Last week’s episode brought us to the end of the first part of The Immortals’ Code. This was where I stopped the last time but have no worries, the story continues.
This second part is titled The Rise of the Cabal. It takes you back to the beginning where men were still boys. The story is interwoven with For Better, For Worse.
Enjoy. It has only just begun…
CHARYBDIS HOTEL AND RESTAURANT/ 1978
Emem had never seen anything like the room where she stood. It was a strange-looking restaurant but it was also inviting to the eyes. She had no idea what the floor was made of. It sounded like wood beneath her platform shoes, although it shone like brown glass. She looked up at the ceiling which held a large, green boat that covered most of it and she feared that it could drop down on unsuspecting diners at any given time. It was hard for her to appreciate the strange Polynesian décor that gave the restaurant an exotic feel and made it one of the most sought-out places of leisure in Lagos. There were antique ethnic masks, tacky tiki statuettes, woven grass wall coverings and locally-made Polynesian inspired artifacts. Of course, the strange native décor caused rumors to fly that the hotel owner dabbled in the dark arts. Nevertheless both locals and foreigners were drawn to the place and on most evenings it was hard to get a table without a booking.
The restaurant had more than an eatery; there was a bar area that extended to the outside with low tables, comfy lounges and a red, wooden structure above made of beams criss-crossing each other. The ambience was one of class and comfort. Emem took all in as she stood in the middle of the restaurant, clutching, like it was the only companion she had in the world, an old purse she got from her mother.
“Come,” she heard her uncle, Victor, say as he left her side and walked to the bar area. There was a young man behind the bar table with raggy dreadlocks who was dancing to loud reggae music and at the same time, talking to someone on the phone.
Victor tapped the bar table and he got a rude glance from the dreadlocks guy who went back to his phone conversation. With intolerance, Victor reached over and yanked the telephone cord off the receiver.
“Fire burn you Victor! Blood and thunder!” Princeton cursed in a fake Jamaican accent and slammed the receiver over the phone.
Victor was unmoved by his theatrics. “Can I see your boss?”
Princeton picked the phone receiver and slammed it back again. “Every time you come here, you bring trouble!”
“Is Mr. Segun in?”
“Check office!” Princeton replied and turned to Emem, his ire immediately melting away. “You bring very pretty giyal for me tonight?” His voice was raised above the music as he grinned at Emem. “You look like a dream, honey!”
“My friend, stay away from her,” Victor warned. He opened a door beside the bar area that led him through a short corridor and to a door labelled ‘Manager’. He knocked once and someone answered from within. He walked in on a man with full, arched eyebrows, sideburns that extended to his cheeks and an equally full moustache. He was having a meal of amala and ewedu.
“Victor, my brother!” the man beamed and sucked on a thumb that was leaking of soup. “H’enter! You’re a good farmer, coming in at this time. Please, sit.”
Victor sat on a visitor’s chair and took in the office. There was nothing much to it except a fridge with a cassette player on it. The floor was covered in a brown but elaborately decorated rug. The walls also had brown wallpaper adorned in the style of the day and four piles of old, yellow files littered the wall beside the fridge. Out of the cassette player came the sounds of Bridge Over Troubled Water.
“Segun, long time, no see,” Victor greeted. “So how have you been?”
“Alhamdullai. Can I get you something, maybe like this one I’m chopping?”
“No, I’m fine. I just had breakfast. Thank you.”
“So ‘ow is your job?” Segun asked in a Yoruba accent that seemed to choose when and how it played out.
“Work dey o. We’re managing.”
Segun licked his thumb again. “Yes, I heard. They really seem to like you there.” He took a drink of water. “What can I do for you this lazy morning?”
“Well, I actually thought I would meet Captain here.”
“Ah, Captain is out of the country now.”
“How about Judith?”
“Judith? She is also not in Lagos.”
“Okay. I don’t know if she told you I would be coming with a young girl, my niece?”
Segun shook his head. “No.”
“She is expecting us. When is she due back?”
“I really don’t know. You know ‘ow her business dey be. She could take a long time.”
“I see. And me sef, I will be travelling today. Er… can you do me a favor?”
“Ow can I ‘elp?”
“My niece that I told you about that I just brought from the village, I need you to give her a job here for the time being.”
“I thought you said she’s a guest of Judith.”
“She is. But I want her busy because she thinks she’s here to work.”
A certain look in Victor’s eyes was read by Segun and he nodded in understanding.
“I see.” Segun began washing his hands. “Bring’er in. She can start today. One of the waitresses left last night and I can fit’er in–”
“Waitress? No, no, no, she’s a cook. She cooks in the kitchen, where no one can see her. I don’t want men following her.”
“Waitress – or no job.” Segun wiped his hands with a napkin.
Victor straightened his collar. “Fine. The only problem is she’s dumb.”
“She’s mute. She can’t speak.”
“But she can ‘ear?”
“Good. No problem. All she ‘as to do is present the menu, serve the food, present the bill, collect the money and that’s that.”
“I didn’t say thank you. You owe me sef.”
“Vikitor! This h’owing you no dey end?”
Victor shook his head.
“So when can I see her?”
“She’s in the restaurant now.”
Victor nodded and Segun pulled an army-green phone on his table and placed the receiver between his ear and shoulder while his hands attended to items on his table. He dialed Princeton at the bar and got him after a long wait.
“Lower that music, my friend!” he barked and waited. “Send that girl into my office… That girl with you there, you idiot! And I’ve told you to speak English and not that dirty patois.” He slammed the receiver. “Fake Yoruba boy deceiving himself that he’s Jamaican.”
“So, ‘ow is the wife?” Segun asked.
“Oh, hi forgot! It’s Etim that is married. You Calabar people confuse me.”
Victor said nothing and the room fell silent. Seconds later, a timid knock was heard on the door.
“Come in,” Segun answered.
Emem walked in shyly and stood by the door. She curtsied at Segun but he stared back at her in a transfixed state, arrested by her instantly.
“Segun, she’s greeting you,” Victor broke into his daze.
“Oh. My dear, ‘ow are you?” Segun turned official but when Emem nodded a smile at him, he once again became absorbed.
“Her name is Emem. She carries around a notebook and pen to write what she wants to say, that is if you don’t understand sign language.”
“She knows sign language? Who taught ‘er?”
“Some missionary nuns she worked with at The Refuge in my hometown.”
“There’s a branch of The Refuge there? I didn’t know. What is her level of education?”
“Grammar school. Passed with flying colors. I hope to get her into a higher school next year…”
Victor stopped speaking as he noticed Segun was again not paying attention but staring raptly at Emem, studying her features. Bashfully, she lowered her eyes. Victor leaned toward Segun and spoke in a hushed tone.
“I hope she is safe here.”
Segun still held his distraction. “Safe?” He made a half-turn in the direction of Victor. “H’of course! No ‘arm will come to her has long as I’m ‘ere.”
“Better make sure of that.”
Emem signed something and Segun looked at Victor for an interpretation.
“She’s asking if she can take the plates away.”
Segun cleared his throat and took on a bossy tone. “Sure, take them away to the kitchen. Princeton will show you the way.”
Emem walked to Segun to clear the table and while she bent forward, he feasted his eyes on her flawless skin. After she walked out of the office, Victor stood.
“She belongs to Captain.”
“Hah-anh, my brother, relax. Besides, she’s just a child. And hi am a father now, so…”
“That reminds me. How is the little boy? Olanrewaju?”
Segun smiled and nodded. “Idiot pikin wey no wan share breast with me.”
Both men laughed as they walked to the door. The cassette player began to play Hotel California.
CHARYBDIS HOTEL/ CAPTAIN’S SUITE
Judith’s fingers pressed into Captain’s back and delivered a steady amount of pressure from his waist to his shoulders. She paused and ran her thumb lightly over his ear and he slapped her hand.
She continued with her massage as low groans escaped his lips.
“When are you going back?” she asked.
“The day after tomorrow.” He turned his face in her direction. “How is everything going?”
“All that we planned is in place.”
He smiled and tapped her to stop the massage. He stood from the floor where he had been lying for exactly an hour. Judith also rose to her feet and handed him a pack of cigarettes. She ignited a matchstick and lit a cigarette he put between his lips.
“Tell me about this girl. What’s her name?”
“Emem. She’s Kentoro Abassi’s lovechild with a nobody.” Judith settled into a chair and crossed her legs. “Of course, he has no idea she exists but Igwe knows.”
“I’m not surprised.”
“Before Igwe embarked on his coup last year to overthrow Kentoro, he went into thorough investigations about him and when he uncovered this massive skeleton, he ordered and provided for Victor to take up the girl’s education and general wellbeing.”
“How on earth did you stumble across this, Ju?” Captain turned to Judith.
“My methods are of no consequence. All that matters is that I found out and played it to our advantage. I doubled Victor what Igwe was offering and asked that he bring her over to Lagos. Whatever plans Igwe has up his sleeves concerning her, we have completely shattered.”
“Why do we need this girl?”
Judith uncrossed her legs. “Luke, nothing lasts forever. As it is, Kentoro and his associates are in prison but in a few years, power will change hands again and they will be released, back for blood and settling of scores. We don’t want to be caught in that net because Kentoro is a man nobody wants to toy with; not even Igwe. Besides, you need a woman in your life, one that would calm your madness. She is perfect.”
“And you?” Captain smiled coyly.
“I already have you, Luke.”
Captain dropped his burning cigarette in an ash tray and pulled a cane chair to sit on.
“But she is just a child, Judith. Just seventeen.”
Judith stood up and walked to him. “This is not the time to grow a conscience, Luke. What has to be done has to be done now. You’re leaving the day after tomorrow and you’re not coming back for months. When Igwe notices she is missing from her home, the plan turns useless.”
Captain picked his cigarette again. “Bring her to me.” He stared at his watch and stood. “I don’t have all the time in the world.”
* * * * * * * *
It had taken seventy-eight steps and six flights of stairs for Emem to find herself at his door. Her husband’s door. That was what the ugly woman that wore so much makeup and gold jewelry told her. Emem had been devastated by the revelation. Victor had lied to her and her mom. There was no education in her future; she was to be married off to a stranger, a man she would never love.
Emem was overwhelmed with her tears as she put out her hand and knocked on the door.
The voice terrified her. She felt her bladder begging to be relieved. The door knob found her hand but remained immobile in it. She withdrew and wiped her tear-flooded face. A warning from the ugly woman about not spoiling her powder lingered in her head but Emem was too shaken to care.
She had suspected Victor was trouble when he came into her life and her mother’s over a year ago claiming he was a distant uncle. There was something off about his eyes. She wished she hadn’t been carried away by the way he changed their lives for better.
Emem tried the door again with a battling heart. Sweat broke from underneath her armpit, stinging her as her hand turned the door knob. The ugly woman had made her shave her private areas and she was beginning to feel prickly with mounting perspiration.
“Come in,” the voice from within repeated and Emem pushed open the door.
She walked in.
The room was large. It was twice the size of hers and one part had been crammed in with cartons spilling with files. A table rested on the wall facing the door. Before it were two long couches sitting opposite each other. The other half of the room held a neatly made bed and a small refrigerator.
“Sit down, Emem.”
She was startled out of her roving, observant eyes. Captain was behind the table, hunched over a voluminous account book before him. His left hand held a pen and the right a glass of brandy. He was not looking at her.
She perched on a couch and began tugging at her gown, pulling it down. It was a red, knee-length number with a belt at the waist. Her hair had been combed into an afro and a pair of silver earrings adorned her ears. Her face was now almost plain, having been washed clean by tears.
“Do you want anything to eat or drink?” Captain asked and Emem shook her head. He raised his eyes to stare at her and she withdrew her face from him. He dropped his pen and sat straight, observing her from lust-stricken eyes.
“How old are you, Emem?”
Emem’s fingers moved to give an answer but she stopped to retrieve her purse where she had her notebook and pen.
“Move your lips. I can read them perfectly.”
Emem dropped her purse. “Seventeen,” she mouthed.
Captain walked away from his table and to her direction. “So, are you happy working here?”
Emem began to feel herself relax. Captain’s manner towards her was somewhat calming.
“Do you like this place? Do you love your job?” he repeated. She gave a nod.
“But I want to go to school.”
“School?” he sat beside her and she lowered her eyes. “That’s ambitious.”
He read that she didn’t understand what ‘ambitious’ meant. He didn’t explain. Silence followed. He stared at her for an extended time, searching for physical anomalies that usually turned him off in women but Emem was perfect. Not even the scar he saw on her right knee posed a threat to her beauty. She was a living, breathing masterpiece.
“I like you, Emem,” Captain said as he saw her unease return. “I can help you. Do you want me to help you?”
“Sir?” she signed.
He moved closer. “I really, really like you. Will you marry me?”
Emem’s mouth went dry and she shifted away from him. He caught her hand and drew her back. She offered no serious resistance but the glassiness in her eyes spelled out her fear.
“Say yes, and become my wife and I will give you all you ever wanted. Say no and you will go back to your village to take care of your mother and live your very inconsequential life. Is that what you really want?”
She shook her head.
“Then you don’t have to.” He pulled her closer again until his breath ran warm on her cheek.
“You are an angel come from heaven, a dream in porcelain. Have you ever been adorned in gold and diamonds before?” He looked into her eyes, her tears ran. “I will make you glide when you walk so that your feet won’t touch the ground, you will wear the finest of clothes from the most expensive shops in the world and you will stand where no Nigerian woman has ever stood before. Just say yes.”
Emem’s fingers shook as she tried to reply him. He held them, covering them in his.
“Looks like you’re uncertain. How about I make up your mind for you?”
He touched her lips with his but she resisted him. He tried a second time and she backed away, pushing him. He stopped and looked at her. His eyes lost their warmth.
“Don’t make a fool of me.” He stood up. “Take off your dress.”
Emem recoiled at his words and began to squirm away from him. He glanced at his watch with impatience and was on her in a flash. Her lithe frame was no match for him but she fought with full strength of mind, kicking, scratching and clawing, drawing blood from any spot on his body her teeth could sink into. He had planned to be gentle, to even be romantic, and years later he would apologize to her for the animal in him that defiled her. But for that moment, he was possessed by a primal lust, alien to him but intensely irresistible and crushing. The more she fought him, the more that lust burned.
He was done with her in a few minutes and left her to the bathroom to have a shower. When he returned, she came at him with his pen. He was taken unawares as she stabbed into his chest, just below his heart. She was aiming for his neck next when he grabbed her hand and turned her around to avert any more attacks. With a grip as tight as iron chains, he held her bound, feeling each angry breath leave her until she slowed and melted into tears.
“I think you and I are going to be a perfect match for each other, little girl.” He wiped her tears and she tore her face away from him. “Welcome to my world, Emem. It’s okay to hate me. In fact, please, do hate me. That’s the only emotion I thrive on.”
He kissed her cheek and set her free. Stripped of all fight, she fell to the floor and crawled away from him. As he walked back into the bathroom to treat his injury, Emem fixed a bitter stare at his retreating back and let out in a soundless scream.