Tsakani winced when she heard the front door slam. There was an instant drop in her mood as she picked out Pero’s footsteps approaching the bedroom. The weightless sounds of laughter from her sons playing outside were replaced by Pero’s cranky voice on the phone. The door creaked at his entrance. Tsakani forced her eyes on the clothes in front of her. She was engaged in the activity of folding them into one of three bags she was packing.
Pero stayed by the door, still on the phone, but eyes on her. His prayer mat was wedged underneath his armpit.
“I’ll see you tomorrow,” he said in Yoruba to the person he was conversing with. Tsakani wished he could go on with the phone call and give her the solitude she desired. She wished he had returned to the office after the asr prayers. She hadn’t the strength to continue the week-long fight that had beset their marriage.
“So, you’re still going despite everything?”
His words were not a question. They were an accusation. Tsakani ignored him. She zipped up the bag, having filled it with the last of her clothes on the bed.
“Pero, please, not now.”
“So you’re still going to that house after all my begging and my mother calling you to beg?”
Tsakani felt the burn of unshed tears on her eyes. “You know I have to go.”
“It’s my mother’s birthday, Tsaka.” His voice rose. “All my siblings and their spouses and children would be there! But I’ll show up alone while my wife takes herself and my kids to her dead ex-husband’s family house! How does that sound to you?!”
Tsakani was weak to retort. She found a tiny space between two of the packed bags and lodged her slim frame there, waiting for more scolding from Pero, but he let out a grunt and stomped into the bathroom.
“Why won’t you just let us do things my way?” she said weakly.
Pero was a difficult man whenever he wanted to be. He was mostly soft-spoken and sweet. But he had his moments, and whenever they came, Tsakani always ensured that she did everything to please him. However, not this time. She was defying his wishes to be with the Bahagos, a family she considered herself part of. She had been married to Idris and Victoria’s second son, Tanko Bahago for four years, before he disappeared one afternoon, leaving her pregnant and distraught. Tanko never returned. It took Tsakani two years to admit that she was never going to see him again. The Bahagos had accepted their loss a long time before she did, but were patient with her until she was ready to move on. Tanko was buried exactly two years after his disappearance.
Tsakani moved in with Victoria in the Bahago home and stayed there until she met Pero and began to date him secretly. When Victoria eventually found out about the relationship, Tsaka was already pregnant with Pero’s child. The Bahagos dug into Pero’s background and when they found him worthy of Tsakani, they approved of the relationship. But it wasn’t the same on Pero’s side. His parents didn’t think a widow with a son who still lived with her late husband’s family was the best fit for him. Pero defied his family, nonetheless, stuck to his decision and married Tsakani with his parents’ hesitant blessings. Tsakani had never felt welcomed in the Alimi family. It was always a struggle to fit in, especially during holiday periods. And although the marriage was only three years gone, she had gotten her own share of headaches from her in-laws. The Bahagos were her solace. Victoria had a warm heart and a tender word as much as she could be fiery and ruthless. Idris was the quiet sort of father who spoke little but observed everything. For his age, he still enjoyed the business of farming and making money. Their children meant as much to Tsakani as did her own siblings.
Pero had not been particularly bothered about the relationship she had with the family until recently. He began to get upset over her frequent visits there and the fact that his son now called Victoria and Idris ‘Grandma’ and ‘Grandpa’. His family lived in Illorin. They didn’t get to visit them often. His mother’s birthday was supposed to be a good reason to be there; but Munachi Bahago was getting married on the same weekend. Tsakani had suggested a compromise in which she would stay with the Bahagos until Saturday and then leave on a flight to Illorin on Sunday morning. But Pero wanted her with the Alimis from Thursday until Monday. It was either his way or nothing else. This had been the cause of their fight.
Tsakani was drained. Pero was not this person he was making himself out to be. He was a dream husband. The type one was constantly grateful for. He was successful in business, family-focused, faithful to her, protected her from his family and loved her vehemently. She didn’t comprehend why he was suddenly making her connection to the Bahagos an issue.
The bathroom door opened and he appeared. “Just do whatever, Tsaka. Go be with them. Don’t show up in Ilorin.”
“Don’t show up.”
He walked past her and out the door. Soon she heard the sound of his car leaving the compound. The laughter of the boys filled the air again. Tsakani wiped the lone teardrop that hit her cheek. The weekend was going to suck.
Before family and everything else, there was that one man I was bound to whenever I came home. His name was Luke, but they called him Captain. He was the son of Igwe, a military head of state back in the day. Not so long ago, Captain ran the affairs of the country with his cabal. Power, however, was snatched from him in a most brutal way, ending decades of control. It wasn’t that he was stripped completely of his influence. He just wasn’t the number one man any longer. These days, power was tossed between hands. It was now a game of thrones. The ruling elites controlled sections, divided by ethnicity and oil. Each domain, fallaciously united under one federation, fought to outdo the other. It became a tussle about who had more oil money and weapons. The most powerful had their militias. Terrorists that rampaged and killed, breaking the peace of the country, dividing people further by tribe and religion. Capitalism became the new government. It made the rich richer and the poor masses none the wiser. This was not the Nigeria Captain wanted. Not the decay one saw on the daily. It angered him so badly it sometimes affected his state of mind. But it was rumored that he was on the rise again. A rumor that made me both excited and scared. The man was soulless. If he ever got the chance to take back power, his enemies, down to their fourth generation were going to be wiped out of the earth’s existence.
But he was a man I loved. And this was a strange thing because he destroyed me. He took me as a whole, innocent being and turned me into a puppet under his control. He made me do unmentionable things. Because of him, my hands ran with blood. Yet I adored the air he breathed. His darkness was mine. His cross I bore.
Upon my return home, Archie had let me borrow one of his cars. I hadn’t spent much time with him after I got in. We stopped at a joint for lunch and he took me to his house where he handed the key to his KIA while he sped off to some errand in town. I was eager to see Captain, but being alone in Archie’s home gave me an opportunity to feed my curiosity. I wasn’t looking for anything specifically. I was just curious.
In a few days, Muna was going to be living with him in matrimony. Was there anything in his personal space that could give me an inkling of the type of marriage they were going to have? I got no answers, but soon became aware that I was merely giving life to my crush on him.
I lay on his bed for a moment, imagining myself leading a normal existence, being his partner instead. The thoughts didn’t fill me with joy or any type of fuzzy feeling. My fantasies of him came only in monochrome imaginings with no relish.
I hadn’t lain on the bed for long when I heard the faint rustling of paper beneath me. I lifted my weight and took away the pillow I had been resting on. Beneath it was a collection of papers, apparently torn from a booklet. The papers seemed to have been squeezed but straightened out again. I gave them a quick perusal and discovered that it was a prenuptial agreement between Archie and Muna. A particular page stood out where words were marked with a pen. It outlined what either party would do in a situation where one of them was physically harmed by the other. The consequence was the dissolution of the marriage. I found it weird that such an instance would be added to a prenuptial agreement between two people who claimed they were in love.
I flipped to the last page where I saw Archie’s signature appended. Muna’s was absent. Intrigued, I replaced the papers where I had found them and left the house to Captain’s. The man lived in a heavily-armed compound. Being a retired general, he was protected by soldiers. But he had other guards who ran security detail for him and members of his family. They were killing machines. They protected Captain with their lives.
The guard at the gate asked me to park outside the compound. No car was allowed in. I stepped down and was frisked by a soldier chewing a gum and enjoying the feel of his hand against my body parts. When he was through, I was let in. I had a brief walk to the main house. There were two other buildings. One was Captain’s private quarters. The other belonged to the guards and domestic staff.
I was frisked a second time at the front door by a better behaved man.
“Biyankavitch is here,” he said, speaking to a colleague via his Bluetooth comm before nodding me in the direction of a passage. I walked through a living room with dark, profane décor. Captain enjoyed being blasphemous in his appreciation of art. He was as irreligious as he was heartless.
I walked through the passage and found myself in a more homely sitting room. A maid informed me that Captain was in the kitchen. I followed an entrance that led me to the kitchen where he was having a hearty conversation with his chef, a disturbingly chubby Indian. Captain was sitting on a high kitchen stool chewing on a carrot while the chef did the dishes. I caught him midway in laughter when I came in.
“Biyankavitch!” He had a welcoming smile as I approached him. “Kaamil was just telling me about his sister’s disastrous second marriage. We’re um…making Jollof rice, the Nigerian way. In India, they call it biryani…”
Kaamil gave an exasperated sigh and corrected him, telling him it was not the same with Jollof rice.
Captain stubbornly continued, “Anyway, he says theirs tastes better. I’m about to prove him wrong. But that would be in a bit.” He dismissed the chef with a wave of his hand. Not too happy about it, the chubby man grumbled out after a quick nod to his boss. Captain swiveled around to face me. Like the military man he was, he was completely shaved, leaving only a clean line of grey moustache above his lips which matched his neat haircut.
“My sources tell me you are going to be Kashimu’s next plaything.”
Captain’s sources were always legit. He was the one man that could infiltrate every government security agency. Most times he knew about an operative’s mission before the operative even got wind of it.
“Your bosses are way in over their head with Kashimu. He is not someone to be toyed with. His talons dig deep and stretch far.”
Kashimu was a suspected arms dealer I had been assigned to gain access to. He was alleged to be part of a ring that provided weapons to militant groups and terrorist organizations around Africa. In fact, it was believed that he headed the ring; but this was yet to be proven. It was my job to find out. Stupid job, if you asked me. My immediate boss, Lanre, and the boss over him and the one above that one, all the way up to the president, and the different cabals, they all knew the people behind these things. But because one must possess records of having done or attempted doing something, agents like me still got to stay occupied. In this case, I wasn’t sure what was happening. Maybe this guy had someone high up pissed off by not paying his dues. I didn’t care to know. They wanted intel on him, I was going to give it to them.
“But for once, I’m interested in their target,” Captain stated. “I want Kashimu neutralized. Totally deactivated.”
Captain allowed his words stew as he chewed his carrot quietly. I heard every grinding sound he made with his mouth as the enormity of what my mission would entail hit me. Neutralize. Deactivate. Captain wanted Kashimu dead and his arms dealing operations brought to nothing.
“Any specific thing I need to know about him?”
“Other than you already know?” Captain picked another carrot off a bowl before him. “He changes women like underwear. Something about not trusting them or not having the heart for emotions. More than a little of both. You have to make yourself relevant and indispensible.”
“You’ll be dealing with a maniac. They say he runs mad…”
A smile showed in Captain’s eyes. “So you know what you’re up against. You’re not dealing with a trained operative. The man is a criminal. Criminals do not play by the rules. You’ll be fitting into a culture with its own rubrics and pecking order. You’ve got to sell it like your father’s life depends on it, because maybe it actually does.”
That was a bare warning right there.
“You’re going to be creating history with your new identity. You’ve done it a few times. You know how hard it can be. Don’t screw it up, Biyankavitch. Do not let Black Winch get in the way.”
I showed no reaction to the mention of my alter personality. It was the first time Captain was alluding to knowing that part of me.
“This is not a job for a heroine. Whatever you see there must be ignored. Drop your fucking cape at home.”
“Keep your network large but your crew small. You already have backup. Keep the important details away from the NIA. Report to me first and always. Any questions?”
I had many and I had none.
“My best wishes for your sister on her upcoming wedding.”
“I’m on the guest list, but you understand why I can’t make it.”
I nodded. I understood. Captain had been incommunicado with the world ever since his family was attacked and he lost a few people that were dear to him. He had since gotten his pound of flesh back by ending the lives of those responsible, down to their children and relatives, wiping entire families out. However, the principal reason why he would be absent at Muna’s wedding was because Archibong was related to his late wife. She had come from a family that had bad blood with Captain’s. Other members of the Igwe household would be attending the wedding, but Captain would continue to hold a grudge until he went down to his grave. The Abassis were the only people that had escaped his wrath when he went on a rampage to get revenge over the murder of his kith. It killed him to know that he could never touch them because his sons bore their blood.
“Have fun at the wedding.” He smiled. “Life can be short. Live fully whenever you have the chance. This Archibong guy that wants to get married to your sister whom you’re so crazy about, I think you should lock him in a room and fuck his brains out before he slips completely out of your hands.”
I took his advice with a straight face. He wasn’t joking. I was seriously considering his words. Captain was the sick devil with a pitchfork standing on my shoulder.
Homecoming. No one knew how to make a person feel like a celebrity the way Victoria did. I always looked forward to seeing her face smiling back at me after a long time of being away from home, and her eyes disapproving of my outfit at the same time. I never had one without the other. And then she would say, after hugging me, “When will you ever dress up like the beautiful girl you are, Bianca?”
Today was no different. The depth of her joy marked by crinkles around her eyes could not be covered by her censure of what I wore.
“The pants are okay. The t-shirt is nice, if only it was a little fitted. You have such wonderful curves, Bibi. And maybe you should try heels sometimes. This snickers life is unsexy.”
I was laughing when she put her arms around me in a hug.
“I won’t say anything about you coming home just three days to your sister’s wedding,” she stated, dragging me into the house. “I’ll leave Muna to roast you. Tread carefully, though. She’s been on edge for weeks.”
“Everyone, Bianca is home!” Victoria announced. No one responded. The house was too big for its occupants to hear her. She had a delicate voice which belied her personality. Victoria was a formidable woman. Apparently gentle, but could burn at just a touch.
“The men are outside. Muna and Debbie are upstairs. Tsakani just got in with her boys. The other kids are outside too. Every other person is not worthy of my time.”
She said this with a smirk. Relatives were classified under ‘every other person’. Idris’ sister, especially.
“So, tell me about Abuja.” Victoria hooked her arm in mine, taking me towards the kitchen. “Work, men, women…”
She left her words hanging, hoping that maybe this would be the day I would confess to being a lesbian.
“Work is great. The men and women of Abuja send their regards.”
We entered a spotless kitchen. There were three maids and a cook. The cook had lived with us for as far as I could remember. The maids were new. Victoria always changed them like underwear.
“Bianca!” The cook came sweeping towards me. She didn’t look like your average domestic staff. She was slim and had a sense of style borrowed from Victoria. Both women were friends. But it hadn’t always been that way. Victoria had once accused her of sleeping with Idris and kicked her out. Idris brought her back home and forced them to accommodate each other. These days you would find them sitting in the front porch, sipping on juice and gossiping in hushed tones. Sadly, Iyatu was suffering from a chronic heart disease and expected to drop dead at any moment.
“Aunty Iya,” I responded with a wide smile.
She hugged me tightly until it hurt. “Look at my baby,” she said, patting my hair. “You keep getting prettier and prettier. I hope you came back with a man this time around?”
Victoria rolled her eyes. “Iyatu! The things you say! Must she have a man?”
“Ah! She must o. We need more grandchildren.”
Victoria looked aghast. “Can’t you hear the ones playing outside? I fear for my flowers. The entire living room walls have scribbles on them. And their grandfather thinks it’s cute, that we shouldn’t repaint them. It’s a blessing, he says. Just like his mother told me to finish the plate of rice Yohan peed in when he was a baby. ‘Eat it. It’s a blessing,’ she said.” Victoria grunted. Iyatu chuckled.
“What nonsense blessing? Bibi, please don’t let anyone pressure you into getting married. Marriage is overrated.”
I almost missed the slight raise of Iyatu’s right brow, an indication that she would have retorted something sarcastic if the maids were not there.
Victoria kept on. “Marry when you’re ready. Or don’t even get married at all. It adds nothing to you, unless of course, your husband is stinking rich.” She gave harsh stares to the maids. “Won’t you greet my daughter?”
All three ladies, dressed in uniform, curtsied like slaves. I wondered how long they would last before Yohan would try to hit on them.
“Go and meet your father and brothers.”
I started towards the door and she added, “Compliment your daddy’s shaved beard, but please tell him he’s better off being part of the beard gang. I don’t know who he wants to look young for.”
I smiled on my way out. The freshness of nature hit me immediately. Trees, shrubs, flowers and a stretch of green lawn on every side was a welcome sight. The fresh life in the Bahago home was Idris’ pet project. He was yet to retire, but his workload had been reduced by half. This left him spending more time at home with Victoria and with nature. Almost everything eaten in the house was grown by him. If it didn’t come from his garden, it was from one of his numerous farms scattered around the country. He was a farmer by blood. The business had fetched him so much money that generations to come would enjoy the work of his hands.
I began towards the garden from which robust masculine laughter sprang. One of the maids came towards me with a jug of lemonade. It was Victoria’s specialty. There were more than a dozen lemon trees in the compound. She enjoyed coming up with different flavors of lemonade.
The maid smiled respectfully as she walked ahead. I had thought she was going to hand the jug to me, so I stood awkwardly until she went past. I followed her, longing for a taste of the lemonade. The sun had gone down, but not the heat. An amber horizon marked the end of a tiring day.
We entered the garden, and at the sight of me, Idris broke out in a smile like he was beholding the face of a celestial being. Not taking my eyes off him, I could tell that Yohan was ogling the maid.
“And there she is!” Idris spread out his arms to me and I went to him. His embrace was warm and soothing. He always had a way of making me feel emotional for no reason.
“Do you need me to come to Abuja with cane one of these days before you know you’ll check up on your old man regularly?”
“Dad, we Skype every other day,” I replied, stretching out my fist to my baby brother Jethro for a fist-bump.
“Forget my ranting. This old man is very happy to see you. Jet, get up for your sister.”
Apollo rose up from his chair to hug me. He was the good one in the family. The child of light. Born again, churchy, quiet, happily married with three kids. His wife, Debbie was pregnant with their fourth child. It was he who ran the family business, and he was good at it.
“How are you doing, sis?”
I forgot to add that he was also formal in informal situations.
We smiled at each other before I set my attention on Yohanna, fondly called Yohan, the firstborn in the house. Unlike most firstborns, Yohan was the rogue child in the family. He had done badly in his studies when he was younger, got into a lot trouble, and left more than a couple of girls pregnant. He was the proud father of a daughter while the other pregnancies ended up in a drain, thanks to Victoria. But beneath his shenanigans, Yohan still bore the business acumen of a natural. He ran his marijuana enterprise magnificently. His weakness – women. Right now, he was watching the swinging backside of the maid as she went back to the house.
“Yohan?” I called. Idris shook his head in exasperation. They weren’t best of friends. Tanko was Idris’ favorite son. But Tanko was no more with us. Burying an empty casket was the hardest thing Victoria and Idris ever had to do. Idris had questioned himself as a father when Tanko disappeared. I had watched him sit in this same garden at night, talking to no one, asking himself if something was wrong with him and why he always had to lose his children. The fact that I had returned after my disappearance didn’t make him feel better. He was convinced that he was paying for the sins of his youth.
“Hey!” Yohan beamed as if just seeing me. “The boy of the house! Come here!”
He dragged me to his laps as he always did when we were kids. At some point, Victoria had been worried over why he always did that with Muna and I, but it was harmless. He was protective of both of us and passionately so. I remembered watching him get beat up by a gang of boys because of me when I was a teen. Boys I could have easily packed down, but had to stand by and watch as they left Yohan unconscious because he stood up for me. Another time he had gotten himself arrested after roughing up a policeman who slapped me.
“I’ve missed you, Bibi. How do you get up and disappear like that?” he asked in Hausa.
“Work,” I replied, reaching for a glass of lemonade Polo poured for himself. He frowned at me as I took it.
And there we sat, the five of us, talking about fond memories of the past, Muna’s wedding, football, politics and everything else. Darkness came and the lemonade switched to cocktails. Iyatu mixed the most exotic mélanges. No matter how much you drank, you didn’t get drunk. You remained on the level. Victoria called for dinner a little after eight. It wasn’t the custom to eat late, but the house was bursting with guests.
“Where’s Munachi?” Victoria asked as I walked into the kitchen.
“I don’t know.”
Muna was my least favorite sibling. We fought constantly. I didn’t care where she could be at the moment.
“I thought I saw her going to the garden.”
“She didn’t come to me meet us.”
Victoria sighed and muttered something in Igbo as she walked off. A cluster of aunties and cousins that had just spotted me called me over.
“So you cannot come and greet me, Bianca,” one of them actually said. I was going to respond, but my phone rang, and I had to attend to it. It was a welcome excuse to leave the choking atmosphere.
Lanre’s name flashed on my phone screen.
“Lanre, what’s up?”
He responded, asking me if I had gotten a certain bank transfer that had the needed funds for my mission.
“Kashimu is not a human being, B. If he smells a rat, you’ll disappear and never be found. Be careful.”
“I will. Have I ever disappointed?”
“You’ve not. But I have a bad feeling about this one, B.”
“I’ll be fine.”
“I told you in Abuja that you don’t have to do this. It’s not too late to back out now. I’ll have your ass covered.”
“Lanre, I can do it.”
He said no more, ending the conversation. Taking the back entrance to the house, I made certain that no one saw me leave. By the time I got into Archie’s car, an email with details of my operation had arrived. I should have gotten it weeks ago, but the Nigerian government was still known for being incompetent. Everything contained in the email, I already knew. Captain’s guys were more efficient. They had already sent a message with the address to an apartment I was to move into.
I drove to the location. It was in a gated estate in Elegushi. A fine house with two bedrooms, a large living room and feminine décor. When Captain wanted to do anything, he went all out. Expensive artwork that looked like I might have owned them for a while adorned the walls in the living room. Kashimu loved paintings. It was rumored that he had over fifty of the costliest indigenous paintings in his house.
I took a tour of my apartment, looking for bugs. I hated being shadowed. It wasn’t Captain’s manner to send you out on a job and then plant bugs on you. Still, it was always safer to act like you didn’t know the person you already knew.
Having satisfied myself that my privacy was not breached, I slipped out of my clothes and picked one of the numerous designer dresses I found in the posh closet of my bedroom. I wore it and took on a different personality. Change came upon me in seconds. Makeup, a wig and a pair of stilettos completed my appearance. I picked a purse to match and began out. On a second thought, I stopped to have one last look at myself. The result was feminine, sexy and delicate. Even the natural slouch of my shoulders brought on by years of being a tomboy gave way to a straight posture, my chest thrust out to fit my new sex appeal, revealing my ridged neck which I had been told was one of the most appealing parts of my body. I never played dress-up as a kid. As an adult, it was one of my favorite pastimes.
In the garage, a 2017 BMW 5 Series was waiting for me. I got into it and caressed the steering. The smell of fine leather and the feel of it beneath me made me wonder what my life would have been like if I wasn’t this person. If I had been like Muna. She loved the posh things of life, and lived like her wealth was never going to run out. For me, wanting a simple existence wasn’t a thing of modesty. I was only a click away from getting everything I needed, but the funny thing was that I hardly had desires of living large. I was looking for the weightless life I had lost a long time ago.
The air in the car was crisp. I turned down the air conditioner and switched on the radio. Ikeja was a long way off. Thoughts on how I was going to get into Kashimu’s world burned in my mind. There were only a couple of options. Introduce myself to him as an unintentional interest or use the direct slant. Both of them had their risks, but one option was going to get me into his world a lot faster. That was if I didn’t end up with my throat split, floating in some lagoon by morning.
I arrived at GRA, Ikeja. There was a popular nightclub there. The Cave. It was a strip joint where they sold expensive drinks but one could get a lap dance for as cheap as a thousand bucks.
I paid a five thousand naira fee at the gate and got in. Kashimu was a man who enjoyed painting an image of someone who lived a normal life. His activities, both day and night, were out in the open. Like most criminals, he was heavy on philanthropy. The people knew him and the people loved him.
I entered a large space that held numerous tables where clients sat. My eyes went from watching the girls that worked the stage and stripper poles to the ones that entertained the men at the tables. I spotted Kashimu with his crew. The table was covered with all manner of drinks. There were no females in their company, but a couple of strippers kept them distracted. Kashimu was on the phone, legs crossed, hand kneading the luscious bum of a plus size girl.
I wasted not a single second as I sashayed my way to his table. His goons saw me first, but I looked at them like they were not worthy of breathing the same air I did. Years of watching my sister do this to people made it easy for me to display. I stood before him and ensured that he registered my presence and got a little curious as to who I was. And then I leaned over, gently removed the phone from his ear, and whispered, “I’ll give you a lap dance that’ll make your dick burn. But of course, you’ll have to take me home to get it.”
I pulled back, took his drink and sent it down my throat in one swoop.
“Let me call you back,” he said to the person he was talking to on the phone. Wanton eyes were then fixed on me. In them, I saw someone who had lost his soul to darkness. There was nothing human in him. A scar ran from his temple to his chin, disappearing in a mound of neatly-trimmed beard that was almost the same black with his dark skin. People wouldn’t have one look at him and call him handsome immediately, but not Biyankavitch. She had a taste for rugged things. A bad craving for the uglies of life. I immediately thought he was very fetching.
“Who the fuck are you and what do you want?”
I saw one of his bodyguards slip a hand into his jacket where a handgun was obviously lodged. I opened my purse. The man sat straight.
“Relax,” I said to him, taking out a complimentary card which had my name on one side and number on the other. I placed it on the table before Kashimu. He stared at it and then at me.
“Call me.” A coquettish smile played on my lips as I walked away. I knew he would call me, but not my phone. He would send someone after me, because he was a paranoid motherfucker and didn’t trust anyone. And so when I sat in my car, I waited a little longer to see who had followed, and sure enough, one of the guys at the table got into an SUV across the street from where I had parked. I started the car and began towards my apartment, watching him tail me. When I came to my gate and honked for the gateman, he drove past. I got in, changed clothes and cars and journeyed to the Bahagos.
Muna was not yet home. Victoria, who was still awake, had a frown for me when I entered the living room. She was not alone. Tsakani was with her, and so was Iyatu.
“I’m so sorry, Mom,” I apologized. “My friend had a minor car crash. I had to take her to the hospital.”
“Dinner was boring without you and Muna. I know she’s at Archie for the night. How is your friend, though?”
“She’s at home. She just needed a few stitches.”
I sat beside Victoria. She ordered one of the maids to get me dinner, although it was already past midnight. She also instructed another maid to lock the front door.
My dinner came. I could tell that the maid who delivered it was tired. I sent her and the others to bed. Iyatu also turned in after a few minutes. Victoria’s eyes were wide open. She had always suffered from insomnia. It was harder whenever she had all her children at home. The excitement of seeing them kept her up.
I pleaded with her to go to bed. She was sipping on warm goat milk, fresh from the farm.
“I’ll sleep once you’ve finished eating.”
“Mommy, what you’re doing to yourself is not nice fa,” Tsakani mentioned.
“And why are you still awake?”
“I’m waiting for Pero’s call.”
“Sweetheart, he’s angry at you. Give him an extra day to cool off.”
“He’s never been this angry. I can’t sleep. Maybe I should just drive home…”
“No. Not tonight. Tomorrow, maybe. Tonight, you will sleep and not let anything bother you.” Victoria smiled. “Young love is always amusing. The things you kids fight about these days.”
“I’m done eating!” I declared, showing Victoria my tray.
She gave me a disapproving look. “You eat like a boy. Wasn’t that meal brought to you about five minutes ago? Learn to eat slowly, Bibi.”
I burped loudly, much to her disgust. Tsakani laughed. “Mommy, you just have to accept that Bianca is not like the rest of us. She’s different.”
I had a sinister smile on my face, directed at Tsakani, as I sucked off leftover soup from my thumb. She read the meaning behind it and took her eyes away from me. I was not the one who was different. She was, back when we were teenagers, just out of secondary school. She had liked me and had become my best friend until she got the nerve to slip a hand through my boxers when I was sleeping at night. I had let her, because it felt good to be touched by a woman. And it wasn’t my first time. Captain’s female minions were mostly lesbians. He trained you to hate the phallus and surrounded you with other females who had been trained in the same way. Sometimes, you found solace in the arms of another woman. Sometimes you experimented. I was of the latter. I loved men. I enjoyed the dick, but I didn’t mind a woman once in a while.
But that was my past, and I was certain, Tsaka’s too. She didn’t have those eyes for me anymore. The day after she had touched me, I disconnected from her. Nowadays, we talked like long distance friends. Nothing connected us beyond the fact that she used to be Tanko’s wife.
“I should turn in then.” Victoria downed her goat milk and rose up from the sofa slowly. “Goodnight, sweethearts.”
The doorbell sounded. Victoria halted, sighing. “Not another relative, please. There’s no space in this house.”
“I’ll get the door,” I offered.
“No, let me do it.” Tsaka was already on her feet. “Mommy, go and sleep before the person will start engaging you in one long talk this night.”
Victoria hurried towards the stairs, but stayed in the shadows to have a peep at who the late night caller was. Tsaka got to the door and turned the key, still whispering to her to go upstairs.
The bell dinged again. Tsaka opened the door. There was a man standing outside. Bushy-beard, with an oversized t-shirt and a pair of faded jeans that was shredded in many places. He had just an eye and with it he blinked several times at Tsaka. He looked horrifyingly familiar. So familiar that I shot up to my feet at the same time Tsaka’s hand dropped from the door and her entire body plummeted to the floor.
“Tanko?” Victoria called in a grainy voice that bore shock.
He bent and lifted Tsaka in his arms as we both watched him with wide eyes.
“Mom,” he said, a tear coursing down his functional eye, “your boy is back home.”