She would have married him all over again on their twenty-first wedding anniversary had he not gone and cheated on her. A manila envelope containing pictures of him and a family friend that could ruin her political career was delivered to her office as proof of his infidelity. She blamed herself for this. Sometimes, it was better not to go digging for dirt on one’s enemy. You might uncover what you might not be able to handle.
Now, here was how this happened.
Two days ago, while at work, Hadiza received a phone call from an anonymous person, informing her that her first son had been kidnapped. She listened to the caller without expressing the sort of emotions that might come with receiving such news. This threw the man off, and he asked, “Aren’t you sad about what I just told you? I said that your son has been kidnapped.”
“I heard you. I’m just waiting for you to get to the part where you tell me what you want.”
Her son’s kidnapper (let’s call him Anonymous) then told her that no one else must know. Not even her husband.
“How much do you want?” Hadiza asked impatiently.
Anonymous laughed. “This isn’t about money,” he said.
“What is it about then?”
“It’s about you running for Governorship of Kogi State. The person who sent me wants you to drop out of the race.”
Hadiza rolled her eyes. Didn’t she see this coming already? “Let me get you straight. You took my son, and you’re not going to let him go unless I drop out of the race?”
“What if I don’t?”
“Then, I’ll kill him.”
“Hmmm…” Hadiza got up from her chair. “Can you call me back in the evening? I need to think about this. I’ll let you know my answer.”
Anonymous was perplexed. “I should call you later?”
“Yes. 10:00 p.m., precisely.”
“What if I’ll be asleep then?”
“You’re a criminal. Nighttime is when you operate.”
He laughed. She wondered what he found funny. “Okay.”
“Look, Mr. Kidnapper, Nero is my world…”
“I know, my client knows that too, which was why they felt he was the best person to be kidnapped.”
“Don’t let a hair on his head touch the ground. If he as much as gets a scratch on his handsome face or anywhere else on his body, I will haunt you down and kill you.”
Hadiza hung up. And just to be sure that Anonymous was telling the truth, she tried her son’s number. It rang unanswered. On the second try, Anonymous took the call.
“Hi Hadiza, you want to speak to Nero?”
The sound of the man’s voice made her want to choke someone. “Yes, please.”
“No, you can’t.”
The line went dead. Hadiza pondered on her options. She could decide to contact a capable security outfit to go after Anonymous and rescue Nero, but that would take time. Secondly, she didn’t want to risk putting Nero in harm’s way. Her political opponents had already shown themselves to be ruthless. So far, they had burnt down her family house in Lokoja and did the same to her office there. This was not counting the mysterious deaths of her aunt and uncle and the death threats she got every other day. But Hadiza was a stubborn, determined woman. She would become governor of Kogi State or die trying.
She took the rest of the day off and stayed in her suite at the Hilton. At exactly 10:00 p.m., Anonymous called.
“I expect to hear that you have called for a press conference for tomorrow, to announce your withdrawal from the gubernatorial race.”
“I have something even better for you, sir,” Hadiza said.
“Interesting. I’m all ears.”
“First of all, how is Nero?”
“He’s okay. Go on, madam.”
“How about I give you fifty thousand dollars and you let my son go?”
Anonymous burst into laughter. “You, this woman… I like you. I really, really, really like you. But fifty thousand dollars?” He tsked. “You insult me, Hadiza Husseini.”
Smiling, Hadiza left her bed and walked out to the balcony.
“You think I am so desperate for money that I’d take a miserly fifty thousand dollars? Do you know how much I’m being paid for this job?”
“Okay. Name your price, then.”
“Emm… Let’s triple it. A hundred and fifty thousand crisp dollar notes. You give me that, you get your son back alive and untouched. If I don’t get it tomorrow, I will do what I am being paid to do.”
“I have a second offer.”
“Dirt on the person who sent you.”
“Yes. Taking my money means you’re in bed with me. So, why can’t I just throw in another fifty thousand dollars and you give me dirt on who sent you?”
“Wow! This is why they want you dead by all means.”
“Is it a deal?”
“I expect you to contact me tomorrow with information that might bring this person down.”
“Well, give me more time. I will get back to you the day after tomorrow.”
“And Nero would be fine all through?”
“You have my word…”
“I want to hear his voice right now.”
“Give me a second.”
She waited, and soon, her son’s voice came on.
She breathed in relief. “Oghenero? How are you, darling? Are you okay? Are they treating you fine?”
“It could be better, but I’m good.”
If his throat were being sliced right now, Nero would not tell her. He was that protective of her.
“Hang in there, okay? I’m coming to get you.”
“I love you.”
“Satisfied?” Anonymous asked.
“Yes. I’ll be expecting your call.”
He hung up. Hadiza dialed her husband’s number. He answered.
“I’m having a long night at the office, baby. I can’t come home. I’ll be at Hilton.”
“You want me to come over?”
“No, I’m good. See you in the morning.”
She returned to her suite, popped a sleeping pill and went to bed. By morning, her assistant was at her door. They had important meetings planned for the day. As one of the senators of her state, her work schedule was always crazy. She hardly had time for herself or her family. But she wasn’t complaining. She loved the life and couldn’t see herself living a different existence.
“I’m going home to have a good shower and breakfast with my husband first,” she told her assistant after she read out her schedule for the day.
“But you have…”
“Cancel it, please. Tell them I’m under the weather.”
“Yes, ma. Call the event planners handling my wedding anniversary. Ask them why I have to always call them before they give me updates.”
Inside her car, Hadiza made back-to-back phone calls. She arrived home with her phone still pinned to her ear. Her husband, already having breakfast, pulled out a chair for her at the dining table. Their first son, Basim, walked in and handed a list to them.
“Or just give me 1.4 mil,” he said. Hadiza, still on the phone, frowned at him. “It’s 1.36 something, but I like round numbers.”
“Get this thing out of my sight,” his father, Mazino, ordered.
“I’m on the phone,” she mouthed. Mazino picked the piece of paper and squeezed it.
“Seriously?” Basim complained. Hadiza pulled out her checkbook and a pen from her handbag. Mazino tried to stop her but she shook her head. She was indulgent with their children; her no-nonsense manner in politics and work were never reflective in her mothering principles. Mazino, on the other hand, was the strict one.
She cut a check for Basim for 1.3 million naira and shooed him away as he tried to peck her cheek. She hung up after he was gone.
“Diza, how many times do we have to…?”
She silenced Mazino with a kiss. “He needs to change apartments. Have you visited him recently? The area he lives in is not secure. Bush everywhere.”
“Then maybe he should go and stay in the hostel like every other student.”
“You don’t mean that, Zino.” She smiled. The chef walked in and asked what she would love to have for breakfast. She opted for a simple American breakfast and sat with Mazino to talk about pressing issues. She didn’t mention Nero, and this was neither because Anonymous warned her not to nor was it because Mazino and Nero never got along. Hadiza just wasn’t used to men swooping in to rescue her. She had been the type of woman who stood up for herself, and this Nero situation was just another day in her political life.
She left for work later and faced a typical busy day. She returned home, exhausted. She slept off and was awoken by Anonymous in the morning.
“Something is coming to your office this morning. Ensure that you receive it yourself.”
“You have the option to opt out right now and I will cancel the delivery of the package.”
“Why would either of us want to do that?”
“Well, the content in that package is heavy, and I don’t think you’re ready for it…”
Hadiza got off the bed and walked into the bathroom. “Send it.”
“Once you get it, I’ll call and we’ll have a talk about how I can get my money and you get your son.”
Hadiza already had the money waiting somewhere. She was ready for him. The moment she arrived at the office, the package came in. It was in a brown manila envelope. There was a note written in cursive handwriting, from Anonymous.
You shouldn’t have asked for this. The circled person is the guilty party.
Hadiza opened the envelope and pulled out photos of Mazino and his secondary school sweetheart having sex. His head, in all photos, was circled with a red marker. She stared at all five photos for a while, disappointed that her own husband would betray her in this manner. It wasn’t about the cheating; there were more important things to worry about than where a man decided to stick his penis. It was the kidnap that got to her. The part where he would go so far to put her precious boy in harm’s way just to have her drop out of the gubernatorial race. He had finally given in to the pressure from his family who had never supported her political ambition.
But she said nothing of it to him. She also didn’t cancel her plans for their wedding anniversary because invitations were already sent out and it was important to maintain a decent public image. However, if it weren’t because of her position and the seat she was vying for, she would have divorced him. Right now, nothing was going to stop her from becoming the next governor of Kogi State.
Anonymous called her during lunchtime.
“I’m sorry for what you saw this morning.”
“Okay, I’m not.”
“I just want to know that you’re not lying to me, that this isn’t some ploy by someone to mess my marriage up.”
“You asked for the person behind the kidnap of your son, didn’t you?”
“Well, you got what you asked for. Like they always say, be careful what you wish for.”
Hadiza hated the carefree manner in his tone. “So, where does this drop off happen?”
“First of all… I hope you know now that the pictures I sent you could ruin your race to the government house?”
Hadiza groaned silently. This Anonymous fellow was a bastard.
“I don’t understand you.”
“Fifty more thousand dollars and I bury these pictures.”
“Why don’t you blackmail the two people involved?”
“I will. Fifty from you, fifty from him, fifty from her… If one of you pays up, and the other two do, the pictures will still go public. I hope you understand this?”
Hadiza cussed under her breath. “I already have what we agreed on.”
“Top it. Look, madam, you have more to lose here. Look at those pictures very well. This isn’t just a salacious case of infidelity. If they get out, you are fucked.”
“Fine! I’ll top it. But only with twenty thousand…”
“Twenty-five, nothing more.”
“Keep your phone and the money close. I’ll call you.”
Later in the evening when she got home, Hadiza waited in her bedroom until she got his call. He gave her instructions on where to meet and how the money would exchange hands. Not wasting a second, she changed into comfortable gym clothes and picked her phone to leave the house. Mazino walked in just then.
“Going out?” He put an arm around her waist and brought her lips to his for a kiss. Lately, he had been sweet. She guessed that this was out of guilt over the affair he was having. He had never cheated before—at least, as far as she knew. He had always been a great husband. The stuff of dreams. When no one supported her wild venture into politics, Mazino was there for her. He pushed her hard to stand firm in the face of opposition. When she made moves to hold her first public office in Kogi State and they told her that she would fail because she was a woman, Mazino used his family connections to get her the position. He also didn’t think she was crazy on the night she mentioned to him that she was going to buy a ticket to run for the gubernatorial race.
So, why cheat on her now? Was this something personal that had nothing to do with her?
“I want to take a walk,” Hadiza responded to his question.
“You want me to come along?”
“No, I need the time alone to ponder on a few things.”
“I was thinking that on Saturday, we could invite Nero here for a family dinner and talk. He’s leaving for his master’s soon and we haven’t had time as a family.”
“You’ll talk to him, won’t you?”
“What for? That boy hates me. Besides, he has his father to give him the farewell speech he needs.”
“Mazino?” Hadiza chided her husband tenderly.
“Just be careful with that knee. Remember what your doctor said? Don’t overdo it.” He kissed her slowly, lingering, sighing. When he stopped, he looked at her. “I don’t deserve you. You know that, right?”
She’d normally respond playfully to statements like this with an affirmation. This time, she was silent. She didn’t want to be with him right now.
She left their bedroom and went downstairs. Her children, the ones she had for him, were in the kitchen, arguing over something. She peeped in and watched them unnoticed before she left the house. Her chief security officer, waiting outside the door, greeted her and said, “The car is ready.”
“And the money?”
“Let me have the key.”
He frowned. “I’m not coming with you?”
“You’ll walk me out of the gate and stay outside so that Mazino doesn’t suspect a thing.”
“Whatever it is you’re going to do, I don’t like the sound of it.”
“I know, but it’s none of your business. Walk me out.”
She strolled gracefully to the gate as if she didn’t have somewhere important to be.
“Good evening, ma,” one of the guards at the gate greeted. She nodded and he slid the gate open to let her through. Outside the walls of her compound, extra security lights went on and illuminated the lane that led to the house. It was fringed by walls on either side, blocking off plots of land belonging to the Husseinis, Mazino’s family. He came from old money in Lokoja that could be dated back to the Royal Niger Company during the colonial era. On his maternal side, he was wealthy from oil money in Delta State. Hadiza, in contrast, had been the daughter of poor farmers from Kabba. She had been a single mother who had fallen in love with a rich boy and used his wealth to accomplish her dreams. Her life had been a grueling journey so far, but she had only just begun. Her utmost dream was to become the first female president of Nigeria.
“Ma, I kindly ask you to reconsider.”
Hadiza had just approached a car parked at the end of the lane, in keeping to her orders. She stopped and stuck out her hand to her bodyguard. He placed the car key on her palm, face still in a frown.
“I’ll be fine.”
“At least, tell me what this is about.”
“It’s best you don’t know.”
“You have almost thirty-one million in this car, and you’re going to give it to God-knows-who… You promised me that you wouldn’t become one of them. You said you’d not get your hands dirty.”
Kadiri was more than Hadiza’s security detail. They had been friends for years and could have been something more, but Hadiza had kept her marriage bed pure.
“I’m not getting my hands dirty.”
“Then what is this all about?”
“Kadi…” She showed impatience. He had never supported her going into politics.
“I’m scared, Hadiza.”
Hadiza looked up at her friend; worry clouded his bright eyes.
“Don’t be. I’ll be back in two hours. Just make sure you stay away from the house. I lied to Mazino that I was taking a walk.”
“Hadiza, the windows are tinted. No one would know that I’m in the car.”
She got into the car and shut the door. She took a peep at the bag of money in the backseat before she fired up the engine.
Fuck the Nigerian police!
Cheta swore inanities as she marched towards Laja’s car. She couldn’t believe that some random scum of a man had sexually molested her under the guise of an unnecessary body search. It was stuff like this that made one of her friends, whose father was the secretary to the Federal Government, hunger to run policemen down whenever he was driving. Well, he could do it and get away with it, but not someone like her. She was the unloved and unwanted daughter of a pastor, and if she killed a policeman, her father would say that it was God’s will for her to rot in jail.
“Fucking fools!” she swore again, throwing her head backwards to look at her friends who were fraternizing with the useless policemen. She wasn’t surprised to see that her closest friend, Gold, who had also been molested, was flirting with them. And she was doing this in front of her boyfriend! As usual, Gold had no shame, and Ozzy would not hesitate to let her know this. They would fight in the car over her present behavior, and they would do it all the way to Gwagwalada—another thing that would add to Cheta’s annoyance.
Thanks to the police, she was now dead broke. Every kobo she had gotten from her potential sugar daddy in town had gone into the collective funds she and her friends had used to bribe the police for a free passage home. Now, she had to come up with a lie to tell her deadbeat father why she needed money. Well, there was always Laja to fall back on, although she hated relying on him, just because they lived together. He would take care of all her needs, if she let him, but she didn’t want him to. He was yet to understand how her parents were rich and did not give a damn about her. She was yet to understand it herself.
She hissed as she came to Laja’s car and stopped at the driver’s side.
“Laja!” she called angrily. His fat self was being friendly with the police, and it wasn’t surprising. Laja was too nice for his own good. He was pleasant with everyone, even his enemies. Would he ever have sense?
An angry Ozzy came marching towards the car. For now, she couldn’t tell if his half-white self was mad at the injustice they had just encountered with the police or he was mad at Gold for flirting with them.
“When did the police even start doing roadblock at Giri Junction?”
The question had come from Ransome, the quiet, constant voice of reason amongst them. He hadn’t joined them when the police asked them to park the car and step out. Presently, there was a policeman standing in front of the car whom Ransome had held a staring contest with all through the time his friends were being extorted. He was quiet, but was by no means, a coward. If he had gone along with them, they would have gotten into more trouble because of his defiant nature and refusal to bow to any form of oppression. At the moment, he was running for the seat of the president of the Student Union Government in University of Abuja. He had promised to make Cheta his girlfriend if he won. Cheta had told him to go fuck himself.
“At the rate these thieves are going, obtaining students on this road, it won’t be long before they move their nonsense to the school and start obtaining us there. We have to do something about it when we become SUG president.”
Apart from Ransome constantly referring to himself in the third person, he always made stuff happen, which was one of the things Cheta liked about him. She called him ‘Ekueme’ loosely translated as ‘he says, he does.’ For a boy that came from a poor home, Ransome had accomplished feats that kids of means couldn’t dare. If he said he’d handle the police issue once he became SUG president, he would handle it.
“Wait for me!”
Gold was presently jogging towards them. Her heavy breasts bounced generously with each movement she made. She stopped as she neared the car, breathing hard.
“Enter, my friend!” Ozzy scolded. She eyed him before lowering in. He went in after her, sandwiching her between himself and Ransome. “What was that nonsense you were doing back there with that pig of a policeman?”
Thus, their fight began.
“Fatso!” Cheta called Laja, whose full name was Adelaja, sometimes known as Large because he was obese. But he didn’t care about his weight; he took it as flippantly as he took life in general. Laja’s father was the minister of finance. He could afford to sit and eat his way through school and still be made for life. He, and a bunch of other rich kids made up a good number of students in Uniabuja. Children of senators, governors, ministers, and even the vice president. Rumor had it that the late Sani Abacha had insisted that the school be for the children of the elite. To get in, one had to be highly connected to someone in government. This had been Cheta’s case, even though, these days, people got in through merit. Her father never failed to mention to her that his connections and not her brain had gotten her into Uniabuja.
“Hurry nau!” Cheta yelled at Laja. In response, he jokingly attempted to jog towards the car. This made the policemen laugh, annoying Cheta further.
“I’m driving!” she announced. Her speed demon was calling; she needed to expend her anger on the road.
“Cheta?” Ransome poked his head out. “Please, don’t drive.”
“Shut up, Rans.”
Laja finally caught up with them. “Ehen! I’m here!” He tossed the car key at her. “Feel free, bitch.”
“I’ve been waiting in this car for the past thirty minutes. Are you serious at all?”
“Madam, calm down.”
Hadiza hated Anonymous’ tone. He seemed not to care that she was risking a lot to get this money across to him.
“First, you said Giri Junction. I approached the place and saw the police. I thought that you were mad, and I think I was right. You are mad.”
“For a woman who has a lot to lose, you don’t know how to guard your utterances, madam. No wonder your opponents want to kill you.”
“They’ll die first.”
“Hadiza, Hadiza, Hadiza…”
For the first time since her interactions with him, she thought she recognized the voice over the phone. But she was too irritated to care. She had driven away from the police stop at Giri Junction, heading towards Gwagwalada. She was now parked by the side of the road, opposite a grove of tall trees on the other side. Her supposed blackmailer was waiting there, according to him.
“Be calming down, madam.”
“Where is Nero?”
“I have my boy waiting to hand your son over to you, in exchange for the money.”
“So, you’re not even here?”
“I’m not that stupid.”
“Do I look like a joke to you?”
“No, ma. But I find you amusing, amongst other things. Anyways, my boy has just confirmed that he is ready for you. Here’s what you should do.”
Hadiza listened to his instructions.
Ozzy was irritating. On a serious note, who even named their child Oswald and thought that the child would not end up being a bitch? Anyways, he was good for Gold, who was the queen bitch. Cheta was tired of them and their fight that had been going on since they left Giri Junction. If they weren’t having wild sex, disturbing her nights, they were at each other’s throats. There was never a normal moment of love, cuddles and silence, like the average couple.
“Can you slow down?” Ransome pleaded with Cheta for the fourth time.
She pretended not to hear him. She was high on weed and the rock metal song that was blasting from the speakers of the car. She was doing 150km/h, gunning for 160. One of her weaknesses was cars. She often masturbated, thinking about having sex in the world’s fastest cars while on top speed. In her fantasies, she never saw the faces of the men between her legs. Just the cars. She’d hear the raw, rustic growl of their engines, feel the smooth surfaces of their painted exteriors, smell their masculine leather seats, and get caressed by the full blast of their air conditioners as she came to a shattering orgasm. Last week, Laja had told her that she was a mechanophilia, a term for people who were sexually attracted to machines. She responded, telling him that hers was specific. Just cars. And she didn’t think it was sexual attraction; she just hadn’t found the man that was worth pleasuring herself over.
“Cheta?” Ransome warned her again. She had just overtaken a car at the curve of a bend. Her response to him was nonchalant laughter. “Can you just chill?”
She was good on the wheels, no contest. She had an elder brother who had defied their father when she turned fifteen and taught her how to drive. Her first boyfriend had then taken over. He was her first taste of what it felt like to be possessed by a speed demon. Her first sex in the car, first driving-under-the-influence, first road rage, first car crash, and first heartbreak in a car. She earned her wings from then on and had since been the captain of her rides. The only problem was that she didn’t have a ride of her own, no thanks to her conservative father who didn’t believe that young women should own cars.
But soon, she told herself now, approaching another bend on the road. Soon, she would buy herself a car.
For some reason, she listened to Ransome and made no attempt to overtake the car in front of her. The driver was faster than she was. He turned the bend dangerously and disappeared from sight. She slowed as she approached the bend, decelerating to 130. But coming ahead of her was another mad person who thought it was okay to overtake a vehicle at that spot.
“Jesus!” Gold screamed as the offending driver made straight for them. It was going to be a head-on collision, but Cheta, always fast on the wheel, swerved a little to the right. Unfortunately, she didn’t see the car that was parked on the sidewalk and the woman who stood next to it, holding a bag, ready to cross to the other side of the highway.
Cheta noticed her too late as she burned the right tires of the car on the sidewalk, clearing Hadiza and her bag into the air. The screams from her friends and screeching of the tires as she slowed ahead of her gave her an instant migraine.
She looked through the rearview mirror, heart pounding louder than the song playing.
What the fuck just happened?
Mazino’s phone rang approximately two hours after Hadiza left the house. He had been restless in their bedroom from the moment she stepped out, walking round in circles. He had tried her number more than a couple of times and got her line ringing off the hook. He had also tried another number of a contact who knew of her whereabouts, but just like Hadiza, the call went unanswered. A strange number was calling him now.
He picked the call.
“Hello?” a voice spoke. “Is this Chief Mazino Husseini?”
“Yes?” he answered warily. “To whom am I speaking?”
He listened to the man’s response. He was a policeman. He got Mazino’s number because he recognized his wife’s face. Someone who knew someone who knew him in the hospital gave him Mazino’s number. Hadiza was in a critical condition at Gwagwalada Specialist Hospital after a hit and run. They needed him there ASAP.
Mazino could not utter a word.
“Chief? Are you there, sir?”
“Y-yes. On my way.”
The policeman hung up. Mazino didn’t hurry out immediately. He needed to make that important phone call. He dialed the other number he had tried to reach earlier. This time, it went through.
“A hit and run?” he asked. “How the hell did that happen?”
“Chief, trust me, everything was going according to plan. She was about to get the money to us when this car came from nowhere and cleared her off the road. My boys called me immediately and I put an anonymous call to the police.”
Mazino suddenly realized that he could hardly breathe. He rested a hand on the door and took deep breaths.
“You’ve…killed my…w-wife, Benson. You’ve…killed my wife.”
“I am so sorry, Chief. None of us saw this coming. It was going well.”
“How could you…put your boys on a job that I… I specifically asked you to-to do on your own?”
“My boys were there to scare her as agreed. That was the plan!”
“You’ve killed her,” Mazino croaked.
“I’m sorry, sir.”
Opening the door, he hung up. Basim emerged from his own bedroom at that moment. He slowed at the sight of Mazino.
“Dad, are you okay?”
Mazino felt this stabbing pain in the middle of his back. It was as though someone was squeezing the life out of his heart with two fingers each time he breathed. He leaned on the wall beside him for support as the pain traveled to his shoulder, arms and his jaw.
He fell to the floor before Basim could reach him.
®Sally Kenneth Dadzie @moskedapages