“How could you let this happen?!” Major-General Yakubu thundered.
An hour after Ijeoma’s phone call, Kazeem’s boss was standing before him in his office.
“I’m sorry sir. I tried to reach you when I had my suspicions but I didn’t expect her to act this fast or this drastically.” Kazeem’s boss mumbled.
“What suspicions? That she knew I ordered Maiva’s death? Or that she would launch her personal vendetta against me? What suspicions exactly?
And what resources is she using? Someone on your team went rogue and you did not know?!”
“We have been on her case for months.”
“Don’t make me lose my temper. For months, yet she outsmarted all of you! With all the money pumped into your organisation, you could not handle this?”
“I apologize for the slip up sir. My team is on ground and they are working to contain the situation. We have already gathered reports to suggest that-”
“I don’t care about your stupid team or their plans! If you had contained this from the start, my daughter would not be in that mad woman’s custody right now!
I told you to clean things up properly after taking out Maiva. She was not supposed to know. You were supposed to take care of this but every single time I ask you to do something, you fail miserably at it!”
Kazeem’s boss gritted his teeth and said nothing. The NSA was upset, he was allowed to rant as much as he liked.
“No one attempts to find her. And I mean no one! Whatever demands she makes, she gets. If she wants a jet, give her one. If she wants dinner with the president, make it happen. Just ensure that my daughter comes back to me alive. Is that clear?”
Kazeem’s boss nodded.
“And once she leaves, you do not go in search of her, ever! Not even her son. Erase all her records from your database. From the moment I get my daughter back, Ijeoma and everyone related to her on this case cease to exist!”
His phone began ringing and he snatched it up from his table. On seeing the caller ID, he exhaled and tried to calm himself before taking the call.
“Rotimi, I’m taking care of it… Yes, it’s true… She hasn’t called back with details of their release yet but she has stated her terms.”
The NSA sighed impatiently.
“You need to trust me Rotimi. Call the IG or the Secret Service and your son will be a dead man. I know this woman… We wait. I’ll call you if I have anything else.”
He hung up and went to sit behind his desk.
“I’ll call you if I need anything” he said dismissively.
Kazeem’s boss nodded and walked out of the office. Yakubu looked at his phone and re-read the text message that had come in earlier.
“Expect my call at3pm”
Hours after Ijeoma had left the room, Williams subtly checked out the size of the two masked guys who stood guard by the door. There was no way he could take on them by himself. He was even too tired to attempt anything silly. Rather he thought about how his relationship with Tinu was certainly over. He had no idea how these people knew he was involved with Aisha. It was something they had both been very discreet about. Now it was out in the open.
He felt bad for Tinu because she did not deserve to be hurt but if he would be honest, his affections were really with Aisha. Aisha was a lot more mature and they had been together for longer. Aisha knew him better than anyone else and he also knew she wanted something more tangible with him. So maybe this was really a blessing in disguise. Maybe it was time to finally end things with Tinu. But how did one call off an engagement that had gathered such public interest?
He turned to look at Aisha who was huddled by the wall and his heart went out to her. Whoever their captor was, she was certainly very terrifying. Williams had nearly died when the woman held Aisha down over the table and Aisha kept yelling in fear. When the woman left and the men untied them, he instinctively ran to her and held her in a tight hug while she cried, temporarily forgetting Tinu’s presence. Aisha had seemed more aware of it because after a few seconds, she pushed him away and went and sat with her knees drawn up to her chin beside the wall. It crushed him that she would not let him comfort her.
Tinu had cried silently by herself and he knew it was both from the terror they faced and from the emotional hurt he had exposed her to. He was completely helpless. He turned now to look at Tinu who sat away from him and close to the table. Their eyes locked for a second before Tinu abruptly averted her gaze but not before he saw the raw hurt and disappointment in her eyes. He lowered his in shame.
He turned in her direction again but she was not looking at him. She had her eyes on the ground.
“How long have you two been screwing behind me?”
Williams thought he would pass out. Was she really bringing this up here?
“I’m asking you Will! How long?”
“Tinu, we can’t talk about that here.”
“We can and we will. There’s no guarantee we’re leaving here alive and I want to know. So tell me. How long?”
Williams did not respond.
“I swear, I thought you were a decent human being. But you’re just an ass like the rest of them.”
Williams still did not respond. Tinu’s words had a mild sting but he knew it was only because she was hurting.
“Aisha well done o. Slut prime. I heard how you went on a sex rampage with different guys after your boyfriend dumped you. But of course, you had to add my boyfriend to the list too.”
“Shut up Tinu!” Williams snapped
Gozie and Abdul turned to each other contemplating whether or not to intervene but Gozie shook his head and they both continued watching through the peep holes in their masks.
“Don’t tell me to shut up! I asked you a simple question so if you want me to shut up, answer me!
“8 months” Aisha said.
Williams and Tinu turned to her.
“8 months is how long we have been screwing and contrary to what you heard, the only person I went on a sex rampage with was your boyfriend.”
Aisha spoke so calmly, it chilled Williams to his core and he buried his face in his palms. The very thing he had tried to avoid was happening and he was helpless to the situation. He had always tried to think of what he would do if Tinu found out, how he would react, but none of the scenarios he had pictured in his head came close to the reality he was facing right now.
“It doesn’t change the fact that you’re a slut” Tinu fired back.
Aisha smiled and massaged her forehead which still hurt from being slammed against the table. She was way past caring at this point. She had a feeling they would not make it out of the room alive so if Tinu wanted some drama, she would give it to her.
“A slut your boyfriend is in love with.”
“He’s my fiancé!”
“Of course. That’s supposed to mean something. Only problem is I’m the woman who makes him happy. But sure, you have the ring. That should console you.”
Aisha returned her face to its bowed position over her knees while Williams gaped. He knew Aisha was right but it was not something they had ever talked about.
What happened next caught Gozie and Abdul off guard. Tinu appeared calm and quiet for a full minute then suddenly made a grab for one of the knives on the table. Gozie who was closer to the table tried to reach for her but she moved too quickly, sprinting across the room aiming straight for Aisha. Williams made to intercept her but missed. Aisha looked up in time to see what was happening and as she tried to roll over, Tinu brought her hand down heavily, stabbing Aisha in the side with the knife.
Gozie was bent over Tinu in a flash, wrenching the knife out of her grip but it was too late. There was a deep gash in Aisha’s side and blood was pouring out of it really fast.
“If you don’t come back to Lagos with me, what am I supposed to do?”
“Go on with your life.”
Leela could not bear to look at Uzo because she was certain it would make her cave but she was not going back down on her decision.
“There’s no life to go on with Leela and you know this. Don’t make me beg.”
“I’m not trying to make you beg. I’m just saying. You can’t make me change my mind.”
Uzo got off the bed and walked to where she stood looking out of the window.
“You won’t even look at me.”
“I swear you’re making this more dramatic than it needs to be.”
Leela turned to face him.
“I’m looking at you but no, I’m not changing my mind. I do not have a life outside of my job. Gbemiga is dead and-”
She saw the flicker of hurt in his eyes and felt instant regret.
“It’s what it is. You know what? I’ve never had to beg anyone to be with me. I don’t think I want to start now. What we had was not real for you. I’ll respect that.
And I’m sorry I gave you such a hard time when we left Lagos. I was selfish and didn’t acknowledge that you were also hurting. So I apologize.”
Leela was struggling.
“It’s fine. I won’t raise this again. I promise.”
Leela’s eyes dimmed and she smacked her lips lightly. Uzo knew what was coming.
“Don’t kiss me unless it means something to you and you want us to work things out. I’ve had enough uncertainty where you’re concerned to last me a life time.”
Leela bit her lips and turned away. Uzo sighed.
“I just need some time Uzo.”
“Did you think you would lose Gbemiga when you did?”
Leela turned to face him again. Her eyes were wet.
“No. Your point?”
“Holding back and taking some time is a luxury a lot of people think they have but in reality, no one does. The only thing we’re ever guaranteed is the time and space we exist in in each moment. But absolutely anything can happen. It’s even worse with your line of work. For all we know, we could both be dead by the end of today.”
“I’m just saying-”
Leela pulled him close and crushed her lips down on his. Uzo kissed her back until he felt her tears wet his cheek. He pulled back and cupped her face in his palm.
“I want you Leela… I want to be a real part of your life. I want to matter to you.”
“You do. You really do.”
Uzo smiled and nodded.
Leela hugged him tight and tried to not wonder why she suddenly felt lighter.
They were still holding on to each other when they heard the shrill sound of someone screaming. Leela pulled back and quickly grabbed her gun that was lying on the bed. The scream continued as she made for the door with Uzo on her heels but she stopped him.
“Stay here babe, please.”
Uzo was about to argue but the look she gave him made him change his mind.
“Be careful” he said.
Leela nodded and dashed out of the room down the hall way bursting through the door of the room where the others were. She stopped in her tracks as soon as she saw the blood. One of the guys was tying up Tinu while Williams and the other guy were bent over Aisha.
“We need to get her to a hospital!” Williams yelled
“What the hell happened?” Leela asked.
Ijeoma burst into the room as well.
“Ughhhh!! You people!!!”
“She’s going to die if we don’t take her to a hospital now!” Williams yelled at no one in particular. He had taken off his shirt and held it over the wound to stop the bleeding. Aisha had passed out.
Ijeoma let out a sound of frustration and snapped at Gozie.
“Car, right now. You and Leela get her to a hospital. Pay them good money to not ask any questions.”
“We’ll take her to the clinic at my dad’s.” Leela said.
Williams made to carry Aisha but Ijeoma stopped him.
“No. You’re not going anywhere.”
Gozie and Abdul carried Aisha cautiously out of the room while Leela held the cloth down desperately praying that Aisha would not die. Why couldn’t this entire thing go smoothly?
Soon as they left, Williams turned on Tinu and slapped her.
“Are you mad?!”
“Hey!” Ijeoma held him back, forcefully restraining him.
“Get a grip!”
“You’re dead to me Tinu, dead to me! And if anything happens to Aisha, I swear, I’ll kill you!”
“No one is killing anyone. Pull yourself together.”
William eventually shook her off and she let him go. She locked the door and packed up the tool kit, including the knife Tinu had used to stab Aisha. It was 3pm and she needed to call the NSA to finalize things now these kids had put a dent in her plan. She exhaled loudly and tried to think of what next to do. If Aisha died, it was the end of the game for her. Aisha was her major bargaining chip. Yakubu would come after her with a raging vengeance that she would not be able to withstand.
Tinu knelt in a corner crying. She was horrified by what she had just done. She could not believe herself. What had come over her?
It was 4pm and Major-General Yakubu could not stand the wait anymore. If there was one thing he knew about Ijeoma, it was that she always kept her word. The fact that she had not called an hour after the stipulated time told him something was gravely wrong.
He picked up his phone and dialed Aisha’s number but it rang out. He reached for his intercom immediately and buzzed his secretary.
“Ask him to come in.”
Almost immediately, his door opened and Kazeem’s boss walked in.
“Something may have gone wrong with Ijeoma. She hasn’t called like he said she would. What were you saying about your team?”
“She’s not in Abuja. We’re guessing she’s in Kaduna and we’re trying to find out where exactly.”
“You’re guessing or you’re sure?”
“Guessing but a very strong guess.”
The NSA shook his head.
“I need something solid.”
His phone rang and he turned to pick it. It was Aisha’s contact.
“Your kids will be dropped off somewhere in Abuja. At 10:15pm tonight, you will get a text message telling you where exactly to find them. Once you pick them up, there will be no investigations and no going after my people. Am I clear?”
“Yes. But let me to speak to Aisha. I need to be sure that they are safe.”
“You’ll have to trust me.” Ijeoma said.
“I don’t. Just let me speak to her. That shouldn’t be a problem now, should it?”
“That isn’t necessary.”
Ijeoma’s reluctance set off alarms in his head.
“Ijeoma, is she still alive? Ijeoma?!”
A click over the phone told him the call had ended.
The NSA turned to Kazeem’s boss.
“Find her, kill her and bring my daughter’s body home to me.”
Kazeem’s boss nodded and walked out of the office. Governor Bankole and Tunde Rotimi, the Speaker of the National Assembly barged into the office together.
“What is going on?!” Rotimi asked.
“My boys are on it. They’ll find them.” The NSA replied.
“You don’t even sound convinced. What exactly is happening?” Governor Bankole asked.
The NSA’s phone rang again preventing him from responding.
“Bankole and Rotimi are with you right?”
Yakubu looked at the two men in shock. How did Ijeoma know that?! He backed away from the men slowly as though expecting them to suddenly go up in flames.
“How do you know that?”
“Yakubu, I’ve got three of your children in my custody, where else would they be?”
Yakubu sighed in relied. She was right. It was just logic.
“Yes. They are here.”
“Alright then. Put the phone on speaker so you can have your proof of life.”
Yakubu did as he was told.
The first voice to come through the phone was Tinu’s. Her voice was shaky
“Tinu?! Are you okay?”
The next to come through was Williams.
“Hi dad, we’re alive and well.”
“Will! Be strong son!”
“Yakubu, Aisha cannot come to the phone now because your children had a misunderstanding and one of them stabbed her. She’s alive but receiving treatment-”
“What do you mean by that?! Receiving treatment where?! Who stabbed her?!”
“When you see your kids tonight, ask them.”
“What do you two plan to do?” Ijeoma asked.
She was seated in the front of the car while Gozie made his way to the International Airport in Abuja. Leela and Uzo were cuddled together in the back seat.
“Lagos tonight but France in about a week or two.” Leela said.
“Somewhere far, far away from trouble.”
Leela scoffed. “If that’s possible for you.”
Ijeoma laughed and said nothing. A part of her still struggled with walking away without ensuring that Maiva’s killers met their deaths but she tried to convince herself that securing Uzo’s safety was worth it. It would have to do.
A plane was waiting to take her to Cuba that night. In less than an hour, she would be airborne and the nightmare would be over. She would never have to look over her shoulder again. She could have a fresh start. Only a fresh start meant nothing to her without Maiva by her side.
Ijeoma snorted but didn’t turn.
“Do not jinx my exit with your Hollywood soppiness Uzo.”
“It’s hard to believe you gave birth to me. We are nothing alike.”
Ijeoma smiled. They had just gotten to the airport. Gozie parked the car and Ijeoma turned to him.
“Thank you Gozie. For everything.”
“I gat you mama. Anytime.”
Ijeoma got out and Uzo and Leela followed suit.
“I don’t do goodbyes. I really do not know how these things work. Gozie will send the text from Aisha’s phone as soon as you’re airborne. Yakubu and his friends will pick up his kids and this will be over. No one will bother you again, I promise.”
“And Leela, thank you. Thank you for protecting my son. Thank you for Gbemiga’s sacrifice as well.”
Leela gave her a quick hug but Ijeoma was stiff in her arms. She stepped back and Uzo hugged Ijeoma awkwardly as well.
“Thank you for everything.”
Ijeoma kissed him on the forehead.
“I love you son. Always have, always will.”
She turned and walked away briskly but Uzo could have sworn that he saw a trace of tears in her eyes.
“You think she’ll be fine?” he asked Leela
“I’m sure she will be. She’s the singular most formidable and terrifying person I have ever encountered. She will be fine.”
Leela’s phone rang in her pocket and she fished it out. It was her boss.
“We’re waiting at the domestic wing. Where are you?”
“On our way.”
They returned to the car.
“Where to now?” Gozie asked.
As Gozie drove, Leela wondered about Aisha who had been stitched up but still needed medical attention. She also wondered about Tinu and Williams, trying to imagine how all three of them would move on from the entire experience. If anything was certain, it was that Tinu and Williams’ relationship was over. All three of were
“What’s on your mind?” Uzo asked
“Just those people from earlier.”
“They’ll be fine.”
Leela shook her head.
“I doubt. There are certain things you never recover from.”
The car came to a halt for the second time that night and Leela leaned forward.
“Thanks Gozie. You take care.”
“Yup. You stay out of harm’s way yourself.”
Leela and Uzo got out of the car. Leela could see her boss standing a few feet off and she and Uzo walked towards him. The nightmare that began a few weeks ago was almost over and she was really grateful. She was yet to begin healing from the entire experience but she knew in the way Uzo’s firm hand circled her waist that she would be fine in the long run. It would take a long time for her to stop looking over her shoulder, for her to forgive herself for Gbemiga’s death even but she was willing to do just as Uzo had said. Live in each moment and take baby steps till she was where she wanted to be.