IJeoma’s strides were quick but cautious. She looked over her shoulder every few seconds as she made her way purposefully towards the church at the end of the street. Darkness had descended upon the city entwined with the fog that made vision difficult. She shivered slightly as she walked, favouring her left arm that was bleeding.
She had not showered in three days and although it was something she was used to, she was beginning to feel uncomfortable. She found it intriguing how things had really turned around. She had gone from hunter to hunted in such a short time and for the first time in her life, Ijeoma was truly frightened. She had anticipated this but she had hoped she would be able to complete all her plans before things blew up. Quite unfortunately, it hadn’t happened that way.
She made her way up the steep steps and into the church hall that was dimly lit. She walked all the way down to the altar and knelt there, shutting her eyes.
I’ve made a lot of mistakes, I’ve made some terrible choices but I need you to help me make things right. I’m trying- trying so hard. Please.
She heard footsteps creep slowly behind her and she sniffed then subtly slipped her right hand into the left side of her jacket.
“Are you alright daughter?”
Ijeoma smiled, patted the gun then removed her hand before turning.
“No. I’m not.”
The man who spoke was elderly. Ijeoma calculated his age to be somewhere between 70 and 75. He wore a black cassock and had on a white collar around his neck. He was an Anglican priest. He stretched his hand out to Ijeoma and she placed her hand in his, then he drew her up slowly.
“I sensed in my spirit that God wanted me to be here and now I can tell that it’s because of you.”
Ijeoma snorted then drew back her hand and burst out laughing before she could stop herself. The priest kept on a smiling face, studying her carefully. Ijeoma soon stopped laughing.
“I’m sorry. You people try so hard, it just gets really tiring.”
“What people try so hard?”
He noticed her poorly bandaged arm which was still bleeding and his eyebrows deepened in a frown.
“What happened to you?”
“It’s a long story.”
The priest was silent for a few moments then Ijeoma spoke.
“Look, I’m here because I’m desperate. I need help.”
The priest turned towards the closest pew in the church and sat on it, tapping a space next to him. Ijeoma followed his hand and sat next to him.
“Who are you?” he asked.
“What do you want?”
“A place to sleep for the night and some food to eat would be nice.”
Later, Ijeoma would ponder on the kindness she saw in the priest’s eyes. She would wonder if all priests were like that- kind to random strangers without asking too many questions. But for this night, she simply followed him to a room at the right side of the church where she would be accommodated for the night. He brought blankets for her which she laid on the floor and wrapped herself in and then he brought some warm food for her which she ate gratefully. It was her first meal in two days.
As the priest turned to leave after bidding her good night, she stopped him and said,
“I’ll be gone by morning. My son’s life is in danger because of some terrible choices that I made and I am trying to save him before he gets killed. Thank you for helping me.”
The priest smiled.
“God be with you child.” And he walked out of the room.
Ijeoma sighed and took another look at her left arm. The bleeding had stopped. There was no God to be with her. She was on her own. Kaduna was quite a large city and she did not know where to start looking for her surgeon friend but she was determined to find him. And she hoped fervently that Leela was truly skilled enough to keep Uzo safe for the one month she intended to be underground. Because she figured that if stayed under the radar and Leela did same, then the people who were looking for them would eventually give up and she would make an attempt at fleeing the country with Uzo. It was a huge gamble but she was out of options.
As Uzo approached the house, he could see Leela harassing the gateman on duty, clearly trying to figure out his whereabouts. Uzo did not say anything to either of them when he got into the compound, not even when Leela raised her voice to ask him where he had gone to or what he was thinking going off like that. He calmly walked into the house and into the room that had been assigned to him.
Uzo sat on the bed, face in both palms, trying to imagine how his life had taken such a dramatic turn in only two days. He thought back to when he first met Leela at a friend’s party at the beach. He had just gotten off a horse ride, nervous as a mouse in a house full of cats and Leela had stood there trying hard not to laugh. How on earth could her appearance have been staged?
The door opened slowly and Leela walked in interrupting his thoughts. Her demeanor was a lot different from the spit-fire dragon from earlier on. She looked a lot more subdued.
“Uzo, I owe you an apology.”
Uzo shook his head and his tone was strangely calm.
“Don’t worry. Just do whatever it is that is your job. You owe me nothing.”
Leela bit her lips and pulled her nose.
“No, really Uzo, I’m sorry-”
He cut her off mid-sentence
“Leela, Yemi, whoever you are. Just stop. I don’t want to hear anything else. Please. Just stop.”
He swung his feet off the floor and tucked them underneath the duvet, pulling it up to his chest.
“Please send Nathan an email and tell him I didn’t do any of those things I’m being accused of.”
He turned on his side and shut his eyes.
Leela took a deep breath and walked out of the room. Uzo had gone to the cyber café. He had seen the article as well. She was sure of it. Why was everything falling apart so quickly like this? Who had she offended?
Her phone buzzed in her hand and she slid her thumb across the screen distractedly, without checking the caller.
“Yemi, I’m flying you out of the country tonight.”
Leela sighed as she heard her father’s voice.
“I told you. No ifs or buts. Did you see that article?!”
Engr. Kola’s voice was a fine mix of anger and concern. The tone marveled Leela but she was too tired to tease him about it and it certainly was not the right time.
“Dad, they are trying to smoke me out. I swear, I’ll be dead within minutes of leaving this town. That picture with Gbemiga is quite old daddy but I’m not even sure how they got it. These people are really dangerous. I’m not taking any chances.”
“I’ll be home in ten minutes. See me in my study.”
Leela sighed as she hung up the phone. Really, what had she gotten herself into?
She walked into the study and leaned on one end of the book shelf, looking at endless rows of books but seeing none of them. Her father had so many books. Most of her childhood had been a blur but between moving across various cities, she could faintly remember him amassing so many books and reading every single one of them then encouraging her to do same.
“I do not like this. I do not like this at all!”
His voice startled her.
“Good evening daddy.”
“Do you know how many people could recognize you in that picture?!”
“Daddy, please calm down. Very few people in Zaria know me. These people may be good but they are not that good. They don’t even know my real name. They’re still saying Leela Hassan. Besides only you and your secretary know I’m in town. I’m not going anywhere until I can sort this out.”
Engr. Kola looked at Leela like he was about to argue but she didn’t let him get in a word.
“Please, I need you to help me by not panicking. They will never trace me to Zaria. So as long as I’m here, I’m safe. If you attempt to move me, I will be dead.”
“Fine. I’m calling the commissioner of police.”
Leela let out a frustrated sound and slapped her palm over her face.
“Don’t do anything dad! It’s fine! Except you want me to leave your house and go elsewhere.”
Her father was visibly upset but he said nothing else. He simply stalked out of the study and shut the door behind him. Leela pulled out her phone and tried to check into her twitter account but just like her boss had said the account had been deactivated.
She went into her room, sat on the bed and tried to think.
Gbemiga was dead. That meant that they had figured out who she was- a security agent and not really a model. She had been careful and swift in moving down to Zaria. And very few people knew Engr. Kola was her father so they would certainly not come looking for her here. Zaria was safe. But in the meantime, what was she to do? Wait indefinitely for Uzo’s mum to contact her?
And what about Gbemiga’s parents? She knew his mum would be cursing her and her generations yet unborn. She smiled sadly at the thought. She had never gotten on well with Gbemiga’s mother and now the woman had every reason to hate her. She needed to reach out to them, to clear her name, but she knew the time was not right for that. If they held a funeral for him however she would damn the consequences and be there.
But Yemi, you no dey hear word sha. She chided herself.
If only she had listened. If only-
She felt the tears gather in her eyes again as she pictured Gbemiga’s lifeless body one more time. It was an image she knew would haunt her forever. Because she was responsible. How could she have been so careless, placing both of them in harm’s way? And all for what? She did not even know what Uzo’s mother looked like. Did not know if her name was really Ijeoma like she’d said and worse still, she had absolutely no idea what the woman was involved in.
So she had gotten her fiancé killed, and was being hunted by people who were really powerful, all for a few million naira.
Well done Yemi, you too try o, you hear? Na you try pass.
She hissed and pulled out her phone to type an sms to her boss requesting him to contact Nathan and help set him straight. She owed Uzo that much.
And thinking of Uzo, Leela ran both hands over her head. His resigned calm bothered her greatly. First she had nearly had a panic attack when she noticed he was missing from the house, then she had felt relief upon his return. But seeing him calm like that plus the way he had clearly shut her out made her really uncomfortable. It stung a bit even. She knew she should not have lashed out at him. None of this was his fault. But the only way she could deal with the hurt and guilt she was feeling was to convert it all to anger. It was the only way she had ever known to deal with anything. Rather unfortunately, Uzo was the only one she could channel her anger through. It was terrible, but there was nothing else she could do.
I am just one person. How the hell do I go about dealing with all of this?
“You had one job to do! Just one job! Get rid of the girl, make it look like an accident, get the boy and bring him straight to me! How did you manage to mess that up?!”
Malik wanted to point out to his boss that he had clearly outlined more than one job but he swallowed his words. Any wisecrack from him could earn him a bullet. He was not ready to die yet.
“I’m sorry sir.”
“I do not care for your apologies. Fix this mess! I want the boy found in another 48 hours otherwise I’ll have your head. I need to know who the girlfriend is as well. Because clearly she is not some stupid ass model like you thought. And you better be more careful this time. I’m not getting paid to clean up your mess. Get out of my sight and get me Kaz. I need to know how he managed to lose the woman as well.”
Malik nodded and walked out of the room scratching his head. It would take a miracle to find Uzo in two days. The young man had simply dropped off the face of the earth and he was certain Leela was responsible for that. Whoever she was, he was really impressed. He passed off his boss’ message to Kazeem and waited in the next room as Kaz received his own share of the bashing.
Damn this Ijeoma woman. How did one person manage to make herself such a nuisance? And he knew his boss was not joking. If he did not have any lead on Uzo’s whereabouts in 48 hours, something bad would happen. He whipped out his phone and dialed a number.
“Did you find anything at the office?” His brows furrowed in a frown as he listened to the person on the other end of the line.
“Fine. Go back there tomorrow and trash the entire place. Someone has to know where he went to. Rattle his colleagues till they speak. Arrest the entire office if you have to.”
He hung up just as Kazeem walked into the room, eyes blazing. Clearly he had also gotten an earful.
“Wallahi ko, in na kama wannan mata! Abun da zan yi mata…”
“Calm down Kaz. You won’t do anything to her if you find her. It’s not in our place to do that. The boss wants her alive.”
“I don’t care! Look how much BS I’ve had to listen to! Imagine him questioning my competence!” Kazeem was fuming and his nose twitched in that slightly amusing manner that it did whenever he was pissed.
“Well, in order for him to stop questioning our competence, we must prove our mettle and end this as quickly as possible. I’ve just spoken to my guy at the state CID. They’ll go back to his office tomorrow. Meanwhile, I’m calling Bode to hack his emails and see what he can find. His phone has been off for days now and it’s useless to us but I’m sure he’ll send or receive an email soon and once he does that, we’ll find him.”
Kazeem nodded and bit his nails. His eyes had a distant quality to them and Malik realized he was not really paying attention. He snapped his fingers at him
“Did you hear what I just said?”
“Yeah. I heard you. Tomorrow na. We can’t do anything again tonight.”
“Tell me how she got away. You know we haven’t talked about it since it happened.”
Kazeem stopped biting his nails and exhaled loudly.
“I went to the hotel she was supposedly staying at that afternoon but she wasn’t there. The receptionist said she had gone out a few hours ago so I hung around and waited. When she came back, I almost didn’t recognize her. She was dressed like a call girl. Skimpy gown, loud makeup, this ridiculous afro wig and was chewing gum in that irritating manner. But she saw me and she hesitated and that’s how I knew it was her. We locked eyes for a split second and she turned around and left. I followed her quickly but she weaved her way through a crowd of people and jumped into a taxi. I trailed them all the way to Balogun market and she disappeared in there.”
“Balogun market?” Malik grunted. “That place is a maze. There’s no way you’d have found her in there all by yourself.”
“Tell that to your boss.”
“And you? How did your own assignment turn into some freak show?” Kazeem asked
Malik shook his head. He didn’t seem very disturbed.
“I was at the house waiting for Uzo to come home with his girlfriend when this other guy showed up. The one I told you she seems to be cheating on him with. But apparently there’s more to them. The guy had a gun. We had a small scuffle, he pulled his gun but I shot him first. I was trying to get rid of the body when Uzo and Leela showed up. Leela freaked out, I tried to take her out so I would just get Uzo and leave but she had a gun and fired back until they got away.
I’m tired abeg. I have to start another proper investigation tomorrow. Who they really are, who they were working for- ”
“Ijeoma obviously. That woman is not stupid. She is always ten steps ahead.” Kazeem grumbled.
“I’m tired abeg. I cannot come and kill myself.” Malik shrugged.
“Whatever. Anyway, I’m off. See you tomorrow.” Kazeem said.
Malik watched Kazeem leave before he walked casually up the stairs of the massive building and let himself out to the balcony. He badly wanted to smoke but he didn’t have any sticks on him. Zara had confiscated all his packs of cigarette. She was trying to make him a better man. He found it ironic that she didn’t even know the half of what he was about.
It was dark outside, but the streets were lit with an array of solar panels that stretched down the road. He leaned on the railing and drifted back to the first time he had met Ijeoma. It was five years ago when he joined the team. He remembered his boss lecturing him on how dangerous she was. Ijeoma had an athletic build, a body so solid, she could be 25 forever. She was a well-trained marksman and had a body count of over 100. And no, they were not people she had slept with. They were people she had murdered.
Ijeoma was also brilliant in the art of blackmail. She was the main reason their arms dealing and blackmail ring was successful because Ijeoma was fearless and brutal. She knew her job and she was really good at it. They barely had any contact with each other however. She was high up the chain of command and he was learning the ropes but she was someone everybody in the organization respected. So it came as a huge surprise to him when a few months ago, his boss called him and Kazeem and asked them to follow her discreetly and investigate her thoroughly.
A huge surprise because he knew how implicitly his boss trusted her. But he had done the work as assigned to him. It was he who made the discovery that Uzo was Ijeoma’s biological son and that was only possible because Ijeoma could not really stay away from him. She showed up at a couple of random events Uzo attended and Malik had noticed the very slight resemblance between them. He mentioned it to Kazeem who thought there was nothing there. Kazeem said it was all coincidence but Malik’s guts told him different. A few weeks and a couple hundred thousand nairas later, Malik had Uzo’s real birth certificate.
The night he presented it to his boss was the night the boss revealed that Ijeoma was planning to go rogue and they had to hit her first to send a message. He monitored Uzo for a bit and noticed that he was dating a model who was apparently two-timing but Uzo had no idea.
Now it was clear to him that the model was a lot more than she appeared to be. Malik clenched and unclenched his fists. Zara could get angry all she liked. He was going to get a smoke. In the morning, he would call in all existing favours. He would hunt Uzo and Leela with all he had. They would simply have nowhere to hide.