Lanre was angry. Justifiably so. I had defied his orders not to go solo by hunting down Shiloh’s men and finishing them off in a three-day job. It wasn’t that I was being directly stubborn; it was that I followed my gut instinct. And it wanted blood, so I did what it asked me to do.
“What’s the point bringing my friends together to help you when you just want to do things on your own?” Lanre’s voice was quiet. His anger was presented only in his eyes.
“Lanre, you know the plan.”
“There was no definitive plan. Just a floating idea, a suggestion I threw into the air.”
“You said, ‘it would be nice to clear her crew’ and I did just that. I also baited her.”
“And where is she now?”
“She’ll come to me.”
“How do you know that?”
“She will come, Dada. I know.”
“You only managed to piss her off. If she loses her mind and attacks your family, it’s on you.”
“Shai’s mind is already lost. She’s already attacking my family. I would do anything to protect the people that mean the world to me. Anything.”
“Including putting them in harm’s way?”
“If it would protect them, yes!”
There was a knock on the door. “We’ll have this conversation later,” Lanre said as he went for the door. He opened it and let Leonel in. He came along with a trolley of refreshments.
“Compliments of the house,” he said with a wink.
We were in his hotel in Abuja. We had all just ended a four-day African Land Forces Summit organized by the Nigerian Army and the United States army. It was geared towards tackling the growing terrorism problem in Sub-Saharan Africa.
I accepted a peck from him. He passed me a bundle wrapped in a newspaper.
“Abuja’s finest suya.”
Lanre was given the same. There was a second knock on the door. He went to it and let Inspector Etim in.
“I think I’m jetlagged,” the man said, walking in. He had entered in a pair of shorts and a white beach shirt.
“You can’t be jetlagged,” Lanre told him. “The flight was only about an hour.”
“But I’m jetlagged.” He picked a can of Orijin and popped it open. “Hello, young lady.”
I was gifted with a fatherly smile. I smiled back.
“This suya is amazing,” I stated.
“I know right?” Leonel responded. He handed Inspector Etim a pack.
“I think it’s because I flew business class,” the man went on with his jetlag tale. “I usually fly economy. That means all that business class thing na scam. It’s not like they even give you better food. And the flight attendants are the same. They are not sexier.”
“And why do those girls always have to be slim sef? Orobo no dey sabi do the work?”
“That’s true,” Leonel said thoughtfully. “I’ve never seen a chubby flight attendant. Have you guys seen?”
I gave a shake of my head. Lanre was occupied with trying to make a connection between his laptop and the plasma TV on the wall.
The final knock on the door sounded and I invited in David. He came in a stately manner, army regalia and all.
“Is there food?” he asked, walking past me. “Hi Bianca.”
I shut the door.
“Look, we know that you’re some top shot in the army, but you don’t have to rub it in our faces with the uniform,” Leonel said.
“I’m just coming from an eight-hour meeting with my bosses, Leo. Chill the fuck out.”
“Go and change.”
David took off his shirt, left with an army-green t-shirt. “Satisfied?”
He picked a wrap of suya just as Leonel commenced on taking us on a journey into Shiloh’s past, a place she had already taken me through.
“Shiloh’s parents were both clergy in a popular church in Calabar. They had been childless for years, until her mother went on some Holy Ghost camp meeting where a sermon was preached, titled, ‘Until Shiloh Comes’, cited from a verse in the bible that says…”
“The scepter shall not depart from Judah,” Inspector Etim quoted, “nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, Until Shiloh comes… Go on.”
“In the woman’s diary she wrote that she clung to faith and believed, and somehow, it miraculously worked for her. Shiloh was born eleven months later, but her mother developed some health complications and died a couple of months after. Her last diary entry was on the day of Shiloh’s birth. Her father, being a busy evangelist who traveled the world, couldn’t raise his child alone, so he brought in a widow and mother recently bereaved of her two children to take care of Shiloh. He ended up marrying her along the line. They never had kids.
“The woman was a disturbed, broken woman who had been directly responsible for her own children’s deaths, having been careless with them while crossing a busy street where they got crushed by a tanker. She never forgave herself. Shiloh became everything to her. She loved her with an obsession that got unhealthy and went out of control when Shiloh turned six.”
“Please, don’t tell me she started abusing her,” David muttered.
“She did. Sexually. And it wasn’t the type that came with threats. No. It came with kisses, treats, cuddles, all the love a mother could give. If there was an award for mother of the year, she would have constantly won it. Shiloh, on the other hand, was one of those problem kids. I’d say she was born naturally strong-willed. Take away the abuse, you would still have gotten a stubborn child. She was spoiled too. As she grew, the woman deceived her into thinking she was her lover and she alone cared for her. And this went on for years. Until Shiloh turned thirteen and snapped. According to the father’s account, he alone had gone to church one fine Sunday morning, because his wife claimed she was ill and the daughter had to stay at home to nurse her. He came back home to meet a blood-splattered living room and his wife’s body covered in blood. Seated beside her was Shiloh. In his words, ‘she sat there with Satan in her eyes.’”
“What type of mother sexually assaults her daughter?” David asked.
“A demented one,” Inspector Etim answered. “I’m glad the girl killed her. Continue the story jare.”
“The father covered up the murder, claiming robbers were behind it. But he got Shiloh committed to a psychiatric home where she became a problem to the other patients and the medical staff there. They had to keep her constantly sedated. Her bullying nature was something she had been well known for while growing up.
“In the primary school she attended, owned by the church, all the kids feared her. She once locked a couple of boys who called her fat in a storeroom. They were found the next morning after a frantic search by their parents and the school authority. Nothing was done to her. Another time, she held a younger kid hostage on a swing set because he made a farting noise at her when she walked by. After slapping him around, she pushed him so high on the swing that he flew off and broke his head. In her JSS3, she was suspended for two weeks after a JSS1 girl reported her for sexually molesting her each night. When she returned from the suspension, the girl accidentally fell from the second floor of their hostel building. Nobody could prove that she had been pushed. She survived it though. There were other incidents that the girls were too afraid to report.
“A notable one was when two seniors in SS2 got into a fight over Shiloh. She was dating them both. They got expelled, she remained in the school, heading the ring of lesbians with her girlfriend who was the social prefect. When she got to SS1, her mother had her withdrawn from the school and placed in a day school, following a series of deliverance sessions under the hands of a popular prophetess back then in Calabar. Her father believed she was possessed. The mother played along, but she was happy to have her baby home. She wanted to be with her constantly because she was jealous. The social prefect, who had then graduated, was still in their community and also a church member. The mother didn’t want their relationship continuing. Shiloh had become defiant to her. On the day she killed her, the woman had tried to talk her into leaving her girlfriend. Shiloh had pretended to take her instructions. According to what Shiloh told me, they had sex and the mother slept off and she went into the kitchen and took a knife and stabbed her where she lay sleeping on a couch in the living room. The mother tried to escape but she couldn’t. Shiloh stabbed her for a total of one-hundred-and-three times. And then she said she went blank. It was as if her brain had been wiped clean of thoughts. That was why her father found her sitting beside her mother on the floor.”
“That’s a sick, twisted story,” David commented.
“Captain picked her from the psychiatric home. He was able to tame her for a few years, and he directed her bloodlust to his so-called worthy causes. But she became rebellious and broke the Immortals’ Code.”
I guessed all of us in the suite knew what the Immortals’ Code was. It was an oath Captain made us his minions swear with our blood, contained in a one-page document. In that code, we acknowledged our power to assume the role of immortals who could take lives or to spare them. But we also swore not to kill for personal reasons or for fun or without Captain’s orders. Shiloh broke the code on more than a few occasions before Captain asked me to cash in her chips.
I was forever going to regret not killing her.
“Do we have a list of crimes this girl has committed?” Inspector Etim asked.
Lanre took over, directing our eyes to the screen on the wall on which was displayed a record sheet of Shiloh’s crimes.
“Recorded homicides traced back to her amount to eighty-eight.”
“This includes those carried out by her men?” David asked.
“Yes. And there is more we don’t know about, especially the ones done underground by the Acre Society.”
“Kidnappings? Rapes?” Leonel asked.
“We have not been able to put a specific number on the kidnappings. Every case in which a ransom was paid or the victim ended up dead had nothing to do with her. Hence, we followed a pattern we believed had her scent all over it and we came out with twenty-four kidnappings.” Lanre looked at me. “Your brother makes it twenty-five. He’s the only victim that has been returned unhurt.”
“I will beg to differ on the unhurt part,” I said.
“As for rapes, we have only two cases that were reported to the police by females. Both of them described someone like Shiloh. The police didn’t take them seriously. The cases were thrown away. Both girls ended up dead shortly after.”
“She rapes men mostly,” Leonel added.
David got up for a canned beer. “Bitch is cold.”
“Lastly arson. She was responsible for blowing up the Coral Event Center at Liana resort after she attacked the Igwes and also the fire outbreak at the police headquarters here in Abuja last year. We’re dealing with someone who does what she does for fun, even though she’s a hired hand.”
“Unlike most psychopaths, Shiloh doesn’t have a pattern,” Leonel informed us. “However, I have learned from studying her murders that she’s a copycat.”
“How?” I asked.
“Think of all the serial killers you’ve heard of. She’s probably studied their work very well. She copies all of them, and this is why you can’t find a pattern.”
“Do Nigerian serial killers have a pattern?” Inspector Etim asked. “They kill for money.”
“Trust me, it’s beyond money for our girl.”
“You’re right, considering all we’ve just heard.”
“I say we take her down,” David suggested out of the blue.
“And what happens to her bosses?” Lanre asked. “They remain there and hire someone else to go after the Bahagos. And remember, we’re not just doing this for the Bahagos. We have to destroy that Acre Society. Shiloh is the first step. We get her, we find out everything about their criminal network.”
“And you think she’ll talk just like that?” David questioned.
“We’re not getting her to talk. Bianca already took out all her men.”
“Wait…” David looked at me with interest. “You did what?”
Lanre tapped on his laptop and displayed images of the dead members of Shiloh’s. I tried to feel something when I stared at them, but nothing came. Eighteen years of killing and I still didn’t feel a thing.
“You did that?” David asked.
“You told me to bait her.”
He smiled. “I’m beginning to like you.”
“She’s going to come to me, and we’re going to have a nice, little talk that will lead nowhere because she won’t tell me shit.”
“Then why did you do it?” Leonel demanded.
“She would need a new crew. That’s where we come in.”
“We insert our man in her radar and she picks him up,” Lanre replied.
“We always have a man,” Lanre and I answered. Inspector Etim looked impressed.
“And you think she won’t be smart enough to figure out what you’re up to?” Leonel continued with his interrogation. “What if she decides that she’s done working with anyone?”
“We considered the different possibilities, but foremost on our minds was that Shiloh herself is hard to find. When she disappears, you can’t find her unless you want to, as fat as she is. Eliminating her men draws her out, whether to see Bianca or to replace the men. The moment she comes out, we’ll make her grow a tail. That tail will follow her everywhere she goes and she’ll lead us right into the heart of the Acres.”
“Brilliant.” Inspector Etim nodded.
“Alternative plans?” David asked.
“That’s why we’re here.”
I looked at Lanre. He looked back, eyes still angry.
Captain asked to meet her in an art gallery somewhere in Victoria Island. He was a curator of art, gotten legally or otherwise. When she entered the gallery, Victoria found him staring at a particular piece by Yusuf Grillo. He looked immaculate in his pair of grey pants and black shirt. Age was yet to put a sag on his shoulders. The grey in his hair had spread all over, however, more than it had the last time they had come across each other at a fundraising event. He kept the hair low, but allowed a full beard of grey.
“What brings you my way, you venomous little spitfire?” he asked when Victoria stood beside him.
He gave her a full sweep of his eyes. “You haven’t aged a bit, darling. I almost mistook you for your daughter when you walked in. What happened to your leg?”
Victoria leaned a little on her crutch. “A small domestic accident.”
“It’s funny how we grow old and the world seems to be against us. We suffer falls, our metabolism becomes useless, all myriads of illnesses beset us, and our past catches up with us, bringing enemies from every side.”
“May we sit? My foot can’t hold up for long.”
Captain pointed at a stool nearby. Victoria followed him there.
“I’m all ears.”
“You know I came here to grovel,” Victoria began. “Idris and I… We’ve run out of options. We’ve hired the best security service and yet our son was almost killed. All that’s left is for us to go crawling back to the Acre Society.”
“A better option than coming to me, if you ask me.”
“Is there a way we can get back on each other’s good graces, Luke?”
“Vicky, Vicky, Vicky…” Captain gave a one-sided grin. “If I didn’t know you better, I’d have thought that you were a victim in all of this. But let’s not forget that you, in fact, remained an Acre long after your husband decamped.”
“That’s not true.”
“Lying has always been one of your best suits, but lying to me was your undoing.”
Victoria’s face went rigid. “I had to do what I had to do.”
“Which included you milking the accounts of the Acres, siphoning the funds raised for philanthropy when they were at their weakest, and stashing all of it in a Swiss account your husband has no idea of.”
“Like I said…”
“You did what you had to do. I know. And I know that there’s no honor amongst thieves, but that was low, Victoria. Not that I cared whose ox was gored. It was just intriguing to note how much of a backstabbing bitch you could be.”
“It was simply business. I saw a weak angle and I aimed for it.”
“You and your partner in crime.”
“Your father-in-law, you mean?”
Luke ignored her statement. “And while this happened, the atrocities the AS were known for was at an all-time high.”
“I wasn’t responsible for what went on there. Don’t blame me.”
“But you knew what was going on. You still attended the meetings of the inner caucus. You and your lot still threw wrenches at every damn thing I did. You guys wrecked this country with your crimes and corruption.”
“You have only a version of the story. Kentoro and I tried to stop them.”
“And you were accused of stealing from them and they exiled you, but left Kentoro because he was a founding father. They actually believed that you were an emissary from me, sent in to destroy them from the inside.”
“If they believed that, it wasn’t my fault. You stoked their fire the moment you killed five of their heads. They never trusted Idris and I after that. That was why I remained to prove that we were innocent.”
“No, Vicky. You stayed on Kentoro’s request, to plunder them. And once they found out, all hell was unleashed. They attacked my family and yours, kidnapping your most beloved son. And you spent five years remitting to them what you had stolen. Does Idris know this? Does your son? Do they know that you were in contact with the people who took him, negotiating for his release in tens and hundreds of millions at a time? Do they know that you knew he was alive the whole damn time?”
“I never knew he was. And that’s the honest truth. I wasn’t negotiating for him, but for everyone else in my family, because they told me he was dead. When he came back to me alive, they contacted me and revealed that I had only negotiated for him.”
“Didn’t I just say something about honor lacking amongst thieves? You played them, they played you back. No, in fact, they are still playing you back. And you want me to come and mop up the mess you have created and give them some form of importance? You’re a joker, Vicky. If one more member of your family dies, it’s all on you.”
“I have given them everything.”
“Not enough, clearly. You better start thinking of selling off the Bahago farms, mills and refinery. And even after that, your family will still be wiped out. They will stop at nothing, Vicky, until you strike back.”
“I just want it all to end. I have grandkids. I don’t want them caught up in this senseless war.”
“You should have thought about that before you bit the apple Kentoro offered to you. Now, he lies sick on his bed, protected from all of this. His slice of the money you both stole remains untouched. His children and grandchildren will go unharmed. But you and yours…”
“Just stop.” Victoria exhaled. Her eyes, rheumy and distant, went on the painting he had been staring at. “But don’t you want to get back at them for what they did to you?”
“The Acres have grown so powerful, Vicky, and so formidable that it would take time to break them, and this would directly affect the government. You’re talking about almost grinding this country to a halt. I cannot launch an attack on them without a suitable plan to replace the holes they would leave behind.”
“I know you’ve been planning this for years, Luke. Let me into the Cabal. I can be of help. You know how much I’ve been instrumental to this administration and the past one.”
“And look where it got us. Look at the corruption. The unemployment. The rising rate of poverty. The lack of security. Nigerians live in danger of their lives daily. They have become a collective of insecure, bunch of cowards. Brought on by the Acre Society and the dirty political party they have run these past years.”
“I’m not responsible for that.”
“Neither am I responsible for the safety of your family, Vicky. And if I find that you’re in the way when my wrath eventually lands on the Acres, you’ll be going down too. So, if I were you, I would have more to worry about.”
“You wouldn’t dare, Luke.”
He angled his head at her, passing a glare that gave her chills. His threat dropped in.
“As a side note, you should be grateful that you have Bianca. She’s my ace of spades. If she learned anything from me, she’ll do considerable damage to the Acre Society. But it’s not a job for one man, let alone, one young woman.”
“Go home, Victoria. Keep protecting your family. We have nothing more to talk about.”
Victoria was certain this wasn’t the end of their conversation. She would plan a subsequent visit. Captain would yield to her demands.
He helped her up to her feet, and offered his arm as they left the gallery.
The soft touch of a hand on Tsaka’s face stirred her up from a sixteen-minute nap. She opened her eyes. Victoria was standing before her. She was wearing her favorite shade of purple, presented in a blouse that was covered by a black jacket and matching black denim.
“You should be at work, Tsaka.”
“Good morning, Mommy.”
“It’s afternoon, actually.”
Victoria sat next to her, taking off a lilac scarf from her neck.
“The doctor called,” Tsaka said.
“Has he let you in yet?”
“Did he tell you why he called?”
“Tanko is awake.”
“Like awake, awake?”
“Yes. He’s been asking after me.” Tsakani gave that piece of information with a shaky voice. Her emotions had been tossed in all directions since Tanko’s surgery and hospitalization. The surgery had gone well, the doctors having been able to tackle the aneurysm. But his recovery had left her on edge. He was hardly awake, and when he was, he simply was not there, being unable to make out anything or anyone around him. It was to be expected. They had been informed by the neurosurgeons that things would be slow for him, told to hope for the best but anticipate the worst. Yet, Tsaka hadn’t handled the situation well. Harder for her was having to mask her distress in Pero’s presence. She was at the edge of a breakdown.
“So that means he’s lucid now?” Victoria asked.
A doctor in a white coat emerged from Tanko’s room, bearing a smile.
“Good afternoon, ma.” He gave a slight bow of a balding head to Victoria.
“Doctor Smart, good afternoon. How are you today?”
“I’m good, ma. And you?”
“Nervous. What’s the latest?”
The doctor took the empty space beside Victoria on a couch. “Your son is making remarkable progress. And as we already informed you, recovering from a brain aneurysm surgery can be a tedious process and it could come with complications…”
Tsakani was scared of listening to the same morbid information being reiterated to her. She knew Tanko could suffer from a number of neurological, physical and emotional deficits. She had cried her tears and accepted the unknown – all in theory. Now, she was facing reality. She wasn’t sure she could handle any more bashing to her emotions.
“The problem now is that he’s experiencing some memory issues and speech impediments,” the doctor revealed. Tsakani felt her heart sink. Victoria sat straight, clasping her crutch. “Asides that, he’s quite irritable. Don’t be surprised if he lashes out on you for no reason.”
“What are you talking about?” Victoria demanded. “You told me he would be fine. You said he’d survive this. What have you people done to my son?”
“Please, calm down…”
“How? How can I calm down after hearing all of this? What have you done to my son?”
“Honestly, we did our best. These after-effects are expected, as we already informed you. Recovery is always tough after a brain aneurysm surgery. It could take months and lots of therapy.”
“They said you’re the best team of neurosurgeons in the country.” Victoria was evidently shaken. “Should I have flown my son out?”
“Considering how his case came to us, no. You could have lost him during transit. He suffered hemorrhaging in the brain. It was fatal, but we clipped the artery, saved his life and are doing everything to see him get better. It’s now left to you, his family, to ensure that he is in top shape again. And I won’t advise that you fly him out now. The stress of any long distance trip can worsen his condition.”
“You said he lost his memory,” Tsakani muttered, surprised that she could even speak.
“Not memory loss in the sense that you know it. It seems he can remember certain things while others are forgotten. For instance, he was shocked to find out that Trump is the president of the United States. He kept asking us how he lost weight. I assume he used to be chubbier?”
“The biggest memory issue he has is that it’s short term. He can completely forget the conversation you had with him ten minutes ago and yet conjure up a memory from when he was two years old. He keeps calling a name, ‘Billy’ over and over. You know who that is?”
Tsaka buried her face in her hands. She couldn’t fight the tears that were coming through forcefully.
“This is overwhelming for her,” she heard Victoria say. “For me too.”
Tsakani sobbed. Victoria’s hand on her back, delivering a gentle massage, was of no help. She just wanted the nightmare over with. Not only for herself, but for Tanko. He had gone through enough already. She didn’t understand why life was unfair to him.
“We believe his memory will improve with time, as will his speech,” the doctor went on. “He would need therapy, and of course, family to help him recollect all that he has forgotten. We were worried that it would be worse than this, like him losing vision on his surviving eye or being unable to move about or other serious issues. Although we can’t tell what’s not properly functioning now, we can say it looks good.”
“Can we go in and see him?” Victoria inquired. She sounded exhausted.
“Sure. He’s been asking for you both.”
“Give us a moment, please.”
The doctor returned to Tanko’s room. Victoria forced Tsakani’s hands off her face. “Pull yourself together. You can’t go in there like that.”
She fished for a handkerchief from her handbag and passed it to Tsaka who blew her nose into it.
“I can’t do this. I can’t.”
“What if he thinks we’re still married?”
“I don’t think he thinks so.”
“But he can’t remember how he lost weight.”
“Well, if he thinks you’re still married, you have to play along.”
“How? I should lie to him?”
“I can’t. I’ve put my life on hold already because of Tanko. I’m losing my husband. I hardly have time for my kids. I can’t continue like this.”
“I understand, darling, but Tanko needs you.”
“He already has you, Mommy. I have to save my marriage. I don’t want to lose Pero.”
“This is temporary. It’s only for a short time, until Tanko gets back on his feet. You’re not losing Pero.”
Tsakani lowered her head and broke into tears a second time. Victoria continued to massage her back until she found some semblance of calm again.
“What if he asks what happened to his eye?”
“Tell him he got into an accident.”
“Oh God.” Tsaka groaned and looked at the rings on her fourth finger. They were made of platinum. Tanko’s rings had been of gold.
“You may want to take those off.”
Tsaka did as advised and wiped her face.
“If he cannot remember that you’re now married to Pero, please, don’t bring Pero up yet. It would be too much for him to take. We’ll let him down easy with time.”
Tsaka had no intention of causing Tanko any more pain than he was already going through. She just wasn’t sure she was strong enough to shield him from the truth.
“And Jason? Do I tell him about Jason?”
Victoria straightened out the rough edges of Tsaka’s brows that hadn’t seen a liner in days. “Tsakani, lie to the man, for heaven’s sake, while we figure the rest out. Lie until he gets better, and then tell him the truth. Tanko will forgive you in a wink. And don’t worry, I’ll take the blame when the truth eventually comes out.”
Tsaka felt more weight dropped on her shoulders.
“Chin up. It’s going to be fine.”
Both women got off the couch and walked into Tanko’s room just as the doctor was leaving. Tanko’s eye was fixed on a TV screen on the wall facing his bed. The BBC World channel was on.
“How is Trump president?” he said to himself, a frown on his face. Tsaka noted how difficult it had been for him to string the words together. They had come out slow and slurry as if he was drunk.
She went to stand in his view, causing him to rest his stare on her. She put on a smile. He was finally looking at her now. Not the other times when he simply stared and made her wonder if he was ever going to recall who she was.
But his appearance was pale. In just one week he had lost healthy fat, now bearing a gaunt look.
She walked over to his bed and took the space beside him, grasping his hand. He didn’t try to speak. He gazed at her, smiling. And then, as if just realizing his mother was in the room, he angled his head in her direction.
Victoria moved to the bed as he gave Tsaka his attention again.
“Hawa… Ha…you?” he asked.
“I’m good, Tanko,” Tsakani answered. She wasn’t surprised that she could understand him. “I’m happy you’re alive.”
He let go of her hand to receive Victoria’s hug.
“I’ll leave you and Tsaka for a bit and return later in the evening.”
He nodded. When Victoria tried to move away he stopped her with a slight raise of his hand.
“Food?” Tsaka asked. He gave a nod.
“I’ll get food.”
“Tuwo and miyan kuka, particularly,” Tsakani requested. It was his favorite.
Victoria took her leave. Tanko was back in the business of gazing at Tsaka.
“Tsaka,” he called. It sounded more like ‘Taka’. There was a lisp to his words now.
“Na’am?” she answered.
She saw a question form on his face that his lips were incapable of uttering.
“You want to know what happened to you, how you lost weight, what happened to your eye?”
“I’ll tell you everything.”
He shook his head and repeated what he had just muttered.
“I’m sorry, but Billy died. He never made it back from the vet. I’m sorry, Tanko.”
Tsakani saw sadness crawl into his eyes. Billy had been his dog. A furry Alsatian he had loved as a friend. On the day that Tanko disappeared, he had taken Billy to the vet to treat a stomach bug. The last image Tsakani had seen of both of them that day was Tanko lifting a weak Billy into the backseat of his SUV. The vet doctor called her the next morning to break the sad news while she fretted over Tanko’s disappearance.
She felt Tanko tug her hand and realized she had wandered off in thought. He placed his other hand on his missing eye. He wanted to know what happened to it.
The lies began. “You had an accident with your Avensis.”
“And no, you didn’t die.”
They both laughed. Even laughter seemed a tedious task for him.
“I los… Lost weight.”
“Yes, you lost weight. A lot. You were tired of me teasing your fat ass.”
She saw the disbelief in his eyes. She could hear him say, “You loved my fat ass, Presh.”
“Yeah, I loved all that fat but it had to go. And you cleaned up nicely.”
He raised his hand for a high-five. She slapped it, smiling. He was taking the edge off her nerves. Typical Tanko. Always finding humor in every dark situation, seeing only the positives. If he could express himself as he so desired, he would be telling her not to agonize over him.
“I know you have a lot of questions,” she told him.
Tsaka was both surprised and relieved that he remembered.
“You know I’m married to someone else?”
“Pero.” A look of disdain showed on his face.
“Pero is fine. He’s at work.”
Tanko went back to staring at the television and this took quite some time.
“Tank?” Tsaka called gently.
He looked at her. “Why d-d-did we divorce?” he asked.
“Divorce?” Tsaka was speechless.
“You chea-te-ted? I cheated?”
Tsaka felt lost in the dark as he was, but she was beginning to see a pattern. Tanko’s memory problems were not just random as the doctor had said. It appeared five years had been taken from him. The years he had been held captive. Somehow his brain had blanked out that dreadful period.
“Why did-did you leave m-me for Pero?”
This was the part where Tsaka needed Victoria and her deft ability to cook up a lie on demand. What was she to tell Tanko? How was she to explain to him that he alone held the pieces of the missing period, yet it was she who had to fill in the blank spaces, pretending her years of loss hadn’t existed, cooking up a different reality from the one she had gone through?
“Hmmm?” he continued to seek for an answer.
“Tank, let’s not bring that up. Not now, please. We’ll talk about it later.”
His hand left hers. He seemed annoyed. The normal Tanko would not react this way. Tsaka feared that the road to recovery was a long one.
“Jason,” he muttered. “B-bring me my-my-my s-s-son.”
Tsaka felt it was a good thing that he remembered his son. If only he could recall that he had predicted the boy’s existence on the day that he had disappeared. That day was forever impressed on Tsaka’s memory. It had been raining. The sounds of the rain hitting the roof and the maid pounding something in the kitchen returned to Tsakani, along with the images.
She remembered the feel of Tanko’s shirt collar in her hands as she held onto him, begging him to ditch work and stay at home.
“I’m already going to be late for a meeting, Presh,” he explained. “You too.”
“I’m on leave.”
“That’s true. Anyways, I also have to take Billy to the vet. I wonder what the stupid dog went to eat.”
“Come back home on time.” Tsaka’s eyes were moist. She didn’t understand the reason for the hike in her emotions lately. Every little thing pushed her to the edge. She was unnecessarily needy as well.
“You want to start crying now?”
“Precious, you are pregnant.”
“I don’t think so.”
“Your boobs are sensitive and you’re very touchy. Please, drive to the family hospital and do a test.”
“We’ll go together.”
“Go and do it. It won’t take long. I want to see the result when I get home.”
She hadn’t gone for the test. She had lain in all day, sleeping for the bulk of the time. Towards evening, she forced herself out of bed for a bath and returned to the room to call Tanko’s line. It was from that moment her nightmare began. The pregnancy was discovered a full month later, when it became obvious to even the casual observer. Tsaka had not known how she had survived that period, but Jason’s arrival brought light back into her life, and a painful acceptance of her fate.
“I…don’t think it’ll be a good idea for Jason to see you like this. Once you’re discharged, you’ll have all the time in the world with him.”
Tanko went silent again. Tsaka didn’t know what to make of it, so she accepted the silence until he took her hand once more. He brought it to his lips for a kiss and then indicated that she should lie beside him. She pretended not to understand what he was requesting.
“Tanko, the nurses…”
He pointed a finger at his chest and made a sign of money. She laughed. “I know you’re paying a lot of money to be treated, but it’s a hospital, not a hotel room.”
He frowned fiercely. She heard his voice ordering her to lie beside him. She took off her shoes and did as he desired, avoiding his IV lines. When she settled in, he pushed down to nestle his head on her shoulder. In seconds he was asleep. Tsaka lay there with rioting thoughts and frayed emotions. A whole hour went by before a nurse walked in and told her that it would be best if she went home. Tanko had actually been sedated and would need time to rest.
Tsakani drove to the boys’ school and picked them up. Razaq was in a mood and cried all the way home. After lunch, she sat outside with them and watched them play, right up to the moment when it was time for their dinner. She put them to bed afterwards. Pero returned home with a gift for her. He had been doing so lately. Each evening there was something new. Tonight he came with a bejeweled veil. He daubed her with kisses as she warmed up dinner, telling her how his day went. She was scared to tell him about the latest development on Tanko. But it was necessary for him to know. She hoped he would put his foot down and ask her to stop visiting Tanko entirely.
They ate dinner on the living room floor while watching some movie. Following that, Pero had a shower. They settled into bed. He was on his phone. She was on hers, but she wasn’t concentrating. After some minutes of struggling to bring up the conversation about Tanko, Pero asked why she was breathing laboriously.
“Yes. What’s the matter?”
“It’s… It’s Tanko.”
“He’s having some post-surgery complications.”
“Memory loss and speech impairment.”
Pero lowered his phone. “Memory loss?”
“Mommy wants us to lie to him, not to tell him the truth because his state is fragile. She doesn’t think he can handle it.”
“But I don’t think I can lie for long. I have to tell him the truth.”
Tsaka looked at Pero. His face was fast finding a frown.
“Is that all you’re going to say?”
“What do you want me to say?”
“I want your thoughts on the situation.”
“My thoughts? Ha. Clearly, you are all up for making him believe you’re still together, and I’m sure this means that you’ll stay in the role of being his wife…”
“I didn’t say…”
“It’s okay. I’m not going to fight you anymore, Tsaka. Just do what you want. You can even pack your things and return to the house you people shared. Take Jason with you as well, to make it believable. Just don’t disturb my life over these Bahago people anymore!”
“Don’t start shouting on me nau. I didn’t ask for this. You think I enjoy my life being complicated?”
Pero threw off the blanket. “Nobody is complicating your life, but you, Tsakani! You are choosing your past over us!”
“You have no idea how it hurts to be on the receiving end of this!”
“I’m on the receiving end too! So is Tanko! None of us asked for this!”
“And there she goes defending him!”
“I’m defending him? How?! We’re all affected! Me, you and him! So stop making this your problem alone! You have no idea how much stress I’ve been struggling with this past week!”
“Yeah, you’re stressed over the man you love while I remain on the sidelines, watching, waiting and hoping that you would be kind enough to remember that I exist! That I matter! Tsakani, our lives were great before Tanko reappeared from wherever he had gone to!”
“Our lives were great?”
“I didn’t constantly feel unwanted by your family?”
“And did I not stand by you?”
“You stood by me for how long?! Two seconds?! Until you started making me feel terrible for keeping my connection with the Bahagos!”
“You chose them over my family!”
“THEY ARE MY FAMILY! They accepted me! Yours never did and would never do! So let’s not act like I was a happy Alimi! Let’s not pretend I was that daughter-in-law daughter-in-law everyone wanted to be with! If your mother had a gun, she’d shoot me!”
“Don’t bring my mother into this!”
“Then don’t tell me she has been all hugs and kisses just to win this argument!”
“You know what? Do whatever you want! I’m done talking about this! Go and nurse the man you truly love and leave me out of it! Don’t come here with updates! I don’t want to know! The Bahagos with their bodyguards are already intruding into my privacy! I don’t need them in my bedroom as well! Keep your shit to yourself!”
Pero went back under the blanket again, turning his back to her. She would have cried if she wasn’t so mad at him. She picked a pillow and walked out to the living room. There, she sat until her anger faded away and she became thirsty for cranberry juice.
She went into the kitchen and poured herself a glass. Halfway into drinking it, she saw Jason standing in the kitchen.
“Jay? Why are you awake?” She put the glass away. “What’s wrong?”
He was clutching his tummy. “I want to do a poo.”
Tsaka led him to his bedroom to have him sit on his potty. She then stretched on his bed and waited. He was done with his business in no time. She cleaned him up and put him back to bed. She considered sleeping in the guestroom but thought against it immediately. Sleep was far from her, though. So Tsaka lay down and watched some fashion show in the dark. She didn’t hear Pero entering the living room until he crawled over her and brought his face to hers.
“Why do we fight so much?”
She didn’t have an answer to that, but she was going to say something when he stopped her words with his mouth.
“I’m sorry,” he mumbled.
An instant flame was lit that led to fiery sex which lasted only a few minutes. Pero was breathing hard in her ear when they were done. She clung to him for comfort, seeking affection.
“Get pregnant,” he whispered.
He lifted his body but kept his face in proximity. “Let’s have another baby.”
“But that’s not the plan.”
“We said we’d wait until…”
“I know, but I’m scared of losing you to him. Have my baby. Prove to me that you’re loyal to this. To us.”
“That’s the only way I’ll know you still love me.”
She palmed his face. “But I do, boo. You know that.”
“Prove it to me.”
Tsaka adjusted herself and tightened her legs around him, holding him in. She didn’t want to think of what he had just asked of her. She just wanted to feel him again. He obliged her willingly, taking gentler but more possessive thrusts this time. He was vocal too, assuring her of his devotion all through. At the peak of her orgasm, he stopped and asked, “Is it a yes?”
She grasped his butt cheeks. Her voice emerged in gasps. “Don’t stop, you mad man.”
“Yes?” He began to move again.
“Yes!” Her scream forced air out of her lungs as she came into uncontrollable, shuddering contractions. It was too much for Pero to handle as well. He found his own release with a harsh groan of satisfaction. His work done, he pulled out and tugged his pajama bottoms up. He returned to the bedroom. Tsaka remained alone, feeling gratified from the session, yet wanting more.
A baby was a welcome idea, she decided, after a long moment of navel-gazing. It would keep her devoted to Pero and kill the stubborn connection she had with Tanko.
If only she hadn’t just started fretting about pregnancies altogether.
She was suddenly realizing that her period was six days late. It wasn’t an unusual occurrence for her to be late. But not this far long. Not after she had slept with Tanko.
She recalled Victoria’s emergency contraceptive. It had tasted much the same like the continuous potion she had been on during her four-year marriage to Tanko when they had decided on waiting to get pregnant because they were too busy to become parents. Tanko had traveled about a lot and Tsaka was pursuing a second degree while working at the time. They had planned to have a baby in their fifth year of marriage, outside Nigeria, taking a long full year away from work and their normal life.
Tsaka recollected how Victoria had complained bitterly of that decision shortly before she fell pregnant, Victoria having nursed her angst from the moment she fought with Tanko over the issue. But she had still offered Tsaka the same potion as she did monthly, claiming she respected their decision.
Two months after, the symptoms of pregnancy were beginning to show on Tsaka. She had not suspected Victoria of playing foul, although she had wondered how a herbal mixture that had worked for almost four years, failed. The pain of losing Tanko hadn’t let her mind wander in that direction. If anything, she was grateful to be carrying his baby.
But none of those concerns applied now. Tsaka was scared to even imagine that she was with child. But if she were, then Victoria was never going to be forgiven.
At the same breath, she tried not to imagine Victoria as that dubious. She thought only on the positives. She needed that to survive the moment. Tanko would get better, her bond with Pero would strengthen when she eventually got pregnant for him. But before that, her period would show. It had to.