Yenkat woke up the following morning, feeling different. Firstly, she found herself lying on her side, which was not her default sleeping position. Secondly, her head felt like it belonged to someone else. Thirdly, Clarence was situated by her bedside, staring curiously at her.
She smacked her lips. They felt dry.
“Water?” he asked. She looked at him. She was neither used to his voice nor presence, but she owed him gratitude. He had been in her house last night, as she vaguely recalled. She suspected that Kyenpia had sent him to her.
“Here.” He handed her a bottle of water with a straw in it. She took it and put the straw between her lips. She drank noisily, darting her eyes away from him.
“You want more?” he asked after she was done.
“No. Thanks.” Yenkat made to sit up, but Clarence shook his head.
“I think you have a bad waist injury, so, just lie down like that. In case you’re wondering what I’m doing here, my boss called me last night and told me you were banged up. And since I live close to you, she felt I’d get to you faster.”
“Okay. Thank you.” Yenkat lifted a hand to touch her head.
“Don’t panic. They had to shave everything to get to the wound at the back. I returned to your house last night to see what caused it. I saw your blood on a wooden towel rack in the kitchen. One of the hooks was broken and had a sharp edge. Luckily, it didn’t go in so deep. It did more of peel your scalp, I think.”
Yenkat had a brief moment of panic when she discovered that her hair was gone. Clarence reached over and grasped her hand.
“You’re messing up the wound dressing.” He slowly placed her hand on her hip. “Let me call the doctor.”
He left the room. She shut her eyes again. She forced the images from last night to return. She couldn’t believe Aanu had hurt her physically. Was Polaris okay?
Yenkat looked around for her phone, but saw only the dress she had on last night, stained with blood. It then occurred to her that she was in a hospital gown that was exposed at the back and she wasn’t wearing underwear. Had Clarence seen her bum or more?
He returned. “The doctor is coming. Here’s your phone.” He passed the phone to her.
She canceled her initial plan to call Aanu, and dialed Nasir instead.
“Nas?” she muttered when he picked her call.
“I need you to do me a favor,” she told him in Hausa, to shut Clarence out of the conversation. “Something happened last night and Aanu was drunk and she drove home with Polaris in the car. Please, call her and help me check if they are both okay.”
“She was drunk? When did she start drinking?”
“Honestly, I don’t know.”
“Well, she was really upset yesterday, but to get drunk? That’s not her style.”
“Just help me check and get back to me. You can text if everything is fine.”
Yenkat ended the call, just as a doctor and nurse walked in. Clarence withdrew to give them privacy.
The doctor introduced herself and asked how Yenkat was feeling. She also demanded to know what led to her ‘accident’.
“A drunk friend,” she said to her. The doctor didn’t seem to believe her. “She was angry over some things I did and pushed me and I hit my head.”
“She?” she asked, listening to Yenkat’s pulse.
“Not a ‘he’?”
“Look, we’ve seen a lot of these accidents and we know how wives and girlfriends cover up…”
“Trust me, I’m not a domestic violence victim.” Yenkat tried to smile, but couldn’t.
“Okay.” The doctor accepted her explanation. She did a full check on her and told her that she would stay a couple of days on treatment or until they were sure she was fine. “You had a concussion. The damage could have been worse. It was deep, but not enough to cause any damage. You’ll be fine. Your waist is going to be sore for some days, but you’ll be able to walk straight in a week or two. We’ll give you a walking stick to aid you move around. What you need now is a lot of rest. I won’t advise you to return to work immediately you leave here.”
“Do you have family that you can call to come and see you? The guy that brought you said he was a friend.”
“My cousin is coming.”
“That’s good. Take your pills, eat, and watch some TV. You’ll be fine.”
The doctor left and the nurse came forward to attend to Yenkat. She took her to the restroom where she relieved her bladder and brought her back. Yenkat could hear Kyenpia speaking to the doctor in the hallway. A woman wearing an apron wheeled in a food trolley, making Yenkat frown. She hated hospital meals. They all tasted like wet carton.
“Bread and tea and boiled egg,” the nurse announced as if she was sharing good news. Yenkat was served breakfast and the kitchen woman left with her noisy trolley. The nurse followed her.
“Awww poor baby!” Kyenpia came forward. Yenkat had been buoyed with pillows and put in an upright sitting position. She stretched out her arm to receive Kyenpia’s hug.
“Please, don’t eat this trash.” Kyenpia lowered Yenkat’s breakfast tray to the floor as Clarence walked in with a food basket. “I came with proper food that I cooked myself. Doctor Eunice was chatting shit about the hospital not allowing outside food for their patients. I had to tell her to chill.”
“You know her?”
“Doctor Eunice? Yes. I call her You-nice, so that when she misbehaves like she just did, I then call her You-not-nice.”
“That’s not funny, Kay.”
Kyenpia laughed so hard Yenkat joined her.
“Just ignore me. I’m silly this morning. So silly.” She stopped laughing and sighed. “And it usually comes before a bad episode of depression.”
“I’ll be fine. So, Doctor Eunice is a friend. Family friend. And this is Ishi’s late father’s hospital, by the way.”
“Yup. With their disgusting hospital food that tastes like dog’s nose. How are you, babe?” Kyenpia looked concerned, but she also looked beautiful.
“Why do you constantly slay like this?” Yenkat asked.
“Me? This plain dress?”
Kyenpia smacked of elegance. Yenkat had followed her fashion journey over the past couple of years, watching her style transform to sophistication due to Leonel’s influence. It was always a game of numbers to guess how much her outfits cost every time she was with her. This morning, she couldn’t tell. Kyenpia flattered her baby bump in a black mini dress that featured a white collar and oversize bow at the neckline. The dress was accessorized with black flats, an Hermès handbag and jewelry that had black stones in them.
“Forget about me and tell me about this your mad Aanu person that I so want to strangle.”
“Nothing serious, and you’re here? Start talking abeg.”
While Yenkat retold the events of the night before, Kyenpia served roast Irish potatoes with chicken and vegetable sauce. Clarence had made his exit, so Yenkat spoke freely with Kyenpia, leaving nothing out.
“But you know you have to fuck that boy now, right?”
“No. You just have to.” Kyenpia sat on the chair beside the bed, holding on to her own breakfast. “That’s what I’d do. If you accuse me of something I did not do? I’ll just go right ahead and do it. How dare she call you a pedophile? Somebody that you and your mom helped and took care of? Has she forgotten that? You literally raised Omar.”
“80% of the time, Kyen. But I’m not counting all of that.”
“Better count it. Count everything. List it all to her the next time y’all come face-to-face. And you won’t be the victim again. What nonsense! You sef, you annoy me sometimes. You’re too nice.”
It took Kyenpia a few seconds to get the joke. She gave a chuckle and told her, “You have to stop being the good person sometimes. I’m serious.”
“Was I supposed to fight her back? Have you seen me and seen Aanu?”
“It’s not by body size o. There are ways to deal with a person.”
“I don’t have strength, abeg.”
“So she took Polaris?”
“You have to call Omar and tell him.”
“Kyen, the plan is not to cause fight between him and Aanu. I don’t even want him to know what happened.”
“You’re not serious.” Kyenpia picked a piece of chicken from her plate. “He has to know.”
“What if he calls and says he wants to speak to his child?”
“I’ll simply say she’s with Aanu for a while.”
“He’ll know something is off.”
“I’ll tell him that I got too busy to care for her…”
“But do you really want to let things go this way, Yen? You know Polaris is not safe with her. She was drunk for heaven’s sake. What else could she be doing that could harm that child?”
“I don’t know, and it scares me, but Aanu has always had issues, and they are deep. Really deep. She’s afraid to confront them.”
“Well, it’s not your business anymore. You’ve tried.”
“Yeah. I give up. This is where I draw the line.”
“Back to Omar. Do you think this thing that has happened would put things in perspective for you?”
“It has to o. I don’t know what got into me, gaskiya.”
“You were only being human. But if you really like him…”
Yenkat shook her head. “It’s not going to happen.”
“Is that why you look sad?”
“Sad?” Yenkat sneered. “Kay, I’m beat up here. Leave me abeg.”
“Okay o. I won’t push.”
“Let’s talk about something less depressing.”
“So, I have gist.”
“Maxy and I are fighting. She caught Ishi kissing me yesterday.”
Yenkat’s eyes widened. “Oh, I’m so ready for this gist.” She tried to reach for her drugs but found it difficult.
“Let me help you.” Kyenpia left her seat and went for the drugs.
“Tell me about the kiss first. Are you guys becoming a thing?” Yenkat asked.
“You should marry this guy when your mourning period is over.”
“Now, you sound like Amaka.” Kyenpia made an unpleasant face. “Take.”
Yenkat took the drugs and a cup of water handed to her. She washed them down her throat and passed the cup back to Kyenpia.
“There’s nothing like mourning period, by the way. Look, we have nothing going on. He doesn’t even want to consider adopting the twins. They’re boys, FYI. Double wahala.”
Kyenpia sat. “So, Ishi and I… It’s just kisses. And sex, if it happens again. Just two grown adults grieving and finding comfort in each other. Leonel is still very alive in me.”
“I know. But it’s cool sha.”
“So, tell me about Amaka and her drama.”
Kyenpia laughed. “Oh, Amaka!”
“Destination, Ms. Kyenpia?”
Clarence powered on the car’s engine. Kyenpia was not in the mood for work, but Anna had left a message, reminding her of a meeting with potential business partners.
As Clarence drove out of the hospital’s premises, Kyenpia thanked him for coming through for Yenkat.
“Just doing my job, ma.”
“It’s not your job to rush my cousin to the hospital.”
“It’s pretty much under the description. I’ve done more for the boss.”
“Am I allowed to say chauffeur-client privilege?”
“You’re more than a chauffeur, Clarence.”
“The boss didn’t ask me to do anything out of the ordinary…”
“Asides the numerous girls he made you chauffeur.”
“Well, he stopped all of that the moment he met you.”
Kyenpia didn’t want to continue with the conversation. She didn’t think she was ready to learn unpleasant things about Leonel today.
“But your cousin, will she be alright?” Clarence inquired, eyes in the rearview mirror.
“Yenkat? Yes. The doctor said she’s okay.”
Kyenpia smiled to herself as a thought came to her. “Do you like my cousin?”
“Yenkat. You like her?”
“No, ma. No, I’m just… When I went to get her yesterday, I thought she was dead. She was in bad shape and I…”
“You sat at her bedside all night.”
“According to your orders.”
“No, I said to make sure she was fine.”
“And that was what I did.”
“We’re both adults, Clarence. If you like her, just tell me.”
He didn’t give an answer.
“Yes, ma…ma’am Ms. Kyenpia?”
“No, it’s fine. You guys won’t even work out. There’s another man trying to get into her life. So…”
Kyenpia waited for a reaction from him, but got none. She was satisfied with herself. They journeyed in silence and arrived at the hotel a few minutes after 3 p.m. Kyenpia kept a polite grin on her face in response to greetings from the staff as she walked past the reception, towards the elevator. She was getting used to the power of being a boss, the ass-kissing that came with it, and even the bad vibes from staff that were loyal to Jaiye.
Clarence rode with her in the elevator. He stood in front. Tall, protective, the kind of man she felt would be good for Yenkat. Kyenpia liked Omar for the fact that he loved her cousin, but he came with too much drama, and presently, she didn’t think anything good would come out of them being an item. Yenkat needed to focus on the business at hand. Omar would be too much of a diversion.
“Just so you know, ma…”
Kyenpia lifted her head to look at Clarence.
“We’re not allowed to have romantic interests with our bosses or anyone closely and distantly related to them.”
“Who made those rules?”
“Well, you can break them.”
“I can’t. I will be fired.”
The elevator doors opened. Clarence stepped out first, but Kyenpia strode past him and towards her office. Anna was not in. Kyenpia walked to her door and opened it. No sooner had she pulled out her chair to sit, that Jaiye entered without knocking.
He looked ready for a day out at the beach, in white shorts and a Caribbean inspired t-shirt.
“I was told you came in,” he said. “I didn’t know you’d be here today.”
“Care to share?”
“No. It’s something private. How may I help you, Jaiye?”
“Can I speak openly with you?”
“First, allow me apologize for what happened on Tuesday when the new auditing firm came. I lost my cool. I shouldn’t have.”
“But I should have been informed.”
“Yes. You should have. But I didn’t arrange that visit. Leonel did last year, so they were just keeping to their appointment.”
Kyenpia held back the part where the auditing firm was to return on Tuesday. She was certain of her seat as CEO. Jaiye would not be able to make any major decisions without her consent at that time.
“Yeah, secondly, I sense some hostility from you, Kyenpia.”
“You do?” She smiled, sitting down. He came closer to her table.
“Do you not like me?”
“I do, Jaiye. We’re family. We have to like each other.”
“Exactly. Leo and I were very close. We went on trips together, within and outside Nigeria. We hung out almost every night. That was before you came into the picture, of course. At some point, we even shared the same girls.”
“So to speak.”
Kyenpia pressed her lips together, to mask any expression that might betray her mounting dislike for him. “Your bromance was strong.”
“Very strong, and that is why I feel that you and I can continue what he and I started. It helps business.”
“We should continue what you guys started?”
“I don’t do bromance, Jaiye.”
Jaiye laughed. “Not that. We can hang out once in a while. I’m a good cook. If you visit me, I’ll whip up something for you. Or we could attend a conference together outside the country. There’s always one international hospitality event or the other.”
“I’ll think about it, Jaiye.”
“Please, do. Come Monday, whether I’m boss or your are, it doesn’t matter. We’re family. I need to take care of you. Look, if you ever need me to come around or you want to talk to someone, just call.”
“I got you, dear.”
Kyenpia jerked. “Just Kyenpia, please.”
“Kyenpia.” He laughed. “Okay. I have to go and do some things. I hope you’ll be fine?”
“I will. Thanks.”
He hurried out, bearing a spring in his steps. Kyenpia’s face was instantly drained of its fake smile.
“Dear.” She smirked and added a hiss.
Her four o’clock appointment came on time. By half an hour, she was done and ready for the next. She called Clarence in.
“I need you to do something for me, Clarence,” she said.
“The nature of this thing is not something I’ve ever asked you to do before. It’s…against the law.”
“As I said, anything ma’am. As long as I don’t have to hurt someone who’s innocent or unworthy of hurting, by your judgment.”
“Good. Shut the door, let’s talk.”
Captain watched from his bedroom window as David and his wife, Peggy, went at each other in an intense verbal exchange. Their stunned children sat in the backseat of David’s car, observing the scene. The reason for the fight was Captain. Peggy’s offense was that she had dared to bring the children over to spend time with him, not seeking David’s permission. Somehow, David had gotten to know about the visit and had shown up at Captain’s. He expressed his anger in clear terms, reminding Peggy that he had let her know, more than a few times, that he didn’t want his children near Captain. He had said the words, staring blatantly into his father’s eyes.
“This marriage will end if you try this nonsense again.” His finger was pointed at Peggy, who lost her calm and uttered a threat of her own.
“This marriage will end today, since we all want to be mad!”
Ordering the children into his car, David continued with his outburst. Captain withdrew from the living room to his bedroom to ward off the irksome emotion of sadness crawling in.
“The poison you fed him with to make him hate me so much is still potent, Em,” he said loudly.
“But you don’t care.” Emem was on the floor, her back resting against the door. “If you did, you would have made attempts to bridge the gap between you two. But year after year, you allow the wound fester. Now, look what’s happening. A new generation of Igwes will grow up hating you.”
“Leo made things better, didn’t he? He organized those dinners and lunches that had all of us together as a family. At some point, David was good with me.”
“And then your enemies went and killed his brothers. And you want him to come to you with hugs and kisses? Luke, David held Ramsey until he bled to death. The same way you held me until I died. You understand that pain, don’t you?”
“You know I’ll make those people pay…”
“That’s not what we’re talking about here.” Emem was now standing by the window, looking out. Her celestial form was covered in a gown, pink and transparent. “Come and have a look.”
Captain walked to the window and stood beside her. David and Peggy were still at it.
“They shouldn’t do this in front of the kids,” Captain murmured.
“And the times you raped me in front of Daniel?”
“Not intentionally. He was a nosy kid, often wandering into places he shouldn’t.”
“The kitchen and laundry room were not restricted to the boys, but you abused me in those places, hoping someone would see you do it. And whenever your son did, you didn’t stop. You enjoyed it.”
“I was making him strong.”
“Strong enough to watch you stab me to death.”
“You know that was a mistake.”
“And then you buried me where no one would ever think of to look for me. You made him watch everything.”
“Well, I’m sure you’re happy that David was shielded from all of that.”
“Was he? Is he?”
David entered his car, leaving Peggy alone with their four-month-old baby. He screeched out of the compound. She looked Captain’s way. He smiled apologetically. She strolled towards the window.
“Pops, I am so sorry for all you just witnessed. You know Dave is not like that.”
“He has his days.”
“I just wanted the kids to spend time with you. They’ve been going on and on about coming here…”
“I understand. You don’t have to explain.”
“But Pops, what is this beef between you two that doesn’t want to go away? He won’t talk about it…”
“And I won’t too.”
“Well, I’m tired of it. If two of you won’t mend things, I’m going to Gramps to…”
“Don’t waste your time, Peggy. Your husband hates me, and not even angels can make him feel differently. I deserve it, though. I have done things I’m ashamed of, things that no father should do to his sons.”
“But you’ve changed, haven’t you? I know that. I can see it.”
“Well, David is just being cautious. It is known that a leopard doesn’t change its spots.” Captain gave an eerie smile. “So, just leave him. I’m not sad or taking it to heart.”
“The kids, though…”
“Yes, that’s the tragedy of all this. They didn’t have to witness that fight.”
“I know. I lost my cool.”
Peggy’s baby babbled and Captain smiled at her.
“We’ll find a way,” he said with a sigh. “Don’t break your head over it, Peggy. Just obey your husband.”
“Where I’m from, we don’t obey irrational husbands.”
Captain laughed. “You’re an Igwe wife indeed. Obstinate and stern. Go easy on my boy.”
“I’ll try. Thank you for understanding, Pops. I apologize again.”
“It’s fine, Peggy.”
He blew a kiss to the baby as Peggy turned away.
“I should buy Peggy a gift,” he mentioned to Emem. “Something fancy like a gold bracelet.”
“Something with which to infuriate David, you mean?”
Emem was no longer in the room, but her voice lingered. Captain hated her disappearing acts.
He walked to the door. Someone was knocking.
“Who is it?
“Captain, Doctor Idara is here.”
“Take her to my office.”
Captain picked a pack of cigarettes from his reading table and left his bedroom. His personal assistant was waiting outside. She informed him of phone calls he needed to return, meetings he had to attend, and events he had been invited to.
“Let’s talk about this over dinner,” he told her, opening his office door. “Cancel as many appointments and events as you can.”
He got in and shut her out.
His office wasn’t exactly a typical office. It looked more like a surveillance room, with an entire wall dedicated to screens that displayed live and recorded camera footage. Presently, all the screens had been switched off. Captain strolled to his table and rested his eyes on his ex who had made herself at home on a leather couch.
Idara looked up from her phone and showed him a grimace. “I’m supposed to be on my way to Uyo for a conference.”
“How is Nairobi these days, Ida?” He lit a cigarette.
“Why am I here?”
“Get up, let me admire you nau. Na wa o. You come in here looking all scrumptious, but you’re forming.”
“Luke, let’s not do this.”
“Woman, get up.”
Idara arose from the couch. She was gorgeous. Plus-size, curvy, and with a skin tone that was reminiscent of Emem’s.
She went to where he stood. He took her hand and kissed it.
“What do you want, Luke?”
“I’ve missed you, baby.”
“You want me to do something ridiculous or illegal, don’t you?”
“I’m done doing those things for you, Luke. I told you that a long time ago.”
“And I honored your wish, but that time has expired.”
Idara drew her hand away from Captain’s and escaped the toxicity of his cigarette smoke.
“Leonel is alive,” he revealed.
She glared at him. “Which Leonel?”
“Your boy. He’s alive.”
“He’s alive? How?”
“It doesn’t matter. That’s not why you’re here.”
“Stop, please. You can’t just give me that type of news without letting me take it in. He’s really alive?”
“Luke, I cried for him nonstop. For a whole week! How can he not be dead?”
“Well, I lied to everyone.”
“Oh for God’s sake, Luke!”
“I had to. For his safety.”
“So, where is he? Is he okay? Does his wife know?”
“Luke, does his wife know?”
“Okay, no. She doesn’t.”
“Are you alright?”
“That’s not why I brought you here, Idara. Sit down.”
Idara pulled a chair before his table and sat.
“For Leo’s safety, he has to be where he is. No one can know that he’s alive. This means that this information I just gave you has to be protected at all cost.”
“Kyenpia… I visited her. She’s torn up. She’s pregnant, Luke. How could you do this to her?”
“Kyenpia will be fine. If his death didn’t kill her immediately, she’ll survive.”
“Is Leo in on this?”
“Is he okay?”
“You ask too many questions. Fucking calm down.” Captain stubbed his cigarette in an ashtray on the table. “So, here’s the thing. His health is messed up right now. He just got out of a coma and he can hardly do anything. He’s expected to get better in time. I’m not worried about that.”
“He needs therapy. I’ll help…”
“Not just any type of therapy, Ida.” Captain went round his table and perched on it, facing Idara. “I need you to make sure he has no desire to come back here.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Ida, if he comes back here, they’ll kill him.”
“The people that wanted to finish the entire Igwe family. I can’t let that happen.”
“Why Leonel alone?”
“Because they know he’s my…weakness. They want him. They’ll kill him if he comes back home. I want him to restart his life elsewhere. He has untouched cash in a Swiss account and another in Barbados. He holds multiple citizenships in different countries. In Barbados and Mauritius, for instance, he made investments in real estate to secure his nationality. He can start afresh in any of those places, build a new life there…”
“Wait. You want me to convince him by manipulating his mind into believing that his life has ended here in Nigeria and he has enemies that will finish him if he returns?”
“Basically. You can also make him believe that his presence puts Kyenpia and the children in danger.”
“I’m not going to do it.”
“Why? Luke, this is identity deletion. You want me to create a different personality, a new individual?”
“You don’t have to. Spirit is back.”
“He woke up as Spirit, and we know that Spirit doesn’t care for what Leonel stands for.”
“Oh God.” She sprang up. Captain passed a cigarette to Idara. “No, thanks. I’ve quit. Luke, I know what it took me to subdue Spirit. How the heck did he come back?” She rested her head on her hand and muttered incoherently to herself.
“What are you saying?”
“It’s the coma. It does that to people. Some of them wake up as entirely different personalities. Oh God! I thought we were done with that alter.”
“I like that personality.”
“Of course, Luke! You created that monster! And you don’t want him to go away, because you know that if Leonel returns here, Spirit is gone! All that nonsense you were telling me about enemies going after him is a blatant lie!”
“Yes, I am, Luke! Don’t you want your son to get better? He fell in love and got the best life he ever had. Kyenpia healed him! He calls her his sunshine, his light, because she pulled him out of the dark place! Why do you want to take that away? Why do you want him to be that little boy who faced abuse and went through the type of hell no child should go through? Why are you so wicked, Luke? Spirit is not a grown man! He’s a little boy trapped in an adult’s body! A puppet in your hands! How can you want that for your son?”
“I’m not going to do it.”
“I am sorry, I won’t.”
Captain flicked on the lighter and kept the flame burning. He focused on it as he spoke. “Early this morning, my twin sister, you know her… Your lecturer in school that year. Both of you handled Leonel’s case together…”
“I hope she’s okay?”
“Early this morning, she got a phone call that her house was on fire, but she couldn’t do anything because she was far away, somewhere at the other end of the world, taking care of Leonel. Everything she had in her house was razed to the ground. Her clothes, books, keepsakes from our late mother, expensive paintings and artifacts, her parrot and two cats, all of them gone. Only her cook and DA escaped. Everything else was erased.” Captain flicked off the flame and looked into Idara’s eyes. “All the memories, gone. You know how it is with old, childless women and their property.”
“You’re so heartless.”
“Now, she’s on her way home. Devastated, as I expect her to be.”
“Your own sister, Luke. Just because she wouldn’t do what you’re asking me to do.”
“I like that you’re smart. Look at how you put A and B together to arrive at Z.”
“But why Luke?”
“It hurts me, what happened to Jamila. I think she should sue the electrical company. I was told it was a faulty wiring. Look, Ida, accidents happen. I pray they don’t happen to you or I.”
Idara pulled up in front of him. “This would be the last thing I’d do for you, Luke. The last. And when I’m done, I don’t want to ever see your rotten face again.”
“Thank you, darling.” He beamed, snatching her waist. “I’ll forever owe you for this one.”
She pushed away. “Where is he?”
“Relax. Someone would come see you tomorrow and help you get a visa to leave the country.”
“Wait until tomorrow.”
Idara marched to the couch, picked her purse and stormed out of the office, cussing him. Captain settled in his chair to set fire to another cigarette. He took a drag and released the smoke into the air. When it cleared, he saw Emem on the couch, her eyes judging him.
Kyenpia’s eyes were fixed on the electronic bedside clock. It was time to go home, but she couldn’t get her feet to move. This was home, anyway. She couldn’t recall the many nights she slept on this bed or made love in it. Her feelings for Leonel had been nurtured here, one kiss at a time. This room also witnessed their most intense fights. Would she ever bring herself to clear the place of the memories they shared and allow the hotel use it for guests?
She managed to pull herself into a sitting position. She saw the dying light of her phone screen. She had missed numerous calls that she had no wish to return. It was one of those evenings that saw her missing Leonel deeply. It seemed the pain and loneliness were never going away. She had days when she thought about him and smiled, hours that went by that she didn’t even think about him. And then, there were days like this that everything came down on her like the roof of a building falling over her.
Kyenpia put her feet to the floor. There was a collection of wrapped gift boxes by the wall. They belonged to her. Birthday gifts from Leonel. He had ordered for them the year before, which was not surprising to her. He did the most thoughtful things, always taking her more seriously than she did him. The gifts had arrived on the eve of her birthday a couple of weeks ago, and because she wasn’t celebrating the day, she had asked Clarence to bring them here. But even now, she still didn’t have the heart to open them, knowing how Leonel personalized everything he gave her.
She slipped her feet into her shoes and picked her handbag and phone. Leaving the bedroom, she stared at the bed and wondered if Anna had been loved in this space the same way she had. Did she ever wake up to find him staring at her as if he had spent the entire night doing so?
Kyenpia left the penthouse. Her new bodyguard was waiting outside. He was an older, quieter man, always replying her questions in grunts.
He pointed her towards the elevator.
“We’re headed to the hospital.”
He nodded as the elevator door shut.
Kyenpia came home, feeling worse than she had felt two hours ago. The highlight of her evening was seeing Yenkat in good shape. She had chatted animatedly, emphasizing to Kyenpia that she had forgiven Aanu and didn’t want to pursue the matter further. Kyenpia had said nothing, flashing her habitual blank smile. She understood that Yenkat was tolerant because she felt guilty over the thing with Omar and because of an incident in her past, which she still deeply regretted. Kyenpia, on the other hand, didn’t feel she should be so lenient. People like Aanu needed to be dealt with or they would become repeat offenders. However, she kept her thoughts to herself, enjoyed her time with Yenkat and returned home to the emptiness and depression that had afflicted her all evening.
Eliana had just returned home from Ishi’s and was fast asleep. Kyenpia was tempted to spend the night in Ishi’s place, but she was learning the difficult job of pacing herself when it came to him. It wasn’t because she felt guilty for the thing going on between them; it was more of her protecting herself from being addicted to his presence. She didn’t want to need him on lonesome nights or always run to him when she was looking for a place to ease her pain. Kyenpia wanted to ride the storm alone as much as she could. If she could help it, Ishi would simply play the role of a sexual partner, and only on his terms. She was going to take Yenkat’s advice and not lead him into any type of amorousness. It was a good thing that he seemed to be in accord with her stance.
But tonight, she needed him. Or someone who could hold her as she slept. She could feel all the bad emotions coming down on her. The grief, the pain, the sense of emptiness, the fear of the unknown, the sadness. For a while, she moseyed around her bedroom, taking deep breaths and pushing away the tears. But she fell to bits and sought a tiny space underneath her dressing table where she curled up and cried. She didn’t feel better when the tears stopped. She crawled out from beneath the table and picked her phone. Her first phone call was to Fiyin, but it rang out and she got an automated text. Lanre was out of town or she would have asked him to come. Gina too. Loretta had her kids over for the weekend; she also would have been perfect to spend the night with.
Frustrated, Kyenpia lay on her bed and sought for sleep, but it eluded her. At this point, she was ready to ask Bem over to administer something to aid her restless mind. She knew, however, that Bem would deny her request. She was left with one option, and it was inspired by a suggestion Yenkat had given her a week ago.
Kyenpia picked her phone and dialed a contact’s number.
“This one that you’re calling me like this,” the contact said, taking her call. “Have you finally decided to free Ishi’s heart and let me have it?”
Zia, whose full name was Alexia, was Ishi’s ex and late Ramsey’s half-sister. The first woman that was responsible for the angst between Ishi and Leonel. Her mother was Ramsey’s mother and Captain’s on and off lover. Zia was worldly in every sense of the word, never apologetic for who she was. She had started an international escort service in her early twenties that still ran strong. She offered services solely to the rich, popular and influential. Kyenpia had begun not liking her, but after spending time with her at the family reunion two years ago, they struck off something genial that saw them both being hospitable to each other.
“So, what can I do you for?” Zia asked.
“I need someone.”
“Hmmm… Lonely nights? I have just the right guy.”
“Not a guy.”
“Girl? Ooooh… nasty mommy. I knew there was something about you that I loved.”
“It’s not what you think.”
“I can come over. I love pregnant women. You guys are extra touchy and horny. If my tongue gets between your legs, you will forget men have dicks.”
“Can you ever be serious in your life?”
“You don’t find me sexy?”
“Someone chubby. Preferably new.”
“One that hasn’t been tainted by men.”
“Or women. And if she can sing, that would be great.”
“Sing? Kyenpia, your requests are pretty odd. Dare I ask what this is about?”
“You dare not.”
“Okay. For the entire night?”
“She’ll cost you a hundred grand.”
“Put it on Leonel’s account.”
“How did you know he…?”
“I didn’t know. You just let it out.”
Zia laughed. “I can see why Leo said he couldn’t outsmart you. But just so you know, he never slept with any of my girls. He only used them as arm candies at events, and it was always emergencies, last minute stuff.”
Kyenpia would have been disappointed if she learned that Leonel slept with prostitutes, but she wouldn’t be surprised. She was glad to know that he didn’t.
“You know my former house. Send her over.”
“In a bit.”
“But I’m serious. If you ever need a guy to oil things up…”
“Is it because Ishi is available?”
“Zia, Ishi and I were never a thing and we aren’t, right now. He is free. Stephanie is gone. You can claim your man.”
Zia made a sound akin to sighing. “I’ll forever be a scarlet woman in his eyes.”
“Has he ever called you that before?”
“Not really. He said he can’t be with someone whose body belongs to other men. So, I told him I was gonna change, I’d drop everything, but he said that he’s sorry, he’s not Hosea. I asked him who the fuck Hosea was and he said I should go and read about him in the Bible. I did, and it turned out that the dude even had a whole book dedicated to him and his slutty wife. So, I called Ishi and told him, baby, ama be faithful, I ain’t no Hosea’s hoe. If this shit between me and you gets serious, ama delete my past and all. But he told me to fuck off. Not in those words, though. But I had to move on. He aint the only dick in the world. And to think we were teenage sweethearts and shit.”
“He said you were his first.”
“I was. Isn’t there a rule somewhere that says no matter what, you should stay loyal to the one that pops your cherry?”
“Were you loyal to Leonel?”
“You can’t be loyal to a hoe, Kyenpia. No offense.”
Kyenpia smiled. Zia was always fun to speak with. She was honest to a fault.
“Plus, he’s the reason I can’t have kids. That nigga fucked me up. Forget the bomb dick and all, I hated your man. And he knew he ruined me. That was why he kept renewing his membership with me even though he hardly used my girls. Well, he’s dead now. You can’t beat a dead horse.”
“Oh, I’m sorry, sugar. So sorry. Um…I have placed an order for your girl. She is on her way to you now. Please, I want her back intact. She’s a virgin. If you want to break that hymen, you’ll have to offer a little higher than a quarter of a million. That’s how much the highest bidder is offering now.”
“Don’t worry. She’ll be fine.”
“So, how is Ishi these days? We haven’t spoken since the funeral. He looked awful then. Poor baby. Do you think I should go see him? I don’t even know where he stays now.”
“I’m not going to send you his address.”
“That’s not fair. How about his number?”
“You’re controlling our man, Kay.”
“Our man? You’re so unserious. Zee, I have to go abeg.”
“Would you let me have one of your twins after they’re born?”
“Just to compensate for what your husband did to my uterus.”
“Go away, Zia.”
“I love you anyways.”
Kyenpia’s mood was lifted after the phone call. She was a little relaxed too. But she wasn’t sure it would last.
Her screen lit up. Zia had sent a text, asking for Ishi’s address. Kyenpia replied with an empty text. She stretched and yawned. Before long, she was asleep.
She dreamt about Leonel again. But the dream didn’t start with him. It began with Ishi. He was in bed with her. Not her bed. Leonel’s. In his bedroom at the penthouse. They were both nude when Leonel walked in on them. He hadn’t come alone; the masked men that had attacked the Igwe family accompanied him. They all had guns with them, excluding him. But he lifted his hand slowly and pointed a finger at Ishi. She let out a scream as the men trained their guns at Ishi in unison. She flung her body in front of him to save him at the sound of a gun going off.
Kyenpia jolted up. Her pulse was on overdrive, and so were her guts. She rushed to the bathroom and vomited in the toilet.
“Please, stop coming to my dreams,” she sobbed. “Please, stop. I’m a mess here and you’re not helping. Stop it!”
Kyenpia sniffled. “Yes, Nelly?”
“Are you okay?”
“Yeah. I’m fine.”
“Are you sure?”
“What do you want, Nelly?”
“You have a visitor. She said she’s from Alexia.”
“Okay. Tell her to come in.”
“Alright, ma. Do you want anything?”
“No. Thank you.”
Kyenpia drew herself up. She flushed the toilet and rinsed her mouth. When she returned to her bedroom, she found her guest waiting, standing by the door. She was just what Kyenpia wanted—chubby and inexperienced in her looks.
“Good evening,” the escort greeted.
“What’s your name?”
“Your real name.”
“You’re not Nigerian.”
“Take off your clothes.”
The lady unbuttoned her blazer. The more Kyenpia stared at her, the more beautiful she got.
“Everything. Including the lingerie.”
Thioro clung to the blazer. “I’m a virgin.”
“I know. How old are you?”
“Twenty-nine, foreign and a virgin. You must be in high demand. Is this the life you want to live?”
“You want to give your hymen to the highest bidder and continue to sleep with men for money all your life? Don’t you aim to be something better?”
Thioro didn’t seem to have an answer. Kyenpia went to her closet and took out a t-shirt of Leonel’s she had kept for a special moment. It still smelled of it. She tossed it at Thioro.
“You can put this on.”
She saw the uncertainty in the girl’s eyes as she undressed.
“I just need you to cuddle me as I sleep, Thioro. Can you do that?”
“Cuddle? Like hug you?”
“Yes, hold me while I sleep. That’s all I want. If you’re good at it, I might retain you and pay you well for it so that you don’t have to sleep with a man you don’t love because of money.”
Kyenpia could hear Lanre’s voice in her head telling her she couldn’t save everyone. But she couldn’t help herself. Women like Thioro were the reason she began working at The Refuge. Her superhero cape was on and she wasn’t taking it off until Thioro’s life was transformed.
Thioro became relaxed. She stripped completely and wore the t-shirt Kyenpia gave her.
“Can you sing?”
“Good. Spoon me and sing me to sleep.”
Thioro still gave her the weird look. Kyenpia knew she came off as one of those rich people that requested bizarre services, but she didn’t care. This was better than having Ishi in her bed.
Yenkat opened her eyes. Morning had come, and she felt healthier than the day before. She wondered if the doctor would let her go home today. There was a lot to be done. She thought of the numerous emails she had to reply and the wages she had to pay the artisans that were fixing up the BFAM office complex.
The hospital room was cold, and this was because it was drizzling outside. It was slightly windy too. She had slept on the side that faced the window, grateful that Kyenpia had sent a blanket over which kept her warm all night. Also grateful that she didn’t have to wake up to Clarence’s presence, wondering if he had been peeking at her bum all night.
But she sensed someone was in the room with her right now. She pulled her weight up and turned around for a pleasant surprise. Polaris was struggling to climb up the chair that was stationed beside the bed. Yenkat stretched to have a better view of the hallway outside the room, looking for Aanu. She had anticipated that she would come to apologize, but not this soon. In any case, she was pleased to have her and Polaris around. The earlier they put this mess behind them, the better for everyone.
“Polar Bear,” Yenkat called. Polaris stopped what she was doing and gave Yenkat a curious stare.
“It’s me, sweetie. My hair is gone, but it’s me.”
Polaris’ face lit up. “Mama!”
“Come here, luv.”
She stretched her hands towards Yenkat who lifted her up.
“I missed you, Polar.”
“You came with Aunty Aanu?”
“Your daddy is not here, baby. But he’ll be home soon, okay?”
Polaris pointed at the door and repeated, “Da!”
“He’s not there either.”
But Yenkat’s voice faded as Omar appeared at the doorway.
Yenkat went quiet as he entered the room and lifted Polaris from the bed. She had begun to tug at Yenkat’s IV line. She let out a scream when she was taken away, but he gave his phone to her and placed her in the visitor’s chair.
“Hi,” he greeted, staring down at Yenkat with worry and affection. He then reached for a pair of pillows in the corner that Kyenpia had sent alongside the blanket.
“If you could sit up properly…”
Yenkat watched him as he helped her up and positioned the pillows behind her.
“Are you comfortable now?”
“I’ve missed you.”
“Omar, what are you doing here?”
“I heard what happened. I’m so sorry for what my mom did to you.”
“So, you flew all the way from Italy to Nigeria to see me?”
Hands in his pockets, he shrugged. She was stunned. She knew he could do crazy things, but this was madness.
“Mom fucked up. This is just wrong. I’m so sorry.”
“You look beautiful with the haircut, though. Different. Younger. I like.”
“Omar, you can’t be here. You just can’t.”
“I know, but I’m here, and I’m not going back until you get better. I know you said you have a man and all, and you said to stop texting and shit. I respect that. But I’m the reason you’re here, Kat. I have to make sure you’re okay. So, for the rest of today, Polar and I will keep you company.”
Yenkat didn’t like the sound of that, and she was about to complain, but Doctor Eunice walked in. Omar took Polaris away and shut the door.
“So, that’s your daughter?”
Doctor Eunice said, “Your little girl. She’s so cute. Why didn’t you mention her when we asked you if you had kids?”
“Yenkat?” Doctor Eunice looked concerned. “You missed that out when we were trying to get your details yesterday. But I’ll chuck it down to your head injury. Just one more thing, though, and this is me being curious. Not for the records. So, who exactly is your man? The one that brought you here or the cute baby daddy that just came?”
Yenkat looked up at Doctor Eunice with a frown.
“Okay too personal. I’m sorry.” She pulled out her stethoscope from her pocket. “Let’s see how you’re doing today.”
®Sally Kenneth Dadzie @moskedapages
Gaskiya – True, honestly (Hausa)