Ishi was on the most comfortable couch in the sitting room, his faced turned up to the ceiling. The television was on and tuned to a popular news channel but the volume was turned down. He was dressed for work even though he had no desire to leave his house. There was, by and large, no push in him to do anything else. He felt weak in his bones and joints and tried hard to do away with the tremors coursing through him like mild electric shocks. He had been that way since he left Victor’s place in Ogombo. The load of information he got and Victor’s suicide left him dazed. Etim and Lanre had assured him that Victor was half-rambling and most of the things he predicted were not going to come true, especially the sequence of events following the simultaneous bomb attacks, but Ishi’s mind had not been bated. It was clear to him that his life and the world around him were going to change and there was nothing he was going to do about it. His mom and aunt got it all wrong; he was no savior to his family.
“Ishi?”Ishi looked down from the ceiling to his sister standing before him. She was dressed to leave the house.
“Fine eyes, what’s up?”
“I want to go to the salon. Come and drop me. Are you okay?”
She sat beside him.
“I’m good. Can I talk to you about something?”
She put her handbag aside.
Leah frowned a little, the light in her eyes dimming for a second.
“Tell me about her.”
Leah picked her handbag again.
“Really nothing to talk about. All I have to say, you already know. You visit her all the time.”
“Does she ever talk about popsie or me or any of us here in Lagos?”
“Mommy’s not sane. She says a lot of things and I don’t take her seriously. See, me I didn’t come to Lagos to spend my leave talking about her o.”
“I know but just tell me some of the things she says about any of us.”
“Uhm…the usual. Dad’s a bloodsucker, a vampire, a murderer, he pounds babies in a mortar, a cannibal…all that stuff. Then, Aaron’s soul has been sold to the devil, he’s a sorry mistake for a first son. The whole of the Igwe family is cursed and they’ll all die…”
“How about me? Does she talk about me?”
“Ishi, you know she doesn’t remember you. As in, why do you even bother? After all the times you visited and she stared at you blankly and kept asking who you were. She doesn’t remember you.”
“At all. Why are you asking all these questions sef?”
“Nothing. You know what? Just take my car key and go to the salon. I want to stay in today.”
“Ishi, are you alright?”
“Okay o.” She stood. “But with the reports of these bomb attacks in Obalende and Berger, I’m scared.””
“Just go. Nothing will happen to you.”
Leah took Ishi’s key and left the house. Ishi tapped his phone screen to life and speed-dialed Kyenpia.
“Eresoyen, what’s up?” Kyenpia’s voice hit his ear, chirpily. “You’re now calling me after boning my calls.”
“Hey…morning. Ehm…are you at the office yet?”
“Nope. But I’ll be in a few. Hope kosi wahala?”
“Can you please come down here? I’m at home and I need to talk.”
“Okay. So I should bone work today?”
“Yeah. I’ll have you covered.”
“You’re the boss. See you in a jiff!”
Lanre’s dogs were in frenzy at the sight of Kyenpia as she approached Ishi at the backyard. He tried to keep them calm but they broke away from his hold and ran towards her at full speed.
“Ishi, see o! Stop these dogs before I break their heads!”
She stood still and waited for the dogs to get to her before she began hitting them on their heads with her handbag simultaneously whilst scolding them. The sight was hilarious and Ishi found himself laughing. Kyenpia’s presence in itself was enough relief; the flush on her face stilled his tremors in an instant.
“Hi.” She walked to him and hugged him. “What’s wrong?” Her hand went to his forehead and she frowned. “You’re having a fever?”
“Yeah. Just a little. It’s nothing really.”
He pulled a plastic chair and she sat.
“Have you taken something?”
“Yeah, paracetamol. How are you?” he asked, looking at her tummy.
“We’re fine. Baby started kicking. Yay!”
She waited for him to ask for permission to touch her tummy as he usually did but he only smiled, held her hand and led her into the house.
“So, why no work today?” she asked.
“Like I told you, we need to talk.”
He took her to the privacy of his bedroom and spilled the issues that were weighing on his mind. He omitted the part of the impending doom awaiting the country but he spared no words when he explained in detail what his family really was and how they were the originators of the Cabal. To conclude his story, he showed her excerpts from the journal Victor had given him, bits of written information in his mother’s and aunt’s writings, revelations that left Kyenpia’s blood cold.
“I heard about the massacre of the sixty-something orphans in 1978. Someone gisted me about it and they said it was a fire incident that happened when the children gathered to meet with the First Lady for a charity lunch. Are you saying your dad was responsible for their deaths?”Ishi bent his head.
“He single-handedly killed them and set the place on fire. It was a sacrifice, Kay. The man I told you about, who shot himself this morning, he worked for the NSS then. He and his colleagues were at the scene after the fire went off and they discovered the heart of each child was removed.”
Kyenpia was horrified. She mouthed something Ishi didn’t hear.
“It’s all in the journal. I browsed through; I’ve not read it all in detail. I couldn’t.”
“Ishi, these are serious crimes, serious allegations. It’s your family we’re talking about here. Are these accounts true?”
Ishi looked up. “I’m praying, hoping it’s not true but even if Victor was lying, I know my mother wouldn’t lie. David’s mom couldn’t have been lying too.”
“So this is why Igwe disowned your dad?”
“No, he was disowned a long time ago, after his younger sister ended up dead with a knife stuck in her stomach.”
“Oh my God.”
“According to the story, it was just two of them in the house. My dad denied it but Igwe knew he committed the act, so he disowned him.”
“As written by my mom, she suspected my dad’s bloodlust came from the traumatic experience of watching assassins kill his mother in front of him. It happened in 1953, I think.”
Ishi leafed through the journal and pointed at a page.
“Here’s what she wrote: he told me they came in the middle of the night while they slept. They entered the room where he and Luke and his mother were sleeping. They shot his mother and were about to kill Luke when Igwe came in, shot one of the men and injured the other. Igwe took the injured one out, leaving them in the room with the dead body of the other. It was then his mother stirred. She had not died. She said she was thirsty and asked for some water to drink. Samuel rushed out to get her a cup of water. He returned and held her head up while she drank. He asked her why there was so much blood coming from her stomach, she replied “it’s because it is washing away all the bad things from my body. Blood washes away bad things.’ So he was happy she was bleeding. Her blood, he said, flowed like a warm river. But then she died. The blood had washed away both the bad and good. From that moment, he had not been the same. He developed a mad lust to see, touch and taste blood, to witness that unexplainable moment when the soul leaves the body; and if he found nothing to satisfy that lust, he would cut and watch himself bleed almost unto death. How many times have I rushed him to the hospital because he cut himself? Yet they say I am the mad one.”
Ishi stopped. He leafed through the worn pages of the journal. He found another page.
“I had a miscarriage,” he read. “The baby died inside of me at six months. I knew the moment it died. I had a dream. A crow visited the house and came in disguised as ashen smoke. It had fingers that found its way to my bedroom and flung the door open to pounce on me but I woke up. That evening the baby died. The third miscarriage in two years, after Aaron. I felt Samuel was killing them but I didn’t know how. That day I waited for the baby to move but it didn’t. For three days, it still didn’t. I told Samuel about it. He was supposed to check me to know if the baby was really dead since he was a doctor and he knew how these things went but he didn’t. He was supposed to take me to the hospital but he did not. Samuel gave me something warm to drink and I became weak and couldn’t feel my body. I fell to the floor and he lifted me and took me to the room in the guest house with the red door. That room was evil. It room had the souls of murdered people trapped in it. I could hear their screams as he laid me on the table. I thought he was going to kill me. I thought I was going to die… He cut me open and took the baby out. He left me alone in the room for a long time while I almost bled to death. The medicine he gave me stopped working and I felt pain. Terrible pain. I couldn’t scream; I was too weak. I prayed for death because I was certain he would leave me. When I started to pass away, he returned and stitched me up.”
Ishi put the journal away.
“Oh my God. This is…wow… Your dad mehn, he’s…
“Insane, devilish, heartless… I feel that no words can be used to describe him. As a Christian I’m supposed to forgive him for what he has done to my mother but I can’t.”
“No, you can’t forgive this, Ishi. You’re going to be saving a lot of lives if you report it to the proper authorities.”
“Proper? Authorities?” Ishi’s laugh was mirthless. “The only person who can testify against him is my mom.” Ishi sighed. “And she’s lost her mind. Painful irony of life.”
Kyenpia pushed into Ishi’s bed until she was resting her back comfortably.
“I think you should release these notes to the public.”
“And what would that accomplish?”
“He’s a respected doctor. It would ruin him.”
“And the rest of my family?”
“They have hidden his secrets and theirs for too long, Ishi. They can’t go on like this. I feel disaster is coming to them. You have to be the voice of truth for them and for everyone they’ve hurt and destroyed. If they can’t be prosecuted, then they should be exposed.”
Ishi said nothing. He stared at the journal abysmally while his fingers did a slow flipping of pages.
“I know I’m speaking like the ex-journalist that I am but Ishi, you can’t just sit down and do nothing. You are different. Will you cover up their sins as everyone else has?”
“No. But for now, I’m worried about you.” Ishi looked at Kyenpia. His hand touched her feet which were crossed together and his eyes lingered on them a little. “Concerning you and the baby, my family is not the problem. In fact, they have this huge party to welcome you and they will love you. The problem is not them; it is their staunch enemy, David’s grandfather…”
“He’s in good terms with Leo.”
“It still didn’t stop him from murdering five members of my family.”
“Serious? That’s news to me. When did this happen?”
“It is speculation and we’re praying that they’re not dead but five family members have disappeared since 1986. In fact, Captain disappeared for a whole year and returned almost dead. Pastor Jacan’s twin brother, Silas, is gone. Captain’s mother, Uncle Max’s wife and one of Igwe’s mistresses and her daughter.”
“None of them were found.”
“No. We suspect he’s repaying us for the disappearance of David’s mom whom he believes Captain murdered. Kyenpia…Kentoro is not a man to be toyed with and I would love if you disappeared from the scene for a while.”
There was no response from Kyenpia even when Ishi deepened his touch on her, massaging her feet.
“And if you’re leaving, you have to go far away, not somewhere they would think to look.”
Kyenpia was disturbed at his words, and everything he had revealed to her began to drop on her like heavy boulders. Her successfully quelled morning sickness came to her in a rush and she felt the need to empty her bowels. She got off the bed and ran into the bathroom where she threw up. Her body wretched and violent spasms she knew had nothing to do with the nausea racked her. Her panic system had just been activated and she was afraid for her life and her baby’s. It was an unusual feeling, for Kyenpia had not felt fear in years. But this was beyond just a feeling of terror; it was more. Kyenpia had only one word to describe the heavy, dark presence that wrapped itself around her. DOOM.
She turned in response to Ishi’s voice, after she flushed the toilet. There was a fresh towel in his hands waiting as she rinsed her mouth and washed her face. When she turned to accept the towel, he put his arms around her and drew her close.
“I love you. I don’t want lose you, Kay. Let’s be wise here. Allow me keep you safe from all of this.”
Kyenpia felt her heart slowing and coming to a regular rhythm against his chest. His embrace calmed her and the wholesomeness of his body close to hers left her calm. She could see through his eyes that her future was going to be secure in his care.
“Ishi, you and I were held captive by Islamic terrorists in Damaturu for four days because we were in the wrong place at the wrong time. But we survived. I survived and even made friends amongst the unlikely people fate threw me in with…”
“Kyenpia, don’t do this.” Ishi held her tighter. “Don’t say what you want to say.”
She touched his face. “You know my story, of how my mom died after she gave birth to me and left me in the scum of her blood and death for two days and I still survived. You know how I went through hell when my sister died and I was all alone and became the cliché example of the Lagosian that slept under the bridge and did whatever she needed to do to get by. You know how I rose above all that and got an education to get me where I am today… Ishi, you know I am a survivor. But you want me to throw all that precious history away and go and live somewhere in Antarctica or someplace no one knows?! Haba!”
“Kyenpia!” He shook her without meaning to and apologized afterwards.
“I’m not going anywhere. Tell the bodyguard that you people put to be following me around (yes, I see him) to up his security. I will not die. I will have this baby here in this country!”And with that, she left a peck on his lips.
“That was for strength.”
She said and disengaged from him. “Come and call me a cab.”
ZORA HOTEL/IKEJA/ EVENING
Akin stepped out of the bathroom, cleaning his hands on a towel and smiling at his guest who was perched on a chair by the window. He sat on the bed, facing her. “So what is the problem, madam?”
His guest, Omoayena, stood up and paced restlessly. “I think he knows.”
Akin rubbed the sides of his mouth.
“It’s about time.”
“I just got back home from work and he was asking strange questions like ‘are you happy with the marriage?’ and stuff like that.”
“You know I am.”
“Sit down, Omo.”
“What am I going to do?”
Omoayena sat. “I think I should just tell him the truth.”
“The truth?” Akin presented a frosty smile. She nodded and he asked again, “the truth? Okay, let me make this easy for you.”
He put his hands together and rubbed them in a circular motion. “I am Jacan, your husband of ten years and you are Omoayena, my wife.”
She tried to interrupt him.
“Just flow with me here me. I am Jacan, you are my wife and you have this deadly secret to tell me. So… go on and tell me what you have been hiding for a decade.”
“Go on. Tell me like you’ll tell him.”
She struggled but failed to speak. “You can’t, can you?”
“Not with this.”
She pointed at her bulging abdomen.
“Don’t use that baby as an excuse!”He sprang up and towered over her.
“For ten years I have waited like a little boy waiting for an ice cream truck to become his! I have been there for you even when Jacan was there and didn’t notice you! I made love to you in ways no man can ever dream of doing! I have loved you and kept your secrets and all I ask in return… All I ask is leave the fool─”
“He’s not a fool!” She faced him boldly. “Jacan is a good man and I love him!”
“You love him? And me, what about me? I’m just a ten year-old fling?! We have a plan, Omo! Stick to it for Christ’s sake!”
“Plan? Our plan was shattered five years ago. We were over five years ago. Five good years!”
“Our plan was shattered? Really? Then why didn’t you tell your husband the truth then?! Why are you still keeping the affair a secret?!”
“Because you are blackmailing me, Akin! You’re still blackmailing me!”
“No, Omoayena. No, my dear. I didn’t put your dirty laundry in my closet! You did!”
She held her chair for support and eased back into it with tears brimming on her lids. Akin leaned forward and spoke in lucid tones.
“You will have that baby for him and you and I and our kids will leave. We’ll go to Asia as we had planned and we will not come back. Do you hear me?”
Omoayena sobbed quietly and he grabbed her hand. “Do you hear me?!”
“NO! It is not going to happen!” She yanked her hand away.
“What won’t happen?”
He inclined his head to one side, his eyes twitching as he awaited her response.
“I cannot leave my husband, Akin!” She stood up and backed away from him. “What we did” What we’ve done…” She shook her head. “I can’t live like this. My conscience burns me. I can’t sleep at night. Do you know what they call a woman like me?” She asked with a fading voice. “An adulteress. I deserve to be punished.”
“Why? Because you followed your heart? Pshaw! Spare me, abeg.”
“Don’t you have a conscience?”
“No.” He scratched his beard. “I don’t even know what the word means.”
“I thought as much. How do you stand on that pulpit to preach?”
“Wait, why the questions now? God suddenly found the way to your heart?” He sneered. “You are a sinner, my dear, and your husband is no saint. When you go home today, ask him why they call him Jacan. Ask him about his past. Ask him why he became a pastor.”
She began to walk to the door but he held her hand and pulled her back, looking into her eyes threateningly. She held his stare until he let go of her.
“Don’t go yet.”
He picked his phone from the bed and got busy with it. Seconds later, her phone beeped and she fished for it inside her handbag. When she got it out and looked at it, her eyes widened in fear.
“Tell Jacan and those pictures hit the internet first thing tomorrow morning.”
“Are you daring me?”
“Akin, please, for the sake of the kids…”
“Are you referring to my children?”
She allowed herself a moment of weakness, releasing into tears that left her body heaving. But she pulled herself together as she placed her phone back into her handbag. Fear still hung around her eyes when she looked deep into Akin’s and said, “my children have had only one father and that is Jacan. Do whatever you have to do, Akin. I can’t live a lie anymore. I have to tell him the truth even if it will kill me.”
“You’ll regret this.”
She walked out. He went to the door, opened it again and slammed it angrily.
Omoayena stepped out of the hotel, wore her sunshades and looked around before getting into her car. Jacan, who was in a cab, parked in a hidden spot across the street from the hotel, watched her until she drove away. Then he got out and crossed the street, making his way to the shabby excuse of a hotel. He hurried in and walked to the receptionist, a lazy boy at the front desk.
“Good evening, sir,” the boy managed, not diverting his eyes from a caged television hanging off the wall. It was a Chinese movie playing.
“Evening,” Jacan greeted.
“Um…a pregnant woman just left this place now. Please can you tell me the person she came to see?”
The boy eyed Jacan and went back to his movie. “I’m sorry sir, I cannot do that.”
Jacan took out a thousand naira note from his pocket and slid it on the table, towards the boy. The boy spotted the note and directed his full attention to Jacan.
“Em…I think it’s room 2-0-something.” He took the note. “I’m not so sure.”
Jacan slipped out another note but held onto it. The boy’s fingers moved forward again.
Jacan snatched the note back and hurried towards the stairs. The boy cussed as Jacan made his way up. On the second floor, Jacan walked to Room 202 and knocked.
“Come in!” Akin answered from within and Jacan burst in. Akin was sprawled on his bed reading a newspaper. He blessed Jacan with a smile that showed no surprise at his unannounced appearance.
“Get off that bed,” Jacan ordered.
Akin smiled again, this time in bursting impertinence.
“It’s about time.”
Ishi had spent most of his day on his knees. Not that he could really put his thoughts together to ask God for a specific thing. There was so much to antagonize about and he wasn’t so sure begging for mercy on behalf of certain blood relatives was the best thing to do. So he recited Bible verses as prayer points and tried his best to put aside Kyenpia’s kiss that still lingered on his lips. If what Lanre said about her feelings for him was true, was the kiss her way of confirming it?
After a light dinner, as he sat to watch a rerun of a tennis match he had missed, the thoughts of Kyenpia returned and Ishi allowed himself the fantasy of believing she was deeply in love with him but was too afraid to let go. The fantasy was but short-lived because his front door burst open at that instant and two armed men stormed in. They threw the blanket Ishi was wrapped in aside and dragged him off his comfortable couch. Lanre’s dogs behind were incensed at the intrusion. Truth was, they had been barking for a short while before the men came but Ishi had been so engrossed in his thoughts to notice. A van was waiting outside and Ishi was shoved into it. The last sight he saw was the crescent moon and the lone star beside it.