He hardly left his house. It was his fortress. Desire had once concluded that he stayed in because of his numerous enemies, but she came to understand that Captain had just a few friends. A small circle of close contacts. Outside them and family, he had no compulsion to socialize with anyone. Unlike most rich men his age, you couldn’t find him on some golf course or gentlemen’s club. He had all the entertainment at home. Sometimes he only needed the company of his grandchildren and their mothers’, and he was fine. He was a difficult man to please, anyway.
Desire had been summoned by him at the crack of dawn. She wasn’t told why, but she knew the reason for the summoning. She made sure to beat the morning traffic and arrive at his home in good time.
He was having breakfast on his front porch when she got in. She saw that the table was also set for her. After pleasantries, Desire took her seat and prepared a cup of coffee.
Captain wanted to know how she was faring. He hadn’t seen her in a while. Desire told him she was getting along well. She felt lazy these days. He had taken her off active assignments. She wanted back in. There was an ongoing operation and she desired to be in charge of it.
“I don’t seem to know what I want to do with my life,” she complained.
“Get married, have kids?” Captain suggested with a gleam in his eye.
She smiled silently. She didn’t know how to tell him she hardly slept at night; that her mind constantly replayed the events of her life so vividly that sometimes she felt like sending a dagger through her temple and ending it all.
“Come back to the academy,” he suggested. “There’s a new batch of kids you can train. They’ll be the last though.”
Desire didn’t have to ask him why. She knew he would be hanging his boots in a short while. It wasn’t because of his age. His adversaries had dealt him a heavy blow, taking away some of the people that mattered to him. The control of the government had been snatched from his hands as well. But she knew he still had the clout to accomplish whatever he desired to. This time, however, he didn’t seek to dominate. He was going after his enemies, taking them out, one at a time.
“I want in on the action,” Desire reiterated. “That thing you’re up to that you’re hiding, I know more than you want me to, and I want in on it.”
“Nafisa,” he called gently. “You know you mean a lot to me. It’ll be a shame to lose you to some stupid vendetta…”
“Have you gone soft, Captain?”
To this, he laughed. “I’ve always been soft towards family. And you are family.”
“I don’t want the academy.” She pierced his dead eyes with hers. “I want in on all that’s happening.”
Captain swiped the corners of his mouth with a napkin and rested his back comfortably on his chair. “You’re bloodthirsty.”
“I’ll give it a thought. That’s not why I called you here, though.”
“She’s been gone a week.”
“Without a word. Duru has no idea where she is. Apparently, she went Black Witch mode and then disappeared.”
“She’s with Kashimu.”
“I know that. But why lock her in?”
“What makes you think she’s locked in? Maybe they’re fucking.”
“I want to believe that, but I can’t.”
“Bianca is fine. You know she’s good on her own.”
“I know, but something’s off and I need you to go get your girl out.”
“Aye, Captain. Would you want me to bring back Kashimu’s head too?”
There was a smile on Captain’s face.
“Have your breakfast, Nafisa. Tell me about your newfound love for bikes.”
A cloud passed over Desire’s eyes. Her brother used to be obsessed with bikes. He was one of the good guys, but had mixed up with bad friends and got into Captain’s trouble. Desire had to eliminate his clique. Captain spared her brother, but she didn’t get the chance to see him before he went off radar. Lanre, working against Captain then, had taken the guy’s matter personally and made sure he disappeared. Desire was yet to find him. It wasn’t that she couldn’t. It was that she didn’t want her life to cross paths with his again. He was better off living in a world in which she didn’t exist to him. Painful decision, but she was learning to live with it.
These days she kept his memory alive with a latest obsession with power bikes. She rode them on lonely roads at night. Alone. At insane speeds. Hoping that some evil would befall her and her life would be taken away. She felt she was better off dead than doing nothing with her life at all.
Tsakani had a habit of taking her breakfast at work. Usually between 10 and 11 a.m., almost at the time when people were thinking about brunch. Eating earlier always left her feeling lazy. Today, as she always did, she went to the restaurant and ordered a meal of rice and beans. She had scarcely begun when Tanko showed up.
“I thought I’d find you here,” he said, tugging up his pants to sit beside her. She hadn’t seen much of him since he walked into her office a week ago. His suit was tailored to fit. Chubby or slim, Tanko had always looked good in suits. His favorite color was navy blue. This morning’s ensemble had stripes on it.
“Your shoes don’t match,” she said, staring down at his feet. Of course, the shoes were a perfect complement to the outfit, but she couldn’t say it. She was in the mood to be hostile towards him.
“I’ll consider that a compliment. Thank you.”
The cook emerged from a backroom and came to them.
“Good morning, sir.”
“Good morning. Let me have what Mrs. Bahago… Sorry, Mrs. Alimi.. Let me have what she’s having.”
“And some water too.”
The woman went away. Tanko rested both elbows on the table and left a concentrated stare on Tsaka. She showed no sign of unease. Chewing her meal slowly, she stared back.
“And what do you want?”
“My son. When are we going to talk about you introducing him to me?”
“Tanko, I asked for time, didn’t I? Why are you trying to stress me?”
“Because life is short and anything can happen. Whatever it is you’re trying to prolong is going to come at you eventually. Why not just do it?”
“Because I can’t just wake up one day and tell my four year-old that the man he’s been calling ‘Daddy’ is not daddy after all, that his real daddy is this strange man who popped up from nowhere.”
“I’m hardly strange to Jason. We got acquainted during the wedding weekend and also last weekend when you dropped them off at the family house to go on your smashing spree with that man.”
“That man is my husband.”
“You are dead, Tanko. Somewhere in your mother’s bedroom a death certificate is gathering dust. You no longer exist.”
“Jason looks like me. He’s got my eyes and my laugh. Have you noticed?”
“Why are you hostile to me na? Let me guess… You’re on your period? No, no. You’re ovulating. The signs are there. The feistiness, the flush of your skin, your full boobs and the way you keep staring at my lips.”
“What is wrong with you, Tank? Am I going to regret my decision to return to this company? Or even regret that you ever came back? Your presence in my life messes things up for me.”
“Do you know what it does to my marriage? To my relationship with my in-laws?”
“How about you?”
“Yes, you. Deny that you have feelings for me.”
The cook returned with Tanko’s order.
“Thank you.” He smiled and waited until she was done and gone.
“We didn’t break up,” he continued. “You didn’t stop hating me. I simply disappeared–”
“And I moved on.” Tsaka tried to keep her voice low.
“Until I came back and dredged up old feelings. Tsaka, what you had for me didn’t die. It’s still there. You still love me. Stop beating yourself over that. It’s not something you can control.”
“You can’t. And that’s fine. I don’t want to take you from him or from your present life. I want you the way you are.”
“You’re not alright. You need to see a shrink.”
“That reminds me. I am about to start sessions with a psychotherapist. The only problem is that I told her that I can’t do it alone, that I need you to be there with me.”
Tsaka picked her fork, realizing she had abandoned her food. “That’s not going to work.”
“You want details of what happened to me, don’t you? You want to know the story?”
She looked at him, feeling her anger fizzle out. He had always had the power to undo her emotions. She feared that it was permanently going to be that way with them.
“Just once a week. Fridays. An hour. We drive there together and come back and no one will know. Like an affair.”
“Today is a Friday. And that’s why I’m here. To ask if you could kindly come with me for my session by 4 p.m.”
“I need you. Please.”
“You know I won’t go with you. How are your nights anyways? Still have nightmares?”
“Without pills, sleeping is difficult. I’m supposed to take them every night, but I don’t want to be hooked on them.”
Tsaka genuinely felt sorry for him, but that was the best she could do. She saw that her rebuttal had taken effect on him. He drew his weight away from the table and crossed a leg over the other.
“Do you remember our first kiss?” he asked.
She put a forkful of rice into her mouth.
“The old man sent me to buy roast corn. You tagged along, asking why I was so lazy that I couldn’t roast corn when we had a farm right in the backyard?”
“And then while I was talking, you leaned over from the driver’s side and kissed me without asking. Yes, I remember. You had saliva all over my lips. And I should have slapped you because you didn’t seek consent.”
Tanko laughed out loud. “Oh please! You that kissed me back later that night when you saw me sitting in the car and listening to music. Let’s not forget the little slut in you that climbed all over me and raped my lips.”
Tsaka threw a serviette at him playfully.
“You were an awesome kisser, Presh. Damn!”
“And then you held me and I was thinking you felt so good.” Smiling, Tsaka shook her head in recollection.
“You said I used to give the best cuddles. How many times did you fall asleep in my arms? They were inarguably the best non-sexual moments of my life.”
Tsakani suddenly came to her faculties. “We should stop this.”
“This…” She forked her food furiously, mixing the stew in a repetitive manner. “This walk down memory lane. Let’s stop. It’s not helping things.”
The restaurant door swung open and Pero walked in. Tsakani looked up and went stiff before relaxing into a smile.
“Hey honey. What are you doing here?”
Pero cast a stare that went from her to Tanko, lingering on Tanko.
“Just stopping by. Your secretary said you were having breakfast.”
“Yes.” Tsaka sauntered to her husband. She kissed him. “I’m done with the food. Let’s get back upstairs.”
Pero gave Tanko his attention again. “Sorry, I didn’t introduce myself. I’m Adepero.”
Tanko accepted the handshake Pero offered.
“Have we met before? You’re sort of familiar.”
“We’ve never met, I assure you. But we’ll get to know each other better soon.”
Tsaka who had held her breath throughout the exchange, exhaled with a nervous laugh.
“Come on, hon. Let’s go upstairs.”
She dragged Pero out.
“I didn’t come to stay,” Pero told her. She could hardly keep her gaze in his eyes. She feared that he could read what she was hiding. “Just wanted to check up on my favorite girl.” Tender eyes worshipped her. “I have a meeting in a bit and then I’ll rush home to pack for my trip.”
“I already packed for you.”
“I’m adding more clothes. They said I’ll stay more than a week. I’ll be back the Monday after next.”
“Awww.” Her face wilted.
“Okay, stay so that we can have that office sex we always fantasize about.”
“Some other time, Tsaka. Walk me to the parking lot.”
In the elevator he had his arm around her waist and his lips caressing hers. He didn’t halt when they stopped two floors down and someone walked in.
“Maybe we should stop,” Tsaka whispered. “You’ll get me in trouble.”
Pero stubbornly teased her lower lip with a nibble, palming her bum in a way that made her giggle.
When the door opened to the parking lot, he tugged her in the direction of his car. The kissing continued there until he stopped it abruptly and put on a frown.
“I’ve been curious.”
“Jason. Ever since he got back from his grandparents’ he’s been talking about Uncle Tank. Uncle Tank took him and Razaq to the mall and they also went horse-riding. Uncle Tank has only one eye. Uncle Tank this, Uncle Tank that. The whole thing got me really curious. I know all the Bahagos and I don’t recall ever meeting any Uncle Tank. But when I went online to check photos from Muna’s wedding, one in particular had my attention. Muna captioned it ‘My brothers’. I counted the guys and they were four. I knew everyone there except the same guy that just introduced himself back there as Naphtali. He’s got only one eye, hasn’t he?”
Tsaka felt prickles course over her skin.
“Yes. He has one eye.”
“So the Bahagos have another son?”
Tsaka moved away from Pero. “I need to tell you something.”
“Uncle Tank is Naphtali. Yes. That’s his English name. The name the family feels is best for him to use right now. Otherwise, we all know him as Tanko.”
“Yes, Tanko. My late ex-husband. Jason’s father.”
Pero showed confusion. “Tanko is dead, right?”
“We all thought so. But he was kidnapped. Long story. He’s back now sha.”
“Sha? He’s back? He’s that same person I saw in there? How?”
“As I said, long story. He’s not the Tanko we used to know.”
Pero took some seconds to let the news sink in. Tsaka awaited the worst.
“And you didn’t tell me?”
“I was going to…”
“When? When he takes my son from me? Or when he claims you back?”
“None of that is going to happen, Pero–”
“Oh really? Like I didn’t see the way two of you were cozying up back there or that time at the wedding when you and him disappeared for a bit? Wait, was this why you badly wanted to be at the wedding?”
“No. He wasn’t there before our fight. He just… He just appeared. It was the next night… Or that same night…”
“Tsaka, you’re stuttering. There I was thinking that some distant Bahago relation was all over you, not knowing it was your ex. And you never told me?”
“I was waiting for the right time.”
“The right time should have been the first day you set your eyes on him again. Not a month later, and only after I asked you.”
Pero unlocked his car.
“Please, don’t go. Let me explain.”
He got in behind the wheel.
The door slammed in her face.
“Pero, stop this nau!”
The car went backwards in motion.
“Pero?” she whispered, watching him drive away in anger. She remained in the parking lot until she was strong enough to return to her office. Tanko was waiting. The sight of him was supposed to get her angrier, but it broke her down. She went to her chair and rested her head on her desk, crestfallen.
“You told him?”
“And he didn’t take it well?”
“I’m sorry. Is there anything you want me to do?”
“Just go back being dead please.”
“No. Yes. Get out.”
It was an arduous task trying to understand what I was feeling. I sensed nothing. A hollowness, a resounding silence. Deliciously so. I had no problem with where I was. Where he had put me. A room with nothing in it but the bare necessities. Nice enough to lose one’s mind in. Better as a torture chamber. The moment he had thrown me in, I knew the place was prepared for people like me. Everything in it was white and so bright you began to believe that you were floating in some endless reality. For those who were weak, they could go crazy at the absolute whiteness.
And then there were those standing air conditioners—two of them—in addition to the two split units hanging off the walls.
I had known what was coming for me before he even began. In this place, he had drowned me, sent bolts of electricity into me and left my soul freezing almost to death. It all happened in three days. He wanted to know who the Black Witch was, who I worked for.
“You didn’t learn all this on your own. And the NIA certainly didn’t teach you.” His husky voice had come in waves as he spoke while holding me under water. That was the first torture. It was just two of us in that white room. My hands were tied, as were my legs. My clothes on the floor and my body nude. The bathtub was full. He was on his knees, holding my neck under and my thighs steady.
“Who are you working for?”
I looked at him, smiling almost. I gave him no answer, and then I shut my eyes and the past welcomed me.
“Jump!” I heard the familiar voice rushing into my head from a distant memory. It belonged to a female, but had something manly about it. “I’ll catch you! You won’t drown!”
That was the day I got my first lesson in betrayal.
I was hydrophobic. I could not swim. My handler knew this, and yet she told me to jump right into the deepest part of a swimming pool that was built, probably for moments like this. She had asked me to climb to the highest diving point, and from below she called out to me to join her.
My heart beat so hard, it felt like it was trying to burst out through my chest. A sudden shiver took over my body. Fear crept in. The pool beneath me looked like an ocean. She was asking me to jump to my death.
“Trust me!” she shouted from below. She was one with the water, floating on her back like a log of wood dancing with the waves of a sea. The sight was inviting.
I closed my eyes.
At that time, I, like the other kids with me, had been soaked in fearlessness, so that we often took on dangerous challenges without wincing. This was a lesson in conquering my fear. I had to score points. I was leading the others. I couldn’t drop in ranking.
And thus, I followed the prompting from my handler, freed my hands and let go.
First thing I felt… Pain.
It was as if I had hit the floor. And then the floor gave way and a force began to drag me under. My hands reached up for air as I instinctively tried to push myself up, but I felt a hand on my head and another on my shoulder, lugging me further downwards, dragging me deeper.
Panic! Steep panic! That moment when you realize that there is no escape, that the one you trusted is betraying you.
Later on she would tell me that she was training me to overcome my fear, as I had already guessed. But while it was going on, it didn’t feel that way. It felt like death, like the abyss was coming for me. When drowning, you’d think that running out of air is the worst thing. No, it’s not. Breathing water in is. And that was what I did.
My lungs burned like fire. Ironic, because they were filled with water. Water that actually felt like lava. I tried to move my arms and feet but they had been solidified. Her overpowering strength continued to hold me down.
It was then I began to accept that my handler was murdering me and I was going to die. I knew I couldn’t fight it. I lost my will to struggle and then I let go. I stopped fighting and accepted death. Peacefulness embraced me immediately as if it had been waiting. No more pain. Everything went blank, and then dark.
I believed I was dead, but then I opened my eyes to the face of my handler a breath away from mine.
Breathing was traumatic for weeks after that incident, but the exercise had worked. I returned to the pool alone one quiet night, climbed the highest diving point once more and jumped.
I didn’t drown this time, even though I went under, long enough to be considered unsafe. It was difficult to come back to the surface, but I did. I had self-drowned ever since, and on each occasion, I felt the hands pushing and holding me down.
Kash was simply wasting his time. I was in a place of familiarity. And it felt so good.
Own your pain. Captain’s mantra. Become one with it.
And what better way to absorb such a lesson than to literally feel it through self-infliction? The scar on my abdomen was from a wound by nobody’s hand but mine. Kash had no idea whom he was dealing with.
He pulled me out of the tub. I didn’t remember when that moment exactly happened, because I had gone unconscious. I remember waking up on the floor and puking my guts out. When I pulled myself to a sitting position to rest my back on a wall, I saw him seated at the edge of the tub. The look in his eyes said he had just begun. Well, so had I.
I started to laugh; so hard, I choked. But I kept laughing until he came for me and dragged me back to the tub. My hands and feet were free and I thought to myself that this was going to be an easy escape if I jumped at him and dragged him down to where I was, tasting the medicine he fed me. I’d have sated Captain’s bloodlust, wouldn’t I?
But I was enjoying this. The anger and obliviousness in his eyes. The mystery I was creating. The sheer passion employed to crack me. It was a pump of adrenaline. And let’s not forget that awesome feeling of getting close to the line and coming back again. Pure immortality.
And so he drowned me again and again, and when I didn’t wake up, he left me in the room, returning the next day. He dressed me in matching Victoria’s Secret underwear, put me in a robe, combed my hair and sat me on the bed for breakfast.
The whole ritual meant something to him. I was not a psychologist. I didn’t care to decipher what it was. But I was sure that Kashimu was psychopathic.
“So you’re not going to tell me who made you this person?” He questioned me as he fed me from a bowl of cornflakes. I didn’t breathe a word. I had no intention to.
“Well, with what happened here yesterday, I can conclude that you work for someone.”
He went on feeding me, and while he did it, he told me about his childhood and how he grew up being the bully on his street. Baka and his other siblings had a knack for getting into trouble and dragging him into it. As the firstborn, he had to hold the position of protector. But he was more than that. He had a gang of boys. A self-built gang. They protected and terrorized the neighborhood at the same time, and often got into street fights with other gangs.
The first time he took a life, the boy had insulted his mother. He called her a whore. It was the type of thing they said on the streets. Everyone’s mother was a whore and father a bastard. But Kashimu wasn’t having it. He went after the boy with a stone. One hit and the poor creature was down. He fell into an abandoned septic tank. They didn’t find him until nine days had gone by, when the stench of his rot couldn’t be ignored. Nobody mentioned Kashimu’s name, although almost all the teenage boys in the neighborhood knew it was he who had done it.
“He haunted me,” Kashimu said, now moping the puke I had left the day before off the floor. “Not in my dreams. Not at night. He haunted me through stones. I can’t see a stone without remembering what I had done. His face is marked on every one of them. I’ve not directly killed anybody else since then.”
The recollection of his past stopped there. He took the mop and the bucket away and came back for my breakfast tray. I was left alone for the best part of the day until he returned with a taser. At the sight of it, I began to laugh again. Certainly it ticked him off because he send bolts of electricity through me right from the door. And he left the prongs in, shocking me at his convenience. Normally, a taser is not supposed to cause any harm, but Kashimu seemed to go on forever, weakening my muscles and leaving me stiff. My body eventually gave way on the white floor of the room and I passed out.
There was no breakfast on the third day. He walked in, turned on all the air conditioners and left me to freeze to death.
You don’t know what hypothermia can do to a person. I lost my mind after so many hours. I knew when my pulse weakened and my memory failed me. I couldn’t remember why I was there or what had happened hours or days before. The worst was that I couldn’t pass out. When Kashimu came in and picked me up, I could hardly make out anything around me. He took me to his bedroom and lay me on the bed to wrap me in blankets. He lay with me underneath to warm me up with the heat of his body until I returned to my faculties.
By night, I was taken back to my cell and left there for the rest of the week. No food, and only a bottle of water. I stank like a pig, my period had come, the room probably smelled like a dumpster, but I was unaffected by it all.
When he opened the door, he instructed me to follow him. I was led to his bedroom again, and to his bathroom. He watched me shower. Outside the bathroom. I was handed clothes and tampons, and again, I was observed while I dressed up.
Breakfast was a loaf of bread, sausages, scrambled eggs and hot chocolate. There were also diced fruits and watermelon juice.
I ate like a refugee, and to annoy him, I stuck a finger down my throat after I was done and vomited the entire meal on the floor.
“I’m sorry,” I said inaudibly. He simply stared back with that empty look in his menacing eyes.
I settled for the bowl of mixed fruits.
“Somebody did this to you,” he alleged. “I need to know who.”
“Are you tired of torturing me?”
“I realized it was pointless. You don’t feel pain. Maybe it even gives you pleasure.”
“Bianca, or should I say, Black Witch… On Twitter they call you BW, right?”
“I am not the Black Witch.”
And that was fact. The person he was speaking to was Biyankavitch. A separate persona from the Black Witch and Bianca. I had not known that my other identities could live entirely on their own without me. I had always thought that because I was aware of when they showed up, I could control them. But that wasn’t true. It was Leonel who had made this clear to me a few days before I went to rescue the girls.
“I was only six years old when I first exhibited signs of dissociative identity disorder. I had woken up from being brain dead after a fall that almost killed me. They were just about to pull the plug when I woke up. I returned as a different person, the person my father had created before the fall. My other self had gone into hiding. That was the beginning of my personality issues.”
This was Leonel speaking. Stubborn as a goat, he had refused to take my word when I told him I was doing fine on the eve of Archie’s nuptials to Muna. Eleven days after the wedding, he was standing outside my door. I was dressed for work and about to leave the house, and there he was with a look that said he wasn’t going to accept no for an answer. He took me away to his resort outside Lagos. There was some construction work going on there. After doing a bit of supervision on the project, he led me to a restaurant that looked out to a beach that was boasting of bending coconut trees. There we sat and Leonel told me how Captain screwed his life up.
“Today, I have two people living in me. After endless sessions with therapists with no success, I have come to accept myself the way I am, managing both faces better than I used to do. I still struggle, and it largely affects my relationship with my wife and people who are dear to me, because whenever I switch up, I’m a different man that wants nothing to do with anyone. I become the person Captain created.”
“Is that the person I used to know?” I asked, recalling our past sex life.
Leonel did look like he was tamed. But I could still see the wildling dancing in his eyes. Bad boys seldom change.
“Stop being a minion, Bianca,” he said.
“You are his minion. No matter how you choose to see yourself. Until you break out of his chains, you continue to be his slave. He takes a whole person and breaks them into parts and makes those parts entirely different persons, molded after his likeness. Biyankavitch is not who you are. You are Bianca Bahago. Unfortunately, that is just a name to you right now. You don’t even remember who Bianca is anymore. That was what I saw that night when we hung out at the lounge. You longed to be normal like everyone else in that place. You wanted to have what we had – the love of family and someone who would treat you right. But I also saw that you believed it was impossible. And that’s a lie.”
“I can be whoever I want to be, Leo.”
“Really?” He pushed his phone towards me. On the screen I saw an article from The Punch. The headline read that the Black Witch had attacked three times in one week.”
“I wish they would stick with calling her Black Witch,” I murmured, passing the phone back to Leonel. “The winch thing is unsexy.”
“Stop being slippery, Bianca. This is you. This is when you try to grasp control. Captain made you this person. You probably passed through brutal sexual abuse under his custody and you ended up becoming a vigilante for the abused and molested. And don’t get me wrong. I admire the Black Witch or Winch or whatever she desires to call herself. I really do like her. She does the job the police cannot do. However, sweetie, she is a product of a deranged mind. Biyankavitch as well. We need to get you back to Bianca. Or at least, have the other personalities under the control of Bianca.”
Leonel was sexy and all, but I didn’t like this part of him. I preferred the Leonel who allowed me tie him to his bed and bang his brains out.
But that was all in the past. Weirdly, I was nursing the same sexual feelings towards Kashimu as he sat at the other end of the table, watching me eat. And that was because Biyankavitch was a person surviving in broken bits, having detached herself from the core of my soul. She connected with the darkness in Kashimu. She was feeding off of it.
“We need to come to some sort of arrangement, Bianca.” Kashimu stared at the cup in front of him. It had been filled with coffee, but it was now empty. “I have your identity, BW. It’s in my hand, but I have no plans to use it against you.”
“Expose me and watch my female fans all claim to be the Black Witch. No one will believe you. BW is a growing movement. A force.”
“Which I admire. I just need to know that she is not out for my neck or my brother’s.”
“Your brother needs to stop what he’s doing or I’ll go after him.”
“This is why both families need to come together. There’s a bounty on the Bahagos.”
“And on you too.”
“I know. I’m sure someone sent you to kill me. But I’m not afraid.”
“If what you’re saying is true, then you better be very afraid.”
He ignored my statement. “Tanko was released because the people who took him wanted to let your parents know that they’re coming full force.”
I sat up.
“I’m sure you know these people.”
I did, but I had no authorization over them. Captain had let me know that protecting my family was me meddling into business that didn’t concern me. It was my parents’ prerogative to protect their own.
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” I said to Kashimu.
“I have the power to stop them, to lift that bounty off your heads, but that can be done only if you and yours become family with me and mine.”
“You don’t need the Bahago name, Kash. You’re rich on your own. Influential too.”
“I have a cousin running for governor soon. I’m putting the weight of my support and resources behind him. I need a clean slate, but people in your organization and everywhere else are bent on painting me black.”
He pushed his coffee mug a little away from him and placed a teacup beside it. He then surrounded both cups with little sachets of artificial sweeteners.
“That’s you and me in the middle,” he illustrated. “And those are all our enemies. Without each other, they would be formidable. Together, we can fight them off. Let’s do this, Bianca.”
“You can’t clean your past, Kash. You’re a criminal.”
He slammed his palm on the table. “Don’t you ever call me that again!”
A grape burst with plum juiciness in my mouth as I regarded him through understanding eyes. I knew what it felt like to want to rid yourself off a part of you.
“But aren’t you into human trafficking?”
“That’s none of your business.”
“You were at that house. You, instead of Baka. What were you doing there?”
“None of your business!”
“And you want to be my husband? Look, Kash, this won’t work.” I got on my feet, wiping my hands on a napkin. “We’re on opposite ends of the table. I’m good people. At work and behind my cape, I clean out the bad guys like you. We cannot merge. So, keep your ring to yourself… Unless, in exchange for you, you give me your brother. That way, you prove that you’re really trying to erase your past. I’ll then hand him over to the authorities with enough evidence to keep him in jail. Only then will whatever you’re proposing work.”
“My family is off limits.”
“So is mine. I’m out of here.” I stepped over the vomit on the floor. “Sorry for the mess. Oh, and next time, we’ll play a game called revenge. I’ll do everything you did to me this past week. Let’s see how you hold up.”
Kashimu laughed. It was a good laugh, the type a man laughed when he liked a woman more than he was supposed to. And weirdly, I could read that.
He followed me out of the house. An SUV pulled up in front of us.
“Think about my proposal. I’m not joking.”
He opened the backdoor of the vehicle. His lips left a smack on my neck before I entered the car. He turned back to the house. On the chair beside me were my phone and jacket. Other items had not been returned. I was smart not to turn on the phone just in case it was bugged. I took off both sneakers I was wearing and removed their laces. I was weaponless and felt naked. What if Kashimu had instructed the driver to kill me somewhere and dump my body where no one could see me?
Yeah, I had trust issues. Holding the shoelaces, I sat silently. I was nursing a migraine. My eyes begged for sleep. The torture had definitely affected me in some way, but I kept my eyes open, my wits about me.
After a long ride, we came to a traffic stop where hawkers swarmed around cars like bees. I watched with amusement as a woman hawking plantains approached the SUV. I let the window down and asked how much she sold them.
“Four hundred, four hundred,” she replied.
“They’re so big.”
“Na fresh one.”
“Eya. I wish I had money to buy them.”
She hissed in anger and took her tray away.
“I’m sorry!” I said after her, laughing. I caught the driver peering at me through the rearview mirror.
“I can borrow you five hundred,” he offered.
“No, it’s fine. I’ll buy from the market tomorrow. They’re cheaper there.”
The traffic light went green and as we began to move, I searched the crowd of hawkers for the woman. Her tray of plantains was on the sidewalk, but she had disappeared. I smiled to myself. Desire had a sense of humor. Plantains? Really? And how on earth had she traced me all the way to the SUV?