let go. I think not letting go is what makes one a fool rather than love.”
Cas felt like he was in a priest’s office and halfway into being convinced that the Catholics don’t pray to Mary. It was all a lie, and the policeman was skilled in presenting lies as truths. He raised his head and held the man’s gaze.
“You made up that story.” He asserted.
“Believe whatever you want.” Agent Chikadibia returned the paper to the basket. “Just know we are watching and hoping you don’t make the paper.”
“You’ll have to watch well then.”
He returned and bent in front of Cas so that their noses were almost touching. “I and my guys are not after your life. We would fast for you if we can so you steer clear from doing the wrong thing. But that wouldn’t change that we are officers of the law. Our business booms when there are plenty of law defaulters.”
He straightened, grabbed his walkie-talkie from the table and strode out through the door.
* * *
Was that it?
The law men had held a conference with him in his house, or call it an intervention if you liked, just to warn him about making the paper. That was bullshit. Was that why he had been scared of them all the while they stood like scarecrows outside his house? He should’ve known this all along, understood their terms right from the onset of the house arrest and he would still be having his priced hair on his head.
He sighed and tried to lay back on the cushion but it had lost its comfort. He lifted himself from it and shuffled to the bedroom. He sighed again, and again. The thing was all bullshit and it was driving him bugshit. That big man hadn’t loved that lady of his at all. He would have understood that spending so much time with a good partner – or prospective life partner – was like sharing half your life, and letting go meant parting with that half of your life like that man in the Bible did his property with his prodigal son. That was practically impossible. He can’t let Sandy go.
However, he hadn’t been planning Ochuko’s funeral, he only meant to give him a good scare. Make him plead with hot pee soaking the crotch of his pants. That was all.
He sighed again.
He had been scared of those jokers all along. He felt like stepping out of the house now and warning them firmly to completely get off his case since they were more of less like toothless puppies.
His head ached, his stomach clamped. He thought he would be needing the sink, he needed to puke. He decided sleep was the better, but first, he had to get things ready for later tonight. He struggled to shut back the bedroom door he had opened and detoured to the store.
It felt like hell, the store. He let go the instant he pushed the door close behind him. The stink of alcohol rose high in the air, gagging him some more. His gut contracted, his throat ballooned. Another river of puke splashed the cement ground of the store, staining his legs and the legs of his pant.
“Shit!” He cursed under his breath.
He curled very close to his pool of puke, holding his belly. It was having the worst of its constrictions. It was displeased with everything it had ever held together. He found strength to crawl away from his mess, but not enough to get him to his feet. The worst was yet to come, he knew.
“It’s just the tool box.” He croaked. “Just the tool box and I’ll fix you later. A little rest and food later would fix you.”
He closed his eyes and he felt great bouts of energy surge through him like voltage through ‘Sparky’ the electric chair in Stephen King’s Green Mile. It picked him up. Hell, it threw him high up the ceiling and sideways across the wall, then hurled him unto the hard ground. He screamed but it wasn’t a scream, it was a shout of excitement. He got to his feet fully invigorated, knocked over all the wardrobes, drawers, and cupboards in the store. Rummaged through them in paniky quickness, and in no time found what he wanted.
He lifted it high over his head like a trophy, then down, then once more, then no more. It was time for action. He pranced out of the store, the thoughts of all he would do to the fucking pervert who stole his girl warming his mind, keeping it alive and jolly. He closed the door behind him and smiled.
A smile that ran from ear to ear.
Cas would never accept if told that he smiled in his sleep, but at the moment, he did. His back rested on one of the cupboards, his hands hung limply on his laps and his legs spread wide apart on the ground, all the cares of the world forgotten. He looked like life was draining out of him little by little, yet he smiled on. Afterwards came the snore, they sounded like thunderclap.
* * *
Mrs. Okorocha and Wunmi sat in the living room to have dinner. The dinning table was avoided for no particular reason. They were having a meal of Rice and stew with fried plantain, green vegetables and fried fish. The quantity on Wunmi’s plate in the tray coupled with the full carton of juice spoke all too clear of weight. She didn’t know how to request for a bottle of water instead for fear of hurting the woman’s feelings. Every little thing seemed to get to her in the emotional side. She would eat very little of the rice and plantain, all of the fish and veggies, and a cup of juice. Only.
They ate silently and half watched, half listened to the news on Channels TV. They were on the segment most ladies cared less for, anyway – Sports. Wunmi didn’t know if the woman was consciously or unconsciously observing table manners, she didn’t care about it. However, she was not in a hurry to start the conversation, and this was more so because she was certain now that the woman would give her everything she asked for.
But Mrs. Okorocha surprised her halfway into the meal. She pointed a fork at the TV and said, “This Ballon d’Or stuff with Messi and Ronaldo as the only contenders doesn’t feel right. I always wonder if there aren’t other footballers out there who play well.”
“What?” Wunmi asked.
“I’m sorry.” Mrs. Okorocha smiled. “Not a football fan?”
“I watch football only when in the company of men. It’s their thing. But I know Messi and Ronaldo of course.”
“My Muna, she was crazy about football. She would watch all, from Premiership to La Liga to Bundesliga to Siere A. It got to a level I couldn’t stand anymore. We had a serious quarrel and then the next week, she came in through that door with a plasma TV for her room.”
Muna? Not Blessing or NG, as Ochuko fondly called her?
Wunmi held her comment, she looked at the TV. They were reviewing Messi and Ronaldo, the world’s greatest footballers as the news captioned them, and their achievements. On her tray, the veggies and fish were missing. She’d also had her glass of Juice, but she wasn’t completely sure that would be all.
“I became a fan after her death. She fanned Barcelona FC, so I fanned them too. Can you imagine all the good stuffs I left on TV? Fashion TV, Telemundo, and one that always revealed recipes. Can’t remember the name of that one anymore.”
“I’m addicted to Telemundo.” Wunmi said solenmly and thoughtfully. “Do you think she became a football fan because of her man?”
“Her man? I didn’t like that man. He was too clean and reserved and typically the all business type. I doubt he would have time for such thing as football. He would always talk Forex, Stock market and all those senseless economic crap. I felt my daughter was blindly entering into a cage, and she couldn’t yet see it for what it was because it had no lock. But a cage it was, all the same. Am I happy that she died when she did? I think I was, somehow. But that is rude, I tell myself. I still love her so much. You see, I can’t…”
She dropped her tray and reached for her napkin. Wunmi carefully kept her tray on the table and went to sit beside her. The woman hid her face in Wunmi’s shoulder and snivelled in her shirt.
That can’t be Ochuko. Not the Ochuko I was with in a keke, not the Ochuko I spent a full night with.
“It’s alright.” She said.
Mrs. Okorocha straightened and picked back her tray. She never ate what was remaining of her meal. She picked on them for a long period of time, her eyes trained on the TV.
“Can I take your tray to the kitchen?” She stood at last.
“Ehm, I’ve not finished my meal yet.”
“And you wouldn’t.” Mrs. Okorocha took out the juice and the glass and brought them to the stool beside Wunmi. “No need to feel sorry about it. I understand.”
Wunmi smiled. She wished she could also understand that the juice she wasn’t taking back was a big temptation.
Mrs. Okorocha returned from the kitchen with a small tray of Biscuits and groundnuts in one hand and a bottle of malt in the other. She took back her seat beside Wunmi, despite the lady’s startled expression.
“Don’t worry about me. I’m not concerned about putting myself in the right shape. No man would ever want me again. My time for them have passed.”
Wunmi flushed. The woman was a good observer, alright.
“I spoke to Muna’s man twice. First was on phone and the other time was when he came to pay her dowry. He didn’t seem to have time for anything. He also wanted a court marriage and not a white marriage or even the traditional one. But I and my kinsmen, we made him understand that the traditional one is indubitable. He smiled his agreement but something was off in that smile.” Mrs. Okorocha continued.
“I talked a great deal about it to Muna. When I saw that she wasn’t buying my opinions, I talked about it to Miss Sharon. She promised to talk to her friend about it. Did she? I can’t tell because my Muna still went ahead to plan for the traditional marriage.”
“Miss Sharon and your daughter, how close were they?”
Mrs. Okorocha laughed. “It sounds like you just met Miss Sharon.”
Wunmi looked at the TV. “That’s true.”
“They were sisters. Not in the literal sense though. They grew up together, went to the same schools, partied together, loved guys that were friends with each other, and even taught in the same school until her death.”
“I see. I now see why she was close to Ochuko.”
“Oh, Ochuko. That man is such a sweetheart. I loved him myself. I talked about him a lot to my daughter but she didn’t fancy marrying a man who was once married. There was nothing wrong about it, I told her, his wife died; it wasn’t a divorce. ‘He has a kid,’ she said. ‘I don’t want to be a stepmother.’ But you’ve seen Lucy, haven’t you?”
“Yes, I have.”
But Wunmi had begun connecting lines. A was leading to B and C to D. She had sensed it all along. Her instincts weren’t wrong. Miss Sharon was up to something. Blessing wasn’t Muna. And Muna had nothing at all to do with Ochuko.
“Lucy is such a sweetheart. Chirpy as a bird, lively as a bubbling water. They visited us once. Lucy and Miss Sharon and Muna were to go for a picnic and the girl had dragged her father along. That was sweet. The man had to leave every other thing to make his daughter’s day. Not that idiot James. You see what I mean, right?”
“Yeah, I see.”
James wasn’t Ochuko. Ochuko never married Muna. Oh my God, she thought. She was coming up with headache. She had been tricked, and it was out of her desperation. A woman who would take advantage of this was no nice woman. She thought back to their journey, all the incomplete buildings, all the eeriness. She would have gotten herself killed. The realization sent a chill running down her spine.
“Now the wedding never happened, my daughter died. She was poisoned. Where then is her James? Puff! Like the wind. He never came around for the burial arrangement, never came for the funeral. Permit me to call him an asshole. I wanted to charge him with my daughter’s death, but Muna was nowhere near him the day she died. She had eaten that meal in a restaurant on her way to the village. A restaurant in Edo.”
Conclusion: Muna never got to marry. Jesus! What was Miss Sharon up to? She seemed to be in a hurry to leave her in this place, seemed to be in a hurry to get to someplace else. That place possibly can’t be Ochuko’s. She was leaving the house when she saw her. Could it be that she had already done something to Ochuko?
She doubted that.
But she had to check, anyway. Had to make sure her man was alright. The woman talked on. She had dumped the story of her daughter for the time being back to sports, football. She would return back to her daughter of course. Football seemed to Wunmi the surest doorway to memory lane, where it concerned her daughter.
“Now Christian Ronaldo, just like Ochuko, is a charmer. That’s why I’d choose him over Messi. Messi is somewhat recollected like James. He’s somehow impossible. I think, maybe FIFA would get something…”
Wunmi stood up with her carton of juice and glass. She took it to the kitchen.
“Is everything alright?” Mrs. Okorocha called.
She came back from the kitchen and grabbed her handbag.
“Holy Mother of God! Look at your face. Are you sick? Is it the food?”
Wunmi tried to smile, she was making conscious effort at it, but she just couldn’t pull one out.
“Something is not alright.” She said in a voice she couldn’t recognise as hers. “And it’s got nothing to do with you, sweet woman.”
“Whatever it is, Olawunmi, just sleep over it. Come and see your room, it might even have a calming or healing effect on you. Won’t you?”
The woman was convincing Wunmi, but her words came out sounding like a suggestion and her countenance showed she was scared to push on.
“I’ll pass.” Wunmi walked towards the door then turned to look at the woman who wouldn’t get out of her seat. “I’ll come back to see you. And by then everything would be fine. I promise you.”
“Promise.” Mrs. Okorocha agreed.
Wunmi burst into the street, her legs, rather than her consciousness will, propelling her onward. She found herself taking the same path she had observed Miss Sharon take from where she stood on the porch. The feeling of trouble returned, this time curling a twisted tentacle around her throat. Choking her.
Lucy, she thought, and wondered only dimly why it was Lucy she was thinking about.