He palmed her face when his lips touched hers. He told her how much he loved her and promised to be back soon. The dread in his eyes wasn’t hard to see, even though he tried to show that he had it all together.
“Don’t worry about me. Go for your interview and let the whole world hear your story. I’ll sort this mess out and be back.”
“And if I take a flight to Benin tomorrow?”
“No, Ada.” The tip of his fingers gently stroked her sideburns. “I want to do this alone. I don’t want you mixed up in any more family drama.”
“What affects you affects me, handsome.”
“I know. But you’re at the start of something great in your life right now. Don’t let anything hold you back.”
His kiss silenced any other protest she had. He hugged her, his face in her hair. After his departure, Dugo stayed in the house a little longer. She took Santos home with her. When she got into the compound, she found Ace washing her car. She let the dog in, had a drink of water and sat in the front seat of the car to fill Ace in with the details of Udazi’s kidnap and rape. He didn’t break in his activity as she spoke.
“I hope she dies,” he said after she was done.
“I’m sorry, but I can’t feel anything for that witch. I truly hope she dies.”
“Ace, no one deserves to be raped that way.”
“I know, but weren’t you? Weren’t all the other girls? Some of them died. Some were forced to sleep with animals. All because of her. And you want me to feel pity? Abeg, she can cease to exist for all I care. My sympathies are for Luper. No one deserves to see their mother that way.”
“He didn’t watch the video. Thank God.” Dugo shook off the memory of the video from her head.
“So, where’s he now?”
“On his way to Benin. He said she had been texting him since he shut her out after our breakup. She had been giving him details of what she did every day. She left Benue last week and went to Benin, begging him to visit her, because she was sick.”
“See the stress she’s putting him through. Dude lost his job, and now, this. May God not let us have blood relatives that want to destroy us this way.”
Dugo was drained already. The joy she felt from her reunion with Luper was stolen by Udazi’s kidnap, but it wasn’t for herself she worried. She wanted Luper free from pain.
“I just want him happy. I don’t know what I can do to make him happy.”
“That is not on my agenda, please.”
“But having a baby is.”
Dugo looked up at Ace who was now standing beside her, hands resting on the hood of the car.
“I said that in 2018. We’re in 2019, FYI.”
“You were all over my sister’s baby, Deedee. You couldn’t let go of the boy.”
“Baby blues. Is that not what they call it? They come and go.”
“You want a baby, Ada. Have you seen how you cuddle Laika? Na remain to breastfeed am.”
“You have bad mouth.” Dugo hit him, smiling. But her smile disappeared as Luper came into her thoughts. She went into the house. Laika sought her attention by yapping in excitement and circling her. She picked him and kissed his head, and then remembered Ace’s words. She put him down. He followed her to her bedroom. Santos was already there, spread out on her bed in his usual lazy manner. Dugo thought Luper indulged the dog too much. She shooed him off the bed and tugged out her bedspread.
Ace came to the window.
“Your interview is by two.”
“I don’t feel like.”
“Deedee, you have to. Please, don’t cancel.”
Dugo let down the curtains, shutting him away. She had an interview with a popular blogger who was also a reporter for a major TV station. The woman had been on her neck to hear her own side of the story since the Acadia scandal broke. Dugo had turned down all her requests, but she kept sending more. When Dugo called her last week to tell her she was ready to talk, the woman fixed a date immediately, and asked Dugo where she would love the interview done.
“Anywhere you choose.”
“Is your house okay?”
Dugo was ready physically, but catching up mentally was a chore.
She changed the bedspread and went into the kitchen to make breakfast for herself and Ace. He came in when she was almost done.
“I hope you like it.”
It was spaghetti and corned beef sauce with vegetables. Ace liked it, although he complained that it didn’t have enough pepper. While teasing him about being too much of a Yoruba man, her phone rang. She picked it.
“Handsome?” she called.
“Just checking in on you. I’m in Benin. I’m at home. She was here two days ago, according to Irobosa. They had breakfast together. She told him she was taking a couple of days off to see my uncle in the village. She then sent Irobosa on an errand. When he got back, she wasn’t at home, so he assumed that she had traveled. He had no idea that she was kidnapped.”
“Did the house look like someone broke in?”
“No. He said he came home and met everything the way it was. Her handbag and phone were not there, though.”
“There’s not been a gateman for almost two months. I wish I could ask my neighbors if they saw anything, but I need to make this quiet. I’m even scared to talk to the police. I don’t know who is behind this.”
“You have to call the police, Lu. Please, do.”
“I hope we find her.”
“Have you eaten?”
“I’m eating right now.”
“Please, do. Don’t worry about me.”
“I love you.”
“I know, Ada. I love you too.”
He hung up.
“What did he tell you?”
Dugo relayed the details of the conversation to Ace.
“I pray he doesn’t find her.”
“I’m sorry. I cannot pity the devil.”
“Let’s just eat abeg.”
Dugo hardly ate, however. She continued to worry about Luper. Add that to the nervousness she felt over her interview. It was always agonizing to journey into her past. She was never ready to do it.
The morning passed quietly, and the afternoon came the same way. Dugo’s makeup artist was in the house an hour before the blogger and her team showed up. By the time everything was set for the interview, it was past 3 p.m. Ace offered Dugo and the blogger, Toyosi, a glass of wine each to lighten up the mood. Toyosi declined, giving Ace a little frown. Dugo took the glass he offered and gulped its entire content at a go. She became less nervous when the interview began.
They were done by four-thirty, taking a couple of pauses asides the normal ones because Toyosi broke into tears at both times over Dugo’s story. After the second episode, she looked up at Ace who was standing at the entrance of his room and asked nicely for the declined glass of wine. He poured her another. She took long sips. Breathed out a couple of times and reached over to hug Dugo.
“I’d have killed myself if I went through what you did and saw all of that. It had to be God who kept you. He’s merciful.”
Mercy was not the word Dugo would have used to describe her past situation. The way she saw it, she hadn’t done anything bad to warrant mercy from anyone. And what good was that mercy when the girls around her died or turned out worse? However, she was beginning to comprehend God in the manner everyone talked about. She was starting to see how she could have easily ended up like her friends in Italy. These days, she didn’t always see the cup as half-empty. Maybe there was a grand reason she pulled through. She felt this interview was the first step. If her words here today could touch the heart of a girl out there presently being lied to by a trafficker about life in Europe, or a mother about to unknowingly give out her daughter to sex slavery, or stop one more person ready to bare the odds and walk through the desert to Libya, she would be happy. All she wanted was to give people a firsthand account of what irregular migration could cost them.
The interview ended at a few minutes before six. Toyosi had more questions for Dugo. More hugs too. Ace asked her to stay a little longer. She gave him a milder version of the frown she displayed earlier and let out an emphatic, “No, thank you.”
She hugged Dugo for a long time and whispered healing words to her that sounded something religious. On her way out, Dugo caught Ace staring at her with a silly smile on his face.
“Are you kidding me?”
“What?” Ace looked at Dugo in distraction.
“You like her?”
“What’s not to like? She’s beautiful, smart, godly… Emphasis on godly.”
“She looks like Joana.”
“Yes. She has same weight and shape like Joana. I don’t like her sha.”
“But you were doing sister love with her just now.”
“I still don’t like her.”
Ace looked at Dugo suspiciously. “I see where this is coming from. You’re still rooting for your friend.”
“Idenyi likes you. She’s beautiful, smart and…”
“I don’t date single mothers,” he uttered with a straight face.
“I don’t date single mothers,” he repeated, “but you see that chick that just left here? I want her to take me to Jesus. There has to be more in this life, and I know she has it.”
Dugo’s phone began to ring. “Luper.”
She left the living room to take the call.
Luper put his phone down. He had just spoken to Dugo for an hour. It was a few minutes to seven. It had been an exhausting day for him. He had spent time at the police station, and with a private detective. He was going to do all he could to find Udazi. A couple of hours earlier, he had called Terwe and told him everything, asking him to use his connections to help. Terwe, enraged, told him he would get on the next flight back home. He promised to call some of his ‘boys’ in Benin.
“Keep this from Nenge,” Luper instructed.
Luper had then lain on Udazi’s bed and taken a short nap before jolting up at the sound of a knock. Irobosa asked if he wanted to something to eat. He said he was going out to buy lunch. Luper gave him some money and decided to call Dugo. The sound of her voice brought peace. He asked about the interview, and laughed when she told him Ace was stricken by Toyosi.
“I don’t know why he doesn’t want Idenyi.”
“Dude wants what he wants. Free him abeg.”
“Idenyi too. She doesn’t want me calling his name. She used to talk about him a lot before…”
“And she stopped suddenly?”
“Yes. We hung out the day after I came back and she told me she doesn’t want to hear anything about Ace.”
“Think maybe something happened between them?”
“No. He would have told me.”
Luper laughed. “You’re so naïve sometimes, Ada. I think they’ve shagged.”
“Ask him or her.”
“It’s not true.”
“Okay, I will. But how are you, boo?”
He couldn’t tell her how much he regretted the last words he said to his mother over the phone which was something in the likes that he wish he could choose another mother. He couldn’t express how much he missed Udazi. Or how the fragrance of her perfume sparked memories that went as far back as his childhood when she meant the world to him. He could not share these things with Dugo, because it would be insensitive. But that was how he felt. He missed his mother, and although she was what she was, he loved her to death.
They talked a little longer and he ran out of airtime. Irobosa was outside the door with a bag containing Luper’s first meal for the day. Luper invited him in.
“What was the relationship between you and my mom?” he asked Irobosa who was in the business of clearing some space on a nightstand beside Udazi’s bed. He lost his composure, his eyes avoiding Luper’s. “Talk to me, guy. Were you having sex with her?”
“My mom. Were you fucking her?”
“Talk. I’m not judging you.”
“I…” Irobosa swallowed. “She hired me as her personal assistant and driver and to help her do some errands…”
“She now said she will add more money for me if I…”
“If we…” Irobosa gestured, making uncoordinated hand movements.
“She said she will be my sugar mommy. I needed the money for my sister who is sick in the hospital. I’m sorry…”
Luper waved him away. He wasn’t judging him. He was simply curious.
He received an email notification from the private investigator he hired. Earlier, he had sent the man a soft copy of the list of girls that Udazi had trafficked to Europe. He was going to work with him to trace them back to their families. Udazi had been meticulous with the girls she picked, keeping records of all of them. Luper had only found this out a couple of weeks ago when she began to try to get back into his heart.
‘Your girlfriend doesn’t have all the records’ Udazi’s text to him had read. ‘I have them and I will email them to you. I don’t know if you will need them though. I just feel like you should have them’
Luper had neither responded to her text nor opened the email when it dropped. He had thought to himself that his hands were already full with the returnees. He wasn’t ready to go looking for more. He didn’t appreciate Udazi trying to pass off the burden of her guilt on him. The records, he had thought then, were of better use to her. Now, he was glad to have them in his possession.
The email from the investigator was simply an acknowledgement that he had received Luper’s email. He told him he would spend the night poring through the list, searching for instances where sisters were trafficked out together.
Luper hoped that they would find Udazi, but he feared more for what would become of her. He was aware that Karma was doing its thing. Still, he begged God for mercy.
He had his dinner ravenously and finished a bottle of wine he found in Udazi’s fridge. When he went downstairs to see if there was a second bottle, he found Irobosa seated quietly in the living room. He seemed in thought.
“Is everything okay?”
“Yes, sir.” He got up. He began towards the stairs, but stopped. “Sir, please find her. I can help you in any way with any information you need. Keep me in the investigation. We have to find her. Your mother changed my life. She took me from nothing and gave me everything. She gave my life meaning. She blessed my family too. I know that people don’t see her as an angel, but I do.”
Luper said nothing. He continued to the kitchen. He found a bottle of wine, uncorked it and went back to Udazi’s bedroom. Irobosa’s words didn’t leave his head. The Udazi Irobosa had described was the mother he knew from his past. The one that had been all good until she turned all bad. Knowing she still had a good side despite what she was didn’t leave Luper happy. She was getting what she deserved.
Still, he muttered, “Have mercy, Jesus.”
Terwe came in the day after next. He sat on Udazi’s bed, beside Luper, and watched the video and the second one that was sent. He took in every detail. Nothing in him flinched. He had insisted on watching them. Luper wasn’t surprised that he could stomach them.
“Is this all they’ve sent?”
“Yes. Each day, one new video.”
“I’ll kill them,” Terwe threatened. “Luper, I’ll kill them. They better go and hide from the face of this earth completely.”
“That’s not our priority now. Let’s find mom first.”
Terwe got off the bed and paced around. There was a slight limp in his steps, evident of the torture he had received from Terry and his men.
“FUCK!” He shouted after a short promenade around the room. He looked at Luper. “Have you gotten anything in that list?”
Luper shook his head. “Two cases of sisters. I crosschecked with Dugo’s list. The first set of sisters left about thirteen years ago. They’re both alive and frequently visit Nigeria. They built a block of flats in Auchi. Another set that left eight years ago is still in Europe. Dugo was able to reach out to one of them yesterday. The lady said she had been in contact with her family for years. She had no brother, and her sister was alive and well in Switzerland.”
After a frustrated grunt, Terwe said, “Mom helped those girls. Forget all dis wan wey dem dey yarn. She helped them. Do you know what it takes to live in Switzerland?”
“Let’s not get into that now.”
“Of course, you won’t. Everything about you is good. You’re a saint…”
“Terwe, stop it. We don’t need this now.”
“You judged her! You made her feel bad for what she did! Did you think none of those girls knew that they were going to fuck men in Russia and Italy and Libya? They fucking knew! Their parents knew! Their pastors who prayed for them and blessed them knew! Look at this entire Benin! Everyone knows the shit that happens when girls leave this country, and yet they keep migrating like birds! But Mom is the evil one for helping them!”
“Don’t be stupid, Terwe! Don’t be very stupid! Your mother sold those girls! You have no idea what they went through or what they are going through right now! No idea! But this is not the time for this! We’re here to make sure she returns home and she returns alive! Let’s focus on that! Can you do it?”
“Can you try not to screw things up, Terwe?”
“Yeah.” Tervwe went calm. “Sure… I’m sorry. I’m just…”
“Frustrated? I am too.”
“Angry. Pissed! God! I’ll kill that guy and everyone in that video!”
Terwe marched to the door.
“I need to see my guys.”
Terwe slammed the door on his way out. Luper drew his laptop towards him and gathered the papers he had strewn on the bed. He and the investigator were missing something in that list. Udazi’s records tallied with the ones Dugo got from the woman in Italy who had used them as sex slaves. Yet, Luper felt there was something more. Something their eyes weren’t picking up.
They had begun to concentrate on travel dates. Maybe they could find a pattern that would lead to something. But the harder Luper looked, the less he saw.
It was just eleven in the morning, and his eyes were begging for sleep. He put his laptop and the documents away and stretched out on the bed, falling into a snooze immediately.
Luper’s new office at New Beginnings was more spacious and classier than the old one. Following the transfer of the ladies to the building donated by Dugo, Dugo had insisted on having Luper take the largest office at the administrative building. She hadn’t listened to his reason for wanting something modest, and had gone ahead to hire a decorator to fix up the place, paying the lady from the coffers of New Beginnings. This had annoyed Luper and caused one of their tiny tiffs before the breakup. The makeup sex after that had happened on the office desk. The same desk she was resting her elbows on now.
Luper had asked her to stand in for him in a meeting with an ad agency that was to run a campaign sponsored by a foreign company to sensitize the public of the dangers of irregular migration. Dugo was not crazy about being in charge of affairs at New Beginnings, but Luper felt she was capable. And more importantly, fit for the campaign in question, since she knew a lot more about irregular migration than he did.
She had been nervous before the meeting started, unsure of what the sponsors needed or what she would tell the ad agency, but all they wanted was information, and ideas she could throw in to pull together the brief for the campaign. When she began to speak, and saw that she held the attention of everyone in the room, it became easier for her to talk about the experiences of migrants.
“The campaign must be shocking. Hard-hitting. You cannot soft-pedal,” she said to them, marveling at her command of English. Ace would be proud of her.
“You’re talking to people who have given up on Nigeria. They feel hopeless here. Europe, to them, is heaven. If you tell them they could die in the desert, they will tell you ‘all die na die’. If you tell them they’re leaving loved ones behind, they’ll tell you that they’re traveling because of them. Make sure your campaign makes room for real testimonies, told by returnees, in town hall meetings and religious gatherings. New Beginnings will get you some of those returnees. You must highlight the dangers of irregular migration, and show them the reality of living in Europe as against the expectations they have.”
“Can I ask a favor?” one of the men in the room asked, lifting a hand. She recognized him as the campaign lead. “Would you like to be the front face of this campaign?”
“Me?” Dugo drew back.
“I follow you on Instagram. You shared part of your story three months ago. As a returnee, I think you would make a perfect selling point for the campaign.”
“I…” Dugo smiled. “Um… Let me get back to you on this.”
“It would be an honor to have you drive this.”
“We can pay you, if you want,” the man representing the sponsors said. He was a Caucasian with curly, sandy hair, lips that were too full for his race, and eyes that were restless.
“I can never ask for money to do this.”
He pulled forward. “We’ve been talking…” He pointed at the lead manager from the ad agency and himself. “And we’re thinking that if this goes well, we might make a movie or TV series out of this. We haven’t heard your story yet, but whatever took you from Benin to become an award-winning porn actress must have been intense. The world wants to know it, and being that my company is a subsidiary of a European movie production company, we are the best people to tell that story.”
Dugo was flattered. “Thank you. I will ponder on this as well, and get back to you. I’m afraid we’ve spoken past our time, and I have to be in another meeting,” she said, getting up. The men stood up. “Thank you for coming. I will relay everything to Mr. Torkuma and he’ll advise on the way forward.”
“Ms. Ganiru,” the foreigner called, “just before we leave, I’d like to ask: Based on what you’ve experienced and seen, do you think campaigns like the one we’re about to take can end irregular migration out of Nigeria? Are we wasting our time here?”
“Unless the standard of living in Nigeria matches that of Europe, I don’t think it’ll ever end. Most of the returnees end up going back or becoming traffickers and smugglers themselves. Immigration and border patrol officers from Nigeria to Niger, Mali, Libya, Morocco, right to Italy, other European countries and the UAE, are all involved in this. The slave market and sex trafficking network is huge and well-connected. It is a dangerous cartel that makes profits in billions every year. Africans are not used just for hard labor and sex slavery. Their organs are harvested too. There’s huge money in this thing. Change the Nigerian economy and you end irregular migration. Campaigns like these cannot make a massive change. I am sorry to be that honest. They can only target individuals, which is not a bad thing at all. One person can still change the world around them. A peer-to-peer crusade works best.”
She shook hands with each of them, and had a good laugh in the silence of the office after they left. She had no ensuing meeting; it just felt good to dismiss them, because she could. It felt good to wear something decent and sexy at the same time, and not have herself in a lingerie to make a deal with men. It felt even better to be seen as something other than a vagina, to be listened to because she had something important and life changing to say. This was her dream, and she was grateful that she was living it.
Luper naturally came to mind. His mother as well. She picked her phone and tried to reach him, but his line was busy. She put the phone away. The girl at the front desk buzzed to tell her that Idenyi was waiting to see her.
Dugo had forgotten they had an appointment. She picked her key and purse and hurried out. As she tried to hasten her steps towards the reception without success, she was reminded of how much she hated skirts. This one she had on was tight-fitting and didn’t allow quick movements.
Idenyi beamed at her as she walked into reception.
“Oooooh swanky!” she complimented.
“What is swanky?”
“Chic. Classy. Green looks great on you.”
“I’m channeling my inner Adaeze Obiagu,” Dugo replied with a wink.
Idenyi rolled her eyes. “Can you stop with the Lionheart thing already? That movie was basic and overhyped. Genevieve was…”
Dugo raised a hand. “Don’t you even say it! Don’t blaspheme.”
Idenyi laughed. “Let’s be going jare.”
They left the building to Dugo’s car.
“Is it bad that I’m not crying over Udazi?” Dugo asked in a serious tone once they got into the car.
“I felt bad for a bit, but I don’t feel anything now. I just want Luper to find her so that he can come back and we can continue our lives.”
“Be patient. He’ll be back.”
“But I’m thinking… What if it’s my mom?”
“Dugo, the woman was responsible for your mom’s death. Don’t forget that.”
“I know. I’m just scared about how things will be for us after this. Will Luper be the same?”
“Don’t worry about that now. Just pray he comes back home safe.” Idenyi yawned. “Now, can we find somewhere to eat, please? I’m starving.”
“I hope this ewa agoyin doesn’t kill me.”
Idenyi laughed at Dugo who had thrown all dashes of her refinement and attacked the meal of ewa agoyin and agege bread before her. The location was a classy restaurant with a local eatery setting. Dugo enjoyed the meal more than she had anticipated she would. She had come to the end of it and had expressed that she might want more.
“I am so taking some of this home.” She sucked her thumb, licked her lips and asked, “So, what’s up with you and Idowu?”
“You know who I’m talking about.”
“Why are you asking? I already told you that I’m no longer interested in him.”
“Why? What happened?”
“That’s not what he told me.”
Idenyi became guarded. “What did he tell you?”
“I want to hear your own version.”
Idenyi returned the piece of pomo that was already on its way to her mouth. “It just wasn’t working between us. We tried. That first month was great, and then the sex came in and…” She dropped her shoulders. “Ace tried, to be honest. He more than tried. The problem was from me.”
Dugo had stopped eating. She sipped some water and picked a wet wipe from a pack in her purse to clean her hands. She needed to concentrate on Idenyi.
“Start from the beginning.”
“Remember when you traveled?”
“He came back from his trip like two days after. We went on a date and we kissed. That was how it started.”
“Us. We started dating.”
Idenyi looked at her in confusion. “But you said…”
“He told me nothing. Go on.”
“Well, I told him I didn’t want sex so soon. I wanted us to know each other, so we kept it platonic. And it was cool. I had fun. We took each other places, had movie nights in, visited the beach a couple of times, and made out a lot.”
“But things started getting physical. Ace wanted me, and he wasn’t ashamed to show it. One day, he asked to talk, and told me he would love us to start having sex, that he couldn’t date anyone without being that intimate with them. I said I was fine with that. We kept doing our thing until a few days later when we got to the sex part…”
“Are you keeping your body for marriage?”
“I wish, but it wasn’t that, Dugo. I tried to. I’ve always tried to, but I haven’t been able to.”
“Every time I want to, I keep reliving the past.”
Dugo’s face went sad. “I’m sorry.” She reached out and put a hand on Idenyi’s.
“How did you do it? How did you got past the abuse, to the point you became a porn actress?”
“That was my way of coping. I thought that if I had a lot of sex, in different ways, at my own terms, I’ll stop remembering.”
“Did you stop?”
“No. You don’t stop remembering.”
“I’ve tried to get past it, but I never did. This has affected all my relationships. Even when I eventually found a guy that was ready to stay celibate until marriage, I dumped him, because I was scared of what would happen on our wedding night.”
“Have you gone for therapy?”
“I have, and it worked, I guess, but I wasn’t dating at that time.”
“We will have to take you back to see somebody. You can’t live like this. It is not life.”
“What if I never heal? Some people get physical injuries and die of them, even with medical help. What if my mind is like that and it never gets better?”
“Never think like that. You will heal. I promise you.”
“I really like Ace. I love his honesty. I was honest with him too. I told him my reasons and respectfully asked us to break up.”
“He likes you too, you know?”
“He likes sex more.”
Dugo smiled. She didn’t appreciate that Ace was being described that way, but she was disappointed in him. When she arrived home, she entered his bedroom and woke him from a nap.
“The talk can’t wait until later?” He frowned.
He grumbled in Yoruba as he turned around. He covered his lower body with a blanket.
“For fuck’s sake.”
“Am I not your best friend again? Why didn’t you tell me you dated her and broke up because she refused to fuck you?”
“She was the one that dumped me.”
“So, you could not tell me?”
“I didn’t want to talk about it.”
“Because you didn’t want me to scold you for wanting sex from her.”
“Because you would judge me the way you’re judging me now.”
“And don’t you deserve it?”
“No. I was being honest with her.”
“She was raped, Ace. You could have been patient.”
“Patient?” Ace hissed and got off the bed. “Do I look like a rehabilitation center? Leave me, abeg.”
He entered the bathroom for a pee.
“If you really like somebody, you should be there for them. That’s how it works.”
“I refuse to be there for her, Ada. I cannot heal her, just for her to get whole and then decide to dump me for another man.”
“Yes! I’m not doing that. She should go fix herself and come back.”
“I don’t care what you call me. I am not doing.”
“And you’re shallow too. Sex is not everything.”
Ace returned. “I know, but I want it. No man can do without it. Try and withdraw it from Luper and see how long two of you will last. It’s me that you want to be doing good guy. Abeg, let her go and be with someone who can be celibate. Me, I cannot carry any rape victim’s baggage on my head.”
His insensitive words pierced Dugo. She tried not to show it as she went up on her feet and walked to her bedroom. She took off her clothes, lay in bed and called Luper. They talked about his mother. There was no progress in the case. The police was in the process of interrogating some of the guys that had attacked Luper years ago because of Udazi’s activities. They were all grown now, most of them family men. So far, nothing had been gotten from them. Luper sounded depressed. Dugo assured him that everything would be fine.
After the call, she picked up some school materials to read. Ace came knocking on her door. She asked him to come in. When he opened it, Laika and Santos ran in. Laika hopped on the bed to lick Dugo’s face. She pushed him away.
“I just checked the meaning of that German word. The lustmolch. It’s not fair. I am not sex-obsessed.”
“Why are you here?”
“To apologize for that thoughtless thing I said about rape victims. I saw that it hurt you.”
“We all have baggage, Idowu.”
“Maybe some more than others, but it’s no justification for my words. I’m sorry.”
“So, here’s the thing… I gave up on Idenyi because if I had decided to be with her after she opened up about her struggle with sex, it would have been for the reason that I pitied her. Or it would be that I was trying to show that I wasn’t an asshole. In my opinion, those are not good reasons to be with someone. You date someone because you want to be with them. You have feelings for them. Unfortunately, I haven’t gotten to that level of affection yet, like the type you and Luper have, that is strong enough to be there for her. I cannot bear that load with her right now.”
“I’m not a hero. I’m just a man who wants companionship without stress. Am I asking for too much?”
“Idenyi is an amazing woman. That month we spent together was special. She is funny and intelligent and beautiful. But she needs to work on herself, on her self-esteem, and build her confidence back.”
“Look, I don’t like wahala. Even that Toyosi chick, if she starts to form for me, I will just comot face. My definition of a relationship is simple. I like you, you like me, we both make it work like adults. Fifty-fifty. Time will come for sixty-forty or seventy-thirty, but not from the start. That’s when I know that I’m deep into that person and I can give up some of myself to get all of her.”
“Come and hug me for being so brilliant.”
Dugo blew him a kiss. “Now, go. I have to read.”
“Can I have Toyosi’s number?”
“I’m supposed to send her stills of the interview and a couple of the pictures I took of you na.”
“You this Yoruba demon,” Dugo laughed, reaching for her phone. She unlocked it and passed it to him.
“Don’t go looking for what they didn’t send you in that phone. Luper’s dick pics are there.”
Three videos received so far. All of them the same thing. Terwe watched the third one, and gave Luper a heartbreaking update.
“She’s very weak. She’s not breathing fine.”
Luper left the cane chair he was seated on, and walked a few paces away from his brother. They were out on the verandah. Dusk had just set in.
“We’ll find her,” Terwe said. Luper was already tired of hearing that. They were the same words he heard from the police and private investigator. None of them had been helpful. Not even Terwe’s so-called ‘boys’. All Luper could rely on was prayers. He was losing hope fast. He feared that Udazi might not make it back home alive. Her kidnapper sounded like someone who was ready to stick to his threat.
“What if she dies?” he asked Terwe.
“Don’t talk like that.”
“Are you ready to accept her back as damaged as she’s going to be?”
“What’s wrong with you, Luper? What type of nonsense talk is this?”
Luper looked at his brother. “Stop being deliberately foolish. You’re not a child. Mom has been raped, and she’s not coming back the same. Are you ready for that?”
“She’ll be fine. It’s mom. She’ll get over it.”
Luper studied Terwe for a while, and then said, “You have no idea what rape does to people, do you?”
Terwe threw his weight back on the chair, put the beer bottle in his hand to his mouth and took a long guzzle.
“Did you ever reach out to Idenyi to say you’re sorry?”
“I did na. You told me to. I did.”
“Only because I told you to. You still don’t know what you did to her, and the other girls you alone know of. That’s why you can easily watch recordings of your mother being raped. It gives you some sick kind of pleasure.”
“Fuck off, abeg.”
“Just so you know, you and the guys that took Mom are not different.”
Luper was angry. He didn’t mean to go hard on his brother that way, but his mind was dark, and there was no saving it.
“Thank you, grand patron saint of the Torkuma clan,” Terwe retorted. “I fucked your chick. Deal with it.”
Luper charged at him, but Terwe was fast to his feet, his beer bottle already smashed and waiting to stab. Luper assessed the situation. Nothing good would come out of a fight. He needed to get back to Dugo in one piece. Besides, he was too grown to engage in a fight with his younger brother. They weren’t teenagers anymore. He had already shown his superiority a few months ago when he had Terry abduct him. He wasn’t going to lower himself in his eyes.
Irobosa emerged from the house. Luper caught him staring at them both with a sad shake of his head before going in. He stepped away from Terwe.
“Your mother is going to die,” he said to him. “Make your peace with it. I have.”
He went in, and hurried upstairs to Udazi’s bedroom where he locked himself in. There was a collection of family photo albums on the bed. He had brought them down earlier. In them were memories of his childhood, of a family that started out well, of a mother who loved him.
He put the albums away and lay on the bed, hugging the pillow his face was rested on. He had lied about accepting the possibility of Udazi’s death. It was just sinking in. He wanted her alive. So badly. But what version of her would come back to him? How would he look at her the same?
His tormenting thoughts kept his body restless. He tossed on the bed through the evening, and into the night. He ignored Dugo and Shipinen’s calls, and wouldn’t answer the door when Irobosa came knocking to inform him that dinner was ready.
Luper stayed wake until dawn showed. His prayer alarm beeped. He turned it off and walked out to the balcony to look out. The request in his heart to God troubled him, and he was sure it would trouble God too. But he was only accepting reality, seeking for what he thought was best for his mother.
“Please, forgive her,” his heart pleaded. “Give her a chance to repent for all she’s done. And then, take her to be with you. She’s better off that way.”
Luper clenched his teeth when his heart began to feel like it was ripping apart. He gripped the railing at the balcony to still the shivers brought on by the fever he was beginning to feel.
“Please, take her.”