The journey to Ochuko’s late wife mother’s house took longer than Wunmi had expected. She had suggested to Miss Sharon more than once to enter a keke to hasten the movement but it seemed she was determined to have the exercise. More annoying was that she seemed to want to check out every uncompleted building in the vicinity; she appeared to grow intrigued by their progress. She told Wunmi that the last time she came this way, most of the buildings were still on their foundations. One of such buildings, which she particularly took a longer time inspecting, was very big and had been very recently roofed.
Wunmi followed Miss Sharon into that building after so much persuasion – or rather, pressure. The windows were nailed shut with wooden boards, giving the place a certain haunted quality. Once, she almost got her toes shaved clean by a sheet of metal lying recklessly on the ground.
“I find this place unsettling.” She had said. “I get this funny feeling that someone is lurking in one of these dark rooms ready to hurt anyone that gets farther than he should.”
“Those horror feelings, ba?” Miss Sharon asked in reply. “Too many movies create that feeling in us, but in reality, almost every place is free from danger.”
“I’d like to go back outside and wait for you. I really don’t like the way I’m feeling right now.”
“Maybe you should take the lead, that way, you’d be less scared.”
“It wouldn’t change anything, Sharon. This place is dark even when it’s bright outside, it’s setting off the alarm triggers in my system. If the stuff you want to show me is still farther in, I’m sorry I’d have to chicken out.”
“It’s not far anymore, the next room, if I still remember the plan of this building.”
And when they got to the next room, Wunmi didn’t find anything intriguing about it. It was a sitting room built like an amphitheatre. She got wondering if the owner of the house was in his right senses, rather than held spellbound. She searched in her head for the likely use of such a room – that looked completely like a gladiator’s fighting arena – and found none. Except maybe for Gladiators’ conquests. She saved her brain the stress and pleaded with her aide to continue the journey.
She somehow sensed that Miss Sharon had something ulterior in mind. Her actions grew spooky at every passing moment. She would take her hand all of a sudden and drag-walk her to a part of the room she felt should be well noted; more than once when she turned from what she wanted her to observe, she caught her smiling crookedly at her like a kid hiding a stolen meat behind his back. She had prayed a thousand times in her mind to come out of the building unharmed. Her heart had beat erratically and loud in her chest, and sweat had found every single pore in her skin.
Now, standing on the porch of a small duplex and watching Miss Sharon knock on the door, Wunmi felt her fears had been baseless. Definitely, Miss Sharon had a thing for buildings and wanted her to share in this interest. She shoved the thoughts of the unknown evil that might have been lying in wait for her earlier into the dark compartment of her heart where all her childhood boogeymen were safely locked up and concentrated on her meeting with the mother of the dead woman she wanted to become.
With luck she’d be equipped with adequate information and the right character to win Ochuko’s love. Nothing but this must be the outcome of this visit. She’d owe Miss Sharon a lot when it turned out successful.
* * *
Things were easily thought out than done. Miss Sharon discovered this as she moved from one unfinished building to the next. She was quite sure that her mind was made on this: she would kill Wunmi and get going to the more important task at hand. But it seemed she just didn’t know how yet.
Reasons why she couldn’t yet kill Wunmi kept surfacing. In the first building they’d entered, it was that there were plenty houses surrounding it, and these houses had occupants in them at the time. They were discussing loudly, and a couple were having a meal of eba and egusi soup in front of their apartment. They saw her when she entered into the building with Wunmi, they would surely see her leaving the building without Wunmi and that would draw questions. Moreover, things might not go as smoothly as she pictured them in her mind; Wunmi might put up a fight and things would go loud and rough.
For the second and third building, it was that they were fully completed and cleaned of every building material and debris. Those houses were simply waiting for the occupants to move in. She could grab Wunmi’s head and smash it on the plastered wall but she knew it wouldn’t bring the instantaneous death she wished for or the sudden unconsciousness, at least. She might fail to apply so much force thereby leaving her victim stunned. The scream that would follow would be maddening. Actually, the plan was to walk up on her from behind with a whole concrete block – it would be heavy to lift, but she would lift it over her head all the same – and smash it on the back of her head, hard enough to crack the damn skull.
She had given up hope completely after failing to accomplish her kill at the third building when she remembered the Dennis Mansion. Dennis was a man known in the whole neighbourhood for his unexpected wealth. Dennis used to do every kind of odd job back in the days and times when the money he earned from these jobs weren’t adequate, he went begging from house to house. He used to stink so badly that spending five minutes with him was the greatest mortification you could do. Then out of the blues, stupendous wealth hit him. How he came about it was a story no one knew, one he never told. He was presently away from the country and was building a classic mansion close to the old and disintegrating block house he used to live with his parents.
She had been to the Dennis mansion before, more than once, in fact. The amphitheater sitting room was a crazy idea to her too but today it was the best idea ever conceived by a human. It was such a venue for her kill and all the while she hadn’t thought of it. It simplified the job; all she had to do to end her victim was a shove. The shove would see her tumbling down the ascending platforms. Her fall would be unbroken and her death would be instantaneous. So, what other way beats this? None.
They had arrived at the mansion, she had tried her best to convince her victim that she was about to see a wonder of the world yet to be discovered and recorded, had actually succeeded in it, but still couldn’t muster up the quantity of will enough to kill her. She had crept up close enough to her a couple of times, had even stretched out her hands once in preparation for the mighty shove but that was all there was to it, nothing more.
Maybe she wasn’t carved out for this purpose like her mother would make her believe; maybe she was allowing her conscience take centre stage rather than her physical body; maybe she still felt there was a better, easier and stress free way to accomplishing the kill which would be discovered soon enough with patience. Just a little patience…
Mrs Okorocha opened the door with a deep frown creasing her forehead. She had a wrapper tied loosely around her body, a long stew spoon in her hand, and age-flattened slippers on her feet. Her face transformed swifty at seeing who it was at her door, and Wunmi saw in that smile the beautiful lady she once was twenty years ago.
“Oh! Look who we’ve got here today.” She turned and announced to the empty house. “Miss Sharon of Bright Start Montessori.”
“Old woman, let us in.” Miss Sharon said, smiling broadly.
“Keep reminding me that I’ve got many more years to live. And who is this beautiful lady you came with?” She peered closely into Wunmi’s face.
“Wunmi.” Wunmi said and extended her hand.
“Olawunmi.” The woman replied, taking her hand. “You’re welcome to my house. I’m so happy to have company today. Days and nights come and go without company and I’ve stopped complaining. I’m getting used to it already. Not like I don’t wish for company, I actually do, but living in such a place like this where-“
“Ah, old woman.” Miss Sharon shook her head.
“That’s true, I’ve got a pot of stew simmering on the fire. I’ve got to go bring it down before… Come in, come in.” Then she ran off.
“She’s lively and sounds like a nice fellow to me.” Wunmi commented.
“So was her late daughter.” Miss Sharon said.
“Don’t linger so long at the door, I don’t also mind if you come in with your shoes.” Mrs Okorocha’s voice carried across the room to them.
Mrs Okorocho was that way, she loved having people around. It took away her loneliness and grief and brought out the chatty side of her. But since losing her only daughter, Munachimso, who was at that time preparing for her traditional wedding, she extracted herself from life. She quit her job, defriended all her friends and forgot completely about the very few people that was left of her family. Losing her husband and daughter in the same year was the height of catastrophe for her. It was a wonder that she hadn’t attempted to take her life. Miss Sharon and Muna were great friends, had been best friends since childhood. They had taught in the same school before her death.
It had occurred to Miss Sharon only after accepting her inability to kill Wunmi in any of the buildings to take her to see Mrs Okorocha. She couldn’t take her to her own mother, that would be a terrible mistake. First, she was yet to complete her mission, and second, she had sworn that the next time she’d be seeing the woman would be to kill her. Whether Wunmi got what she wanted from the meeting didn’t matter to her.
The roof of the woman’s house was what prompted the idea; she lived very close to the Dennis Mansion. Mrs Okorocha never shut her out of her life, her friendship with her daughter was indelible. The woman loved to have her around, and she visited quite often. Secluded living didn’t help heal her, it increased her loneliness and speeded up her aging process, so much that it had become a thing of joke she shared with Miss Sharon.
Miss Sahron planned on leaving after the introduction, which she would initiate as promised. She would try her best to get the woman to talk about her late daughter, which was something she hardly ever does, and then leave Wunmi to maintain the conversation. Everything from then on would be no concern of hers, except Wunmi still failed to stay out of her way. She also would ensure not to mention her daughter’s name in the conversation as Wunmi happened to know her late sister’s name. The whole plan looked interesting to her, it was perfect.
“Don’t you sit and stare in the sitting room when an old woman is busy preparing dinner.” Mrs Okorocha called from the kitchen where the sound of something protesting at being thrown into hot oil was amplified.
“Sitting is what the sitting room is made for.” Miss Sharon replied but got to her feet.
Wunmi chukled and tagged along Miss Sharon to the kitchen. They got to the kitchen and found Mrs. Okoracha sucking her thumb. Hot oil had jumped out of the pan and burnt her.
“Frying fishes have never been my thing.” She said.
“Let me help you with it.” Wunmi came forward and took the skimmer out of the oil. “I love fried fish, so I had to learn to fry them myself. My mom would always say half interest is no interest.”
“How’s that?” Miss Okorocha asked.
“When you like something, you have to know everything about that thing. Liking is not just enough. Since I liked fried fishes, it would be sham likeness to her if I failed to grow curious about its preparation process.”
“Wow, I never saw it like that. And it’s just the plain truth.”
“Then it’s good I brought my friend Wunmi to your place.” Miss Sharon stepped in between both women, taking their hand in each of hers. “She knows many plain truths.”
They both laughed and Miss Sharon linked their hands together – the woman was no longer sucking her burnt thumb.
“I see so much of my late daughter in you, Wunmi.” Mrs. Okorocha said with a distant look in her eyes.
“Oh, there she goes.” Miss Sharon scratched her forehead and turned to look into the pan. “See this fish, Wunmi. I think it’s ready to be turned.”
“Yes, I have to admit it. It’s been years since her death and I’ve had nobody to talk to about my lovely daughter. Nobody seem to care about her since she died, they all prefer to accuse me of her death. It’s not fair. Life isn’t fair.”
“I’m sorry.” Wunmi said.
“No dear, you don’t have to be.” Mrs. Okorocha smiled. “She used to like fried fish a lot just like you, and she was so beautiful.”
“Yes, she was. I saw her picture once.”
“Did you?” Mrs. Okorocha asked in amazement. “Did you know her when she was alive?”
Wunmi turned to Miss Sharon. Mrs. Okorocha did likewise.
“She was at Ochuko’s place.” Miss Sharon said. “She met with Lucy and the small girl still doesn’t know how to refrain from showing people the picture she took with your daughter.”
“Oh, Sweet little Lucy. I’ve missed her.”
“I’ve got to go now.” Miss Sharon announced.
She got a shrarp look this time from Wunmi, a looked that demanded explanations. That was what she was running from; things weren’t going as planned anymore, and the bitch had caused it herself. She should’ve shut her mouth and let the woman say all she had to say. She had already began without any prompting.
She suddenly felt time speeding up. The sun was halfway drowned in the horizon. She had to get to the hospital before nightfall.
“My mom would be hungry by now. All she ever had today was breakfast and there was nothing in the pot when I left. I’ve got to branch off to the market to get one or two things and see if I can make her an early dinner.”
“That would be very nice. Sometimes, I wonder what would become of me when I get as old as your mom.”
“You would find a way to cope like you’ve always done.”
“That’s true.” She said, then she turned to Wunmi. “Hope you also won’t be leaving. It would be torturous eating dinner alone tonight, especially after making provision for a feast.”
“It would surely be a heartbreak.” Wunmi agreed. “No, I’m not leaving. I’ll stay with you for a long time.”
Mrs. Okorocha came and hugged her, her eyes were sparkling with tears. Wunmi was close to it herself, she could feel the woman’s loneliness.
“Off I go, lovebirds.”
“Wait a second.” Wunmi rescued the well fried fishes from the torment of the hot oil. “Let me see you off.”
Miss Sharon wanted to decline the offer but Wunmi was already set to go. She led the way and both women followed. Mrs. Okorocha branched off to one of the rooms. Probably to prepare it for her guest, Miss Sharon thought, and wasn’t wrong. The woman always assumed her guests would pass the night. Wunmi followed her to the door.
“What happened in there?” Wunmi asked when they arrived at the door.
“What did you mean by what happened in there?”
“Why did you not tell her that I’m interested in her late daughter’s husband? And I never told you anything about Lucy showing me pictures she took with her mom. It never happened.”
“Well, I’ve got nothing to say about that.” Miss Sharon shrugged. “All I can say is I promised to supply the icebreaker but it wasn’t necessary. There was no tension at all to start with. I think she likes you already. So, it’s best to let you go about your business. Don’t you think?”
Wunmi sighed resignedly. “I don’t even know. Thanks anyway, you’ve been really helpful. I appreciate everything you’ve done for me.”
“What’s better than helping a stranger?”
“We’re not strangers anymore, I suppose?”
“No, we aren’t.”
Miss Sharon finished putting on her footwear; she leaned in for a hug. Wunmi came forward for the hug. It was brief. She remained on the porch afterwards and watched Miss Sharon hurry into the bend at the other side of the road. That feeling that something bad was about to happen returned to her. Mrs Okorocha called and she entered back into the house.
* * *
The day had advanced when Cas stepped out of the hospital. It would only be a matter of minutes before nightfall. He was not bothered about this. He had gotten the contact details (phone number and residential address) of the man that posed the greatest threat to his relationship, and he felt it would be best to teach him a lesson or two tonight.
He surveyed the surrounding of the hospital one more time, it still was desolated. He remembered the parrot then and walked funnily to it. He peered into the cage and smiled at it. The parrot drew its curved beak forward and Cas retrieved his head laughing raucously. The dumbass thing wants a kiss, he thought and looked at the entryway of the hospital. He couldn’t remember if he said goodbye to the nurse at the reception while leaving. Was she even there?
He wasn’t drunk. No, not yet. He was a little tipsy, his legs wobbled a little, but that was all, his head was in tact. He should go to where he parked his bike because he hadn’t walked all the way from Sandy’s place to the hospital. He was quite sure of this. Meanwhile, He couldn’t clearly remember where he parked his rolling hunk of metal. He walked down to the gate.
Just how many cans of beer did that doctor have in his fridge?
It was amazing how those green-blue cans kept popping out of the fridge like they were manufactured there. He had had a nice time. Shit! The stuffs were too cold to resist. He belched once. To him, it was confirmation that he needed more beer, not any sort, but the really cold ones.
He wasn’t drunk. No, he wasn’t. There was his bike at last standing lonely like a Roman sentry outside the gate. Lonely Bike, he chuckled. That was a good title for a movie – a Hollywood movie, of course. Nollywood didn’t care about animating inanimate objects, not to talk of elevating them to the status of key characters, or to the level of movie title. That was so fucking insane, so fucking unreal.
His bike wasn’t lonely, there was a dark figure sitting astride it with his back hunched over the small oval dashboard. Cas was yet to accept what his eyes were seeing. For all he cared, everything was dark, and whatever sat astride his bike was darkness personified. He dug out his key from his pocket and proceeded to mount his bike.
His leg struck something solid.
“Give me the key.” Sergeant Usman said.
“Hey, that’s my bike.” Cas said, dangling the keys in the face of the stranger. “See, I’ve got the keys.”
The police officer snatched it from his hand and slotted it into ingnition. He removed the bike from standing and kicked it to life.
“Jesus! You’re a thief?” It came out more like a statement then a question.
“No, I’m not. The law says you shouldn’t drive when you’re drunk. Hop in, let me drive you home.”
“I’m not drunk, man. I’m not. Seriously. You should let me drive my bike, or do you want evidence? You want to whiff my breath?”
The officer had caught several whiffs of it already, he didn’t care about that. He needed Cas to just stop talking and get on the bike. Cas drew his face closer, a wiseass smile splayed on his face. Seargent Usman stretched his hand and landed a backhand slap on Cas’ face.
“Hop in.” He said and Cas quickly obeyed.
They drove in silence past people, vehicles and buildings. Drove late evening into early night.