“I did it, Ada! I did it. I got her to say yes!”
Dugo appeared from her bedroom. Holding an Ankara-designed hand fan, she swung it in her face as she watched Ace take off his sneakers at the door. A sheen of sweat covered her dark skin. She was dressed in a t-shirt alone.
“You got who to say yes?”
“Toyosi,” he answered, calling Toyosi’s name in a way only a Yoruba person would. “She agreed to go on a date with me.”
“Tomorrow. Why are you sweating like this?”
“The gen is bad. I called the gen guy four hours ago, and he’s not here. I really want to go for a swim.”
“Your boyfriend has a swimming pool in his compound.”
“They haven’t cleaned it in months.” Dugo looked frustrated. “Somewhere in Germany, it is winter.” She dropped into a couch. “Why is Nigeria so hot?”
“So what are you wearing for your date?”
Ace, beginning to feel the heat, took off his shirt. He sat on the center table. “It’s a casual outing, so it’s t-shirt and jeans, I guess.”
“You need a haircut sha.”
Ace rubbed his head. “Yes o.”
Dugo heard a sound from the gate. She jumped to her feet and peeped outside. The dogs playing in the compound began barking at a short man carrying a toolbox that had just been led in by the gateman.
Dugo stepped outside. “Oga Sunny, na wa o! I don wait for you taya!”
For a second, the man was distracted by Dugo’s appearance. Her t-shirt clung to her body immodestly.
“No vex, Aunty. Na work wey hold me.”
“Oya, hurry up abeg. Heat wan kill person for here.”
She returned to the house, ensuring to lock Laika out, who was running after her. In her bedroom, her phone was ringing. She dove for it and lay on the bed to take Luper’s call. His voice was edgy, his energy drained. This had been his way over the past four days. Udazi was yet to be found. The police and the private investigator had done their best, but there was no lead. Luper was losing his mind, and his verve. Dugo was worried about him.
“Has the gen guy come?” he asked her.
“That’s good. Have you eaten?”
“I have. Gosh! I miss you, Ada. I know I might sound silly, considering the present circumstance, but all that’s been on my mind since has been you. I so badly want you right now. If I can just kiss you…”
“Hang in there. It’ll be over soon.”
“When last was I inside you?”
His question made her flush. “September, I think.”
“And this is January, 2019. Fuck, Ada. I’m literally celibate.”
“Celibate ke. How about the chicks you were banging?”
“They don’t count abeg. And none of them felt or smelled like you. The whole time, I was imagining you.”
“I seriously, crazily miss you. I can’t wait for this whole thing to be over so that I can show you how much.”
“Just hold on.”
She felt him slip back into his depression even without him expressing it, so she brought up a story about her recent encounter with some guy she met at the mall when she went shopping, and how his hilarious attempt of getting her number almost had Ace beating him up. She also told him about the dogs, and about Tabitha who visited with Idenyi the night before. Dugo kept his mind away from Udazi. When Luper informed her that he was running out of airtime, she told him how much she missed and loved him.
“Close your eyes and think of me lying next to you.”
“That’s torture. I’m so going to get wasted this night.”
“Please, don’t. Sleep in and think about me. Watch a movie, listen to music, wank, do anything but drink, Luper.”
“Alright, darling. I’ll try not to…”
The connection went dead. Dugo turned around and lay on her back. She stayed that way until the generator went on. She stepped outside to find Ace with the technician. He paid the man and put his arm around her, dragging her back into the house.
“He’ll be fine,” he said.
“Luper. He’ll be fine. I can see you worrying about him. Relax, baby. It’ll all come to pass.”
Dugo went into her room, shut the windows and turned on the air conditioner. She embraced the cool air, and the slumber that followed. Hours later, Ace was knocking on her door. It was dark and he was calling her out for dinner.
She washed her mouth and changed into a dress. Laika and Santos were seated with Ace, each eyeing his meal. Dugo looked at the plate of eba and okra soup Ace had reserved for her in a plate.
“This Yoruba boy, how many times will I tell you not to join my soup and eba together?”
“You can’t even say thank you.”
She took the food into the kitchen to serve it the way she wanted. It was then it occurred to her that she could fly to Benin in the morning, just to make Luper’s day. She made mental plans as she ate. She didn’t tell Ace of her plans until sunup.
“Best girlfriend ever.”
He gave her a hug and a peck on her neck before sleepily turning back into his bedroom.
A cab came for her and took her to the airport. There was a flight for 7 a.m. She boarded it, and in a short while, she was in Benin City. It took her more than an hour to make it to Luper’s, due to a delay at the airport.
Irobosa opened the front door. He was standing before her in his boxer-briefs alone. Her eyes caught his ridged torso before they found his face. He greeted her respectfully, and told her that Luper had just left the house, but would be back in a bit.
“Can I get you something to drink or eat?” he asked, taking the small bag she had brought along. “I’m making breakfast.”
She followed him upstairs. “He normally sleeps in his mother’s room,” Irobosa explained.
“I prefer his room.”
Her bag was taken to Luper’s bedroom.
“Don’t tell Luper I’m here. This is a surprise.”
For a second, Irobosa made her feel uncomfortable with the stare he gave her. His eyes seemed to judge her for seeking amorous attention from a man whose mother was languishing away in an unknown place.
She was pleased when he left. She sat on the bed. The room smelled masculine. The way Luper often smelled. It seemed repainted too. The entire house appeared to have been renovated since her last visit.
Dugo put on the air conditioner and took off her clothes. Spread out on the bed, she chatted with Ace who was now awake and getting himself excited over his date with Toyosi.
Breakfast was brought. It tasted fantastic. Fully fed, Dugo lay on the bed again, and sleep took her. She didn’t stir until it turned dark. She woke up, worried. Luper wasn’t back. He hadn’t called her either. She tried ringing him, but his number was unreachable.
Dugo went downstairs. In the living room, Terwe was watching a football match on TV. He gave a slow turn as Dugo appeared. He lowered the volume of the television.
“Adaugo?” he called.
“Yes. Good evening.”
“Wow! Finally, we meet.” He jumped to his feet and extended a hand. “You are so beautiful.”
There was lust in his eyes. Dugo didn’t shrink at his stare. She glared back, judging the rapist he was, annoyed that he looked a lot like the man she loved.
“Please, where is Luper? I tried calling him, but I can’t get through.”
“He’ll be back. He’s at the police station. I was there earlier. They caught two suspects. They are questioning them.”
“Yes. But I doubt that they’ll get anything from those guys. They don’t seem to be involved in the kidnapping.”
“They shouldn’t let them go o.”
It was Irobosa who had spoken. Dugo looked his way, at his toned body again. He seemed to enjoy walking around half-nude. She could see why an older woman like Udazi would be interested in him.
“You want to watch TV with me?” Terwe offered Dugo, returning to his seat.
“No, thanks. I’ll wait for Luper.”
She went back to Luper’s bedroom. Irobosa came to ask if she wanted dinner.
“There was lunch too, but you were sleeping. I didn’t want to disturb you.”
“Thanks. I’ll wait for Luper before I eat.”
Dugo turned off the lights, leaving the one in the bathroom to illuminate the room. She rested her head on a pillow, lying on her side, as she watched a Netflix movie on her phone.
Minutes later, the door opened, Luper walked in. He switched on the lights.
She turned around, smiling. He laughed.
“You this woman. You have to be kidding me.”
She left the bed and drew towards him, ignoring the exhaustion on his face and the fact that he had lost weight. She put her arms around his neck.
“You’re crazy, you know that?”
Her response had barely ended when he kissed her. “I really missed you.”
“I’m here, handsome.”
“You know how to make a man fall in love.”
“How are you?” she asked in concern, rubbing the nape of his neck.
“You’re strong. You’ll survive.”
“Oh, Ada…” His face nuzzled into her neck. He sniffed her before kissing the spot where his breath had touched. “September, you said?”
His question was like a password that unlocked three months of accumulated desire. But they went about it slowly, as if they were trying each other out for the first time. Or as if it was to be their last. Luper was generous with his affection. He told Dugo he needed to make up for the time lost, but she knew he needed to be distracted. Late night dinner, a shower together, and another long session of lovemaking dragged them through the night. He slept before her, just a few minutes after the clock struck four.
Dugo picked her phone and checked if she had any messages. She was expecting one from her lecturer and another from Osarobo. Instead, it was Ace that reached out. His date had gone terribly. He added a crying smiley. Dugo put her phone on airplane mode. She would call him in the morning.
“Sleep,” Luper murmured, pulling her to himself.
Idenyi was at the door and it wasn’t yet seven in the morning. Her silky Versace wrap dress scored high with Ace the instant he saw her. The pale pink shade of her fleshy lips brought back memories of when he used to kiss her. The first time had been on a boat deck. A friend had invited him for a cruise and he had taken her along. He remembered how she had apologized after the kiss, because she had taken his lips without permission. The confusion on his face had made her laugh, and he had watched how laughter brought out a girlish, younger side of her he had never seen before. He could have fallen in love then, but his heart was locked in some place even he could not reach.
“Good morning.” Her face was blank. The generous smiles she once had for him were now gone.
“Hi Denyi.” His response was warm.
“I’m here to see Dugo.”
“Dugo. Um…she’s in Benin.”
“Oh.” Disappointment clouded Idenyi’s face. “I’ve been trying to reach her line. Thanks, anyway.” She made to turn away.
“Is everything okay?” Ace inquired.
“Denyi, it’s me. Talk to me.”
“I…just wanted to have Tabi come over here after school. I’m taking my grandma to Ogun State. There’s a retirement home there that she insists on being committed at.”
“She? Your grandma?”
“As in! The woman comes up with new things every day. She said I took Tabi away from her and I don’t have time for her anymore, so she needs to be with her kind.”
“If you ask me, she found a boyfriend who stays there.”
Ace laughed. “Boyfriend?”
“During Christmas, I took her to see an old friend who works in the retirement home, and that was how she met some guy there. Since then, she’s been bugging me. I told her that retirement homes are not African and she would do better in the village, but she insists on going there. Don’t remind me about how much I have to pay each month to have her stay there.”
“But it’s a good thing nau. You said she stresses you.”
“So, let her go, so that you can rest abeg. About Tabi, you want me to pick her from school?”
“No, don’t bother. I’ll just tell her to go to Stella’s.”
“And when did Stella’s elder brother stop being a major concern for you? Last I checked, he tried to kiss her and you went there to insult everyone in their house.”
“Please, don’t remind me of my stupidity.”
“You did the right thing. I will pick her up. It’s not a problem.”
“Okay, I’ll let Shipinen know that you’re the one picking her, so that she’ll tell her not to use the bus. I hate her taking the bus when she’s staying with me. She doesn’t come home. She goes to Stella’s or God-knows-where… I can’t wait for her to be an adult, so that I don’t have to worry about what she does with her time. Does that make me a bad mother?”
“No. I’m sure our parents felt that way too.”
“I’ll be back by evening.”
Idenyi hurried off, leaving the fragrance of her perfume in his memory. He shut the door and commenced on cleaning the house. An hour later, he was getting ready to leave for his studio. While trying to slip into his shoes, he got a phone call from Toyosi. He stared at the phone until it almost rang out before he responded to the call.
“Good morning, Ace.” Her voice sounded sleepy.
“Did you sleep well?”
“I… I’m calling to apologize for yesterday and how things went. I guess I came off too strong. I’m sorry.”
“You don’t have to apologize. You have your principles, and I respect that.”
“Thank you. So…do you think that maybe we could go out again and start all over?”
“Oh, good. We’ll fix a date then.”
“Yeah. Later, though. I’m hurrying off to work.”
“Okay. Take care.”
Ace had a few seconds to mull over the conversation after it ended. He then picked his camera and left the house. He drove to his studio. It was a three-bedroom apartment that had the living and dining rooms set as the reception and showroom. A front desk girl, a junior photographer and two interns were the only staff he had. His business had grown so much that he was beginning to choose his clients. Quality over quantity, he maintained professionalism in all he did.
“Good morning, Ace!” the girl behind the desk greeted. Here, nobody called him ‘sir’.
He walked to the desk and concluded on arrangements for a shoot scheduled for the next day. He then went into his office and returned a call he had missed from Dugo.
Dugo yawned and responded to his greeting.
“I so want to hear this gist about your date.”
Ace sat on a long, white divan.
“It was terrible from the beginning. I couldn’t believe I managed until the end.”
“Gist me nau.”
“So, we meet at the restaurant and order what to eat. While we wait, she asks me to tell her about myself. I tell her, talk a bit about my background and stuff. She then asks me about my faith. I say I’m a Christian. She asks when I got born again. I tell her that it happened about ten years ago, but I jokingly add that I have fallen so many times, so it could be that I get born again every day because I’m a chronic sinner. She frowns and says I’m not supposed to joke about stuff like that. I don’t respond. She keeps asking questions about my faith. Do I speak in tongues? What church do I attend? Do I have a personal relationship with my pastor? etcetera.”
“And what were your answers?”
“Deedee, I failed. I failed miserably. I’m sure Jesus was shaking his head at me. Anyway, they sha brought our food. I had lost my appetite. She then goes, ‘Don’t you have any questions for me?’ I had a lot of questions for her before I got there, but I don’t feel like asking them. I tell her I’m cool. She then goes, ‘Look, Ace, I know you are attracted to me. I am attracted to you too, but it takes more than attraction for me to date a man. I don’t joke with my faith. I need a man that has the same values as I do.’”
“Oh, she’s feisty.”
“Are you telling me? I sha let her know that I am willing to change for her, that I want to take my walk with God seriously, and I think she is perfect for me, as she would help me stay focused.”
“And what did she say?”
“This is where it gets funny. She says she is not going to be a spiritual healing ground for me.”
“Aaaaah!” Dugo laughed.
“She tells me to fix my life with God and get active in church and she would then reconsider me.”
“Spiritual healing ground. Is that not the Christian version of what you told Idenyi? The rehabilitation center thing?”
Ace smiled. “I knew you’d bring that up.”
“How is it to taste your own medicine?”
“Fuck you, Ada.”
Dugo laughed hard.
“Anyway, she called me this morning, talking about how she had been too hard on me. She wants us to go out again.”
“And will you?”
“No, it’s not like that. There are two things here. One, being on that date and being bathed with her lack of chill, I became turned off. She no come fine for my eye again. Second, I don’t want to be that guy who does everything to get a chick and then treat her like shit later. I know myself. I’m very vindictive. Toyosi is worth the stress of going to church and all just to fuck her, but I don’t want to do that to her.”
“So, you’re not going for the date?”
“Yay! That means we’re back to Idenyi.”
Ace recalled how Idenyi looked exceptional earlier. He was almost jealous of the fact that other men out there had the same chance at getting her as he did.
“No. We’re not. Let’s forget about me. How is Luper? Any good news yet?”
Dugo’s tone dropped. “No.”
“I’m sorry. But you did have a good time last night, didn’t you?”
“That’s my girl. Penising in hard times. Pleasure must defeat the pain. Man must survive.”
“Your morals are not good.”
“I’m not the one who was fucking all night. But you did well. Keep distracting him from that evil mother of his.”
“Did I not just call you the child of Satan?”
“Abeg, leave that thing. Um…sweetheart? I have to run. Kisses. I’ll call you later, okay?”
Dugo rang off. Ace responded to the knock on his office door. The front desk girl was there to inform him about a client waiting to see him.
Another day of Udazi in the hands of her kidnappers. Another video. Despite having a wonderful night, and waking up to the sound of Dugo’s voice, Luper was distressed. He tried not to show it, but it was difficult to hide anything from Dugo. Holding his hands, she assured him that the end of his pain was near.
“I just feel it,” she said, rubbing his knuckles. “I don’t know why, but I do.”
He forwarded the link to the latest video to Terwe. Although the intensity of the sexual assaults on Udazi had reduced, having just a single individual perpetrating them, Luper explained to Dugo that he felt no ounce of relief. His mother was still abused and treated like trash. The initial anger he felt and the need to kill someone for what was done to her were now gone. He was tired. He just wanted her pain to end.
“Can I see it?” Dugo asked for the video. Her question surprised him. It had been difficult to watch the first one. She saw that he wondered what her sudden interest in this one was. All the same, he let her have his phone while he went to use the restroom.
Dugo clicked on the link sent in a text and it opened up to the video. Just like the first one, this was hard to watch, but she did. Her eyes were trying to figure out something that had been burning on her mind. By the time Luper returned to the bedroom, he found her walking around in circles.
She stopped. “I think I’m wrong, but I think I’m right.”
“Irobosa is the one behind the kidnap.”
Luper gave a little laugh and walked to the wardrobe. “You’re joking, right?”
“I hope so, but what if I am not wrong?”
“Yes. I saw them in that first video, and now, they are in this one,” she said, thrusting the phone at Luper. “It’s him.”
Luper picked interest in her assertions. “Did you see a scar or…?”
“No. Just the abs. I really hope I’m wrong, Lu. Last night, when we were eating, you said the whole thing is messing him up, that your mom was kind to him and his family… I don’t want to accuse the wrong person, but those abs couldn’t leave my head. That was why I watched this new video.”
Luper was just about to respond, but he got interrupted by a knock on the door. He secured his towel firmly around his waist.
Terwe walked in. He flashed Dugo a smile.
“Luper, do you still remember sign language?”
The question was odd. “Yes. Why?”
“I think Momsi has been trying to say something in all her videos. I didn’t get why her fingers moved so much before. Now, I do. She’s been trying to talk to you.”
“In sign language?” Dugo asked.
“I had typhoid when I was eight and given an injection that almost killed me,” Luper explained. “I was deaf for nearly two years. My mom had to learn and teach me sign language so that we could communicate.”
“You need to watch the video to know what she’s trying to say,” Terwe told him.
“Don’t be stupid.”
“Luper, do it,” Dugo pleaded. Luper breathed out and took Terwe’s phone. He sat on the bed.
“Just concentrate on her fingers. She is repeating the same thing all through.”
Luper breathed out again as the video began. The sight of his mother, frail and emaciated, brought instant tears to his eyes. Dugo, who was peeping in, muttered, “The abs again…”
“What abs?” Terwe asked.
“The guy in the video, his body looks like Irobosa’s body.”
As Dugo tried to give proof of her suspicions about Irobosa, Luper tried to keep his concentration on his mother’s fingers. They were not moving presently. They lay limply on the floor beside her. She had been placed on a thin mattress on the floor. The room was dark, but not so dark that one couldn’t see the atrocious act that was being executed.
The tears that had filled his eyes remained there. Dugo and Terwe were speaking to each other, and although they were loud enough for him to hear, he didn’t care to know what they were saying. Dugo had to be wrong about Irobosa. The guy might be a gold digger, but he loved Udazi. The way he spoke about her, the gratitude he showed for how she had turned his life around. Besides, what time did he have to rape her when he was always in the house with him? Clearly, Dugo was wrong. Irobosa’s abs were nothing special. Any fit guy his age would have a similar appearance.
Udazi’s little finger moved. It was a slow movement, done under a hand that shook. But it eventually stretched out to form the letter ‘I’ in sign language. Luper brought the phone closer and watched as her thumb slipped between her fore and middle finger. That was ‘R’. Luper’s breathing began to quicken.
“Can you make out what she’s trying to say?” Terwe asked.
He watched as an ‘O’ was formed.
“Fuck,” he muttered.
“What?” Terwe asked impatiently.
‘B’ came next.
“No! No nau!”
“What is it?” Terwe was anxious, but Luper rose up and began pacing around as Udazi spelled out Irobosa’s name. He stopped when he was done.
“What did she say?”
Luper looked at Dugo. “You were right. It’s Irobosa.”
Terwe pushed Luper’s shoulder to get his attention. “You said who?”
“Why didn’t I see it? Fuck!”
“Lower your voice,” Dugo instructed.
“How didn’t I see it?”
“Did you say Irobosa?” Terwe was laughing silently to himself. The look on his face held no humor. “You’re sure? That’s what Momsi signed?”
“Where is he now?” Luper tried to keep his volume low, but he was beginning to boil with rage.
“He is making breakfast,” Terwe answered calmly. Luper headed towards the door angrily, but Terwe stopped him. “Stay here.”
“Stay. I will call my guys and let them know what’s up. They will show and we will handle Irobosa.”
“And I’m supposed to do what?” Luper asked through clasped teeth. “Sit here and…”
“Do nothing. Just make sure you keep him occupied. The last thing we want is to spook him. I’m coming with my guys to get him.”
“I cannot do nothing.”
“Luper, listen to him,” Dugo cut in. “If you try anything to alert him, he’ll disappear and you may not see your mom again. Just wait here.”
Luper was still in a state of shock, Dugo could tell. He laughed to himself, looking up and down, and shaking his head. His anger was gaining intensity with each second. “Irobosa?” he murmured. “Ah, God. He must die.”
“Keep Irobosa occupied, Dugo. Don’t call anyone, Luper,” Terwe instructed as he left the room.
Dugo went to the wardrobe and picked fresh clothes for Luper. “Dress up and calm down. I’m going downstairs.”
He didn’t seem to hear her. She slipped into a dress and left the bedroom. He went back to walking around the room to contain his anger. He stopped suddenly when it occurred to him that Dugo was alone with Irobosa. He wore the clothes she picked and hurried downstairs. She was in the kitchen. Irobosa was there as well. The conversation was hearty. She was telling him about her childhood.
“Good morning, sir.”
Luper tried to keep his response casual. He asked for a glass of wine, and walked back to the living room. He switched on the television to distract himself. It was hard to concentrate.
“Would you like to have pounded yam for breakfast?” Irobosa came in, bearing the glass of wine for which he requested.
“Pounded yam?” Luper looked into his eyes, and averted his stare before he gave anything away. All he wanted to do was pounce on him and strangle him to death, but not before cutting off his penis and forcing it down his throat.
“Aunty Ada said it was what she wanted.”
“Fine. Make it.”
“Okay, sir. Congratulations.”
“On your baby. Aunty Ada told me the good news.”
What good news? Luper didn’t care for anything the rapist was telling him, but he played along.
“Your mom would be happy. May God bring her home soon.”
The nerve on him!
Luper put the glass of wine to his lips and downed the entire thing in a go. “Get me the whole bottle.”
As Irobosa disappeared into the kitchen, Dugo emerged from it.
“You’re pregnant?” Luper whispered.
“No. He already made breakfast and I wanted to keep him busy, so I told him I was pregnant and my mouth wanted pounded yam.”
Irobosa came back. Both of them fixed fake smiles on their lips at him.
“Let me follow you to the kitchen and help with the yam,” Dugo said.
“No, ma. It’s fine. I can handle it.”
“I’m not complaining.”
Dugo tailed him, and together they remained in the kitchen until the pounded yam was ready. Luper wondered how she could pretend so easily around Irobosa, but then he remembered that she had no affection towards Udazi. She and Irobosa probably shared the same sentiments. That was if the story was true that Udazi had trafficked his two sisters to Europe.
“Sir, I want to see a friend down the street,” Irobosa announced after he served them breakfast.
“Can that wait?” Luper asked. “I want you to wash a few clothes for me since there’s light now.”
“I just want to rush. I’ll be right back.”
Luper and Dugo exchanged elusive glances.
“I really need those clothes washed right now. Your friend is not running away, is he?”
“Actually, he is. He’s owing me money. A mutual friend just called to let me know that he’s around and he’s about to leave. I’ll be back sharply.”
He started for the front door, causing Luper to rise to his feet. This was his chance to apprehend him. Something about Irobosa’s manner told him that if he allowed him out of the house, it would be the last they would see of him.
“Be careful,” Dugo warned.
By now, Irobosa was out the front door. Luper quickened his steps behind him. Once outside, he planned to break into a sprint and knock him to the ground. He had it all figured out, but the execution was interrupted when a black SUV with shaded windows drove into the compound, almost running Irobosa down. Luper watched as all four doors were flung open, and Terwe and his friends went after Irobosa. Terwe, in particular, tackled him to the ground and rained punches on him. It took two of his friends to drag him away.
“If you kill am, how you wan find your mama?”
Irobosa curled into a ball, blocking his head. Luper approached him. He put his foot on his face and forced him on his back.
“Where is my mom?”
Irobosa stared blankly at Luper. Terwe kicked his side and had him spurting out blood.
“Stop nau,” Luper begged.
“Stop what?” Terwe jerked Irobosa up. “Did you hear the question he asked you? WHERE IS MY MOTHER?”
Through bloody lips, a smile emerged. Terwe slammed him hard with a fist and knocked him out cold on the ground.
“Didn’t I tell you to stop?” Luper groaned.
“You no dey hear word?” Terwe’s friend, who had spoken earlier, asked. “If you kill am, how you wan take find your mama?” He came towards Luper. “Let us take the bastard. In the next two hours, we’ll bring your mom back to you, insha’Allah.”
“I want to go with you.”
“No.” Terwe shook his head. “I’ll handle this.”
“No, Luper! No! Stay here.”
He picked Irobosa from the ground and dragged him into the SUV. Dugo came to stand beside Luper as the men got into the vehicle and drove out of the compound.
“They’ll kill him. Terwe will.”
“Does that bother you?”
Inside the house, Luper forbade Dugo from taking a bite from the meal.
“Just in case he poisoned it.”
He picked his phone and made a call to an eatery. He stayed in the bathroom with Dugo as she had a shower. He was still restless. Knowing he was close to finding his mom, his former wish to have her resting peacefully from her agony was gone. He wanted her alive, to see her and hold her, to tell her she would be fine.
Two hours went by without a word from Terwe and his friends. Luper had tried Terwe’s number several times, and had gotten no response.
“I should have followed them.” He sat on the edge of the longest sofa in the living room, legs shaking. “What if something has gone wrong?”
“Relax. He’ll be back.”
And just as Dugo said the words, Luper’s phone rang. He dove for it.
“We found her.”
Luper exhaled. “Is she okay?”
“Yes. Come to UBTH.”
“Irobo-who? I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
The connection went dead. Luper rang for a cab.
“Do you want me to go with you to the hospital?” Dugo asked.
“No. Stay here. I’ll be back before sundown.”
The cab came a short while later. Luper got into the front seat, feeling like he was breathing for the first time. He knew Irobosa was dead, probably chopped into bits or burnt alive. The same punishment must have been carried out to his partners in crime. Luper didn’t care. He was glad that the nightmare had ended.
Dugo took the stairs up to Luper’s bedroom. Her short stay had ended. She had to return home. Having packed her overnight bag, she spent her time Skyping with Mila and browsing the internet. Luper came back home just as it turned dark. Dugo was in the activity of fixing up dinner, boiling some rice that would go with a pot of chicken stew she saw in the freezer. Smooth, jazzy songs from her phone kept her company. The playlist was gotten from Luper’s phone. Normally, she wouldn’t listen to this type of music, but she was beginning to appreciate the unconventionality in the beats and composition. She got lost in the present song playing – a soft but complicated arrangement of a piano and bass guitar. Carried away by the moment, she fixed her eyes out the kitchen window, staring into the dark. She didn’t hear Luper come in. He touched her and she spun around, startled. He laughed at her reaction and took her hand and waist, drawing her towards him.
“Hi.” He kissed her lightly.
He kissed her again, stopping to breathe her in. He enclosed his arm around her waist. He drew her into a tight hug. She felt his body move to the pace of the music and allowed him take her along. They swayed gently for a short time, and then she broke the rhythm, putting a foot back to search his face. She saw sadness in his eyes. His body was there with her, but his heart was elsewhere.
“Is she okay?” Dugo asked of Udazi. Luper shook his head. It was done so subtly she almost missed it.
“I had a few minutes with her before the doctor told me to leave. They say she’ll make it, but I doubt that she will. She had that same look my dad had before he passed.”
“I’m sorry.” Dugo stroke Luper’s beard. “So sorry.”
“It’s fine.” He tried to smile, but failed. She held him tightly again.
They had dinner in bed, and wine after that. Dugo had too much of it and drifted off before Luper. Sometime in the night, she opened her eyes and saw him sitting by the window, looking out. She went to him. He took her hand.
“This was where I stood and watched you enter the compound. I actually surveyed you for three days before I decided to make my move.”
“Yeah. Trust me, you weren’t the only girl coming in here to fetch water, but you caught my eye. I didn’t know why then.” He looked at her. “I do now. We are meant to be.”
“It’s too early to be sweet-talking me like this, Mr. T.”
Luper sprang up unexpectedly and lifted her off her feet. She squealed as he took her back to the bed and placed her on it. He lay atop her.
“Let’s make another baby. The first one was made in this room, but we never got the chance to be parents. We should try again.”
Dugo smiled coyly. “Let’s talk about that later.”
She spread her legs apart and he settled in, but only to kiss her. From her lips, he left a wet trail that led all the way down.
In UBTH, Terwe sat beside his mom’s bed, holding her hand. She was in such a fragile state that he had been asked to leave and return in the morning. Being that it was a private ward, a nurse was specially assigned to her for the night. But Terwe had refused to leave her side. He stayed with her, listening to every beep of the ECG, catching every twitch of a finger or toe. Sometimes, she squirmed and her face twisted in fear. Or maybe pain. He wasn’t sure. But he sat there and watched.
She finally opened her eyes at just a few minutes before 3 a.m.
“Luper…” she managed to say.
“Terwe,” he corrected.
“At home, but I’m here.”
“Luper… Call him…”
“Mom, I’m here. You don’t need him.”
Terwe’s expression turned dark. “After everything I did to rescue you. Every fucking thing. I killed Irobosa with these two hands. I cut him open and pulled out his guts while he was still breathing. All for you, Mom.”
“Are you for real? I don’t get a thank you or a kiss for what I did? You’re asking me for Luper? Don’t you learn your lesson? I am your only son, Mom. The last time you tried to push me away, you saw how I reacted. You saw what I did to Idenyi. It was your fault. I didn’t want to touch her, but you caused it. You kept telling me how useless I was and how Luper made you and Dad very proud. You forgot that you damaged me. You, Mom. You made me who I am today.”
Terwe put his face to Udazi’s. “No. Luper is not your son. I am your son. Your only son. You used to tell me that. Remember? Your loving little boy. Your prince. And then you changed suddenly.”
“You had an unhealthy obsession for me.” Udazi became distressed. her eyes darted around erratically. Tears filled them and spilled to her temples.
“You’re crying now?” Terwe wiped the tears. “After all these years, you’re feeling sorry for how you loved Luper more? Well, me I’m not. Your wickedness made me the man I am today, or I would have been as weak as Luper. So, thank you.”
“Please, call him…”
“No!” He jabbed the bed and shoved the chair beside it away. The door pushed open and the nurse on duty came in.
“Is everything okay?”
“Yes. We’re cool.” Terwe smiled. “I was just praying.”
“Okay, please, pray very quietly,” the nurse instructed, eyes on Udazi. “Your mother needs to rest. She’s in a fragile state.”
She checked Udazi’s IV lines before making her exit.
Terwe returned to Udazi’s side. He leaned over her again.
“I’m sorry,” she mumbled. “For what I did to you, for everything…”
“I am not. Stop apologizing, Mom.” He kissed her lips. She squeezed her eyes shut and sobbed. “You damaged me, but I loved it.” He kissed her a second time. “If you had picked me again, over that Irobosa guy, none of this would have happened to you. I could never hurt you the way he did, Mom. How you treated me pained me. I won’t lie. You somehow deserved what you got.”
Udazi’s sobs became intense, but Terwe continued, kissing her face as he spoke. “Just tell me to come back to Nigeria and be with you. Anything you say. I’ll do it for you.”
He stopped abruptly, as if someone had asked him to. “You should rest. I’ll just step outside for a bit to see if I can find something to eat. I’m very hungry.”
He dropped one last kiss on her lips before leaving. The moment he stepped out, Udazi’s breathing made a nosedive. Her nurse, who stepped in after Terwe left, called for backup when she tried to normalize her breathing but failed.
A doctor and another nurse showed up minutes later, but Udazi was already too far gone. All efforts to bring her around were futile. With eyes covered in tears, she exhaled one last time and left this world.
“That her son is trouble,” the nurse said to the doctor. “Please, stay here until he comes. The way I’m seeing him, he can beat me up for letting his mother die.”
Udazi’s IV lines and the electrodes from the ECG were removed from her body. Her hands were neatly placed on her tummy. She looked like a tired old lady resting after a long day. Her beauty had been untouched. Even in death, she was striking.