PART 3- THE PLACE
Story by LND
I woke to a start and I think I must have misyarned because Idara looked at me with that mocking look she was famous for.
“Where am I?” I asked after a long yawn.
“In your grandmother’s grave.”
I slowly sat up and looked around the room that has been my recovery unit for the past two weeks. I must be getting old; no bullet has ever done me in like this one. I tried to get up but I felt dizzy so I had to settle back into bed and looked at Idara with suspicious eyes, “Aphrodite, have you been drugging me?”
“Why?” she looked up from painting her nails.
“I have been in this house for two weeks…”
“If I have been drugging you, how did you know how long you have been here?”
“Did I ever at some point lose my mind and propose to you?”
She laughed and went back to her painting and murmured, “oh Leo, you’re such an idiot.”
I pulled myself away from the bed, wrapped the bed sheet around me and stood up again, fighting the constant queasy feeling that was within me, “I’m going home today.”
“Suit yourself. The captain was here and he was really pissed that I was taking care of you.”
I looked at her, “did he say something about you cutting him deeper than an enemy’s sword?”
“Oh, you heard our fight? It was nasty. Anyway, I told him nothing was going on but he’s still angry. Who cares? I might just decide to marry you to piss him off.”
“Eh-eh-eh-eh-eh-eh! Nooo! Abeg!“
She laughed, “but you actually did propose to me.”
“You don’t remember?”
“I don’t. Let me tell you something about me. Every time I go through some type of trauma like a bullet wound or accident or anything, I lose my memory. I have serious amnesia issues.”
“Coupled with terrible nightmares and hallucinations. Captain said you are possessed, that you have other entities living inside you.”
“don’t listen to that old fool. As I was saying, from the moment I showed up at your gate, things have just been mixed up in my head. I’ve had this nightmare about you, about us over and over and over again.”
“That I died in it, I jumped off a building in your family’s villa?”
“Yes! I told you?”
Idara laughed for a very long time.
“Why? What? What’s funny?”
She nodded, still in laughter “confession: I have been drugging you but not maliciously, just trying to help you with the pain and what I was giving you made you very suggestible.”
“Why? What happened to good, old feldene and its associates? Did I tell you I couldn’t handle the pain?”
“Okay,” she put aside her nail polish and dusted her hands, “sit down and let me run you through a typical day in the last two weeks.”
Out of curiosity I sat down and she began, “you wake up and first thing you do is ask what the time is. I tell you and you’ll say you don’t believe it and you go like, ’Aphrodite, can you please hold my hand while I sleep?’ and you would look so cute and desperate and that I will hold you and listen to you ramble till you slept off. So I decided, just out of fun, to piece together a story about your ex-girlfriends that I know and about us and…”
I stood up, hissing, “you’re not serious. I’m going home.”
“You seemed to like the idea of your exes being together in one room. Felicia, Bukky, Ada and Chi-chi…”
“Chi-chi is not my ex and you don’t even know how to tell a story. Next time you want to do it, try and make it real. I’m glad you died in it.”
“You jumped. And my family has no villa in Mambilla whatever. You know what? just take it that I am really possessed and it wasn’t me who asked for tales by moonlight; it was something else.”
“But it worked. It seemed to ease your mind off whatever demons were disturbing you ‘cause Leo you have plenty and they are most active at night.”
“I’m happy for you, hypnotherapist. I’m glad you’re using your profession professionally.”
“Look who’s talking. How many girls have you slept with by just twisting their minds?”
I dropped the bed sheet and she screamed and covered her eyes, “look at this,” I displayed my shamelessness, “why would I need to stress myself when this is hypnotic enough?”
She dashed to her wardrobe and threw me new t-shirt and jeans. I flung them to the bed and limped to her, trapping her so she couldn’t move away, “you want to give away all of this for the captain?”
She slapped me and pushed her way through.
“It’s for free,” I rubbed my cheek.
She turned to me, “I hate that you see me as a sex object, Leonel.”
“I’m sorry,” I apologized.
“You better be.”
I still stubbornly moved towards her and she wrapped a towel around me, “please, try to act modest around me. Treat me with the same respect I show to you.”
She actually was frowning. She didn’t find it funny that I was teasing her and that was the thing I liked about her. She was a very modest woman. You don’t find that virtue these days. I met Idara in school somewhere in the UK when I was pursuing a certification in hypnotherapy. She was the only other Nigerian in class and we were the only black people taking the course that year. We became good friends and it seemed we were always at the brink of taking it up a notch and getting serious but something always stopped us. When we got back to Nigeria, I casually introduced her to the captain at a party and a week later, I caught them making out in his home. She expected me to be pissed but I knew why she went to him and I respected her for it. It was the same reason that made her care for and keep away from me even till date and I could still see it in her eyes as I stood by the bathroom door. Idara was madly in love with me but she couldn’t afford to play games at her age (she was not two years but seven years older than I was) and like most women with racing biological clocks, she wanted stability and security. Sadly, the captain was not going to give her those; his matrimonial days were over. I tried to tell her to dump him severally but she wouldn’t listen because he treated her like a princess and she was convinced he would propose very soon. How wrong she was. I would have to have a serious conversation with him about her.
“Permit me to shower. I have business to handle with the general and his wife.”
“About that…” I raised my brows and Idara continued, “officially, the general died of a heart attack last week but from a trusted source, he was shot in his thigh at exactly the same spot you were shot and hung upside down for a whole day until he bled out and died.”
“That’s interesting. And Debbie?”
“She is somewhere outside the shores of Nigeria, safe and sound, and she would want you to know that.”
“Good. All is well that ends well.”
I walked into the bathroom and shut the door behind me.
“I left something in the hood of your car. Could you please bring it to the place for me? and also don’t be an ass; we’re going to have very important guests.”
“Meaning?” I pushed my earpiece into my ear, waiting for the captain to explain himself as I drove to Chi-chi’s place and by the way, the captain is my old man.
“Alhaji is coming with his daughter. She is very striking and I think he wants me to marry her.”
“Aren’t they like conservative Muslims and you a pagan?”
“Keep it in your pants, zip it up, cut it out, dash it out to Martians or sell it, I don’t want to know. Just don’t use it on Alhaji’s daughter.”
“I have no idea what you were just talking about. Just to be sure, do you have anything to do with what happened to General Shehu?”
“The one that shot you?”
I made no answer.
He was lying. He was guilty; he had killed the general. I knew his M.O and the death of the general had Captain written all over it. Years ago, when I was just a child, my aunt was married to the general. It ended badly after he beat her to a pulp and she was admitted for two months with four reconstructive surgeries done to restore her facial features. I was there on the night of that brutal abuse. I remember waking up in the wee hours of the morning to her incessant screaming upstairs. I ran out of the room but found her at the bottom of the stairs in a pool of blood, unconscious. The general was nowhere in sight so I had to ring the captain who drove up to the house and got her to the hospital. When she came to she lied that she was beaten by armed robbers and that her husband was not in town. I told a different account to the captain and though he accused me of lying, I knew he knew I was telling the truth. What I didn’t know was that like me, he had harbored revenge on his mind for a long time. He had used me to get his payback and I hate to say this but yes, I used Debbie. I’m glad she’s safe now. I made a mental note to call her one of these days.
“Have another call coming in,” I told the captain as I spied Chi-chi in a distance. I heard him still rambling but ended the call and stopped my car by the side of a quiet street. Chi-chi smiled at me and came over wearing this short dress I had bought for her a month ago. She looked good to eat in it but I wasn’t in the area for her; I came for Ada. Everyone knew Ada was my official wifey, the one I took around for important events because she was cultured and very mature. She also came from a wealthy and influential family as mine and if there was anyone I was willing to take down the aisle, it would have been her but we broke up the day I met Debbie at Silverbird. Ada had insisted on two things only a maga could give her—a baby and a ring. Igbo girls! (smh).
“Hi, handsome,” Chi-chi cooed in my ear as she lowered herself into my window.
“I was just wondering if your numerous toasters could allow you for one night.”
“Where are you taking me?”
“Pack a bag for the weekend.”
“Rain flooded my house,” she said running a finger over a weak spot behind my ear, “I lost everything and all I could save was this dress and all the things you bought for me.”
Like I believed her, but it was Chi-chi and I would do a lot of things for her, so I pulled out a card from my pocket and gave to her.
“Knock yourself out. Get me something nice, too.”
She was about to start screaming excitedly in my ear but I drove away and looked at her from the rearview mirror and smiled. Wait till she finds out she can only withdraw fifty gees. She will have a fit. I turned my eyes back to the road ahead of me and entered a more exclusive avenue in the neighborhood. I drove to Ada’s street and parked a few houses away from her house. I don’t know why I did that since I could just walk in and grovel to take me back… Pause. I knew how to grovel as long as it got me what I wanted. Ain’t nothing manly about forming when you want to get laid. And I’m not talking to you celibates. This is my story. Shh! I picked my phone to dial Ada but the moment I tried to do so I saw her coming out of the gate with some dude I knew too well. They walked to his SUV and he took her hand and kissed it. She moved away shyly but her face registered that she was enjoying the attention. He pulled her to him and gave her a cuddly hug while he looked straight at me. Bastard. I put my car in gear and drove away. Ada did not see me.
My cousin ran an illegal business somewhere in the outskirts of Lagos where he grew and sold marijuana. He made millions from it each month and was some sort of baron in the business and had worked up the ladder to even partner with the captain. Nobody partnered with the captain; he was either boss or benefactor. I stepped out of my car and wore on my sunglasses even though it was almost dark. Like the gentleman I was, I walked to Chi-chi’s side and opened the door for her but she was on her phone, typing away. No, that was my phone.
“Hey!” I snatched it from her.
“What is FMS? One girl sent you a picture of her boobs and typed FMS. What’s that?”
“don’t ever touch my phone again.”
She pushed the door and got out of the car, “you are supposed to be kissing my ass for forgiving you after you gave me an empty atm card,” her Igbo accent surfaced and I laughed at how it always did when she spoke about money.
“Okay, I promise that next time, it will be nothing less than…”
“Five hundred thousand,” she chirped with blinking eyes to seduce me.
“Chop money!” I hailed her.
“You know nau,” she broke into a smile and made to kiss me when a whistle interrupted us. We both turned to the direction of the whistling and it came from a Fulani man standing by a tent a few feet away from us.
“My neighbor and his family,” my cousin, Aaron who was standing by his front door announced with head bent, eyes glued to his phone. I can’t remember ever seeing him without a cell phone; it seemed he was born with the thing. The neighbors, he told me, had just returned from herding. I noted the presence of a mother, a daughter and two sons. The man of the house who had whistled at us and was now grinning lustfully at Chi-chi, was a thin, tall man with a lot of missing teeth.
“Let’s get in before the fool comes here,” Aaron said and turned to the door but then remembered his manners. He turned back to Chi-chi, “hi,” he said briskly and went in before she could respond. I gestured to her that he was a psycho. She nodded and held my hand and as we entered the elaborately built bamboo house, I spied a certain SUV parked outside.
We got in and were warmly welcomed by my younger brother, Ramsey. He was my half brother whose original name was Joseph but was baptized ‘Ramsey’ by the captain for some weird reason I can’t remember. Ramsey was a lieutenant in the army and a very psychotic human being. I seemed to be the only normal male in my family.
“Ow far?” he asked and I looked at him from head to toe. Disgraceful son of a sea biscuit. Is this how they dressed in the army? I wanted to ask him as I looked at his sagging jeans, rough hair and whizkid shoes.
“Chi-chi, meet my younger brother, Ramsey and Ramsey, my girlfriend, Chi-chi.”
He shook her hand and his eyes lingered over her lips, sending a very clear message that my eyes did not miss. Now, you must know this: I am not the worst in my family. All the males (and we are so many) apart from two pastors are heavy-hitting, ladies’ men. My great, great grandfather had over fourteen wives; my grandfather married four; my father and uncle each married two; Aaron has had four divorces and then there’s me, the good boy. Ramsey was worst than I was and his mouth proved it as he said to Chi-chi, “you have very sensual eyes.”
Even Aaron was forced to look up from his phone with a raised brow. I smiled and pulled Chi-chi’s hand away from Ramsey’s. I looked at her and said, “excuse me, sweetie,” and with momentum, I threw a punch at him. The force of the assault sent him backwards but military training kept him steady. Chi-chi was not the screaming type but she was very alarmed and she held me back but I freed myself off of her.
“Whoa!” Aaron exclaimed, laughing, and went back to his phone, ‘that was epic, mehn!”
Ramsey also laughed but that was a smoke screen as he punched me back. Chi-chi gasped and moved away. Ramsey aimed another blow but I dodged and rammed my forehead onto the bridge of his nose and broke it.
“Ah-ah, Leo!” Aaron put his phone into his pocket and headed towards us but I raised a finger to stop him.
“Leo, stop, nau. See, he’s bleeding!” Chi-chi screamed.
“F**k! You broke my nose!”
I walked to him and spoke into his ear almost inaudibly, “if I ever see you with Ada again, I will break not only your nose but other parts of you that don’t have bones, starting with your donkey ears.”
“What is wrong with you?” Chi-chi scolded me, “you injured him.”
“Let’s go in,” I pulled her and we started to one of the bedrooms but out of nowhere I was tackled with a heavy force and thrown to the floor. When I landed, I hit my head on something metal and it cut me. Now, Chi-chi screamed and went into tears. Aaron rushed towards Ramsey who was raining me incessant blows but he couldn’t overpower him. However, he gave me the distraction I needed to strike Ramsey on his Achilles’ heel—his right shoulder. At a peace-keeping mission he had been severely injured there and hadn’t healed properly. I held the shoulder with an iron grip and though he punched me, he started weakening. Aaron succeeded in holding him back and as he was trying to pull him off me, a deafening explosion tore through the silence of the area and we all went still instantly. Chi-chi was a sufferer of chronic arrhythmia which made her heart beat unusually each time she panicked. At the sound of the explosion, she collapsed to the floor.
“You had to go and get a fainter,’ said Aaron.
The house shook violently when the explosion occurred and the front door and walls surrounding it, including the roof above crumbled and the three of us stood in shock and watched as my car was up in flames. Something else caught our eyes. Dollar notes were scattered about the place, flying in every direction the wind took them and Aboki and his family, apart from the wife, ran around chasing hard currency the captain had left in my trunk. Ramsey burst out laughing and we both looked at him questioningly.
“Private joke,” he said and walked outside.
Aaron and I followed him and we all stood silently, watching.
“It has begun, Leonel. They really want you dead this time.”
I was silent and remembered Chi-chi. She would need her medication and I guessed it was in her handbag on the floor beside her. As I started towards her, Ramsey pulled me back with his left hand wrapped around my neck genially.
“I almost lost you. I’m glad you’re alive.”
“Get your hand off me before I break your head.”
He tapped me with a laugh and turned to Aaron to set his nose while I lowered myself over Chi-chi. When I lifted her head to my laps, she woke up.
“Hi,” I smiled and she looked at me dazedly. “Are you okay?”
“Nothing. You’re okay.”
“I heard something…”she was beginning to recall the explosion, “was it a bomb?”
“Someone’s trying to kill me.”
“Again?” she stretched her neck to look out, “oh God, the house will fall on us.”
“No, it won’t. you sure you don’t need your drugs?”
“You’re bleeding,” she pulled out a hanky from her bag and pressed over the cut in my head. “Is there a first aid kit in this house?” she asked.
“I’m okay. It’s just a cut.”
She stayed her hand on the injury.
“Are you sure you’re okay?” I asked again.
“No, I’m fine,” she said but tears filled her eyes.
“What is wrong, baby?”
Her lips trembled and her chest heaved heavily. I took her hand off my head and drew her close. She held my hand tightly and looked into my eyes.
“What if we were in that car, Leo? What if…?”
“Shh..we were not in the car. We were not supposed to be in the car. If they wanted us dead, we would have been dead hours ago.”
“I almost died, Leo.”
“You are alive.”
“No, I almost died without telling you.”
“Telling me what?”
Chi-chi was always straight to the point with issues. She wasn’t skilled at dilly-dallying, “I’m pregnant.”
I looked at her blankly, wondering how she could be pregnant when we had used protection the whole time we were together. What was this, immaculate conception?
“I am not pregnant for you; I’m pregnant for my boyfriend.”
“You have a boyfriend?”
“Yes, but I don’t love him. He doesn’t want me to abort it.”
“And you want to.”
“Yes, no, not really” she sighed and looked away, “my momsie thinks that you are responsible because I told her you are.”
“Interesting,” I said casually, thinking she was joking.
“Leo, I had plans to sleep with you this weekend so I could trap you.”
“Without protection?” I shook my head, “you know that will never happen. It’s rumored that I wear a condom around,” I whispered and I alone laughed at my private joke.
“I don’t know what to do.”
“This guy that knocked you up, who is he sef?”
“You know him but you don’t know him personally but he seems to know you. His name is Benatari.”
“Tari? Benatari Opuwei? The Niger-Delta militant?” I asked and Chi-chi bent her head and I stood up. “Where did you meet him?”
“He was my boyfriend in secondary school, my senior, actually. We hooked up on Facebook and started dating last month…”
I didn’t wait for her to finish as I walked away from her and stepped outside. The air smelled of smoke and something else fumey and I walked far to clear my nose and head. Why did Chi-chi have to go and sleep with the one person I wanted to kill?
“Leo!” I heard her call me and turned. She was coming towards me. She looked beautiful as the wind blew through her dress. I waited for her and she came closer, I stretched out my hand and she smiled in relief but then when I held her and looked deep in her eyes, she became worried again.
“Can you do me a favor?”
“What?” she asked.
“I need you to keep the baby.”
Her grip weakened in my hand, “why? Are you claiming it?”
She became angry “then why should I keep it?”
“I’m against abortion. You know that.”
“So because you’re against abortion, I should keep a child I don’t want for a man I don’t love?”
“Am I the one that asked you to sleep with him without condom? Babe, it’s your choice. I’m just advising you. If its money that is your problem, I will provide for you and the baby…”
“But you won’t marry me,” she sounded bitter.
“Come on, Chi-chi.”
“F**k you!” she stormed off.
Silly girl. She just wanted to trap me. I was so done with her. I have been around many women to know how pregnancy stripped the sexy off of them. Nine months of bitchiness was not my thing and Chi-chi was totally off my books. But nothing stopping me, I had to deal with her boyfriend. Getting him was not going to be a walk in the park because Tari was extremely dangerous and to handle him, I had to fight fire with fire. The captain once told me that if you could kill a rat a million ways, why use only one?
I dialed the first person on my list of 101 Ways to kill Benatari Opuwei.
“Hello sweetheart, I have a job for you.”
Junior’s pause on the other end of the line was characteristic of her, “anything for you.”
“Come to the place,” I rang off and looked up at the sky.
God forgive for what I’m about to do.
Tari, Watch your back. I’m coming for you.