The house was quiet. Kyenpia sat alone in her kitchen with Eliana’s poodle, snacking on cupcakes.
Upstairs, Amaka was breastfeeding her baby. In the backyard, Yenkat and Omar were in discussion. Fiyin was in Lanre’s car, receiving a scolding from him over what had transpired between her and Jaiye. It had been three hours since the slapping incident, and she hadn’t uttered a word. Not even when Lanre burst upon the scene and almost had Jaiye to the floor because he had concluded that he assaulted Fiyin. Jaiye had pushed him off and advanced at Fiyin, yelling, “You’re now hitting me? What if I hit you back?”
Lanre then withdrew and positioned himself between them, just in case Jaiye went through with his threat. But Jaiye stomped out of the compound, leaving everyone stunned at Fiyin. Every attempt they made to get her to speak since then had been ineffective. Kyenpia was worried about her. She wished she could ask her to travel with her. Maybe she needed a break too.
The kitchen doors slid open and Kyenpia looked up from her last cupcake crumb. Amaka walked in.
“Baby is asleep, Mommy can now rest.” Amaka stretched, yawning. “Is Fi still with Dada?”
“Yep.” Kyenpia got off the high kitchen stool she was seated on. “You want tea?”
“Tea ke. Yenkat has finally initiated you into her tea gang. All you Hausa people sef.”
“Herbal teas work. Sit down, let me make you lavender tea.”
“Lavender? Is that not air freshener?”
Kyenpia laughed. Amaka drew a stool and sat before the kitchen table. Her eyes were distracted by a sight from the backyard.
“They are actually cute together,” she said.
“Yen and Omar.”
Kyenpia followed her eyes and found Omar and Yenkat in a hug.
“You should have seen the way he kept looking at her throughout. She didn’t even know, but I was just watching him.”
“He adores her like crazy.”
“It’s sweet, but it’s still somehow to me sha. Hmmm… Let me not talk before you’ll tell me I’m judging.”
“Yup. Keep those thoughts to yourself. And do the same when Fiyin comes in. Nobody is scolding anyone tonight.”
Kyenpia opened a kitchen cabinet and took out a jar of lavender flowers.
“Kay, you have no idea when you’re coming back?”
Kyenpia turned and shook her head with a smile. Amaka nodded in understanding.
“Should I tell you how much I’m going to miss you?”
“I know, Maxy.”
“But stay as long as you need to. We’re a phone call away.”
The doors opened and Fiyin walked in.
“Kay, can I stay the night?” she asked in a mousy tone.
“Sure, baby. Sit down first and drink tea.” She looked at Yenkat. “Omar’s gone?”
“Yes,” Yenkat responded. “Said he’ll call you tomorrow. Fi? Ready to talk now?”
Fiyin sat beside Amaka. She placed her elbows on the table and drew herself forward. “I didn’t mean to slap him. I… you girls know me, I’m not violent. I’ve never hit anyone in my life…”
“Then what happened?” Yenkat stood beside her.
“I was leaving, he ran after me, grabbed my hand and pulled me back, so I slapped him.”
“You can sha slap,” Amaka said. “What! Did you guys hear the sound? Biko, come and teach me how to slap like that.”
“I was angry. I’ve not been so angry like that before.”
“Why were you angry?” Kyenpia asked.
Fiyin gave a sigh. They all waited for her response.
“I lied about Bosco. Yes, he and I met and we made out. I really wanted to have sex with him, but I couldn’t. And it wasn’t because of what he did in the past. It was…” She released a second sigh.
“It was what?”
“Have you ever found yourself falling for someone you didn’t want to fall for?”
Kyenpia and Yenkat nodded.
“You’re falling for Bosco again?” Amaka questioned.
“Jaiye. Because of him, I couldn’t do anything with Boss,” Fiyin said in frustration. “I keep thinking about him all the time. Every single time! And the feelings are so teenage-like! You know how we used to daydream about our crushes senselessly. You can’t sleep or rest until you hear their voice… It’s soooo stupid. So, so stupid! I hate myself for how I feel about him. It wasn’t supposed to be that way. I just wanted to fuck and go. I even wanted to break his heart, because I feel he was scum and didn’t deserve me. But…”
Her lashes fluttered as she tried not to let tears win.
“I don’t want Jaiyesimi, I don’t want Jaiyesimi, I don’t want Jaiye…”
Amaka looked into her face. “Is the dick that good or what?”
“Amaka!” Yenkat laughed.
“It is not the dick! He’s not the best I’ve had! He’s not anything! I hate him!”
“But you just said you loved him, Fi–”
“Maxy, I don’t love him!” Fiyin snapped at Amaka and placed her head on the table. “I can’t love him. I need him out of my system.”
“I should have warned you about Igwe men,” Kyenpia stated. “They love you so intensely you get addicted.”
“I couldn’t cheat on him.” Fiyin lifted her head and laughed, tears dropping from her eyes. “A whole me. I couldn’t cheat. Ah, Fiyinfoluwa!”
Her friends remained silent.
“I so hate myself for the way I feel, because I said I wouldn’t do this. I said I won’t fall for scum again. But here I am, doing it all over. It’s like a curse. I can’t be with normal men. Only the ones that hit me or rape me or cheat on me. Nothing normal.” She dropped her head on the table a second time and cried. Amaka pulled towards her. “Something is wrong with me.”
“Nothing’s wrong with you, Fi. And you’re not cursed. It’s okay to feel this way.” Amaka stroked her back.
“I just want a normal man…”
“I wish this were one of those times I’d tell you that you’re being silly because the man in question is a good guy,” Kyenpia said. “I wish.”
“And it’s hard that I have to work with him.”
“What if he’s a good guy and we don’t know?” Amaka asked, but was shut down by all three women. “I just want her to be happy. I hate to see her this way.”
“Maxy, at this stage of our lives, we can’t be doing ‘what if’s’ when it comes to men,” Yenkat stressed. “It’s better to remain single than keep circling around trash. If Jaiye is changed, for whatever reason, he has to prove himself to Fi. And Fi, I won’t advise you to wait around, hoping for him to prove himself. Just live and enjoy your life. You might outgrow him and find someone new. Don’t stall your happiness because of him.”
Fiyin nodded. “Thanks.”
“Enough of the drab mood, abeg.” Kyenpia turned off her gas cooker. “Tea, everyone?”
Amaka frowned. “Is some of that amala from earlier still available?”
“Maxy, it’s too late to be eating swallow. Have you seen your tummy lately?”
“I’m a breastfeeding mother abeg. And leave my tummy alone. James has agreed to pay for liposuction for me when I stop breastfeeding.”
“For real?” Yenkat laughed.
“He sha said I shouldn’t touch my flat ass, that he likes it that way.”
“Amala is in that cooler.” Kyenpia pointed.
They stayed in the kitchen two hours longer and retired to bed. By morning, Amaka convinced them to go to church. Leaving the children behind, they drove to church. It was a thanksgiving service and the opening of the new church hall, which could accommodate ten thousand congregants. Kyenpia hadn’t been in a church building since Leonel died, but it wasn’t strange to be there. She felt at home. She missed Ishi’s presence on the pulpit, though. Church wasn’t the same without him, and she felt somewhat guilty. Was there a way she could tell him to return to his father’s house without incurring his anger?
The highlight of the service was when the music minister took the stage. She was a new face to Kyenpia. Amaka explained that she had come from their Umuahia branch.
“God is in that her voice,” Amaka whispered. “We don’t play with her here o. When she starts like this ehn…”
Kyenpia didn’t need to be told. The woman’s voice was balm to her pain. It broke into a place nobody could reach and brought healing. It took a great deal for Kyenpia not to run out to find some place to cry. Strangely, it wasn’t tears of sadness she wanted to let out; they were of bliss. She felt comforted. She knew everything was going to be okay.
Before the service ended, she said goodbye to her friends and made her way out of the hall, Clarence tailing her. She entered her car and Clarence took her home.
Anna sealed the final box that contained her shoes and knelt before it with her elbows resting on the surface. She was exhausted. She had spent the last two days packing her things, and it hadn’t been easy. If anyone had told her that she’d be here today, planning an exit from the life she used to love so much, she would have laughed. Even after Leonel ended their affair, she had had no plans to leave Lagos, let alone the country. But all she had needed was that trip to Mauritius to convince her that she needed to move on. Kyenpia had been gracious to her. Anna hadn’t expected her to accept her the way she did. Most women would have wanted nothing to do with her, considering the peculiar circumstances, but Kyenpia was generous in ways she couldn’t imagine. An alert from her bank four days ago was testament to the fact. And Anna had since borne guilt that she couldn’t shake off. Today, she planned to visit her to reveal the role she played on the night of the hit-and-run that took someone’s life.
But where would she start? How would she put the words together to come clean?
“Leonel didn’t run the woman down; I did. The person you saw wearing his hooded sweater in the surveillance video wasn’t him, but me. Yet he took the blame and told me never to reveal to anyone that I had done it.”
She had thought out the words repeatedly for days until they stuck. Now, it was a matter of getting into her car and driving to Kyenpia’s to let them out. Jaiye had told her not to do it when she went to him the morning before and reiterated her need to own up.
“Didn’t I tell you dead this matter? Why are you so stubborn, Anastacia?”
He was lying on the leather couch in his office with an eye mask on.
“Jaiye, she needs to know. She’s been nothing but kind to me…”
“Forget kindness, Anna. Leo said it was him, and that was that.”
“I can’t keep it in. I’m sorry.”
“You know what this means, right? It implicates me.”
“I will try not to implicate you–”
Jaiye lifted one side of the mask to reveal an eye. “How? Have you forgotten that I immediately acted on what you told me when you came to my suite that night, almost pissing in your pants? I rushed downstairs to see that someone already called an ambulance. I then took control of the situation…”
“But you came back and took advantage of me. Remember? In my messed up state, you coerced me to have sex with you and even pushed me into a whole relationship.”
“You did it all on your own, Anna. I didn’t force you to date me.”
“But I dated you because you made me feel I owed you.”
“Then why didn’t you stop when Leo found out about the whole thing and decided to take the blame for it? You could have walked away from me then, but you stayed…”
“Because he didn’t want me with you! He told me you weren’t good for me, but I was mad at him at that time and I stayed with you to hurt him!”
“So, why am I made to look like the bad guy here?”
“Because you are! Didn’t you tell him what I did because you wanted him to owe you, knowing he would take the blame for it? And he did! Just as you had predicted! That was why he forgave you for stealing from the hotel!”
“He didn’t forgive me. He fired me from my position.”
“He should have kicked you out if you hadn’t held him by the balls over that night!” Anna’s eyes flooded with tears. “All he wanted was to protect me.” She mellowed. “He took the blame when he shouldn’t have. But all you did was milk the entire situation on both ends. You made two of us indebted to you, Jaiye. You’re the bad guy here.”
“I fixed the situation. I doctored the tapes and paid off that blackmailing son of a bitch who witnessed everything.”
“Where is the son of a bitch now?”
Jaiye sat up. “I don’t know! God! Stop asking me! I don’t know! Maybe Leo had him taken care of–”
“Don’t you dare insinuate that Leo did anything to that guy! Don’t even go there! You and I know that Leo was many things, but a murderer wasn’t one of them!”
“Are you sure? Did you really know your boss?”
Anna wanted to say that she knew him well, even better than Kyenpia. She wanted to tell Jaiye about the many times Spirit came to her and needed her in a way no man had ever needed her. She longed to tell Jaiye, Kyenpia and everyone out there that the man they knew was not the same man she knew, and she had loved him as messed up as he was and held his secrets that no one else had knowledge of. But that was not why she was here. As usual, Jaiye had digressed from the discussion and distracted her.
“I’ll tell Kyenpia everything, and I don’t care what light it puts you in, Jaiye. I also want to let you know that I’m leaving.”
“Suit yourself.” He lay back on the couch, covering his eyes. “Enjoy your holiday. I know you’ll come back.”
Anna didn’t think she would. The plan was to visit her brother in Addis Ababa for a while, and then see where life would take her from there. Firstly, she needed to get this burden off her chest.
She got off the floor of her messy living room and picked the box with her some of her shoes. After she dumped it on a hoard of similar boxes, she went in for a shower. Almost an hour later, she was on her way to Kyenpia’s home. At the estate entrance, she replayed the words in her head again, preparing for the worst. One of Kyenpia’s pet peeves was dishonesty. The woman hated being lied to, and Anna had lied, just as Leonel had told her to. Would Kyenpia understand and forgive her?
The guards let her into the estate. She maintained the speed limit required for car users on the main street, not because she cared, but because her mind was traveling to the past.
Leonel had brought her here and shown her the house he was building for Kyenpia. He had wanted her opinion on it.
“Do you think she’ll appreciate it?” he asked.
“She’d be stupid not to,” Anna answered, not masking her jealousy.
“You don’t like her very much, do you?”
That day, he had worn dark sunglasses, making it hard for her to read his eyes. The sun above them was intense and all she could think of was how cold his bedroom was and how she loved to seek warmth from his body.
“Why must I like her?”
“I’m not expecting you to. I’m just asking.”
“Do you like her very much?”
He laughed. The sound of some noisy machinery drowned his voice for a moment.
“I love her. I’d die for her, make no mistakes.”
Then, he walked off, and she knew she had just conversed to Leonel himself, the one that loved Kyenpia, and not the other part of him. Sometimes, it was hard to tell the difference, because Spirit never did anything to show that he loved Kyenpia less than Leonel did. And Anna didn’t understand that. This made it hard for her to reach out to him on her own terms. He came to her whenever he felt like. He controlled the terms of their arrangement.
Anna parked outside Kyenpia’s mansion. She walked to the pedestrian gate and knocked, showing her face on the surveillance camera right above her.
The gate was opened from within and a female guard frisked her before letting her in. She walked all the way to the front door and rang the bell. Nelly answered it.
“She’s waiting for you in her office,” Nelly said.
Anna made her way to Kyenpia’s office and was welcomed in by Kyenpia.
“My runaway PA,” she teased with a smile. Anna smiled back.
“Why do you want to quit on me nau, Anna? You know I’ll still function as CEO from outside Nigeria. If you leave, who would be my eyes and ears here?”
“No, I want to stand, please. There’s something I need to tell you.”
Anna didn’t speak immediately. She tried to conjure her rehearsed speech, but the words came to her in fragments.
Anna released her breath and spilled everything. As she spoke, Kyenpia showed no sign of being affected by her words.
“Interesting,” she said after Anna was through. “Is that what you couldn’t tell me from the start?”
“Have you ever killed someone before?”
“Then you won’t understand. It’s hell. Yes, I was drunk, but it was no excuse. I shouldn’t have picked that car in my drunken state. I was mad at him. I wanted to take the car and wreck it or something. I just felt like driving like a mad person that night, but it turned out wrong, and the images won’t leave my head. I killed someone, Ms. Kyenpia, and I didn’t do anything about it. I watched as Jaiye covered the truth and Leo took the blame. It’s haunted me ever since.”
“I can imagine. And the other person that was blackmailing you guys, where is he today?”
“I don’t know.”
Kyenpia opened a drawer on her table and drew out a piece of paper. She pushed it in Anna’s direction. “That’s the man. He’s alive somewhere outside Nigeria.”
Anna had a peep at the paper, at the picture of a man she didn’t recognize.
“Leonel paid him off never to come back.” Kyenpia looked up at her. “Anna, you and Jaiye opened a can of worms when you brought this topic up. I don’t know what you both were thinking, but telling me that type of thing about my husband wasn’t something I could take lying down. I reached out to someone trusted to investigate the whole matter and he gave me the details of what happened that night. That hooded sweater of Leonel you wore didn’t cover the ring on your forefinger. That was what pushed my friend to look your way and unravel the whole mystery.”
“How long have you known?”
“Long enough for me to let it all go and bury the truth with Leonel. He was a good man, wasn’t he?”
Weakened by Kyenpia’s revelation, Anna pulled the visitor’s chair and sat. “He was everything,” she whispered.
“The real reason I didn’t confront you with what I found was because of him. When I learned of what he did, how he took responsibility for your foolishness, I was proud. He was a noble man.”
Anna was confused. “How do you not get angry that he took the fall for me, the other woman?”
Kyenpia laughed quietly. “If you grew up like I did and lived a day in my shoes, you’d learn how to seek the good alone and ignore the bad. What would being angry with Leonel change about the things he or Spirit did? Would it undo the past? Would it erase the fact that he was fucking you while he was engaged to me?”
“No,” Anna replied quietly.
“Of course, I’ve been mad at you two, but why stay mad forever? We were all victims of circumstance. You, me, Leonel. The question now is what do we make out of what we’ve been through? Leonel is gone. He can’t change his past. That should be a lesson to you and me.”
Anna dropped her head as Kyenpia’s words hit her hard.
“Stop hating me because I loved a man who loved me back insanely. Move the fuck on, Anna. Free your heart. You wear your pain and bitterness like your skin, and the whole world sees it. Leonel told me you used to be so playful and quirky and goofy… Where is that Anna? Come on, girl! Or are you telling me she comes out only when she sees dick?”
Anna let out a giggle that ended in a sob.
“It’s all over, babe. Let it go.” Kyenpia pushed a tissue box towards her.
“I don’t know what to say,” Anna cried.
“A thank you would be nice, but you could just not say anything, and go out there and make the best of your life.”
Anna pulled out some tissue and wiped off her tears. “Thank you.”
“You may leave.”
Anna got on her feet. She felt like she needed to say something to Kyenpia, asides how grateful she was to her for her generosity. But her lips wouldn’t move. Instead, she wished her well and left the house, feeling shame and relief at the same time. If she hadn’t understood Leonel when he told her how beautiful Kyenpia’s heart was, she did now. But Anna never wished to see her again. She and Kyenpia didn’t belong in the same world.
The Igwes were gathered at the villa on Igwe’s behest, having been given a two-week notice, to ensure that everyone within the country attended. It was a day before Kyenpia’s trip, and she wouldn’t have attended the meeting had Igwe himself not called her and told her to ensure that she was there.
The meeting was held in the large family sitting room situated in the north wing of the villa. Extra couches and chairs were made available for those present. Kyenpia was seated with Peggy and Ishi. David was absent. Peggy explained that he had gone on one of his numerous trips, but made mention that he didn’t tell her about it, which was unusual of him. Even during their fights, he’d call and tell her where he was headed.
But Peggy didn’t see reason to worry.
“He always comes back.”
Kyenpia made no comment. She didn’t want to be involved in their issues.
To kick off the meeting, Igwe addressed the family on the matter of his living will and testament. He explained that he wasn’t ill or planning to pass away soon, making a time-honored joke about how he would outlive them all. He also emphasized the importance of honoring the family’s yearly tradition of reunions. There was to be another one at the end of the year.
“I know it is going to trigger a lot of unpleasant memories, and which is why we’re making this year’s theme a remembrance to everyone we have lost. We were supposed to have one at the end of last year, but because Leonel and Kyenpia’s wedding came at the same time, we had it shifted to the first week of January. This year, we’re returning to the old date, and we’ll honor our lost loved ones, right on this premises. The date and arrangements will be communicated to you by the villa’s chief of staff.”
He then officially welcomed Jaiye into the family. Kyenpia had been surprised to see Jaiye in attendance when she arrived earlier.
“Come over, Jaiyesimi,” Igwe called. Jaiye left his seat and walked to him.
“We all know that his father, Lateef, publicly disowned me over twenty years ago, and forbade all his children from having anything to do with us. Our darling Fayoke disobeyed his orders when she came of age, and has since borne my name. Jaiyesimi, here, fell out with Lateef when he began working with Leonel at the hotel a decade ago. I had wondered for years why he hadn’t borrowed a leaf from Fayoke to bridge the gap between us, because I have been waiting with open arms. Well, here is. Today, I am glad to welcome him into our fold. He was included in my will the moment he officially added Igwe to his name.”
“Sly fox,” Kyenpia murmured. She had no idea that Jaiye had done a name change. What else was he up to?
“All that is left is to christen him with an Igbo name. I would need suggestions. It seems I’m out of names these days. I don’t want to give him something I’ve already given someone else.”
“Ikpuru would be nice,” Captain muttered from behind his phone. There was low murmuring in response to his words.
“What does the name mean?” Kyenpia asked Ishi.
Igwe ignored Captain’s mockery of Jaiye.
“Welcome to the family, Son. I am proud of what you and Kyenpia have with the empire Leonel left in your hands. May you keep flourishing.”
“Thank you, Gramps. I promise not to bring shame or disrepute to the family name.”
Jaiye then dropped to the floor and prostrated before Igwe.
“Oh, come on,” Captain uttered.
Jaiye arose and returned to his seat. Igwe continued with his speech, coming to the last topic on his agenda.
“The issue of forgiving the people that were behind the attack on us. Whatever names you have heard that were responsible for what happened to us are just rumors. The Kentoro-Abassis, for instance, are like us. In fact, Asuquo, whom we all call Kentoro, is the grandfather of David and Leonel. Hence, I consider him family. I know that there has been bad blood between both families, and I will admit that I started it when I overthrew Asuquo in a coup a long time ago. I will not delve into the details, but all that is in the past now. We have mended bridges and I employ you to do the same. Ignore the rumors that fingers him and his entire family in that attack. They are not responsible. Another name you should remove from your heads is the Bahagos. Idris Bahago is a man I consider my son and we have done business together for years. Idris would never lay a hand on anyone in this family…”
“So, who did?” Princess asked. Kyenpia looked at her. She was seated beside Omoayena, Jacan’s wife. Both women never used to get along. Seeing them together in this manner was rare.
“Investigations are still being carried out…” Igwe responded to Princess’ question.
She leaned forward and slowly shook the glass of wine she held. Her face was stony. She stared at her husband with malevolent eyes. “For almost a year, Abraham? It’s either you’ve gone soft or you’re deep in bed with the people that did this.”
“Take it any way you want, Princess. I have told you that investigations are on-going. Once they are concluded, we will know who exactly hit us and they will face the full extent of the law.”
“Will they?” Captain put his phone down. “As far as I’m concerned, all I’ve heard here, right now, is bullshit.”
“Luke…” Jamila murmured.
“You want me, after losing my sons, to forgive the people that killed them? You want me to forget that my brother was murdered along with his wife and two daughters? You want me to forget my other nephews and sister I lost? Just because you’re fucking weak and can’t do shit to people that tried to wipe all of us out? Did you for once imagine what it would have looked like if that bomb went off first and all of us died? We’d have kids with no parents and grandparents! Little children with no one to look after them! Bloodlines would have perished for nothing!”
“It’s not nothing, Son. Our enemies have hit us hard. But what would you have us do? Hit them back again and the cycle continues and we pass on the bad blood to a new generation that knows nothing about the sins of their fathers? Where does it end?”
“With me. I will end it all. Every one of them who was responsible for that shit in that hall that night is going down! I don’t care if you’re good with them or you now stroke each other’s cocks when no one’s watching! I don’t give a shit! Nobody touches my sons and gets away with it!” Captain sprang to his feet. “I don’t care how long it takes, I will repay blood for blood! Fucking cocksuckers!”
He marched out, leaving the atmosphere tense.
“Ignore all of that,” Igwe said. “Odum has always been headstrong and militant in his ways…”
“Well, I agree with him on this one, Abraham,” said Princess. “They came for us and didn’t quite hit their target…”
“And who was their target?”
“All of us,” Princess answered. “We’re still here. Our kids and grandkids are still alive. You think they won’t strike again? Like I said, I think you’ve gone soft. The Abraham I know wouldn’t have slept a wink after that attack. By now, Lagos would have been littered with bodies… Well, if you can’t do that, allow Odum the pleasure of responding to our enemies. Please, don’t stand in the way.”
“I will not have this discussion with you right here, Princess.”
“And for the rest of you, I say sheath your swords. It’s not worth it. Don’t tow the line of Odum’s madness.”
“At least, he has confirmed the age-old rumors about his bloodthirst,” someone said. Kyenpia threw her head backwards to put a face to the vaguely familiar voice. It belonged to Ruben, Igwe’s son from a marriage that had ended in a divorce. He was a billionaire of his own right and owned a bank and other companies Kyenpia didn’t know about. He was a difficult man to like – unfriendly and conceited. His children lived outside the country and bore the same superciliousness as their father. Leonel once told Kyenpia that he had raised them to see themselves as immortals. But it was ironic that the media was not crazy about him as they were about Igwe’s other children. Even in death, Samuel’s name was still mentioned a lot more than Ruben’s. Maybe it had to do with the fact that Ruben kept his life scandal-free. And since the media was in love with everything Igwe, they easily got disinterested once an Igwe wasn’t feeding their thirst for gossip about the family.
“And this brings an end to this gathering today,” Igwe said in conclusion. “Any other matter arising?”
Kyenpia was happy that no one said a thing. The meeting was dismissed and she went home with Ishi. He didn’t stay for long, but he said a proper goodbye to her with long kisses and a promise to spend Christmas with her and the kids.
She was sad when he left. She stayed awake in bed for a long time before sleep eventually came. By morning, her friends began trooping on. They came to say goodbye. Everything was set for her trip. Nelly, as usual, had proven herself efficient in her duties. She had ensured that Kyenpia worried little about the travel details. From their luggage to the meals the twins would consume on the flight, it was all handled. Asides the children, Kyenpia was traveling with Clarence, the twins’ nanny, and Nelly herself. Kyenpia’s diplomatic passport had her and the team covered. They were to leave with one of Igwe’s private jets within a few hours. The only problem right now was that Kyenpia had just been informed that the plane wasn’t available.
“How?” she asked in annoyance for the fourth time. She was on the phone with a man that worked for Igwe’s luxury private jet company. “How is it not available? And why are you telling me this now? You didn’t tell me yesterday or the day before or even last week! It’s now you’re saying it? What do you want me to do now?”
The man apologized.
“I’m tired of hearing your apologies. Replace my plane. You have other ones.”
“Unfortunately ma, they are all presently engaged.”
“Disengage them or get me a new plane! Fix this!”
Kyenpia hung up. She sat down in frustration. Amaka sat beside her and peered into her face.
“What are you going to do now?”
“They will fix it o,” Kyenpia replied. “They just have to. I must leave today.”
“What if I start making plans to get us on a commercial airline?” Nelly suggested. “Permission to see if we can get tickets online?”
“Just give them some time. They are highly efficient. They will come up with a plan. That’s why I don’t want to call Gramps to report their asses.”
Nelly nodded and made her exit. Kyenpia turned her eyes on Fiyin who was seated, occupied with her phone.
Fiyin looked up.
“How are you today? We haven’t spoken since Sunday.”
“He won’t talk to me. He’s started being an ass at work. It’s going to be messy without you.”
“I’m know. But are you planning to get back with him?”
“No.” Fiyin returned to her phone.
“Okay.” Kyenpia focused on Yenkat. “And you, where’s Omar?”
“He’s with Aanu. They’ve traveled to her hometown. He’ll be back for Christmas.”
Kyenpia was employing every trick to stay calm. She had a hunch that nothing was wrong with the plane she was to travel with. Brahm Jet Charter Services was the best out there. Their planes had no record of breaking down unexpectedly, especially not on days they were supposed to be used. They had a thorough maintenance policy and almost nil incompetence rate. Kyenpia felt something was off. In fact, she had foreseen this in a dream. A couple of nights ago, she had dreamt that she got on the flight, but she never quite made it to her destination. She had dreamt that she fell asleep midair and woke up on the bed in her former apartment at The Refuge. It felt like the flight had taken her back in time.
“Kay, see this as one of those delays that God does when he wants to save you from danger,” Amaka said. “I’m not saying something bad is about to happen o…”
“I understand, Maxy.” She took her friend’s hand. Amaka rested her head on her shoulder.
“I’ll miss you like mad.”
“Who will I visit in the middle of the night when James is annoying me? Please, don’t go.”
“Awww, Maxy… I’m just a call away.”
“Can you two get a room?” Fiyin muttered.
Kyenpia’s phone rang. She reached for the answer button. It was Igwe’s aide calling.
“Hold on for His Excellency, Ms. Kyenpia.”
There was a pause on the line and Igwe’s voice came on.
“Good morning, Kyenpia.”
“Good morning, Gramps.”
“How are you doing today?”
“So, I was told that your flight to Barbados is experiencing some technical difficulty?”
“I apologize for that. It’s not our way for us to have such issues. However, I think it’s perfect timing. There’s a matter of importance I would want you involved in, but because of the nature of the project, I can’t discuss it with you over the phone.”
“Could you come meet me in Jos?”
“Yes. I’m there right now.”
“But Gramps, I have to leave for Barbados today.”
“I know, my dear. I have spoken with the guys at Brahm and there is nothing they can do for you today. That plane has to be fixed. The next available one is on Saturday.”
“You can’t fly commercially, please. And I don’t want you to use any other charter service because they can’t guarantee you the protection Brahm does. We’re the only airline in Nigeria, asides the presidential fleet and other government security planes, that have diplomatic license to carry personalities who fly with weapons. It’s important that you and the kids are safe. So, please bear with us. But in the meantime, I need you in Jos. I need you here today.”
Kyenpia couldn’t say no to the old man. “Okay, Gramps.”
“My chauffeur will come for you and the kids. Your assistants and security can come along too.”
Kyenpia explained the situation to her friends after Igwe rang off. She stood up. “Something doesn’t feel right.”
“How?” Yenkat asked.
“I don’t know. I just feel something is off. Can you give me a moment?”
Kyenpia left the living room in search of Clarence. She found him outside, speaking to one of the guards at the gate. He came to her when she called him.
“Clarence, what’s going on?” she asked.
“As regards to…?”
“Something is going on that I’m not aware of. Our flight to Barbados suddenly has technical issues…”
“Yeah. And now, Igwe wants me in Jos. He won’t tell me why. Then I can’t reach David. Even Peggy doesn’t know where he is.”
“Maybe he’s on one of his numerous trips which has nothing to do with Igwe wanting to see you or our flight being delayed.”
“Are you sure?”
“You’ll tell me if there’s a security threat on me and the kids, right?”
“Not really. Part of my job is to ensure that you don’t panic.”
“So, are my kids and I safe? Are those people after us again?”
“No, ma’am.” Clarence’s reply was done with the straightest of faces. Kyenpia sensed that he was lying.
“Okay. Pack a smaller bag. We’re going to Jos.”
She repeated the same instructions to Nelly and the nanny and sat with her friends in the kitchen to have a brunch of tuna salad.
Igwe’s chauffeur arrived in a couple of hours. Kyenpia said goodbye to her friends and sat in the car with the kids and Clarence while her staff followed them in another car. They drove to the airport and boarded one of Brahm’s domestic planes. Kyenpia made sure not to sleep on the flight, for fear of making her strange dream come true.
They got to Jos within the hour. Cars were waiting for them at the airport. They were transported to Léon Hotels.
“Why are we going to Léon?” Kyenpia asked the chauffeur when it became apparent to her that they were not headed in the direction of the Igwe family house at Rayfield.
“I don’t know, ma’am. I was given instructions to take you to the hotel.”
“Who gave you the instructions?”
Kyenpia became restless. “Clarence I told you something was off.”
“Everything will be fine, Ms. Kyenpia. I’m here. Relax.”
But she couldn’t. She was too much of an Igwe to know that when plans changed suddenly, something was wrong somewhere. She had experienced situations like this a few times since the shooting. Nobody told her anything on those occasions, and she had hated such moments as much as she did now.
The car pulled up in the private parking space of the hotel. The last time Kyenpia was here was four years ago. It had been a cold night in December, and she was with Leo. They had just returned from a house party where some girl swilled him with a cup of milkshake. Nothing much about the parking lot had changed, save for the renovations done. The place triggered memories.
She looked out and saw two buff men in black suits. This added to her restlessness. Why did she need this extra protection? What was nobody telling her?
Clarence opened the door for her while Nelly did the same for the kids, taking Eliana out. The nanny went for Kane as Kyenpia carried Reginald.
“Clarence, you’re lying to me. What’s going on?”
Clarence smiled. “Nothing, ma’am. You’re in good hands. Come this way.”
He led her through an entrance she recalled following four years ago. Her laughter and Leonel’s words that evening echoed in her head as they walked up a flight of stairs that led to a secret elevator.
The guards they had met outside accompanied them in. One in front, and the other tailing them.
Clarence pressed the elevator button.
“This leads to the penthouse,” Kyenpia mentioned.
“Yes,” the chauffeur said. The elevator doors opened. “I was asked to take you there.”
“Is Igwe there?” Kyenpia asked, walking into the elevator.
“You mean, His Excellency? No, ma’am. Just the boss.”
“Igwe’s not here?”
Nelly, the nanny and the kids got in next and Clarence pressed a button to shut the doors.
“What boss, Clarence?” Kyenpia’s voice rose. “What the hell is going on?”
“Is Mantim mad to tell his chauffeur to bring me up to the penthouse? I’m his boss, and I am not here to see him, but to see Igwe. Why are you not telling me what’s happening, Clarence?” she shouted.
He was silent, and she knew she won’t get any answers from him. Eliana began to whimper. She asked to have a drink of water.
“Not now, Elem.”
The elevator stopped and the doors parted open. Clarence stepped out first, looking left and right. Kyenpia followed him. There was a lady waiting outside the penthouse suite. She walked towards Kyenpia.
“Good afternoon, Ms. Kyenpia. I’m here to help you watch over the kids while you go in to see the boss.”
“What boss, for fuck’s sake?”
The woman showed that she was affected by Kyenpia’s language, but she smiled in return. “I’m only acting on instructions. Allow me take your staff and kids to…”
“Hell no!” Kyenpia took out her phone from her purse. “I’m calling Igwe. Enough of this.”
She dialed Igwe’s number and his aide took her call.
“I want to speak to Gramps.”
Igwe was on the line in seconds. “Are you in Jos yet?”
“Yes, Gramps. But what’s going on? Why am I here? Why did I have to travel with my kids? And why wasn’t I taken to the family house?”
“The house is hosting delegates from outside the country. If you would kindly wait for me in the penthouse, I would be with you shortly. Meanwhile, cooperate with the hotel staff. I have given them orders to take care of you.”
Igwe’s manner brought instant calm on Kyenpia. She allowed the strange woman take Reginald from her, but kept her eyes on them as they walked back to the elevator. Eliana wouldn’t go with them. She ran back to Kyenpia and clung to her legs. The woman turned.
“Let her be,” Kyenpia said. She took Eliana’s hand. Just then, the penthouse door opened and David emerged from it.
“David?” she called curiously. “What are you doing here?”
“Um…I was summoned, I guess. Same as you.”
“Uncoo David!” Eliana called, spreading her arms in the air. David squatted and lifted her off the floor.
“How’s my girl doing? Give me a high five.”
Eliana slapped his hand. “See baby!” she pointed in the direction of her brothers who were presently being taken into the elevator.
“Yeah, Reggie and Kane.”
“Water,” she muttered.
“You want water? Let’s go and get you water. And maybe ice-cream?”
“Ice-cream!” she echoed in excitement.
“See her mouth,” Kyenpia laughed.
“Kay, see you when you’re done. I’m downstairs.”
Kyenpia smiled back. Seeing David eased her fears. Kyenpia watched him take the stairs down instead of the elevator.
“Should I knock on the door?” Clarence asked.
He knocked on the door of the penthouse suite and dropped his hand, straightening his jacket.
“If I find Mantim inside this place, I’ll query him,” Kyenpia said. “What’s with you men and disrespecting your female bosses?”
“You know I respect you, ma’am.” Clarence looked at her with a bland smile.
He opened the door and entered the suite first. Kyenpia followed him in. There was nobody in the living room. She shut the door. The same door Leonel had trapped her against when he kissed her for the first time. She recalled how she had gone to him shamelessly that evening, on her own, but in the guise of looking for a desktop charger. She had then lost her guts outside the door and was making plans to turn back when the door opened and Leonel called her name.
She swiveled back to his welcoming smile as he stood in front of her, staring down at her.
“H-hi,” her knees almost buckled beneath her. “I just wanted to er… I just wanted to find out if you have a… um…desktop charger. Do you have a desktop charger? My battery…” She cleared her throat. “My phone is down and I forgot my charger back in Lagos…”
Leonel smiled a knowing smile.
“I don’t have a desktop charger but you can come in and wait while I ring reception and ask them for one.”
“No, I’ll do that myself – from my room. Erm…thanks.”
She made a half-turn but he took her hand and pulled her into his suite. The door closed behind them and he pinned her against it with his body, his hand at the nape of her neck. He lightly kissed her upper lip and then her lower lip, then he dug his fingers into her hair and held her waist with his other hand. He went for her parted lips again, and at a measured pace, kissed her. He was so skilled with his tongue that tears stung her eyes, as she stood against that door, helpless in his arms.
“Ms. Kyenpia?” Clarence’s voice drew her out of her memory. He was standing at the entrance to the bedroom on the right. “You may want to come here.”
“Clarence, in addition to today being strange and everyone acting somehow, you’re also giving me weird vibes. And what’s that stupid smile on your face? Wipe it off.”
The last thing Kyenpia wanted was to walk into the place where she first knew Leonel intimately. The pain of losing him was still raw. She didn’t need to be reminded of their first time, which was one of her best moments with him. But she trusted Clarence, and was now more curious than scared over the strange happenings of the day.
He was holding the door open when she walked through it. He then shut it once she was inside the bedroom, leaving her to herself.
“Clarence?” she looked back, but her eye caught the form of a man, standing at the balcony. The image gave her instant goosebumps, even though she had not seen him clearly.
Slowly, she angled her body in the direction of the balcony. Slowly, the man turned. She was looking at none other but her husband, Leonel.
Kyenpia gasped and moved in reverse, her back hitting the door. She froze there as Leonel left the balcony and walked into the bedroom.
Kyenpia shook her head in disbelief. “No.”
She opened the door and dashed out. Clarence was seated on a couch. He sprang up when she barged into the living room. Before he could say a word, she reached for the handgun in a holster, covered by his jacket and swiveled around to point the gun at Leonel who had stepped out of the bedroom.
“Whoa!” Clarence exclaimed.
Leonel was unmoved. Kyenpia’s hands shook as she took in every detail about him, staring from his face, upwards to his head and down to his feet, before going up again. She stopped at his shy eyes. The ones that were the most beautiful she had seen on a man. The ones that used to worship her on most mornings when she woke up and found him staring at her. The eyes she had thought closed in darkness forever on the night he bled on her and she last saw him alive.
Those eyes… They were gazing at her now so intensely.
“Tattoos on both arms, an ear piercing… You’re not my husband.”
Something stabbed her chest at the sound of his voice, pushing her into gasps.
“It’s me, Kyenpia.”
“No, it’s not.” She released the safety of the gun. Clarence tried to move forward, but Leonel stopped him with a single glance.
“Kay, it’s me.” Leonel went closer. Kyenpia’s head became foggy, as did her vision. “I’m going to take the gun from you.”
She was too stunned to comprehend what she saw in front of her. This wasn’t her man. This wasn’t Leonel. It could not be him.
She felt his familiar hands on hers as he gently pried the gun out of her grip. Her cloudy eyes couldn’t focus on him any longer. She wanted to turn around and run so fast until she woke up from the dream she was in. Somebody needed to wake her up. This wasn’t reality.
She dared to look up at him, blinking to set free the tears in her eyes, so she could see him better.
“It’s me, baby,” he said in a shaky voice.
“Why?” she managed to ask, taking steps away from him. She heard the door close. Clarence had given them privacy. She wanted to leave too. She shouldn’t be here with this person that called himself her husband.
“Don’t come near me.” She moved backwards as she had done in the bedroom, bringing herself in contact with the door. Leonel went closer, but she stopped him from coming too close.
“Why?” she repeated.
“I’ll tell you everything. Can you just let me touch you? I’ve missed you like crazy, Kyen. I just want to hold you.”
“Hold me?” she said as if she didn’t understand what the words meant. The endless nights she had lain in bed, broken because she missed the simple pleasures of touching and holding him. What she would have given just to feel his fingertips on her skin! She couldn’t comprehend how he was here with her, tangible and alive. It did not make any sense. But her heart said otherwise. It had accepted the reality already. It had gone ahead of her thoughts and acknowledged the man in front of her as her own.
Kyenpia hugged herself. The weather was cold, but she wasn’t shivering from its effect. She was coming apart inside, so much that the instant Leonel reached out and took her hand, and she felt his touch the second time, her knees gave out and she crumbled to the floor in tears.
He went down with her and held her in a soothing embrace.
“Hush, baby. I’m back.” He kissed her cheek. “Your Butter Babe is back.”
®Sally Kenneth Dadzie @moskedapages