A MAN DECIDES

“Ahh! What the hell??” An agitated Fred cussed out as he reclined on the couch with his X-Box game pad in hand. He scowled at the television screen before him as the opposing team celebrated their winning goal on the virtual football pitch. Giving a curt hiss, a fraction of Fred resisted the urge to toss the pad against the flat screen before him when the beep jerked Fred from his thoughts and glanced at his phone right beside him. A message.
Picking the phone and opening the message, Fred’s brows arched in surprise and then his brows furrowed into a concerned stare as he began rubbing his partly grown goatie.
“That’s it! I have had it with these people!”
Turning from his phone, Fred saw her storm out from his room with her own phone in hand and a menacing frown. Ada was in nothing but one of her boyfriend’s blue shirts. She let herself drop on the couch right beside him and then flung her large brown bare thighs across his laps.
“And who has pissed you off this time?” Fred asked throwing her a stare.
“I just don’t get some people, Fred,” Ada vented and shaking her head. “Some annoying ass followed me on Instagram two days ago, only for me to discover he’s unfollowed me just this morning – right after I followed him back. Can you buy that?”
“Oh, that’s nothing new,” Fred simply rebuffed. “It happens a lot. Just unfollow him back and get over it,”
“Already done! Trust me now!” Ada stated. “That’s the first thing, I did,”
“Good,” Fred replied with a shrug. “Now, move on with your life and don’t make such a big deal out of it,”
“I beg to differ, but it is a big deal, Fred!” Ada countered. “Such a person must be devious in real life, believe me on that. I mean, why…why follow someone only to unfollow after they’ve followed you back? It’s..it’s wicked! I don’t know about you, Fred, but it’s a pretty sneaky thing to do. Imagine what this kind of person can do to you in real life.”
At that, Fred burst out laughing while his girlfriend watched him with a scowl.
“Ada?” He called now picking the game pad beside him. “You need to let this go. Gosh! Some people take social media way too seriously,”
“Whatever,” Ada muttered cocking her head as she began fiddling with her phone. “I know what to do,”
“And what is she up to this time?” Fred asked without looking away from the screen.
“Nothing much,” Ada casaully said. “I’m simply sending a DM to this pathetic excuse of a woman’s child, to let him know what I think of him….or is it even a she self? You just can’t trust human beings these days,”
“What?” Fred called turning to her at once. “No way! Give me that phone!” Then he snatched the phone from her grasp.
“Hey!” Ada called, scrambling on him to retrieve her phone but Fred effortlessly kept her at bay with his arm. “Fred, give me my phone now,”
“No way!” Fred called. “You must be crazy to want to initiate a fight on social media. Not my girlfriend! Not in my apartment!”
“Is it your fight?” Ada countered as she managed to throw herself upon him by sitting astride his legs, and that got Fred groaning out loud. “Give me back my phone,”
“My God!” Fred called out making a face at her. “Ada, you keep forgetting you have weight! I didn’t invite you over for the weekend to suffocate me here,”
“Correction! I have big bones,” Ada corrected poking at his head playfully. “Now, give me my phone or so help me, God, I won’t budge from here,”
“Fine! Suit yourself then. The blood has stopped circulating in my legs already,” Fred said handing her back her phone, and at that, they both giggled as Ada climbed off him and took her seat right back beside him. “But honestly, babe, you’re way above all this, you know? You don’t even know this person,”
“He’s a sneak, that’s one thing I know,” Ada blurted out. Fred shook his head. No doubt, he was tired.
“You just love creating drama out of everything, don’t you?” He said as he began fiddling with the pad while she rolled her eyes.
“What-ever!”
A door was heard opening and they both looked up to see Mayowa emerge from his bedroom. “Good morning,” he called in a low tone.
“Morning,” they both responded as they watched him approach a water dispenser at a corner for a drink. His fully-dressed appearance couldn’t be missed.
“Hmm, someone’s looking good this Saturday morning,” Ada said and Fred took a glance.
“Thank you,” Mayowa muttered. Ada kept staring.
“That’s the shirt Fred got you for your birthday last week, isn’t it?”
“Yep.”
At that, Fred threw her a blank stare.

“Do you have to state the obvious, Ada?” He  probed and she scolded back.

“Well, you look nice,” she commended. “So, who’s the lucky girl? ”
“What?” Mayowa asked turning to her.
“Mayowa, my loner friend? That’s a rich one,” Fred said with humour. “Or maybe, one of those companies you forwarded your CV finally replied. It’s about time you got back to contributing to the bills again,”
“Don’t be rude, Fred,” Ada said nudging him. “And who goes for job interviews on Saturdays, genius?”
“Are you sure you live in this same Lagos?” Fred asked back with an arched brow.
Mayowa finished drinking his water and began pressing on his phone.
“Whatever!” Ada replied, beaming with smiles now as she knelt up on the couch. “So, what’s happening today, Mayowa? It’s a date, isn’t it? Who the lucky chick? You know you can tell me, right?”
“Fred, did you get a bank alert ?” Mayowa asked and Fred turned at once.

“Oh, yeah!” He instantly replied. “I was going to mention that. I was surprised though. How come……”

“That’s all for the past rents and bills. Thank you so much for having my back all this time,”
“Oh…sure,” a slightly puzzled Fred muttered rubbing his goatie again. He peered at his friend and flatmate for a moment and then returned to his game. “Okay, thanks,”
“Too much money!” Ada called out also surprised with her brows raised now. “Did someone hit a jackpot recently?”
“Goodbye, guys,” Mayowa called flashing a grin, and then he turned and headed for the door.
“Yo, Mayowa!” Fred called after him, a bit of question in his eyes. “Where are you going?” Mayowa paused but did not turn.
“Out,” he replied before steping out of the flat and shutting the door behind him.
“Is it me, or is your flat mate in a good mood today?” Ada asked and her boyfriend simply shrugged in reply.
“Typical Mayowa,” Fred said facing his game now. “He will share when he gets back,”

*************************************

The nearest ATM took about fifteen to twenty minutes’ walk from the house. It was 8:16 A.M when Mayowa finally got there, and of all the five machines set up in the compound, only two functioned that Saturday morning, but who could be surprised at that?
Eight people were ahead of Mayowa on the queue he joined, and ready to bid his time, plugging his earphones and smiled to himself as his playlist commenced.
A young lady on the next line suddenly caught his eyes Mayowa turned to his right and he tried his best not to seem so obvious with his stare. She was the last on the line, and politely greeted the man before her. This lady seemed older than he by a few years, probably in her late twenties. Her hair was low and her appearance was quite simple in her blue top and black skirt. She was what Fred and Ada back at the flat would describe as “homely,” in one of their witty moods.
The phone in her hand suddenly rang out and Mayowa saw her stare at the caller ID, and her eyes seemed to light up in the process. Then she humbly tapped on the shoulder of the fair-skinned young man who stood right before her. It was obvious she had to excuse herself from the line to get this call.
“Pardon me, sir. I am behind you.” Mayowa easily read her lips and saw the man nod in reply.
“No wahala.”
She thanked him as she courtesied and hurried off.
Four people stood between Mayowa and the ATM now and he was relieved this queue moved quicker than he had worried. Turning, he was surprised at how much both lines had suddenly increased by the numbers and Mayowa was glad he had arrived here when he did. But the next line appeared to move faster and Mayowa could see the fair-skinned man make his transaction now. With his earphones still on his ears, he watched people’s lips move. He could not hear what they said, but Mayowa was most certain of one fact – these people were complaining. If it wasn’t about the state of the country, it was the wicked hike in the fuel price – and of course, there were the other dormant ATM’s which just sat in the wall and occupied space.
But Mayowa would not let his mind be permeated by all this negativity around him.
The fair-complexioned man was through and retrieved his ATM card, and then he turned to leave. Mayowa took off his earphones.
“Oh, thank God I came back just in time!”
He turned to see the Miss “Homely” suddenly rush in ahead of the line and towards the machine, raising her hand politely. “Pardon me, please. I’m sorry, but I was here earlier,”
“MAY GOD PUNISH YOU THERE!!!”
Everyone watched in shock to see a lady in her full greys suddenly emerge from the line and drag the younger lady from the machine by the sleeve of her blouse. “Get back, you this small girl! You think you’re smart, eh? I will show you I entered this Lagos before they gave birth to you,”
“Take your hands off me, you old sack!”
Mayowa’s brows went up at once as he watched this gentle-looking lady suddenly shove at her attacker so hard, she staggered backwards. At that, the elder woman cried out in both shock and anger as she was supported to regain her balance. The crowns seemed shocked as well.
“You dare to touch an old woman!” She let out. “You’re lucky I did not touch this ground. You would have killed a cow here this morning.”
The fair-skinned man whom had just made use of the ATM tried explaining the younger lady was actually next but he was rudely cut short by the older woman : “Shut up and mind your business!”
“Don’t talk to him like that!” The younger lady snapped at her. Mayowa saw the fire in her eyes. “He was here when I left. Did you have to drag my cloth like that? I still remember this your wrinkled face! The last time I saw you here, you were fighting somebody else. Ahan! What is it with you elderly people? You think because you have some grey hair on your heads, that suddenly gives you a free bitch-ticket.” Exclamations could be heard from the crowd now. The elderly woman held her chest in stupor now. Who would have imgined the audacity of this virginal-looking girl.
“I will deal with this small girl in this place today!” The elderky woman raged pointing. “Can you talk to your mother this way? Just look at you! Your mates are in their husbands’ houses and…..”
“And you?” The younger girl fired. “Some of your own mates are in the mortuary, minding their business, and you’re here constituting a public nuisance. Just continue like this, madam! The day you’ll meet your killer is coming! But that person is not me. I am not the one you will land in trouble.”
With a straight face, Mayowa withdrew his cash and walked out of the hall, leaving all the conundrum behind him.

“Bros! We hail o!” 

Mayowa noticed the two eager security personnel as they greeted. Smiling warmly, he pulled out a wad of One Thousand Naira notes and handed it to them to their astonishment.

The Uber ride took about thirty minutes before stopping before the gates of the massive hotel. Mayowa paid his fair, along with a generous tip before stepping out. It was not long before he was warmly greeted and ushered to a table in the luxurious restaurant. He preferred a corner. Looking at the menu, Mayowa made his order. These were extremely expensive but Mayowa was determined to treat himself today.

“That’s a freaking lie! Are you for real right now?”
The voices caught his eyes as he ate, and Mayowa glanced to his right to see two men seated at a nearby table in the corner, which hosted some delicacies and a bottle of champagne. They looked quite dapper in appearance and  appeared to be in their mid-twenties, just like he. “I can’t believe you actually came out to Kelvin,” The man continued. “I know you said you would, but I never thought you’d ever grow the balls to,”
“Well, the sky hasn’t come crashing down now, has it, Bobby?” The other replied. “What’s the essence of Kelvin and I being best buddies if I can’t disclose that important subject about myself?”
“So, how did he take it?” The one called Bobby asked leaning forward in curiosity. “Did he freak out?”
“He said he always kinda had an idea,” Chike said. “And that he was cool with it,”
“Whoa!” Bobby exclaimed and then sipped from his glass. “Well, that’s a cool thing, isn’t it, Chike?”
Mayowa tried not making his eavesdropping obvious as he ate.
“I’m not so sure, Bobby,” Chike replied with mixed tones. “I wont deny something hasn’t changed since I told him this two weeks ago,”
“You sure?” Bobby asked. “But you guys talk and hang out almost every day, don’t you?”
“Well, we used to,” Chike corrected. “Since that day, it’s obvious things have been awkward and…and he’s been distant. He takes forever to reply messages and he hardly takes my calls anymore. There’s always some excuse when I ask to hang out now,”

“Are you for real, Chike?” Bobby asked. “But you two always had a cool friendship. You were literally like brothers; and to think your number is always on his speed dial whenever he needs financial help, huh? I can’t believe this though – after all the support you’ve rendered that dude. You literally housed this guy for a year when he had nobody.” Bobby’s tone sounded agitated now, while Chike could only shrug in reply.

“He might claim to be cool with it, but I am most sure of one thing, Bobby,”
“An what’s that?”
“Vibes don’t lie,” Chike stated and Mayowa saw the one called Bobby nod.
“Hmm! My guy,” Bobby called in a reassuring tone. “But wait a sec! I hope he is not freaking out about this because he thinks….you into him,”
“He should be an idiot to think that. Of course, I have never seen him that way,” Chike replied with such vehemence as he ate. “Kelvin is a smart guy – or at least, he’s supposed to be. We’ve been friends for years now. He should know I never bargained to be born this way; and I’m so sick of this misconception that having same-sex attractions automatically makes you this voracious perv who just wants to pounce on anyone that comes your way. It’s damn annoying!”
“I understand, bro. But I’ve got to give it to you, coming out to that one was really brave of you,” Bobby said nodding at his friend. “But do you regret telling him?”
“Nope,” Chike shook his head. “I’ve said my truth, he’s acted his truth; and now that he’s shown his true self, well, there’s no need faking now,”
“Nice one, bro. Cut his ass off!” Bobby called throwing a thumbs-up. “This is what you get when you hang out with some of these myopic low-class citizens. That Kelvin? His intelligence is just as low as his bank account. You know what? Screw that leech and his paranoia!” At that, Chike raised his champagne glass.
“Amen to that! Cheers!” Then they chuckled as they touched glasses. Mayowa quietly shook his head and grinned in amusement as he drank now. If only these two realized they had an audience, or they just did not have a care in the world. But he indeed found these two quite interesting. And a part of him empathized with the one called Chike. It must really be lonely living with that baggage,
“So…I was thinking we take a trip. Five days at most,” Bobby suggested. “I don’t know about you but this weekend is a bore,”
“Hmm! Not a bad idea, Bobby. Do you have anywhere in mind?”
“Malta, perhaps?” Bobby suggested. “Or what island do you think of?”
“Awesome!” Chike called. “Are you bringing Portia along? She’s good with these places,”
“Most def! The more, the merrier,” Bobby said grinning now. “Hopefully, her uncle’s jet should be available. If we plan quick enough, we all could be set by evening, ”
“Cool!” Chike called. “I’m glad you annoying lovebirds finally made up, because I was getting way sick of playing middle-man for you two,”
“Idiot!” Bobby called as they both laughed out.
Mayowa quietly shook his head and had more juice.

Rich people.

********

Emerging from the restroom, Mayowa adjusted his shirt and then approached the elevator. He was stuffed from his meal now. Smiling warmly at the thirty-something year-old operator, he stepped into the waiting elevator.
“Fifth floor, please.”
The door slid open and Mayowa stepped out from the elevator and strode down the grand hotel corridor. With the signs on the wall, it was easy to find his way to the balcony where the strong breeze greeted him upon pushing the glass door open. The humans below appeared so minuscle as he gazed down.
It was almost midday now as he glanced at his watch, then he took a long gaze far across the horizon and was marvelled at the view before his eyes. It wasn’t something he saw every day. He took a deep breath and smiled. What a day!
Mayowa then spread out his arms and threw himself over the balcony.

 

END.

BELLA’S ROOM.

The moment the glass door slid open, all heads in the beauty parlour turned to see the tall dark figure in the brown leather jacket stride in.
Seated at the reception, Doris paused her nail filing as she was given a friendly nod as she watched him walk in.
Gazing into the mirror before her with her hair being tended to, Chika smiled at once at the sight of him.
“Hey, baby?” She called out. “You came,”
“Hi, sweetness?” Eric called back as he leaned over for a kiss on her cheek. If they were aware of the numerous pairs of eyes on them, these two could not care.
“Welcome, sir,” Loveline, the petite and ever-smiling beautician greeted with her hands still busy with her customer’s hair.
“How are you doing?” Eric replied.
“Fine, thank you, sir. Please, have a seat,” Loveline replied before turning. “Uche!” She called out to him just as he walked by with a blow dryer in hand. “Abeg, help me with that chair near you. Thank you.” The chair was brought for a grateful Eric whom then took his seat beside his girlfriend.
“Seems you’re the last customer for the evening,” Eric mentioned glancing around the hall as the employees busied away with putting away their equipments or sweeping away large masses of hair. “How long have you been here?”
“Since six,” Chika replied, her gaze still on their reflections. “But don’t worry, Loveline is almost done,”
“I’m not,” Eric said shaking his head as he glanced at his watch. “It’s almost eight-thirty now. Oh, and I got you this, by the way.” He took out two chilled can drinks from the green rubber bag.
“Oh, Eric,” Chika’s eyes brightened as she took one. “It’s like you read my mind. God! You’re an angel. Is this the lemon flavour? Oh, yes!” She popped it open without hesitation and Eric handed her a straw. “So….” She started upon taking a first sip. “Are you coming straight from work?”
“No,” Eric replied. “Stopped by my apartment for a quick shower before heading here.” Then he popped open his drink. “You must have left work early today, that’s new,”
“Yes o!” Chika called as she let Loveline gently tilt her head to the right, busying with her hair. “I decided to take work home for the weekend. I can’t come and kill myself, abeg.” Eric chuckled as he scratched his sideburn. “I told you about our new collection coming out in two weeks time, and this whole deadline thing has made the office space crazy; and to be honest, I work better from home, Eric.”
“Hmm,” Eric muttered peering at her as he now fiddled with his beards, then he pulled closer to Chika so he could communicate under hushed tones. “Chika, are you telling me you went home with an entire jewellery collection?” Chika nodded in reply to his astonishment as his brows arched at once. “Is that even allowed”
“Well, it’s not like they have much of a choice now, do they?” Chika said. “I will need every time I can get to finish all that work before Fashion week, and if that means I have to risk taking home a couple of Sapphires and diamonds home, then so be it. And by the way, the truth is…no one in that Fashion house can do what I do.”

At that, Eric was shaking his head and smiling at her smuggish attitude.
“You know how turned on I get when you start talking like that,” he mentioned into her ear and she giggled.
“Oh, stop it, Eric….”
“But seriously, Chika….I’m concerned for security reasons. It’s a huge risk you’re taking here, having all that valuable stuff in your apartment,”
“Trust me, they’re in a very safe place,” Chika assured just as Loveline moved her head again and began combing through. Then she smiled at her boyfriend. “Aww. Look at you all concerned,”
“Shouldn’t I be?” Eric asked raising a brow and backing away.
“It’s cute,” she teased. “But trust me, I’m only taking this risk this once.” At that, Eric nodded before glancing up at Loveline and then around the room, sipping on his drink in the process.
Doris, at the reception had resumed her nail filing with her eyes fixated on the television, sitting on a high shelf. Uche, the only male employee busied himself putting away some work equipment. A female employee seated at a corner indulged in having her own nails painted briefly looking up to have Eric’s eyes meet hers, but she quickly fixed her eyes back on her nails.
“Oh, I forgot to tell you!” Chika called out to Eric’s attention as she sipped her drink. “Bella is back from the hospital,”
“Oh, I see,” Eric said as his brows arched in delight. “That’s great. She’s better now, I hope.” Chika nodded in reply.
“She’s still a little weak and has lost a lot of pounds, Eric,” she explained. “But I’m glad her appetite is back now. Doctor Damola said all she needs now is a lot of rest and fluids in her system. God knows I’ve really missed my baby girl.” Then she let out a sigh while Eric nodded and smiled at her, knowing how much his girlfriend adored her “baby girl.” “You should have seen her yesterday, Eric – she was so, so excited to be back home, most especially in her room. I promised myself to take extra caution with what she eats from now on, because God himself knows I can’t go through that scare again,”
“I know,” Eric said chuckling. “Your scare gave me a scare as well.” They both laughed. “I’ll come over to check on her later tomorrow,”
“Oh, she would be so excited to see you!” Chika stated. “My baby has really missed you, Eric. In fact, I think your presence would help her recovery. You know how excited Bella gets around you,”
“I won’t deny missing her myself,” Eric said. “So, she’s home now, right? And alone?” Chika nodded in reply.
“Resting. She wouldn’t miss me the whole night while I’m gone. I gave her a little something to sleep the night off.” Then she sighed. “Oh, Eric, I’m so glad you convinced me to get away from it all just this night. I really need this. It’s been all work and work,”
“Tell me about it,” Eric said with a scoff. “It’s been crazy at the magazine as well. I know we love our careers but we just can’t come and die. In fact, next time, we should have an entire weekend to ourselves,”
“What entire weekend?” Chika called back. “An entire week!” At that, they both exploded with laughter.
PFFFFFFFF!!!!!!!!
The choking cloud from the unforeseen hairspray got them holding their breath at once. “Loveline!! You could be kind to warn a girl before spraying that, okay? Or do you want to choke me here?”
“Yeh!” Loveline called out all flustered. “Sorry, aunty. I am through,”
“Finally!” A relieved Chika called as the covering was pulled off her before getting to her feet, admiring her reflection in amazement. “Loveline, you have outdone yourself this time!” Chika called out, drawing the attention of everyone in the room.
“Thank you, ma,” a flustered Loveline replied as she caught glance of Eric who undoubtedly gazed up at his girlfriend in admiration.
“This is for you, dear,” Chika called handing her a generous amount of Naira notes.
“But, aunty…” a puzzled Loveline called. “You know payment is at the recept….”
“Nonsense,” Chika rebuffed with sarcasm. “This is for you. A little something for the weekend,”
“Wow! Aunty!” Loveline exclaimed now taking the cash. “This is too much,”
“Can we go now?” Eric called as he got to his feet. He took the last of his drink and then drew Chika closer. “You’re a vision,”
“Oh, stop,” Chika giggled while the other workers threw glances every now and then. Loveline began showing appreciation for the generous tip. “And that reminds me, Loveline,”
“Yes?” The beautician eagerly nodded. “I have some friends from work who might require your home services. I would pass along your number to them,”
“Oh, thank you very much,” Loveline was trying to hold it all in now. “Anytime! I am available.”
In a moment, they had made their payment at the reception before departing for their friday evening getaway, bidding everyone a goodnight in the process.
Loveline was more than glad to see them off to the car, amd upon returning to the salon, she was greeted with stares from her colleagues. “What?” She asked giving a shrug.
“Nothing,” Uche casually replied as he shut a glass cabinet. “I was just waiting for my share of your tip,”
“When Jesus comes,” Loveline teased before walking off.
“Ah! Loveline, has it come to this now?” Uche playfully called after her. “You know I helped you with that chair,”
“Uche, please!” Loveline laughed back as she disappeared into the bathroom doorway.
Na wa o!” Doris called from the reception as she put away her file. “Loveline is so lucky Miss Chika likes her so much. Did you guys see that tip? Hmm! Maybe, I should start learning hair styling too,”
“Babe, leave that one!” Sumayat called from her corner as she now put away her manicure kit. “Those two? Their own is too much with all this public affection they do everytime. And what I still don’t understand is how a man will drop everything he is doing to sit with a woman in a salon. Dat one be man at all?
“Really, Sumayat?” Uche called throwing her a stare. “Are you really still on this issue? Why do you keep acting like this is the first time you’ve seen them here,”
“My point exactly!” Sumayat stated hitting the desk. “The last time, that guy sat here with Miss Chika from start to finish as Loveline made her braids. Braids, Uche! You know how many hours that takes. No man can ever be that nice.”

A disgusted Uche clenched his fist and turned away, trying his best not to reply Sumayat.
“Well, I think it’s sweet,” Doris said, smiling and resting her chin on her palms now. “You can see how much he adores her. God knows I would kill to have a guy look at me like that. And on top of it, she has a daughter too. Uche, you know how hard it is for a single mum to find a good man, especially here in Nigeria,”
“Disgusting!” Sumayat spat out. “Don’t get me wrong, I like a man that that gives his babe attention, but this one is too much abeg. It questions a man’s manhood. If someone tells me that Chika has given him something strong to eat, I will believe instanta!
“Sumayat,” Uche called as he he zipped up his backpack. “I work in a beauty salon and I’m very good at my job, if I should add – but that has never questioned my manhood,”
“To be honest, concerning your matter, Uche,” Sumayat called rolling her eyes. “I’ve alway had my doubts about your manhood,”
“Just like your mother’s fidelity, abi?” Uche was quick to fire back to Sumayat’s astonishment.
“Blood of Mary!” Doris let out in shock as her eyes shot out.
“Uche!” Sumayat flew to her feet at once, her nostrils flaring open. “Are you mad? Look, don’t you try me…”
“Babe, I have warned you several times in this salon,” Uche cut her off, raising a finger. “Stop starting what you can’t finish with me. What the hell is your problem self? We all know the reason behind all this your bitterness is because no man has ever looked at your corner. You better change your attitude because you look really ugly when you’re this way.” Sumayat was still stunned as he flung his backpack over his shoulder and turned to a dumbstruck Doris. “Doris, please, let’s lock up and leave this place already. It’s past our closing time. And where is Loveline, by the way?”

**********
Before turning into the next Street, Nico took another cautious glance behind before hurrying down the dark and desolate road. He was well familiar with these roads to know the burnt out security lamps were yet to be fixed.
Approaching the designated wall, Nico stealthily blended into the darkness as he pressed his back against the rough surface, and then he glanced at his watch. 2:17 A.M. Bending over, he easily made out the ladder he had carefully placed in the wide gutter four hours earlier. Quietly, he hoisted it and placed it against the fence. Taking a deep breath, Nico adjusted the hanging satchel on his back and climbed with his heart palpitating with every step. Inasmuch this was not his first time, Nico’s nerves always got at him with every operation.
Now atop the wall, Nico took another deep breath before leaping into the spacious compound; he landed without making much of a sound, all thanks to the specific black sneakers he picked out. Much to his luck, the greedy landlord was yet to erect barbed wires on this back fence.
Making his way towards the two-story building, Nico located the targeted door, thanks to the precise directives from his source. No need to go up the stairs.
Apartment 003.
Avoiding the security lamps, Nico crouched in the dark as he fished out his kit and began fiddling with the lock. Click! Nico’s breath paused as the lock gave way. Bingo! He grinned at his small triumph as he pushed open the door and stepped into the apartment and shut the door behind him. Now in the darkness, Nico fished out his small torch from his back denim pocket and began surveying the living room as he made his way around. All he needed do was grab what he was here for and leave as quick as he had come.
A refigerator hummed from an unknown location as Nico now made his way down a corridor. He knew what he sought and where to find it. Then he paused as he passed a door. The Master bedroom was just down the hall before him, but the coloured alphabetic stickers on the door drew his attention : BELLA’S ROOM.
Nico stiffled his chuckle as he raised his torch to read. His source had informed him of an invalid child in the apartment and to pay her no mind, but with the growing frown on Nico’s face now, the doubt was brewing. Then the sound came and he froze. It had come from the other side of the door. Nico had never operated with someone else present. This was risky – be it a sick child or not. A soft sound was heard again.
Now clenching his fist, Nico frowned as he glanced at the Master bedroom not too far off. Then he took a deep breath as he made his decision. Taking a step forward, Nico reached for the door knob and turned it open. All Nico needed do was tie and gag this child, then lock her up in her closet before going for the main target in the other room. There was silence as Nico crept into the dark room now, this was going to be as easy as pie. Then he slowly shut the door behind him.

************

“What took you so long, Eric?” Chika called as her boyfriend approached the restaurant VIP lounge. “That was one pretty long call, if you ask me,”
“Well?” Eric said with a shrug avoiding eye-contact with her, then he resumed his seat beside her.

“Don’t change subjects, Eric,” Chika stated throwing him a stare. “You were on that phone for almost twenty minutes. So what happened to our agreement on “no interruptions” tonight, eh? What’s up?”

“I’m here now,” Eric said.

“Who were you on the phone with?” Chika probed, eyeing him.

“Really?” Eric asked back, replying her stare. “Coming from my girlfriend who’s been taking a thousand and one selfies in the middle of our convos. What did you expect?” At that, Chika stopped and began laughing, and then Eric joined her which drew the attention of a couple on a distant table.

“My bad, Eric. Sorry,” Chika admitted now leaning  forward to take his hand. “You won’t understand, Eric. But Loveline outdid herself this time. You saw how many ladies complimented my hair from the moment we walked in here.”

Eric nodded with a grin.
“I doubt any other person in that salon has touched your hair except her,” he said and Chika shook her hair.
“That girl is a miracle worker when it comes to hair, Eric. And do you know she’s just twenty-one? she said with surety while Eric sipped from his glass or Champagne. “You know how much I love to invest my time and money in people who are exceptional at what they do,”
“Yeah,” Eric nodded in agreement. “It’s a good way to give back to society,”
“You know it!” Chika said touching his shoulder.
“This reminds me of the first editor who bought and published my first short story on her magazine ten years ago,” Eric said to her delight as she watched him talk. “That single act changed everything for me, Chika. My confidence as a writer, as an individual……you name it,”
“And here you are, Eric,” Chika said shaking her head amazement. “Senior Editor at twenty-eight. I always love it when you tell this story – the way your eyes light up.” Eric was smiling now. “Where is she now though?”
“Oh, she is a senior editor now at Vogue Paris,”
“Wow! Okay!” Chika let out as she nodded in a dramatic way. “Chika Amara Eche, you need to up your game!” It was Eric’s turn to laugh out now and that drew the attention of a waiter who happened to be passing by. He grinned at them and walked on by. “Oh, Eric, I’m so glad we got to do this, even it’s just one night,”
“Yeah,” Eric agreed now moving his head to the Afro-Carribean music playing in the background. “I was thinking, after your Fashion show, we should take a sabbatical – two weeks at most. Wherever we want to go. I believe we’ve earned that much,”
“With how much weight we pull off at our jobs, we deserve more,” Chika said before reaching for a shrimp on her plate berore her. “By the way, I can’t wait to see the renovation you’ve done with your place tonight. I know you have the most eccentric ideas, but your colour combination still needs a little work. Like jeez, Eric, what would you do without me?”
“Chika!” Eric called out with a stare while she giggled, trying not to choke in the process.
“I just can’t help it, sorry,” Chika said while he shook his head.
“When we get back to my place, I’m so going to pin you down and tickle you till you cry,” he said and at that, Chika froze as she swallowed.
“You wouldn’t,”
“Try me,” Eric dared. “Oh yeah, and speaking of houses, how far with that new place you plan on acquiring?” Chika was about to reply when her phone suddenly rang out. Picking it, she frowned upon seeing the caller ID.
“It’s my Landlord’s wife,” she said to Eric’s surprise as well. “Why’s she calling me at this hour?”
“Well…answer it,” Eric urged with a shrug as he then glanced at his watch.
“Hello, Ma?” Chika greeted upon answering, with questions in her tone and eyes.
“Chika!” The worried voice called from the other end. “What is happening? Is everything okay?
“Emm….Yes, Alhaja,” Chika replied, but totally confused now. “But I don’t understand. How do you mean?”
“Ahan!” The shocked exclamation came back. “How do I mean? How can you say that when you have woken the entire compound?”
“What?” Chika called sitting up now and exchangiing stares with a now puzled Eric. “Alhaja! But I am not home at the moment! What’s going……”
“YEKPA!” The alarmed voice called louder this time. “If you are not around, then who is the girl screaming in your flat as I am talking to you right now?” At that, Chika’s breath caught in her throat as she threw her boyfriend a petrified stare.

**************

The gate was already wide open when Eric drove into the large compound and parked at a distance from the already waiting crowd. The drive home had taken less than forty minutes, and it was almost four in the morning now.
Jumping out from the car, Chika rushed towards the curious and scared tenants in their various sleeping attires, and from their horrified dispositions, she could tell something grave had occured.
“Chika, something is happening in your flat!” The distraught landlady was the first to approach her. “We all taught you were in danger when we heard the screaming. Captain Okoye has called for help from the station, when I told him you were not the one inside.” A horrified Chika had both hands to her mouth as she listened to all of this. Eric was standing beside her now. A part or her had hoped there had to be some false alarm in all or this.
Captain Okoye, her neighbour and police commander had approached them now.
“Has anyone gone in?” Chika managed to ask upon getting over her shock, but both the landlady and police captain exchanged stares.
“Miss Chika, I am sure you know why nobody in this compound cannot go in there,” Captain Okoye mentioned. At that, Eric took Chika’s hand firmly.
“You know what? I’m going in,” he stated looking from his girlfriend to the officer. “How long has it been quiet in there?”
“A while,” Captain Okoye replied. “Almost twenty minutes now. All I know is a girl was in there screaming like death, and she isn’t any longer.”
Suddenly, Chika gasped out of nowhere as her eyes shot wide open.
“Oh, my God!” She called out grasping unto Eric’s arm. “I’m going in with you!”
“Bella?” Eric mentioned. “Are you worried about…..”
“Not just her,” Chika called gazing up at him. “The diamonds!”

In less than a moment, Chika was pushing the door open and stepping into the darkness, holding tightly to Eic’s hand in the process.
“Bella?” She gently called, hiding the quaver in her voice. “Bella, baby? Mummy’s home.”
“Where’s the light switch,” Eric whispered and Chika gradually felt for the nearby wall.
“It’s close,” she called back. Finding it with her hand, she flicked it on.
As soon as the room got luminated, both Eric and Chika froze right where they stood. Grabbing unto her man’s arm, Chika’s jaw dropped as her other hand flew to her face at the jarring scene before them. “Oh…my….Eric!”
“What happened in here?” Eric muttered.
Chika’s living room appeared to have been the center of a hurricane storm, with upturned or shattered furniture allover the place.
Eric took a few steps forward began gazing around and Chika gained some nerve and followed.
“Eric, where’s my baby girl?” She muttered to him, and that was when they saw it all and froze in horror. There were red smears allover the floor and some parts of the walls. “Oh my…..Bella?” Chika called, and then the sound came from a corner – a low growl, and they both paused and gasped. They saw more trails of blood leading to a corner – and then the crouched dark figure of muscle and bared fangs.
“Oh my….Bella!!!” Chika called out taking a step, but Eric was quick to hold her back.
The massive Rottweiller had ceased growling now at the sight of her owner, as she stood erect over the sprawled and mutilated figure beneath her. A man! “Eric?” That was all a petrified Chika could mutter now, clinging to him as he were the same disposition at this macabre scene.
The approaching police sirens could be heard now

*****************
“I can’t believe this is happening,” Chika mentioned in Eric’s arms as they watched the stretcher from a distance being hoisted into the waiting ambulance outside the gate, supervised by the police officers who eagerly demanded answers. The curious neighbours now hurdled in several groups discussing the recent incident. “I’m just glad the stones are safe. What would I have explained to them at the office? I am so not attempting this ever again,”
“Could that have been what he was after in the first place?” Eric mused. “But no one knew about them,”
“Miss Chika!” They both turned to see Captain Okoye approach them, adjusting his robe in the process.
“Captain,” she called back. “What’s the news?”
“We found the ladder he used at the back,” he said. “He’s finally gained some consciousness, but he has lost a lot of blood and is in a lot of pain,”
“Has he said anything yet?” Eric asked at once. “Was he working alone? Where…..”
“Take it easy,” Captain Okoye urged. “They’re pumping him with a lot of Morphine. Hopefully, he will talk soon, but….but the medics said his chances are slim after what your dog did to him. I mean…she took his entire genitals off.” At that, Chika looked away in displeasure, crossing her arms. “Even if he manages to survive this, she has destroyed that man for life,”

“Captain, please…..,” an unnerved Chika called shaking her head in repulsion. “I don’t even want to….”

“For a sick dog, Bella really did a number on that guy,” Eric stated coldly. “But to be Frank, Captain, I don’t care if she took his kidneys as well.”

“Eric…” Chika called to him. “Don’t say that,”

“That…thief broke into my girlfriend’s apartment. Only her’s! Captain, I really don’t care what happens to him after this, but we need answers! Castrated or whatever, I don’t give a damn about him,”
“The officers are trying to get information,”
“I don’t know if I can go back into my apartment anymore,” Chika stated out of nowhere and they faced her shocked disposition. “I mean…I know Bella has never liked strangers, but this…this…”
“This was a loyal dog defending her owner’s territory,” Eric assured now holding both her shoulders now. “Look, here’s what we’ll do: you and Bella will come and stay at my place for some days, while we get the best cleaning agency to clean up all that gory mess in there, okay? I have a very big compound to myself and Bella will feel just at home. You’ll both be fine.” Then he flashed her a reassuring smile.
“Thanks, baby,” Chika called forcing a smile now as she touched his bearded face while Captain Okoye had to glance away.

Two police officers suddenly emerged from the crowd and approached him, they began whispering as they handed him a piece of paper while both Eric and Chika curiously watched.
“Miss Chika,” Captain Okoye called now facing them with the paper in hand. “We finally have a name,”
“We do?” Chika called back as her eyes shot open. “Who is it, Captain? Please, tell us!” Then Captain Okoye peered down at the paper as he took a breath.
“Do you by any chance know someone by the name…….”

**************

“Oooh! Pick your phone!” A most frustrated Loveline vented before tossing her phone on the bed. Running her hand through her unkempt hair, she began pacing about the bedroom muttering to herself. She so much hated that ugly feeling of helplessness. The time was seven-fifteen that Saturday morning upon glancing at her watch now. News of the failed robbery was allover the place now like wildfire – and Nico had eventually bled to death! But had her boyfriend said anything before passing away? Loveline had no idea.
Now facing her bed, Loveliness zipped up the already stuffed duffel back on her bed before picking her phone and frantically dialed again. “Please, pick up,” she fidgetted, tapping her left foot.
How could she have missed out on the dog? Bella had been a stupid dog all this time! She should have known better.
“Doris, pick up your phone now!” Loveline impatiently barked out again. There was no time to waste now. Grabbing her bag, she swung it over her shoulder and rushed out of the room. She just had to leave town for a few days till all was calm. Now in the living room, she spotted and snatched her black face cap on one of the sofas, then hurriedly covered her dishevelled hair. All she needed do now was get to the neaest ATM, withdraw every last Kobo in her account before skipping town for a week or two.
Now approaching the door, she began typing on her phone. If Doris would not pick, then she would text Uche – he was more reliable. An emergency tale of her grandmother’s illness should hold enough water. SEND! Then Loveline glanced about the the small flat one more time with heaviness. “I am so sorry, Nico,” she muttered before opening the door to step out.
“Loveline Nomamiukor!!! You are under arrest!”
“Yeh” Loveline froze on the spot as her bags dropped to the ground. The number of uniformed men were enough to make her wet herself. Worse – her colleagues from the salon also stood present not too far off. And then there was her “favourite” customer, standing right next to her man. Loveline could see disappointment and shock written on her face, almost like she was saying : “How could you, Loveline?”
Exhaling deeply, Loveline shook her head in silence before raising her hands in surrender, and through her cloudy eyes now, she saw the two police officers hurry towards her – one with the silver cuffs jingling in hand. It was all over for her now and Loveline knew it.

 

END.

THE WRONG DRESS

Oh, my God! “ Valentina exclaimed throwing both hands to her face at once as Love elegantly strode out of her spacious closet in the flowing purple dress. “Love, this is beautiful! I love it!”

“I told you, didn’t I?” Love said smiling from ear to ear, and then she spun in the dress to show off the more.

“Babe! People will faint tomorrow when they see you in this,”

“My dear, I expect nothing less,” Love replied as she stood before the mirror. Valentina got up and stood behind her, admiring the reflection before them. “But it feels a bit tight here,” Love admitted, tugging at the waistline.

“Really?” Valentina asked. “Didn’t you try it on back at Titi’s store?”

“No,” Love replied. “You know I had to rush back here after you called about the emergency with the shoe delivery. And by the way, Titi said if there was anything uncomfortable about this dress all I had to do was call and she’d be here ASAP,”

“Hmm,” Valentina muttered touching her chin. “Maybe, now would be a good time,”

“Never you mind,” Love replied. “It’s not as serious.”

The bedroom door swung open and Chiazor dragged herself in.

“Hey, girls!”

“Heeey!” They called back as she went straight for Love’s freezer at a corner.

“Sorry I took so long. Lord! Am I exhaused, or what?” Chiazor called now taking out a bottle wine to help herself. “There’s no way I could leave that Event hall until everything was in place – even till the last flower petal. You girls know I specialize in perfection.” Now holding up her glass, she turned only to freeze at the sight of Love. “Oh, my…. Girl, where did you get that dress? It’s gorgeous!”

“Thanks, Sweety,” Love replied her oldest friend, smiling.

“But wait a minute!” Chiazor suddenly called  peering with one hand on her hip and looking serious. “Love, but this wasn’t the dress you had Titi-Coutour make for your birthday, if I’m not mistaken here,”

“You’re not,” Love replied turning to her. “You won’t believe this crazy story. So…..I saw this lovely thing hanging right in plain sight when I went over to get my actual birthday dress. Girl, but it was like this dress was calling out to me : “please, please, wear me!” And so I told Titi I wanted it,”

“Just like that? I see,” Chiazor muttered dryly. “And so what happens to your other dress?”

“Guuurl, who cares?” Love playfully called. “I’ll wear it to your engagement party next Saturday,”

“Nice,” Chiazor replied and then sank untothe large bed, crossing her legs before taking a sip from her glass. “I like this,”

“I know,” Love replied facing her reflection again. “Titi said it belonged to some woman from Ikorodu who’s wedding tomorrow morning. She actually sketched it up for Titi-Coutour to make,”

“Say what?” Chiazor spat out, almost choking on her drink. “Love!”

“You heard her,” Valentina replied throwing her a smirk. “It’s for someone’s wedding reception,”

Love turned and faced Chiazor.

“I offered Titi triple the amount of what the original owner paid to have this dress made, and she eagerly complied without hesitation. Who says money doesn’t work wonders,” she explained before flashing Valentina a wink. “Come to think of it, Valentina – who would think someone from Ikorodu can possibly think up something so lovely? Isn’t that place like some local fishing village, or something?”

“I actually thought it was some rural community for elephant hunters and ritual killers,” Valentina added.

“Oh, my goodness!” Love exclaimed in humour. “That’s too much a compliment from what I imagined.” At that, both ladies giggled loudly.

“Be nice, you too!” Chiazor called making a face. “And for your information, Ikorodu is a very commercial town and I’ll have you know a good number of my best clients reside there, mind you? I’ve been there several times and it’s a far cry from what you both describe,”

“Whatever!” Love teased with a dismissive wave.

“And wait a minute!” Chiazor called trying to comprehend what she had previously heard. “But what about this bride-to-be? This is still her dress and it’s her big day tomorrow,”

“Not my problem,” Love dispelled with a tone. “And by the way, Titi said she would handle her,”

“And how’s she supposed to do that?”

“She said she would send the Ikorodu woman another dress to compensate for her “unfinished one,” Love replied and then faced Valentina again. “Who says money doesn’t talk?” Then they both giggled again.

“No! No,” Chiazor called, shaking her head. “Babes, this is so wrong in so many ways,”

“And last time I checked, I didn’t ask your opinion,” Love retorted now facing her. “You know what, Chiazor? Maybe, for once, you could at least pretend to be happy for me, or is that just too much to ask from you?”

“Not when someone’s about being cheated off the most important day of her life,” Chiazor fired back.

“Chiazor,” Valentina stepped in. “Just see it this way – the winner takes all.” At that, Chiazor paused and threw her a blank stare.

“Did you confidently just open that thing you call a mouth to spit that nonsense, Valentina?” Valentina’s mouth fell open. “Love, I know you’ve done some crazy stuff, but this….this is the most coming from you,”

“You know what? Enough!” Love let out raising a hand. “Chiazor, you know why I called Valentina to check out this dress and not you? Because she’s not the killjoy that you’re being right now,”

“Babe, Valentina is your P.A. You literally pay her to agree to everything you do. She would jump in front of a speeding truck if you asked her to,” Chiazor retorted to Valentina’s astonishment before downing the last of her drink. “You know what? I hope you sleep well with your conscience tonight. Happy birthday in advance!” Then she got up and stormed out of the large bedroom, slamming the door shut behind her.

“Thanks for nothing, Miss Black heart!” Love called after her. “Can you believe that one?” She vented facing Valentina, who took her by the hand.

“But you should know Chiazor, by now,” she said. “She never holds her tongue, and there’s the wine too,”

“Whatever!” Love retorted. “She can choose not to attend my party tomorrow if she likes – I don’t care. It’s not everyday a girl turns twenty-six,”

“You don’t mean that,” Valentina replied.

“You know what? Can we like forget her already?” Love asked and then faced her reflection again. “Babe, I don’t know, but it feels like this dress has gotten tighter all of a sudden at the waist,”

“Oh,” Valentina muttered. “Maybe, we should call Titi after all,”

“Good idea,” Love said. “Do that.” Then Valentina walked to the bed and picked one of Love’s phones which laid beside her blue cosmetic bag. She dialled a number and waited.

“She’s not answering,” Valentina said.

“Then call her again!” She insisted. “It’s just some minutes past eight tonight. Keep dialling until she picks. With how much I pay her, she’d better come running here – even if it’s midnight and her house is on fire.” At that Valentina kept on dialling while Love struck a dramatic pose before her large oval mirror and smiling. “You just wait and see, Valentina. Tomorrow, I’m so going to stand out.”

************************************

“Happy birthday, Love!”

“Aww! Thanks, Kiki,” Love replied rushing to embrace her former nemesis from Social Media. It took them over three years before they finally began getting along.

“And your dress! Wow!” Kiki mentioned in admiration. “It’s beautiful,”

“Thank you. I know, right?” Love replied. “By the way, I hope you came with a gift,”

“Of course,” Kiki said and then opened her red purse which matched her dress. “Who would forget your love for presents?” She took out a rectangular parcel beautifully wrapped up. “Here you go. Happy birthday, dear,”

“Why is it so small?” Love asked, looking serious.

“Excuse you? That’s expensive,” Kiki stated raising a finger. “Very expensive,”

“Girl, don’t mind me,” Love said giggling and then accepted it. “Thanks so much, Kiki,”

“You’re welcome, Love,” Kiki replied smiling and then she glanced around at the other guests in the hall. “And this is a lovely party,”

“I know, right?” Love asked as she took her hand. “So, you get a drink first and enjoy yourself,”

“I will,” Kiki said and then strutted off into the crowd.

“Valentina,” Love called to her friend whom stood not too far off with a drink in hand. “Would you be a dear and drop this with the others presents?”

“Of course,” Valentina replied as she took the gift and hurried off; and then Love sashayed down the busy hall to mingle with the other guests. She could feel eyes on her with every step she took, and why shouldn’t they stare? Today was her day, and just as Love had always taught herself to be – she was Queen!

Food and drinks flowed through non-stop, and the music was kept at an upbeat tempo – and Love made sure to hire the most expensive DJ in Lagos.

“Happy birthday, Love!”

Turning, Love opened her mouth in surprise at the sight of Chiazor, clinging to the arm of a tall dark man in a dark suit.

“Chiazor? Henry!” She called out embracing her best friend, and then she and Henry exchanged pecks on both cheeks.

“Happy birthday,” he called.

“Thanks, dear, I’m so glad you came.” Then she faced Chiazor. “And….I was starting to think you weren’t coming anymore,”

“Are you crazy?” Chiazor asked with a raised brow. “After breaking my back to pull this party off? And you know my business comes first, and with these photographers and influential guests present here, who knows?”

At that, Love laughed out while Henry simply shrugged.

“My goodness!” Love exclaimed. “You’re so Ibo. All for the money,”

“Whatever, babe,” Chiazor replied rolling her eyes. Then she turned and gave a beckoning gesture. “Buchi, bring that here, please.” And immediately, Chiazor’s younger cousin approached with a large wrapped up gift, and with the way he walked, it was clear how quite weighty its content was.

“Oh, my God!” Love exclaimed in delight.

“A little birthday something from Henry and myself,” Chiazor said before flashing her fiancé a smile.

“Oh, you two!” Love called as her gift was placed on a nearby table. “It’s so heavy. What’s in it?” She curiously asked.

“I guess you’d have to unwrap and find out,” Chiazor replied, and then Love gave each of them a hug.

“You guys are the best,” she said. “Thanks so much. Oh, and Chiazor, be sure to mail me your bill for all of this tomorrow,”

“I will do no such thing,” Chiazor bluntly stated shaking her head to Love’s surprise. Then she gestured with her hands. “All of this is also my birthday gift to you,”

“Oh my……Chiazor!” Love was overwhelmed now holding her chest. “This is too much! Come here” Then she pulled her friend into a warm embrace while Henry stood by, smiling at them both. “And here I was yesterday thinking you were the biggest bitch alive,”

“Idiot!” Chiazor called back laughing. “You are the bigger one.”

“Really, Chiazor. I’ll never forget this,” Love said. “Thank you,”

“And have I mentioned how gorgeous you look in that dress?” Henry asked and Love blushed.

“You’re sweet, Henry. Thank you,” she softly replied while Chiazor quietly rolled her eyes.

“Excuse me, miss?”

They all turned to see an eager photographer. His height seemed not to surpass their shoulders. “Could you all stand together for a shot? And please, Celebrant, you stand in the middle – Wow! That dress!”

“Oh, of course!” Love eagerly agreed stepping in-between for a pose. She recognized the photographer from one of the biggest fashion magazines in Lagos. They let him take a number of shots. “Now take me alone,” Love said already striking another pose while her friends stood apart. Love never tired of having her pictures taken. “I can’t wait for these to get out on Social media,”

“Of course, she can’t,” Chiazor dryly muttered to Henry’s hearing as they each picked their drinks from an approaching waiter.

“You won’t let this go, would you?” Henry lowly called to her and she faced him.

“What’s wrong is wrong, Henry,” Chiazor said. “You know I always say it as it is,”

“But last time I checked, you told me the designer had it all handled,”

“And that makes it fine?” Chiazor asked. “Look, Henry, I love Love a lot but she just can’t help making everything about her. That’s how she made my last birthday her own personal Project Runway Show, and don’t be shocked next Saturday when she hijacks our engagement party.” At that, Henry burst out laughing.

“Your choice of words, Chiazor! Hijack?” He said. “You should have been an activist and not an event planner, you know?” Giggling, Chiazor turned to reply him.

“I DON’T BELIEVE IT!!”

At that, nearby guests turned to see Love suddenly rush for the hall entrance, holding her dress in hand. Then she threw herself on the tall figure in the Navy blue suit and everyone watched them kiss passionately.

“It’s a lie!” Valentina approached with surprise also written on her face. “Is that…”

“Seye? Yeah,” Chiazor answered.

“But I thought he wasn’t in the country,”

“He wasn’t,” Henry said. “At least, not until this morning,”

“He asked us not to tell Love last night,” Chiazor explained. “He wanted to surprise her,”

“You guys!” Love called out in excitement as she approached them now, clinging to her boyfriend’s bulging arms. “Look who decided to surprise me,”

“Seye!” Both Chiazor and Henry called in unison, exchanging a glance in the process.

“What a pleasant surprise!” Chiazor acted.

“Yes,” Henry played along. “Surprise!”

It was much later in the afternoon now and Love’s party turned out to be much exciting than planned and she would want it no other way. Every who-and-whom in the Social media influencing business and Fashion industry was present, not forgetting the personalities in other branches of the Nigerian entertainment industry. No doubt, this party would be the talk once it hit the media.

“Hey, girls!” Love called as she approached the table where both Chiazor and Valentina sat. Chiazor’s hand was never without a glass.

“What’s up?” Chiazor asked as Love grabbed a seat and sat opposite them.

“Seye has been acting strange not too long after he arrived,” she said. Then they all glanced not too far off where he stood conversing with Henry.

“Really?” Chiazor asked. “Why do you think so?”

“I don’t know,” Love said. “But I think he wants to propose. Chiazor, do you know if he mentioned anything to Henry? A hint? Something….”

“Really?” Valentina let out as her eyes flashed open in excitement.

“Well, I don’t know for sure,” Love shrugged. “But why else would a guy suddenly be giving his girlfriend the run-around on her birthday? He definitely has something on his mind,”

“Or… he probably wants to break up with you as well?” Chiazor blurted out before sipping on some more champagne. At that, both Love and Valentina turned to her and she instantly smiled. “Ladies, come on! I’m just playing,”

“Babe, we never can tell the difference,” Valentina replied shaking her head.

“Whatever,” Chiazor said raising her hand. “Listen, Love, this life is short. If you feel Seye’s hiding something, then corner his ass and get it out of him,”

“You know, Chiazor? You’re right,” Love said getting to her feet. “I’m going to face this squarely and find out what Seye’s keeping from me,”

“Good,” Chiazor called. “Because now might be a good time,”

“What?” Love muttered, a bit puzzled.

“Love?”

She spun at the sound of her name just as Seye approached.

“Hey,” she called back, freezing on the spot as she stared up into his eyes.

“I’ve been wanting to talk to you since I got here,” he said to her astonishment.

“Then why have you been avoiding me all afternoon?” She demanded. “Or did you think I wouldn’t notice how…..”

“Babe, can you like just shut up and let the guy talk?” Chiazor called from her chair before raising her glass to her lips. Then Seye chuckled and took Love by her hand.

“You know I love you so much, right?”

“I do,”

“And you’re the primary reason I push myself harder each day, so I can give you the world if you demand it,” he said before sticking his hand into his jacket pocket. “I have something for you,”

“Oh, my God!” Love muttered as her heart almost skipped, then she briefly turned to glance at her friends. Seye took out a small red box and she froze. “Seye?”

“Open it,” he urged and he complied with trembling fingers – and then Love looked up at him with questioning eyes.

“A key?” She called, and then Seye immediately threw a thumbs-up at Henry, whom had been behind the control board with the DJ and Sound engineers. Henry pushed a button and a large picture was suddenly projected unto the large screen for all to see.

The deafening cries of shock and excitement instantly filled the entire hall.

“Happy birthday, Love,” Seye called as her eyes and mouth stayed open in shock at the sight of the black Mercedes G-Wagon.

“I don’t believe this,” she muttered with glistening eyes., then she threw her arms around his shoulder and rewarded him with a most passionate kiss. The crowd applauded now. “Thank you, Seye! Thank you! Thank you! I love you so much.”

“Hmm!” Chiazor muttered as she crossed her legs and gently applauded with her glass in hand. “Like wrapper, like dress,”

“Huh?” A puzzled Valentina let out facing her. “What does that one mean again?” She inquired, watching Chiazor refill her glass.

“He enjoys creating a show almost as much as Love does,” Chiazor replied. “They’re so meant for each other.” Then she indulged herself while Valentina simply shook her head.

“Girls, did you see what Seye got me?” Love asked facing them now. “Isn’t he the best?”

“He sure is!” Chiazor called back raising her glass.

Where is it?” Love asked Seye. “I want to see it!”

“It’s Parked right outside,” Seye replied and then she grabbed hold of his hands and rushed for the exit in excitement.

“Come on, guys! Let’s go!” She gestured to her friends, but most especially, the photographers. There was no way this was eluding the cameras.

It was about thirty-five minutes later when Love elegantly strode back through the entrance in her flowing purple dress, and no doubt, the photographer’s never had a dull moment taking as many shots possible. With the beaming smile on her face, it was obvious the new vehicle outside had totally made her day. Love could not wait for her birthday to trend all over social media.

“Love!” Valentina called as she pushed through the crowd. “Excuse me. Love! Hey, Love!”

“What is it?” Love called back, turning away from the elderly male well-wisher. He was a multi-millionaire whom had offered Love the world, just as long as she spent a weekend with him on a Caribbean island. But Chiazor had strongly put her friendship with Love on the line if she did indulge this man, for she did find him repulsive. For as far as Chiazor was concerned, Nigeria’s money was what fattened this pot-bellied man’s bank account and she had no respect for such a person. Valentina raised the phone in her hand to view – it was Love’s.

“It’s Titi-Coutour on the phone,” she called.

“Why is she calling me now?” Love frowned in reply. “She had more than enough time to reply my messages since last night. What does that unreliable thing want? In fact, tell her I’m way unavailable at the very same party she refused to attend,”

“Love!” Valentina called all serious, covering the phone’s speaker “Trust me, babe. You should take this call.”

Love had to excuse herself from “Chief” and take the phone from Valentina.

“Titi?” She called. “Give me one good reason why I should talk to you. Lord knows I shouldn’t… “

“Love, please bear with me. It’s not my fault,” the frail voice replied. “I just regained consciousness about an hour ago,”

“What?” Love called out as she tried avoiding the noisy crowd and loud music. “What do you mean you just regained consciousness? What happened to you? And why do you sound like you have cotton wool stuffed in your mouth?”

“That is because I have cotton wool stuffed in my mouth. Three of my teeth are gone!”

“Titi?! A perplexed Love called as she finally escaped into the quiet restroom. “Titi, please communicate with me because I don’t understand you right now,”

“Love, I was attacked in my store last night o!” Titi said from the other end. “My doctor said I’m not supposed to talk for at least a week, but I just had to call and tell you everything. Thank God my sister was able to sneak my phone into the ward,”

“Ah!” Love exclaimed. “Attacked? How is that possible?”

“She tracked me down all the way from Ikorodu,” Titi explained despite her muffled voice. “You should see my store, Love – everything damaged! YEH! My mouth hurts from talking already,”

“She?” Love asked. Who is this she?” She was already getting impatient as she began pacing about the restroom. “Titi, please talk because I have a party to get back to, mind you?”

“I’m so sorry, Love,” Titi responded over the phone.

“Sorry for what?” Love asked frowning.

“She was going to kill me if I didn’t tell her,” Tito replied. “Ah! My jaw! Those Ikorodu girls are so savage, oh,”

“Titi!” Love snapped.

“She wouldn’t stop beating me until I told her what happened to her dress,”

“What?” Love was shocked now. “Wait a minute, who are…..” Suddenly, her phone got snatched from behind her, and as Love spun to face this daring person….WHAM!!

The heavy slap landed right cross her left cheek.

Staggering backward, Love gasped out in shock as she looked into the most terrifying glare she had ever seen. “How dare you? Do you know who I am?” But her question was simply replied with a second slap. WHAM! “Oh, my face!” She cried out hitting the wall now.

“So, you’re the bitch who decided to ruin my wedding for me, abi?” The terrifying woman in braids barked to a now stunned Love still holding her cheek. “That is my dress you’re wearing, you high class thief!”

“Oh, my God!” Love exclaimed, then she shoved her way past this furious woman, racing for the bathroom door only to be disappointed as she tugged at the knob. Locked!

“Get back here!”

Love yelped in pain at the sudden strong grip on her expensive Brazilian weave, then she felt herself being dragged back. “Where do you think you’re going, eh?”

“SOMEBODY, HELP ME!” Love desperately screamed now. “Get your filthy hands off me, you ghetto specimen!” Then Love tried hitting her attacker but her strike was blocked.

Too much money dey do you, abi?” The infuriated Uju vented to her face. “Good! Because you don buy my market today!” Then she shoved Love’s face against one of the bathroom mirrors, shattering it in the process. Shrieking out in both fear and pain, Love dropped to the floor as blood trickled down her face from the large gash above her right eye now. “You rich bitches! Uju called down at her. “You think you can walk over anyone with your fat cheques, isn’t it? You people think you can always get away with reaping from someone else’s sweat, eh? Well, you have messed with the wrong one today!”

“Stay away from me!” Love cried out, crawling away but only to be dragged back by the hem of her dress. “Leave me…..”

“Where do you think you’re going? I’m not done with you!” Uju let out with fire in her eyes. Then she picked a large piece of the shattered glass and pointed it down at a horrified Love. “You ruined my day,” she stated with much hate. “And so I’m going to destroy yours!” At that, she charged at Love who screamed out in horror.

“Chiazor, don’t you think you’ve had one too many already?” Henry asked as his fiancé put down her glass of Champagne.

“Or you mean am I just getting started?” She asked back and that got Henry shaking his head.

“What ever am I going to do with you?” He asked as he let her playfully stroke his chin.

“Kiss me, Henry,”

“Has anybody seen Love?”

They both looked up to see Valentina as she approached the table.

“No,” Chiazor answered. “Last time I checked, it was your job to keep tabs on her,”

“Don’t tell me she’s still in that bathroom,” Valentina said before hurrying off with her heels clicking loudly after her. “It’s time to cut the damn cake!” She called out, and both Henry and Chiazor had to laugh out at her frustration.

“Anyways,” Chiazor called to Henry. “You won’t believe it but three people asked for my card today. Apparently, they loved what I did with this place,”

“Awesome!” Henry said playfully. “I see much hope in your future,”

“Gosh!” Chiazor just had to let out. “Will you ever quit being so dramatic?’

“Not whenever I’m around you, babe,” Henry confidently stated and that sent a sudden sensation all through Chiazor, and then she gently stroked her fiance by the chin. “Where were we? Oh, yeah! Now kiss me, Henry.” Henry chuckled at the remark and then indulged her.

“You know I love you, right?” Chiazor said.

“Not as much as I adore you, babe,” Henry said as he gazed into her eyes.

The loud scream suddenly came into everyone’s earshot in the large hall. Even the DJ had to get the music to a halt

“Valentina!” Chiazor called out before getting up and rushing off, and then Henry took off after her. “Valentina, what is it?” Chiazor called out as she rushed in through the restroom doorway, and then the sight before her made her jump in horror. “Holy Mary, Mother of demons!” She cried out now clinging to both Valentina and Henry’s arms. “Love! What happened to you?”

On the toilet floor half-naked and whimpering was no one but Love, hugging her knees to her chest with her face still bloodied. Her treasured dress was nothing but countless shreds around her now.

“My dress,” they heard her mutter as she trembled allover. “My beautiful dress is ruined”

The curious spectators increased at the toilet doorway now as Love’s friends rushed to her aid. Seye had pushed his way through the crowd at the nick of time, and then Chiazor had insisted he take off his jacket to conceal Love’s bare skin.

“Love!” Seye bellowed in both shock and fury. “Who did this to you?”

“Oh, Seye!” A tearful Love sobbed as her friends helped her to her feet with the jacket concealing her bare fair skin now. “She almost killed me. She ruined my dress. How can people be so wicked?” Then she sobbed harder while Chiazor and Valentina exchanged stares. No doubt, they both had an idea what had happened.

The shutter sound was heard from the doorway and they all turned. Then another followed, and another. The camera flash lights were countless now.

“Seriously?” Chiazor called at them in a sudden rage. “How inconsiderate can you vultures be?”

“Are you all mad?” Seye suddenly exploded. “I’ll kick your bloody asses if you don’t put those cameras away” Then he charged at them but Henry was quick to retrain him while Love’s friends helped rinse the blood off her face.

“Okay, people!” Henry called at the curious guests. “Nothing to see here! Get moving!” Then he hurriedly ushered them away from the bathroom.

“Love, who did this to you?” Seye demanded.

“She’ll come back for me if I talk!” Love let out. It was obvious she was in complete shock as she trembled all over. “My dress! My beautiful dress!”

“I know, dear,” Chiazor responded, trying her possible best not to roll her eyes, as she stroked Love’s hair. “Everybody here knows. Let’s just hope this mess doesn’t go viral come tomorrow morning.”

At that, Love burst into a new splash of tears as she then fell into Seye’s arms for comfort, while Valentina threw Chiazor a stare, but she couldn’t be bothered. “Valentina, I think we should find Love something to wear, and then get her out of this place now,”

“Yes! Please do,” Seye eagerly agreed as he stroked his sobbing girlfriend’s hair, and then both ladies hurried out of the bathroom while Love cried harder now. Then Chiazor stopped and threw her friend that brief blank stare which read a big “I warned you.”

“Happy birthday, Love.” She muttered and then walked out of the bathroom.

END.

 

COVER PHOTO MODEL : GIFT MGBAME.

 

A WRONG NIGHT TO BE UGLY

“Open your mouth,”
“No!” Esse shook her head now facing the wall, and that got Elizabeth frowning down at her on her bedside.
“Esse, you know I can’t take these drugs for you,”
“I’ll take them later,” Esse replied with a low voice now looking up at her roommate. Apart from her neck, the rest of her sick body was concealed beneath the pink duvet. “Just put them on the table,”
“Like hell, you will,” Elizabeth sharply stated. “You’re taking them now! It was World War Three getting you to eat, so don’t make this any harder. Just try and take them now, okay? So, the drugs can work well with the food.” Then she stretched her hand with the pills to Esse.
“Urgh! I hate drugs, Elizabeth!” Esse instantly let out in revulsion as she shook her head. “I can’t do this again. No way! My mouth already tastes bitter and you want me to swallow all those tablets again. No!”
At that, Elizabeth took a long deep breath as she closed her eyes.
“Listen, Esse,” she called. “If you want to die, that’s fine by me! But please, go and die in your father’s house, okay? Not here. I will not play both nurse and undertaker for you. Not after I’ve taken two hours of my personal study time rushing down to the pharmacy to get you these drugs, and then force you to eat, okay?”
“Aah, Elizabeth!” An astonished Esse called, raising a hand to her forehead. “What kind of joke is that?” But Elizabeth simply scoffed, rolling her eyes. “Fine. I will take the stupid drugs.” Esse reluctantly grumbled, knowing she was fighting a lost battle. Then she let Elizabeth help her sit up before handing her the cup of water and various pills. With cautious eyes, Elizabeth watched till the last pill was swallowed.
“And try not to vomit,” Elizabeth cautioned and then smiled. “See? That wasn’t hard, was it? Just two more dosages to go and you’ll be fully back on your feet in no time.” But Esse’s face was busy contorting at the acrid aftertaste of medicine.
“Yuck! I am not doing this again!”
“It’s like you enjoy staying sick, eh?” Elizabeth threw at her before getting up from the bed and walking over to her’s on the other side of the room. “You should get some rest now,” she said now reaching for her brown handbag to get her pen. “I want to study a bit,”
“Remind me to smack that your sharp mouth when I get better,” Esse called now gently laying back beneath the covers. Then Elizabeth smiled teasingly at her.
“That’s the idea, love. Get better,” she said back. “Those drugs should make you sleep a while,”
“The better,” Esse called back wincing before turning to the wall. “Anything to not feel this pain. My God! Malaria is such a real bitch!”
“Sleep well,” Elizabeth called at her and then began fiddling with her phone.
There was a soft tap on the door and she looked up. “Enter.” The door slowly opened and Oma’s head poked in smiling. Oma Okojie was Elizabeth’s course mate, whose room was down the hall.
“Hi,”
“Hi, Oma. Come in,” Elizabeth called back gesturing. “But quietly shut the door, please. Esse just took some medication and I really need her to sleep like a baby,”
“Oh dear,” Oma quietly hushed down upon complying, as she raised a hand to her mouth. “What’s wrong with her?”
“Malaria,” Elizabeth answered as she scratched at her brown braids.
“Oh, darling,” Oma called in a hushed tone quietly approaching Esse’s bedside. “Since when?”
“This morning,” Elizabeth replied. “Her body temperature was so high, you could boil an egg on her skin,”
“Are you serious?” Oma shook her head in dismay as she stood arms akimbo in her green pyjamas.
“Hopefully, she’ll be better by morning,” Elizabeth said and then put down her phone. “So, what’s up?”
“Yes! I actually came to borrow a book,” Oma replied approaching her. “I saw it with you in class the other day. Emm…How Europe Underdeveloped Africa,”
“Oh, that,” Elizabeth raised both brows. “Actually, Oma, I gave it to someone two days ago – Tinuke.” At that, Oma subtly rolled her eyes, but not before Elizabeth caught that and grinned to herself. She was well aware of the bad blood between both girls in the hostel.
“I see,” Oma muttered and then Elizabeth got off her bed and took her hand. “You know what? All she needed were some particular dates from the book, she ought to have returned it by now. You just sit here and I’ll go get it from her room,”
“Really?” Oma called surprised as she sat on Elizabeth’s bed. “I hope this is not any trouble. I can take it later,”
“Of course not, don’t be silly,” Elizabeth shook her head as she approached the door. You just chill. I’ll be back in no time.” Then she was out.
Both Oma and Elizabeth would not refer to each other as friends but they did get along considerably well. Now seated in the quietude of the room – except for the sleeping Esse’s heavy breathing, Oma grinned to herself as she gazed about. Despite their two years in this university hostel, this would be the longest she had stayed in this room. Spotting the Oprah Winfrey magazine cut-out pasted on the wall right above the head of Elizabeth’s bed, Oma smiled now. Then she glanced at the other side of the room where Esse soundly slept beneath her covers.
Slowly, Oma’s eyes befell the open brown bag beside her, and without hesitation, she dug her hands in. The Naira notes were the first items to have caught her eyes. Fishing out the bills, Oma shoved them down her pocket with her eyes still fixed inside the bag. Then she fiddled for any more items of value.
The door creaked open and in a flash, Oma sat up and crossed her legs, wearing the most saintly face.
“I’m back,” Elizabeth called with melody undertone as she raised the large book in hand.
“Wow, that was fast,” Oma said standing to collect the book.
“Can you believe she was done with this book since, just like I predicted?” Elizabeth asked shaking her head. “What’s it with people not returning borrowed stuff once they’re done?”
“Don’t mind that Tinuke,” Oma was quick to rebuff. “But not to worry with me. I’ll be sure to return it once I’m done, and thanks so much again,”
“You’re welcome,” Elizabeth said. “You’d like the book. So enlightening,”
“Really?” Oma sounded intrigued as she nodded. “I’ve heard a lot about it and that got me curious,”
“It’s been in my dad’s library for years and he wouldn’t let me breathe until I read it. The man just won’t rest until I’m fully woke and drunk on African history,” Elizabeth said and they both giggled. “Well, enjoy,”
“I surely will,” Oma smiled as she rubbed Elizabeth’s arm. “Thanks, Elizabeth. You’re a darling. Goodnight.” Then she was out.
“Sweet girl, Oma,” Elizabeth muttered to herself before picking her bag and zipping it up. Then she placed it on the corner of her bed before picking her textbook and jotter from the nearby table.
Elizabeth leaned against the wall to commence studying, but not before glancing at her sleeping roommate one more time. Esse was completely wrapped up beneath the covers.

********

Shutting the door behind him, Iyke danced into the room with his black earphones plugged in his ears and a black rubber bag of fruits in hand. He dropped the bag on the study table, emptied its contents into a blue bowl, and then began swaying more rhythmically to his music; and not to mention that Iyke barely understood the lyrics of what he listened to.

The door opened unknown to him and Tarique, his roommate stepped in, clad in his white towel and holding a bucket. His body was still damp from his evening shower. Seeing his friend lost in his own world, Tarique simply shook his head and began dressing up.
Turning, Iyke noticed the presence in the room and froze at once.
“Yo!” He called pulling off his earphones. “How long have you been here?”
“Long enough,” Tarique replied slipping into his boxers. “Has anyone told you you’re a terrible dancer?”
“That was Brazilian Samba,” Iyke said arching a brow. Then Tarique laughed out.
“What the hell?” He called out now slipping on a t-shirt. “An apology to Brazilians. And what’s it with you and music you don’t even understand their lyrics? I’m sure they don’t speak English over there, or do they?”
“Guy, free me, okay?” Iyke called back also laughing. “Is it your dance? What you don’t understand is that music is spiritual. You don’t need to understand the lyrics to…”
“Weirdo,” Tarique cut him off with a wave of hand. “I keep wondering how Isabella deals.” Then his eyes befell the fruits on the table. “Dude, is that what I think it is?”
“Yup,” Iyke replied as he watched Tarique approach the table. “They’re washed, if you want some,”
“Sure, I want!” Tarique didn’t hesitate to pick one and smiled. “Man! I’ve missed Agbalumo.”
“African Star fruit, you mean,” Iyke mentioned and Tarique threw him a puzzling stare at once.
“Huh?”
“Or African Star Apple,” Iyke crossed his arms and smugly grinned now. “Whichever you choose to call it,”
“Guy! Wetin be dat?” Tarique asked in Pidgin. “You’ve started again with your weirdness, abi?”
Iyke laughed and so did Tarique.
“But that’s what it’s called in English, Tarique,”
“And I’m sure you just figured that out,” Tarique said and Iyke nodded.
“I was surprised at the name myself,” he replied. “I’ve always called it Agbalumo, even as an Ibo guy. Maybe, it’s because I’ve lived in Lagos most of my life,”
“So what do you Igbo’s call it?”
Udara,” Iyke replied. “Or Udala,”
“Abeg!” Tarique scoffed. “African Star whatever… I don’t think I’ll be getting used to that anytime soon. I’m a proud Yoruba guy and nobody’s suing me for calling it what I’ve always called it,”
“Agbalumo?” Iyke mentioned and Tarique threw him a thumbs up.
“Correct!”

********

“No!” A horrified Elizabeth called out with eyes wide open. “No! No! No! This isn’t happening!” Then she emptied the contents of her bag unto her bed. Her heart pounded now and her breathing became rapid. Elizabeth always hated it whenever she had to search hard for her personal belongings. She had had her share of carelessness in her teenage years and she was not ready to go back there. She held her head in frustration and then began rummaging through her belongings again.
The door swung open and a figure strode in but Elizabeth was too distraught to be concerned now.
“Babe, how far?” Elizabeth turned to see Tinuke, whose room was just three doors away.
“Nothing,” Elizabeth grumbled without raising her head. Tinuke frowned and threw both hands on her waist.
“Nothing?” She called. “Babe, you look like you’re looking for something important. In fact, this reminds me of when I lost my ATM card and……. “
“My money is missing!” Elizabeth blurted out now facing her, as Tinuke’s mouth flew open.
“YEH!” She exclaimed. “But how come? How much?”
“I don’t know, Tinuke,” Elizabeth replied getting off the bed. “All I know is that I had five thousand naira in my bag. This was just after I bought two thousand worth of drugs for Esse here. I’m sure I counted that money before putting it in my bag. Now all of it is gone,”
“It’s a lie!” Tinuke called out. “Are you sure?”
“Tinuke, I haven’t touched that money since then,” Elizabeth said frantically shaking her head. “I just wanted to rush out to get some airtime downstairs before they close shop, and now it’s all gone.” Tinuke was shaking her head now as she sat on the bed with her eyes fixated on all of Elizabeth’s belongings.
“This is serious,” she muttered. “And I was just coming to check on Esse, “ she gestured to the other bed. “I just heard she’s not well,”
“She’s been asleep since seven. That was after taking the very drugs I bought her,”
“But, Elizabeth” Tinuke looked at her all serious. ‘Since you got back from the Pharmacy, have you left your bag alone at any time?”
“Of course not,” Elizabeth hastily replied in agitation.
“Who has been in your room this evening?”
“Nobody!” Elizabeth said now pacing around. “Oh! Emm….apart from Oma, who just came to borrow the book I got back from you.” At that, Tinuke froze as her jaw dropped open.
“Wait!” She called shaking her head at Elizabeth. “Oma who?”
“Which other Oma do we know now?” Elizabeth asked back, curbing her agitation.  Then Tinuke’s eyebrows curved.
“Wait o! You are telling me Oma Okojie was here in your room, and you left her alone?”
“Emm….Yes?” Elizabeth was nonplussed now. “What am I missing here, Tinuke?”
“HEEEEY!” Tinuke called out in such histrionics as she flew to her feet. “It has happened! You too?”
“Tinuke, lower your voice!” Elizabeth hushed frowning. “Esse is sleeping.” But Tinuke hissed out.
“Leave Esse alone, abeg! Come with me!” Then she grabbed a confused Elizabeth by her wrist and then they stormed out the door.
“Tinuke?” A much puzzled Elizabeth called as she was led down the hall. “Where are you taking me? What’s going on?”
“Babe, just be quiet and follow me,” Tinuke replied without looking at her. They got to Tinuke’s room and she pushed the door open.
The three female students seated on the beds instantly looked up all surprised.
“Ah! Babes! Thank God you’re all complete,” Tinuke called in excitement which confused Elizabeth the more. “Eniola! Fatima! Pamela! We have another one here o!” Then Tinuke gestured Elizabeth into the room. “Just the same person we were talking about here. Oma Okojie!” At that, all three girls on the bed exclaimed at once and exchanged tacit stares.
“Tinuke, will you tell me what is going on already?” Elizabeth was starting to lose her patience now.
“Babe, they’ve all been Oma’s victims,” Tinuke replied gesturing to the girls. “Babes, Elizabeth left Oma in her room and now five thousand has disappeared from her bag. Do we need any more proof?
“AAAAH!” The ensuring cries startled Elizabeth at once while Tinuke fumed, almost like it was her own money missing
“I’ve always known we would catch her one day. Babes, let’s go now!” Then all three girls jumped to their feet and a shocked Elizabeth watched as they stormed past her. “Elizabeth, you must come with us! This might is that thief’s judgement day. God has finally opened her backyard! Let’s go.” Tinuke called to her and Elizabeth quietly followed as they stormed down the hall.

 

Licking her fingers, Oma turned the page of the book as she lay on her bed with her legs folded. She was already engrossed in this book. Then she glanced at the other bed in the room in thought of where Marcia, her roommate was tonight. She was probably spending the Friday night at her boyfriend’s.
The door swung open and Oma sat up at once in astonishment as the number of girls stormed into her room, and from the looks on their faces, this was definitely not a social call.
“What’s happening here?” Oma asked putting the book down. Then Elizabeth stepped forward to her astonishment.
“Oma, we….I need to discuss something with you,”
“Too much English, babe,” Tinuke cut in raising a hand. “Just bring out the money you took from Elizabeth’s bag. Now, now!”
“What?” Oma called out looking shocked. “I beg your pardon!”
“You had better beg, oh!” Tinuke called back. “Why is it that wherever you go in this hostel, something must get missing? Stealing my boyfriend, Eric, wasn’t enough for you, eh? You’ve now reduced to stealing people’s things.” Then Oma gasped out and got to her feet. Everyone knew that was the cause of the rift between both girls.
“You have some nerve,” she fired back. “How dare you come……”
“The night you slept in my room, that was when my silver earrings disappeared,” the one called Eniola called.
“My money went missing too, the day you came to gist in my room,” Pamela spoke out. “And then my mascara,”
“And mine was the two pieces of meat that disappeared from my pot!” Fatima stated with a scowl. “You were the only person in the hostel kitchen that day, washing your plate.” Oma was stunned by now.
“Oma, you were the only one in my room,” Elizabeth calmly said, and then Oma shook her head at her. “Look, we can all settle this here quietly. I don’t want any trouble. Please, if you took my money, then……….”
“You too, Elizabeth?” Oma called throwing her a stare of disbelief. “I am so disappointed you would join this…this Tinuke. I can’t believe you would dare accuse…..”
“Stop lying, Oma.”

The sudden voice came from the door and everyone turned and was shocked to see a frail Esse, still wrapped in her duvet and leaning against the door post.
“Esse?” Elizabeth was the most shocked. “Shouldn’t you be in bed?” But Esse had her gaze on Oma.
“You took that money from Elizabeth’s bag,” Esse disclosed weakly pointing. “I saw you through this duvet but you thought I was asleep. You took it and put in in your left pocket there.” Then she slowly turned and disappeared from the door back to her bed.

There was silence in the room now as all eyes turned on a dumbstruck Oma.
“So, what do you have to say for yourself now?” Elizabeth asked with a raised brow. But Oma shook her head.
“No! She’s lying,” she quivered trying her possible best to conceal her dear and shame. “In fact, get out! Get out of my room, all of you!”
“You are a thief!” Tinuke blurted out as she stepped forward, landing a slap on Oma’s face. “How can you still have mouth after….”
“How dare you?” Oma snapped back replying Tinuke’s slap with a harder one. WHAM! Tinuke was sent falling back against her friends. Then to Elizabeth’s astonishment, they all angrily charged at Oma, raining heavy slaps and blows upon Oma, who cried out in defiance, but not as loud as Tinuke, whom then rushed for the door and cried out so loud, her voice reverberated down the hall.
EVERYBODY! COME O! WE HAVE A THIEF IN OUR HOSTEL!”

Both guys busied themselves with their various devices when the door opened and Charles Bassey walked in with one of his large medical textbooks. It was obvious he was returning from one of his reading session.
“Hey, guys,” he called and they both responded.
“You’re finally through with reading,” Tarique mentioned as they shook hands.
“Man, I just can’t wait to be finally done with this semester. That reminds me, I was with Banke as well. She says hi,” Charles said to Tarique, and then his eyes lit up as they fell on the table. “Oh! Is that Agbalumo?
“Yes o!” Tarique called. “But there’s been some recent development, according to someone here.” He glanced at Iyke who busied himself with his phone like they weren’t there. “African Star Fruit is the name now,”
“Huh?” Charles made a face.
“Iyke, talk now,” Tarique urged wearing a grin.
“What’s there for me to say?” Iyke asked without looking up. “You’ve said it all,”
“African Star Fruit?” Charles called making a face. “I thought it was called Cherry, or something like that,”
“You guys have Google, you know?” Iyke said now looking up. “And you can have one if you want, Charles,”
“Ah, thanks,” Charles said as he picked one immediately. “That reminds me, guys – there’s some crazy stuff going down at the girls’ hostel. I heard a lot of ruckus on my way back,”
“There’s always some stuff going on down there,” Tarique said.
“I think this one’s really serious, guys,” Charles said shaking his head. “All the way from downstairs, I could hear sounds of pots being thrown and stuff breaking.” Iyke instantly looked up. “I think someone stole and from the way things are going, those girls are about to kill someone tonight,”
“For real?” Iyke asked as his eyes lit up.
“Yeah,” Charles replied. “You know their hostel is right opposite ours. Guys can hear it all from downstairs,”
“Wow!” Iyke let out flying off the bed and into his leather slippers. “I can’t miss this!”
“Iyke, are you kidding me right now?” A surprised Tarique asked as he watched his roommate dash past Charles for the door. “Iyke, get your big head back here! Don’t be that guy! Come on!” But Iyke was already out and racing down the corridor. Then Tarique shook his head and faced Charles. “I don’t believe that guy,” he said while Charles raised his fruit to view.
“Have these been washed?”

*********

“ASHEWO!” Tinuke called out amidst the crowd as she instigated the further beating. “Stealer of men and things!” Oma, on the other hand had just received the umpteenth slap on the back of her head. Almost every girl on the second floor had emerged from their rooms to partake in this ugly form of justice.
After a thorough search of Oma’s room, quite a number of stolen items had been recovered and reclaimed. There was no doubt Oma Okojie was in more than enough trouble now. Every object any girl could lay her hands on were not spared as weapons, as the slaps and blows came from all directions. There were the slippers, frying pans, spatulas and brooms.

Oma Okojie, the beautiful student of Mass Communications now looked like something from a horror movie – her pyjamas now torn all over and her face bruised, with a deep gash above her left eye which got blood streaming down her face and cloth. Even Elizabeth, whom had been infuriated by her betrayal at first, began pleading on behalf of the helpless Kleptomaniac.
“Girls, this is too much. I think you should take it easy,” she had tried explaining. “She just has a problem with picking things. She just can’t help herself.” But none of these blood-thirsty students were ready to give ears.
Oma could only cry out in despair, shielding herself from as many blows as she could.
“You people should just kill me!” She wailed in despair. Tonight would have been a fine time for the ground to open and take all of her.

Suddenly, Oma shoved her way through the crowd and dashed down the hallway in her torn clothes and disheveled hair, looking like a crazed person.
“She’s running away! Catch her! Thieeeeef!” Tinuke called as they gave chase, but instead of running down the stairs, Oma ran ahead out towards the hostel balcony.
“AAH! My life! This disgrace is too much!” She cried and then grabbed on to the railings to some of the girls’ alarm. “I want to die! I’m going to jump, I swear to God!”
“Oma, stop!” An alarmed Elizabeth called out to the hysterical Oma. “Don’t do it!” The girls cried out in terror as they watched Oma throw one leg over the railing.
“You people have finished me! Don’t come near me!” Oma wailed stretching a hand to keep them at bay. “I will jump, I swear to God! You people should leave me!”
“Then jump!” Tinuke fired back, suddenly emerging from the crowd. “I dare you, Oma Okojie! In fact, I double-dare your entire generation!”
“Tinuke, stop!” The girls called but she hissed out with a scowl at Oma.
“Tinuke, don’t provoke her!” Elizabeth reasoned. “Oma, let’s talk about….”
“If you don’t jump, I swear to God, I will push you myself,” Tinuke called approaching the railings where Oma clung to. “This girl is a scam! Look at you! Thief! Who do you think you are deceiving? You are a coward and cannot dare…..YEEEH!” Tinuke then shrieked out in pain as Oma suddenly grabbed her tightly by her hair and then lock her other arm behind her neck. But before Tinuke could begin struggling to break free, Oma briefly glared into her eyes.

“I HATE YOU!” She screamed. And then Oma threw herself over the balcony – still clinging tightly to Tinuke.

Elizabeth was the first to shriek out and rush forward as both girls disappeared over the edge. Tinuke’s scream pierced through the darkness as both girls fell to the ground. And then there was silence!
The hostel exploded into a chorus of screams and hysteria now as all the girls scattered in all directions at the disaster that just occurred.

********

“Finally!” Tarique called out in sarcasm as Iyke slowly walked into the room. “He’s back. Radio Nigeria,”
Charles was still in the room, seated on the study chair chuckling with his half-consumed fruit still in hand.
“Did you just call him that?” He asked Tarique.
“Yeah, don’t you know Iyke here knows almost everybody’s gist on this campus?” Tarique said and then sat up on his bed, facing his roommate. “Ehen! Iyke, so what happened?” At that, Charles raised a brow at Tarique.
Giving a long sigh, Iyke looked up at them both and they saw the horror in his eyes.
“They’re dead.”

RED PAPER.

Quietly stepping out, Ozy slowly shut and locked the door to her small self-contained flat, shoved the key down the back pocket of her denim shorts before walking towards the gate. The time was about 6:04 that Saturday morning and the rest of the neighbours were yet to awaken. Ozy was on a mission this morning.
By this time yesterday, Ozy’s flat was full of nothing edible, and she would have passed out from hunger had “nice Ben,” next door not helped out with a bowl of garri, groundnut, sugar, and two chilled sachets of pure water. It was crucial moments as such that got Ozy believing some higher power up there looked out for her.

It was over a week now in this small surburban axis of Ogun state and the Youth Corpers residing here were yet to be allocated their monthly “allowee.” Well, there was word in the grapevine that payday was next Monday, but there was just one problem – Ozy feared she would be long dead and gone by then; and then came the shock which sent Ozy jumping and screaming out loud on the road like a raving lunatic the night before, and without a care in the world of who watched her. The buzzing bank alert had greeted her phone unexpectedly with a generous amount from no other than her “Mummy dearest.” Ozy had personally decided not telling her single parent of a mother of her dire financial situation; convincing herself it was out of sheer consideration and not pride. But it appeared that special bond between mother and child came calling louder, Anyways, Ozy had called her mother last night to bombard her eardrums with countless “thank you’s” and “I love you’s.” They were all each other had, ever since Ozy’s father absconded with a nameless woman and leaving them with nothing almost six years ago.
Reaching the gate, Ozy quietly unlocked it and helped herself out, trying her best not to awaken the neighbours, most especially her irritable landlady.

In less than a minute, Ozy pocketted her hands in her hoody and hurried down the free road with the chilly December harmattan air beating at her bare legs, at once making her regret not grabbing her sweatpants along while reaching for her blue hoodie. Her denim shorts would just have to make do. Feeling for her ATM card in her right pocket one more time, Ozy hurried down the road, hoping to spot a commercial bike she could hop on to the nearest ATM. Then she heard it coming. Relief! Her eyes lit up at once.
Turning, Ozy’s face turned into a frown of disappointment upon sighting a Power bike instead and not the regular Okada she sought now; but to her surprise, the machine suddenly slowed and pulled to a halt before her. A bit puzzled, Ozy stopped and watched this mystery rider take off his black helmet.
“Morning, beautiful.”
At once, Ozy recognized Enoch. He lived a couple of streets away and was well-known for his successful chain of boutiques and BET Naija centres – and then there was his reputaion with both the local girls and female Corpers trooping into town with each batch.
“Hi,” Ozy called back and then looked out to the road for any approaching bikes while he stared at her in surpise.
“What are you doing out this early?” He asked. “It’s not safe, especially this December period, you know? I’m sure you must have heard of people disappearing. A fresh girl like yourself shouldn’t be out this early and all by herself,”
“Oh, please!” Ozy scoffed with obvious sarcasm as she scratched at her disheveled hair. “Fresh what? I haven’t even brushed nor bathed,”
“Like I mind,” Enoch teased and flashed her a grin as he grounded his bike. “So, where are you off to this morning?”
“I was just rushing down to the ATM,” Ozy replied. “But where are these bikes when you need them?” Then she acted on the lookout again while Enoch ogled.
“You’re in luck then,” he mentioned and tapped the back saddle. “Hop on. I’ll take you,”
“Oh, really? Wow!” Ozy played surprised. A part of her had actually hoped he would offer. She approached Enoch on his bike surveying the large machine allover. “Guess I’m in luck then, but…this your bike ehn. Hope it’s very safe though. I’ve never ridden on one before,”

“Cute you,” Enoch teased, flashing her his most charming grin. “I’m safe. A trial should convince you, babe,”

“Oh, please!” Ozy could not help but laugh out now at his choice of words. “You didn’t!” Then she climbed upon the large machine with some effort before straddling her petite figure comfortably behind Enoch’s bulky form.
“Sit tight, and feel free to grab on to me tight. This guy here is a fast rider,” Enoch teased with a smirk as he handed her his large helmet. “And put this on,” Ozy frowned in confusion.

“But don’t you need this more than I do?” She asked taking the helmet. “You’re the rider afterall.”

At that, Enoch shook his head.

“We don’t want any damage to that pretty face of yours now, do we?”

“And you need to cut it with these one-liners, okay?” Ozy called back shaking her head in humour, wondering if these were the fire-lines this notorious womanizer used on those other girls who threw themselves at him. But what did Ozy care? She was getting a free trip, sparing her meagre expense she had borrowed last night.

Chuckling to himself, Enoch shook his head at her before gesturing to the helmet in her hands.

“I insist, Corper…..”

“Ozy,”

“Hmm, Ozy. Lovely,” Enoch stated. “I see see you around a lot. I’m sure you’ve heard of me a lot around here, Ozy,”

“Emm…No,” Ozy blurted the lie to his astonishment and she took notice even from the back of his head. She quietly rolled her eyes behind him; no way was she joining the bandwagon of easy girls whom all relished in stroking his egotistical shaft.

“Oh…I see,” he muttered. The fluster in his tone was obvious “Just wear the helmet and let’s get going.” Then he glanced about again. The morning sun was starting to come out from hiding now.
“Alright, Captain,” Ozy teased as he revved the engine to life while she raised the large helmet to her head and then paused, frowning .
“You know what? You wear your thing, abeg,” Ozy called briskly placing the helmet upon his bald head.
“NO!” Enoch called out in alarm, eyes shooting open in horror as the helmet touched his head. “Don’t do….” POOF! He was gone!
“HOLY BLOOD OF GOD!” Ozy cried out, flying off the bike in a flash. Enoch had vanished right before her very eyes.

Throwing both hands over her head, Ozy frantically gazed about the desolate street as her heart pounded hard and mind trying to process what had just occured. There was still no one in sight. “Oh, my God! Oh, my God!” she exclaimed before taking to her heels. But if you thought Ozy was racing back to the safety of her compound, you were wrong; for whatever mystery might had befallen Enoch, nothing was stopping Ozy from reaching that ATM. Panting heavily, she quickened her pace without looking back.

***

Opening the front door, Nita stuck her head out, then hurriedly urged him to come in before shutting the door behind him.
“What took you so long?” She asked shutting the door and turning the key in the lock.
“I overslept,” Saheeb replied looking about the apartment like he was expecting someone to emerge from any corner. “Are you alone?”
“Duh!” Nita muttered as she approached him in her pink nightwear. “Would I have let you in if I wasn’t?”
“How long do we have?” Saheeb asked lowly and she glanced at the clock. “The last thing I want is your brother….”
“Hush,” Nita placed a finger on his lips. “I’m done caring what that stupid bully of my brother thinks,”
“Then why are we still sneaking around behind him?” Saheeb asked frowning.
“Ooh, Saheeb!” Nita groaned. “Will we keep talking or……something else?”
“Something else,” Saheeb chuckled and then drew her close while she giggled. He stared at her hairnet and generously applied facial mask, and then he made a face. “Na wa o! Are we going to do this with your face like horror film,”
“Please, shut up, Saheeb,” Nita retorted before shoving him upon the couch. “I’m having breakouts, and you yourself wanted me to get rid of them, didn’t you?”
“Fine,” Saheeb said giving a grin. “Now stop talking and come here.” He beckoned with a finger. At that, Nita threw herself upon him, pressing her lips against his. They moaned hungrily as they explored each other’s bodies with their hands. Time was of the essence.
It was not up to ten seconds when a key turned in the lock, then the front door suddenly flew open to both their shocks and they frantically sat up and froze as the unexpected figure strode in.
“Oh, no! Please, don’t stop on my account,”
“Mya?” Nita frowned in surprise as she then got to her feet, adjusting her night dress in the process. “What are you doing here? The last time I checked, there was something called knocking,”
“Last time I checked, I had my own keys,” the august visitor flaunted her spare as she dropped her red duffel bag while her matching expensive handbag hung on her arm.
“What?” Nita was surprised. “Since when?”
“Ask your brother. Look, Nita, I’m not in the mood for this” Mya stated as she waved a dismissive hand and then brushed her expensive Brazilian hair behind both ears. “So….you both can carry on with….whatever it was you were doing. I’m here to spend the weekend with my man,”
“Don’t waste your time,” Nita didn’t hesitate to say as she adjusted her nightwear again. “He’s not around,”
“Then I’ll wait for him,” Mya stressed out and then picked her bag. “I have the whole weekend, don’t I?”
“But Enoch never said anything about you dropping yourself here today,” Nita countered in displeasure to Mya’ s astonishment, whom then cocked her head back and threw her a state. Even Saheeb peered at Nita from behind her.
“I’m sorry, ma!” Mya called all sarcastic. “Okay! I didn’t know your big brother now asked your permission now.”
“Free her, Nita,” Saheeb called.

“Smart guy! Thank you!” Mya called to Saheeb before throwing Nita a look, then she took out a key, picked her duffel bag and headed for her boyfriend’s bedroom.

Glaring after her, Nita hissed after her, then Saheeb took her hand.

“Nita, let’s go into your room and….”
“No, Saheeb,” she objected and pulled away.
“What’s up with you now?” He frowned shaking his head in surprise. “Why are you letting her spoil our own flow?”
“You won’t understand. This is so wrong,” Nita shook her head back at him as she began pacing. “The timing is just so wrong. She is not supposed to be here,”
“Timing?” Saheeb was all confused now. “How does it affect us and …..” Then a piercing scream tore through the air and they jumped and turned towards the room Mya had just entered. Nita gasped out. “What is that?” Saheeb let out before dashing off leaving Nita whom raised a hand to her face in shock.

“Oh no…” she muttered and then hurried off after him.
“What happened?” Saheeb called barging into the bedroom. Backed away at a distance, Mya pointed at the large open wardrobe with a trembling hand. Both Saheeb and Nita slowly approached, gazed in and then cried out at the horrific sight before them. Standing upright in the spacious wardrobe was none other than Enoch himself. His eyes were wide-open with his head abnormally tilted to a side, and still clad in his large helmet. His jaw was dropped in an odd form, exposing his mouth which appallingly vomited various denominations of bank notes to the floor without ceasing. This was beyond belief to the people in the room.
“NOO!” It was Nita’s turn to scream out now. “Enoooch! My brother cannot be dead!” Then she yanked of her hairnet and began wrenching at her hair in hysteria. “This is a mistake!”
“Nita…” Saheeb called trying to hold her but she shoved him off.
“No! Leave me! It’s not supposed to be him!” She cried. “This is a mistake! Enoch, why?” Nita was rambling uncontrollably, she barely noticed Mya and Saheeb staring at her now, their faces pale.
“What?” Saheeb called. “Anita, what are you saying?”
“Leave me!” Throwing both hands over her head, she shook her head in tears. “My brother oo!!” Then she gave a painful cry before slumping to the floor, making Saheeb and Mya instantly backed away to the wall.
“Aah!” It was Saheeb’s turn to lose it. His hand across his forehead, he looked to the lifeless form in the wardrobe one more time, and then to Mya.

At that instant, they both knew instantly without question what Enoch had been all about, and it was all too much for Saheeb to take in all at once. “I was not here o! I don’t know anything! I don’t like wahala in my life!” Then he looked down at the unconscious form sprawled on the floor. “Ah, Nita! YOU!” He pointed before turning to flee the room for fear of him probably falling next victim to this diabolical family.
“Enoch?” Mya muttered in disbelief, frozen on her feet as she stared at the lifeless form. More notes still freely dropped to the floor before her; then she placed a hand across her chest feeling her heart pound rapidly. This explained the source of it all – the chain of boutiques, the Betting centres, the car, the bike, and all that money he flooded her bank account with. She shook her head. “Enoch why?” Then she heard Saheeb slam the front door shut in his escape.

Mya’s heart pounded harder as she dared to step forward towards the wardrobe. Dollar and Naira bills gushed out from the dead Enoch’s small mouth ceaselessly, scattering allover the floor now.

Taking a deep breath, Mya dropped on her knees and began grabbing at the bills with trembling hands, stuffing them in both her bags – handful after handful until there was no more space left. “I’m sorry, baby,” she called up to him as she scrambled up to her feet, and then she shut the wardrobe, leaving him in the darkness where she had found him.

Mya’s bags felt weighty as she frantically lifted them. If she was quick enough, she could make it to the motor park before 7:30 for the next available bus back to Lagos.

Adjusting her brown hair in a poised manner, Mya stared at the closed closet now, giving a deep sigh again. “Goodbye, baby” she calmly called before walking off. Nita was still sprawled on the floor unconscious and Mya didn’t pity her one bit. Too bad for her, she would have so much to answer for upon regaining consciousness. “Dumb bitch,” Mya called before stepping over her, and out of the room with more than enough money she had ever needed.

Shutting the apartment door behind her, Mya stood for a moment, trying to process all she had just witnessed. She and Enoch had not been an official couple nor the only man in her life but Mya had been quite fond of him to an extent. His predicament was quite unfortunate and she might sob a tear, or two over him later. But at this moment Mya had just one thought : the bills had to be paid!
Taking one long deep breath, Mya threw her head back, wore a straight face, and then sashayed towards the gate bags in hand, and without looking back.

UGLY SOULS : NOT A LOVE STORY

Shutting the door behind, Jaita exhaled loudly as she stepped into the apartment. Her afternoon walk down the park had been mentally rewarding, especially with her large red headphones which delivered her ABBA playlist playlist to her ears.
Placing her blue hard-covered journal on the nearby round glass table, Jaita gazed around the tranquil apartment and smiled the more. Indeed, it had been a rewarding walk;  and at the moment, Jaita felt nothing but gratitude for how her life led now. And what more could a girl ask for at twenty-five.

Turning, she headed for the kitchen. Apart from feeling thankful, there was the burning thirst in her throat to quell.
Humming to her beloved ABBA as she stepped into the spacious kitchen, Jaita turned to open the massive refrigerator, and that was when she noticed the presence in the room.

Gladys stood looming before the electric kettle in the corner, arms crossed and watching the water boil. Pausing, Jaita wondered if the elderly lady noticed her presence in the kitchen.
“Good afternoon, ma,” she greeted. “I had no idea you had woken up from your nap,”
“Hmm,” the elderly lady simply mumbled in reply without looking up. Jaita pulled open the fridge and took out a chilled bottle of water.
“If you need anything prepared, I can help out,” Jaita offered wearing a smile.
“I’m sixty-three, not helpless,” Gladys retorted as she turned to her with an icy stare.
“Oh, okay,” Jaita said with raised brows, regretting why she had offered in the first place.
“Sorry,” Jaita politely said as she backed towards the kitchen door. “I’ll be in my room.” Then she turned to leave.
“So, is this what you do all day?” Gladys called and Jaita turned in confusion.
“I beg your pardon, ma?”
“Lazing about everyday while my daughter goes off to the work?” Gladys questioned with placing a hand on her hip. “Tell me, is that your life’s plan? To leech off my daughter and family’s money?”
“I have a job as well, ma, and I work from home,” Jaita calmly explained and still in disbelief. “I’m sorry, but have I offended you in anyway today?”
“Are you really asking me that?” Gladys threw back eyeing Jaita. The boiling kettle clicked now and she turned off the socket.  Jaita saw Gladys advance toward her and for a brief moment, she feared the elderly lady might pour the steaming water on her. But Gladys stopped right in front of her. “From the very second I got off that plane two days ago, I could have easily lodged at any hotel of my choice, but I deliberately chose to come and look into the eyes of the Jezebel’s spawn, who has really set out to destroy my daughter’s life.” Jaita already knew what this was all about and took a deep breath, choosing to stay quiet while Gladys walked over to the kitchen counter and fetched a teacup. “My Muna had a very good man already awaiting her graduation in order for them to get married. Both her father and myself believed we were giving our daughter the best life when we sent her to that prestigious institution in the U.K, and that was where you came along.” Then Gladys finished pouring and turned her head at Jaita. “The charity case on her scholarship.” She went on making her tea. “I knew there was something devious about you from the instant I laid eyes on you. And I don’t know how you did it, but I know you did something to my daughter’s head that led her astray.”
Now crossing her arms, Jaita simply listened in silence. “Muna should be in her husband’s house right now, but here she is, living in this…this hellhole with you instead.” Then she faced Jaita fully with her cup of tea I  hand. “If it’s our family’s money you’re after, then forget…..”
“I told you, ma,” Jaita gently said. “I have a very good job and…”
“Nonsense,” Gladys scoffed. “You call what you do a job? In this present economy? A Production Manager? Is that even a dignified career to….”
“I do,” Jaita confidently stated. “And there’s nothing Muna has that I can’t provide myself,”
“That is enough!” Gladys called raising a finger, and then she sipped from her tea. Staring at this woman before her, Jaita could not believed she once bore her some admiration, and the way she carried herself with poise. But all of those sentiments were dead now. “So, you listen well and listen good – I, Gladys Okoye, am certain of a fact that I raised a daughter who has always desired men. So, I don’t know when this…this thing started between you two. You hear me? I did not raise my daughter to be a rotten lesbian!” Her tone got higher at the mention of the word, which also left and an acrid taste on her lips.

Jaita maintained her composure.

The older woman was pointing a finger to her face now.

“You just know that as long as there’s blood in my veins and breath in my lungs, I will do everything in my power to put an end to this insanity. No daughter of Jezebel will tamper with my daughter’s life, you hear me?” Then she hissed and turned away. “My late husband must be rolling in his grave at this, and not to begin to imagine the disaster and scandal this would be if my high society friends and acquaintances got word of such hubris.”
Now lowering her head, Jaita could only close her eyes and inhale deeply.  She could attempt explaining to this elderly lady about the complexities of human sexuality, and how she never had  much of a choice – most especially when you lived in a predominantly homophobic society like Nigeria. But that she was born that way, and the struggling and lonely journey it had been living with herself.
Jaita had never planned on falling in love with Muna, her roommate back in University – but life happened. Jaita could explain it all, but to what end? She had been down this road many times with far worse homophobic bigots, and if there was one lesson life had taught Jaita, it was to never waste her breathe trying to explain herself to people who already had their assumptions made up about you.

Now staring at this woman before her now in this kitchen – the mother of the very woman she so much loved, Jaita sensed her ignorance so strong, she could almost reach out and touch it.
Simply sighing loudly, she clung to her bottle and turned to leave the kitchen quietly. All she desired was a cold shower now after that walk under that hot Sun, and this harsh rain of words. “And where do you think you’re going? We’re not done here!”

Stopping on her tracks, Jaita quietly clenched her fist, took a deep breath and then turned.
“Yes, madam?” She struggled to be polite while Gladys began striding about the kitchen.
“So, I took my time rummaging through this kitchen,” she said. “How is it possible there’s no food in this house?”
“I beg your pardon, ma?”
“Noodles, cereals, pasta, biscuits, pizza?” Gladys called. “You call all that food? Two grown women living together, and nothing even as much as a pot of stew? It is a crying shame! You are a shame!” Then Jaita watched as Gladys dropped her teacup and began opening every cabinet and drawer in the kitchen of a house she paid no rent. “Just look at all of this! I know the daughter I raised. Despite raising her in a privileged home with an army of help waiting on her, I personally ensured Muna learned the basic characteristics required of every Nigerian woman – like knowing how to cook in her husband’s home,”
“We both have very busy schedules,” Jaita said. “But we cook during weekends and… “
“Oh, spare me the details!” Gladys stated, the pompousness so clear in her tone. “This is all your doing and I know it. You are a poisonous spirit that urgently must be put away for good.”

Jaita shut her eyes and tried counting to ten in her head to quell the brewing sensation surging through her – recalling how much Muna had very much pleaded with her girlfriend earlier that morning to stomach whatever verbal jabs her own mother threw at her. “I am having a strong word with my daughter as soon as she gets back from work.” Gladys said, taking out some pots from a cabinet. “Since she prefers women now, we will see who she listens to – you, a random thing from the street gutters, or the very woman who pushed her out through these thighs.”
“I’m doing this for Muna,” Jaita reminded herself as she took some water to relieve her parched throat.
“I’m going to salvage what I can to make something sensible for my daughter to eat when she gets back,”
“Alright, ma,” Jaita replied. “There’s some turkey in the freezer,”
“I know that,” Gladys courtly stated. “And where is the nearest grocery store around here? I will need some actual foodstuff,”
“Just down the road,” Jaita politely replied. “Four houses away, but I could help you with that.” But Gladys simply ignored her as she approached the huge refrigerator and pulled open the top compartment that was the freezer. Hissing out, she reached for a pack of Turkey but it seemed to be strongly embedded deep in the frozen compartment . Grunting, Gladys pulled again but it remained fastened.
“The ice is much, ma,” Jaita said approaching. “Let me help you with….. “
“Don’t you dare come near me, you lesbian product of an abomination!” Gladys instantly snapped with reflex, shoving Jaita back to her utter astonishment. “Did I ask for your help? Never you dare approach me under any circumstances, do you hear me?”
Jaita instantly hated herself for not knowing better as she took a deep breath and then raised a hand in surrender. Promises or not -she was done trying with this woman. Gladys was heard hissing again. “Common sense should let you know that this freezer should be defrosted after some time. Look at all this ice here!” she murmured. “But what can you do right? To simply cook, you can’t – in fact, how does your mother cope with the mere thought of having you for a daughter? She must consider you a mistake and a…”
“That’s more than enough, madam!” Jaita snapped now as her eyes flashed open. “Throw whatever homophobic slurs at me as you like, but leave my late mother…. “ SMACK!
The back of Gladys’ hand landed on her face right before Jaita could finish her statement and she stepped back in shock. Then Gladys raised a finger.
“You will not raise your tone with me, do you understand?”
Feeling her cheek, Jaita instantly threw Gladys the most acrimonious glare, and even the older woman paused and held her breath for a second or two, and for a brief moment, she thought Jaita might retaliate.

Now closing her eyes, Jaita simply pressed her lips together, took a long deep breath and then gazed straight into Gladys’ very eyes.
“When will you eventually die, so your daughter and I can finally live our lives in peace?” At that, Gladys’ jaws instantly dropped open.
“What did you just say?” She demanded but a ticked off Jaita simply replied with an icy stare before turning and walking out of the kitchen. “You come back here and repeat that to my face, you bloody Jezebel! You are a mistake from God! When I’m done with you, I will make sure you curse the day you set eyes on my daughter. You have no idea who you’re dealing with!”

Hissing out loud, Gladys turned to the freezer and vented her rage, tugging harder at the turkey pack. “She has no idea who I am,” she vented. “If I have to make certain calls to throw her out of this place, then so be it! Ooh! This thing should come off already! So much ice!” Then she hissed again as she applied both hands now.
Grabbing hard, she grunted out and tugged again. Then the turkey broke loose scattering ice all over, but Gladys shrieked out in shock as she felt herself falling backward. The base of her skull struck the tiled kitchen floor upon landing, while the turkey flew off her hands and slid accross the floor.

“Good heavens!” Gladys cried out out coming to terms with what had just befallen her – and that was when her eyes shot open, then she screamed out in horror, throwing up her hands in the process.
The heavy crash sent a vibration throughout the entire apartment and that got Jaita dashing out of her bedroom and into the kitchen.
“Bloody hell!” She called out throwing both hands to her face at the horrifying sight before her – the elderly Gladys, pinned down beneath the massive refrigerator. Without question, Jaita knew exactly what had happened here. Then her eyes caught sight of broken ice – and blood! Gladys was profusely bleeding from the head and she was still. Jaita wondered if she was still alive.
“Ewo…” The frail call answered her question and Jaita paused. The elderly woman appeared weak. Then she caught sight of Jaita standing by the door. “My…help….help me….” Jaita could see she found it hard to breath with the huge weight pressed upon her. “Get this thing off…Be useful.”

Her heart pounding hard, Jaita  approached and then suddenly stopped and stared down at her. Gladys was gravely injured. She placed a hand on the refrigerator and then paused as both their eyes met for a few seconds, but to both women, it seemed an eternity.

“What..are you waiting…for?” Gladys was in agony, and Jaita saw more blood freely oozing from her head. Then she bit her lips, knowing what she had to do.

“I can’t get this off by myself.” She said and then backed away. “You know what? You just hold on. I’ll get help.” Then she turned and strode out of the kitchen.
“Wait… “ Gladys weakly called but Jaita had already shut the kitchen door.
Stepping back into the living room, Jaita leaned against the kitchen door, closed her eyes and took a deep breath, before  heading for her bedroom and then went to her bedside table, where her favourite bottle and glass stood beside each other. Now crossing her legs, Jaita poured herself some whiskey and took it all down at once. She knew she was violating her personal rule of not indulging during the day, but right now she badly needed this. So many thoughts rushed through her head at once but her mind had been made.
Having herself another drink, Jaita grabbed her purse and headed for the living room and out the door, but not before turning up the music speakers to quite an audible volume. Then Jaita was out of the apartment.

It was about an hour and a half later when the key turned in the lock and then Jaita walked into the apartment with the grocery bag in hand. She had taken her time at the supermarket. Locking the door, she picked the remote and turned off the speakers before quietly creeping towards the kitchen, ensuring her sneakers didn’t squeal against the tiles. The air was so still, Jaita could hear her own heartbeat.
Holding her breath, Jaita opened the door and stepped into the kitchen and then dared to look at the very scene she had walked away from. She deliberately let the grocery bag fall to the floor where she stood with some of its contents spilling out.
Gladys’ blood had already converged into a pool on the white tiles as she lay still. Her eyes were closed as she lay motionless with her free arm helplessly sprawled out. Jaita approached and crouched beside her. She felt for Gladys’ wrist and exhaled loudly before getting to her feet, glancing at her watch.
“Three-thirty,” she muttered and then turned away from the body. Muna wouldn’t be from the bank until Seven. She took out her phone and dialled with trembling fingers before placing the phone against her left cheek.

No doubt, Jaita did not plan any of this when she got out of bed that Friday morning.
“Hello?”
“Hello, babe?” Jaita called back, adding some semblance of sombreness in her voice. “I know you’re at work, but I need you to come home ASAP.” Then she turned and glanced at the lifeless body on the floor again. “There’s been an accident.”

TO BE CONTINUED…………….

 

Cover Art By @golden_shutter

Model :  @kantikrani

HUNTED : VOLUME III.

“He’s waking up.” The voice sounded familiar. “I think he’s waking up!” It was a woman’s voice.
“Are you sure?” A man’s voice this time. And footsteps.
Frank’s eyes flickered open several times to see a woman’s face staring down at him.
“Frank?” She called in both relief and dismay displayed on her face. “My darling, thank God you’re….”
“Nneka?” He weakly attempted speaking. “Where am I?”
“The hospital,” the reply came from his right side of the bed and Frank weakly turned to see his close friend and partner in the Nigerian Police Force.
“Salim?” He called, frowning in surprise. Then he slowly looked about the ward with questions written in his eyes while his wife gently adjusted the blue covers which covered his entire body.
“You need to relax, dear,” she said. “You’re still weak,”
“Yes,” Salim nodded. “You’ve been through a long surgery.” At that, Nneka threw him a sharp stare.
“Surgery?” Frank muttered, confused and his friend in uniform nodded. “W-W-What am I doing here?”
“Nneka got an anonymous call about four days ago, with information on where to find you,” Salim went on. “We found you lying by the roadside, Frank. We actually thought you were dead at first,”
“Four days?” Frank muttered in confusion. “What day is it?”
“Wednesday,” Salim eagerly responded. “Wednesday afternoon,”
“How?” Frank found that hard to absorb.
“Frank, do you recollect where you’ve been?” Salim probed further. “Or what happened to you?”
“Not now, Salim!” Nneka was having no more of this. “My husband just regained consciousness after all these days,”
“Which is why there’s no time to spare,” Salim replied. “With every second we waste is an added one for whomever did this getting away,”
“He needs rest, not stress,” Nneka countered.
“Just so you know, I don’t relish any of this,” Salim stated. “Some sick bastards out there did this to my friend and partner – your husband! You should be helping me help him get justice,”
“Not in his present condition,” Nneka wasn’t budging. Then Salim shook his head and looked away.
“I forgot,” he scoffed. “I’m arguing with a woman,”
“And what’s that supposed to mean?” Nneka instantly demanded, peering at him.
“Wait,” Frank faintly called. “You…”
“Mrs. Obidike, please, don’t make me make you wait out in the hallway,” Salim cautioned. “This is a police matter now,”
“Over my dead body, Officer!” Nneka was defiant. “After having my husband back? Hmm! The only way I’ll be leaving this bedside is in a bodybag,”
“Stop!” Frank managed to call out, frowning. His head was muzzy inside. Then his wife leaned over and gently rubbed his shoulder.
“Oh, so sorry, dear,” she soothed. “You should be resting and we’re only stressing you here.” Then she threw Salim a glance.
“It’s okay,” Frank said and then looked up at Salim, whom was staring down at him with such concern in his eyes.
“The last time I heard from you was on Friday night,” he gently said, then leaned closer. “What happened, Frank?”
“I…I was patrolling the Lekki axis, and then….” He paused for a number of seconds, and then shook his head. “I…I don’t remember,”
“What?” Salim let out, exchanging stares with Nneka, whom also seemed a bit surprised. Then she adjusted his covers and stroked his chest.
“You just rest for now,” she said. “And don’t try moving too much,”
“Frank?” Salim was still unnerved. “Please, I need you to try…..”
“Salim, he said he doesn’t remember,” Nneka fired at him, now agitated. “Why do you want to worsen things here?”
“Woman!” Salim threw her a warning stare.
“I really don’t remember anything,” Frank said, still in disbelief. Nneka was heard hissing loudly. Then he shook his head again, staring into the air. “Everything is……I don’t know! What happened to me?” There was panic in his voice now.
“Relax, I’ll get the doctor,” Salim called, patting his shoulder. “There has to be some explanation for this.” The he hurriedly exited the ward with Nneka eyeing him coldly.
As soon as the door closed shut behind Salim, Nneka hurriedly sat by her husband, peering into his eyes.
“Were you serious?” She questioned with such dread and concern in her eyes. “You really don’t remember where you were and what happened?”
“Nneka?” Frank called, shaking his head. “I don’t remember anything? What’s going on? What was I doing lying by the road? What happened to me?”
“I don’t understand,” Nneka muttered, glancing at the door like she was expecting someone to walk in at any moment.
“Where are my children?” He asked her, raising his head. “Where are my boys?”
“They’re fine,” Nneka replied. “They’re with my sister.” Then he weakly rested his head.
“I want to see them,” he said and she nodded. His breathing was heavy now.
“And, darling,” Nneka gently called with great concern. “Please, try and relax before the doctor comes in to talk to you, okay? I want you to know I’ll be here with you every step of the way and….”
“Nneka?” Frank frowned, all puzzled. “Why are you talking like this?” All his wife could do was bite her lips in anguish now. “And what surgery was Salim talking about?”
“Let’s just wait for the doctor, okay?” Nneka asked, now standing. She gently stroked his bushy hair while he tried his best to remember these past few days which had mysteriously eluded him. But nothing came back – except for the sudden sharp pain in his temple.
“Yeh!” He let out, wincing. “My head,”
“Sorry, dear,” Nneka called. “Just try not to move,”
“But my head…Agh!,” Frank let out, then he raised both arms from under the covers. And then he froze!
“Frank…” Nneka panicked, reaching for her face while Frank stared in shock at the sight before his very eyes.
Both of his hands were gone!
“My hands!” He called out, staring at nothing but his now heavily bandaged wrists. “Where are my hands?”
“Frank,” Nneka called, now brewing tears. “Please, calm…….”
“Nneka, what happened to my hands?” He sat up now trembling with eyes wide open. Nneka frantically tried pacifying him. She was in tears now.
“Frank, the doctor is……”
But Frank was screaming out in horror now, still staring at the spots where his strong manly hands had once been. His anguish being so intense, his cry was heard outside the ward and down the hospital hallway. Clinging unto him for comfort, Nneka cried along; it was all she could do now.
As far as he was concerned, Frank Obidike’s life was over.

END!

HUNTED : VOLUME II.

Frank Obidike woke up with a gasp only to be blinded by the bright bulb directly hanging above him. He winced at the sharp headache and tried moving, only to realize he could not, for both hands and feet were tightly bound by chains to the four legs of the hard table where he lay.
“My God!” He muttered with quavering lips as his heart palpitated now. The room was quite dark which got him uneasy the more. Frank tried remembering how he had gotten to this strange place, but that only got his head aching the more. The last time Frank had felt close to this frightened was back in his early teens, upon enrolling into boarding school; where a number of his idle classmates and brutal seniors had marked him out for the perfect object of bullying. Those harsh years had personally impelled Frank Obidike never to be pushed around by any human being – not if he could help it. Joining the force had been his very choice upon graduating secondary school. All he wanted was a hand of power to deal and that had felt good all these years.
Still weak all over, he attempted struggling with the chains again.
“Stop trying,” the voice startled him. “It’s futile.” Then a figure slowly emerged from the darkness with a glass of wine in hand and Frank took some seconds to recognize one of the young men he had pulled over a while back. The less talkative of the two. But he was clad in a heavy dark coat this time.
“You!” He called, surprised. “What is this place? What did you people do to me?”
“Oh, that’s courtesy of being friends with a pharmacist who hates you people as much as I do,”
“What?” Frank muttered, shaking his head. “Where am I? Do…Do you know who I am?”
“Police Officer Francis Chidera Obidike, thirty-six years old, married with two kids and lives in Obalende,” Tega blurted out to his captive’s shock, and then he flashed him a grin “I went through your wallet.” It was then the stunned officer realized he had been relieved off his uniform except for his white polo shirt and boxers. Looking up at the strange young man standing before him, Frank swallowed heavily.
“What do you want from me?”
A door swung open and they both turned to see Temi sashay into the room in her green neglige with a smile on her face, swishing her hair behind her.
“Tell me he’s finally awake,” Frank heard her say to Tega who nodded in reply. Her face seemed faint due to the bright light above him.

“I was wondering when you’d be done showering,” Tega said as she approached him.”

“Why, baby?” She asked playfully eyeing him. “Missing me already?”

“Come here,” Tega called, and then he drew her close and their lips locked for a few seconds. “Hmm…you smell nice,”

“I’m glad you like my new fragrance,” Temi said stepping back.

“My God! I still can’t believe we brought home a police guy this time.” Then she eyed his entire physique as a grin developed on her face. “Hmm! And he’s pleasing to the eye too. Delicious!”
“This one was really asking for it when he stopped us tonight,” Tega said pulling out a cigarette and lighting itup.
“After what these scum have done to a lot of people, and especially what they brutally did to both my cousin and his friend? This one deserves what’s coming to him,”
Then they burst out laughing while Frank was both perplexed and alarmed at what he had just heard. What was about happening to him here? Then he watched Tega walk to a corner where two speakers were visible, and then music suddenly filled the air. It was of slow tempo.
“Ooh!” Temi suddenly called out with a face. “You and your music again,”
“You know I can’t carry on without it,” Tega replied stubbing out his cigarette.
“Well at least, play something that doesn’t sound so depressing,” Temi teased, giggling.

Tega could only smile and shake his head as he approached her, then they both looked down at the table. “Poor creature. I almost feel sorry for what’s about happening to him,”
“I don’t,” Tega didn’t hesitate saying as he sipped from his glass.

“So, what do have planned for this one, baby?” She asked.

“Now where’s the fun in that if I told you?” Tega remarked whither a grin. “But you know how I do…..I let the punishment fit the crime,”

“I trust your judgement,” Temi replied gazing into his eyes. “I can’t wait to see how this Nigerian horror story turns out.”

Still on the table, all Frank could do was stare up at these two in disbelief as they carried on like all was normal. What was happening here? Who were these people? Frank could almost hear his pounding heart in his ears.
“Listen here….” He called out, desperately trying to conceal the fear. “I am an Officer of the law. There…there would…there must be others searching for me now, and…and if anything happens to me, there will be serious……” The sudden chorus of laughter instantly drowned him out to his further shock.
“This one really thinks he’s in some intense episode of CSI,” Temi called playfully slapping Tega’s arm. “Mumu!”
“No,” Tega called back. “Criminal Minds is more like it,”

“Society would only thank us for ridding them of scum as yourself,” Temi said before facing Tegi and touching his cheek. “Make it fun.” She said and he grinned at her. Then she took the glass of wine from his hand and strutted out, taking a sip. “See you in the morning,” she called before shutting the door behind her.

Now alone, Frank looked up at Tega which sent a sudden chill through him. Something about this young man and his cold smile scared the lights out of him.
Regret was all he had now. At the start of his career in the Force, Frank never saw himself the kind to extort from citizens and lawbreakers. But with the heavy blow from the economy each passing year, Frank knew he had to conform and toss his integrity aside. Man had to eat at the end of the day, and there was his wife and two boys to worry about. The pay was lousy anyways. But Frank was all regrets now.
“Please…you have to let me go,” he begged. “I have a wife and children waiting for…..”
“Touching,” Tega coldly muttered walking towards the table at the corner, and then he replayed his favourite track again, and then he swayed to the melancholic tunes.
“Please!” Frank was panicking now as he began struggling with the ropes. “I’ve learnt my lesson.” The tears were gushing out now. “If you set me free, I will never extort again, I swear on my children. Please, I swear to God!”
“Leave God out of this,” Tega muttered taking of his shirt and hanging it on a nearby hanger. “And frankly, I don’t give a damn about your kids.” Then he began pacing around the table. “You’re only sorry because I’m now the threat and all that power you once wielded is gone. It’s funny, isn’t it? How a man’s life could change in a second. You and your kind – with the small vestige of power in those uniforms and guns you carry about, you feel suddenly feel like gods; and so you manipulate and threaten others beneath you. Well, I have news for you, Officer.” Tega approached the table and coldly stared down into his eyes.

“There is only one God here – Me.” The fear was so evident, Frank violently trembled, and then Tega looked down and noticed the yellowish liquid trickling from Frank’s now wet boxers. “Oh, could you be any more pathetic than you already are? But it’s fine, it happens a lot with most of my experiments.”

At that, Frank’s eyes shot open at the word and then he began to struggle with the chains again. He had not noticed when his very own bladder had let loose.

“Please….I beg you,” Emeka’s voice was breaking now. “What are you going to do me? You can’t keep me in here. Just let me go and…..”

“But of what good would I be to society if I let scum like you back on the streets?” Tega said, leaning over and peering down into his prisoner’s eyes. “Go and ask the others before you – the bastard who broke in and tried to force himself on my woman, or the one who tried to rob….and so on and so forth.” Frank’s gasp was heard allover the room as he desperately began screaming and struggling with the chains.

“Somebody help me!!!” He cried out while Tega quietly sighed and walked

to the head of the table. “Somebody, please.….ARGH!
“Enough,” Tega quietly called, suddenly plunging the unexpected syringe into his captive’s neck again. This one was by far bigger than the last one he had used earlier. Leaning over, Tega peered again into Frank’s now heavy eyes. “When I’m done with you, you’ll never take anything from anyone, ever again.”
Then everything went completely black for Frank Obidike.

TO BE CONCLUDED….

HUNTED : VOLUME I.

“You’re doing it again,” Temi mentioned upon taking a glance at Tega as she drove.

“What?” Her boyfriend called back, snapping out of his thoughts.

“She know,” Temi said now wearing a sly smile. “Your constant wondering away. Tell me….what were you musing over this time, Tega?”

Now wearing a grin, Tega simply shook his head and gazed out the passenger window into the Friday night sky. Glancing at the car clock, Temi exclaimed in astonishment.

“My goodness! It’s past midnight! If someone had told me I’d be on a fuel queue for six hours, I’d have just stayed back home jejeli!”

Approaching a bend, Temi slowed at a bend and then turned a right into a dark desolate road. Tega gave a low sigh of exhaustion as he gazed ahead at the road. Temi noticed as she placed a hand on his lap. “I’m sorry, baby. I know how you loathe being away from your experiments for too long,”

“It’s fine,” Tega dryly said and that only got her grinning.

“I will make it up to you, I promise.”

At that, Tega threw her a stare which she replied with a wink and then a giggle. Then the left side of Tega’s mouth curled into a grin. “Oh, now I have your attention.”

Giggling, Temi faced the road and peered ahead, and then her face turned serious. “Babe, is that a police checkpoint ahead?” Tega’s attention was ignited as well as his countenance turned into a frown. “But since when did they start mounting checkpoints on this road? And look at the time! Oh, bloody hell! We don’t need this right now.”

Approaching the barred road, the car slowly pulled to a halt and the both sat in silence as the tall and heavily built police officer strode towards the vehicle with a torch in hand. They both could see the inscription on his uniform and they exchanged a silent stare. “It’s one of them,” Temi mentioned just before the tap was heard on her window, and Temi knew she had to lower the glass.

“Hello, Officer?” She politely called.

“Same to you,” he replied pointing the torch into the vehicle. “And where are coming from at this time of night?”

“Excuse you?” Temi was quick to reply throwing him a stare. “Since when did that become a crime? And can you kindly get that light out of my face?”

“Okay, okay, no wahala,” Officer Emeka called with a nod as he complied. “I can see you’re one of them with attitude. Oya, let me see your driver’s license.”

Trying to curb her agitation, Temi briefly looked around and then handed it over while Tega quietly surveyed the surrounding, waiting for them to be done.

“Young lady, this license is expired!” Officer Emeka instantly stated.

“Yes,” Temi admitted. “Just by two weeks. I’ve been to their office twice this week but…..”

“Step out of the car,” Officer Emeka ordered to her apparent shock.

“Officer,” Temi called. “But I…..”

“Woman, do not make me repeat myself!” He warned reaching for his holster, and Temi instantly complied, undoing her seatbelt. “And I want to see all your car documents at once.”

At that, Temi exchanged a brief stare with Tega who then opened the glove compartment to sort out the papers, while the officer flashed his light to the back seat. “You!” He then called, pointing the blinding light directly at Tega’s face. “What kind of man quietly sits and allows his babe do all the talking? Abi you be deaf and dumb?”

Unlocking the door, Temi opened the door to get out and the officer stepped back.

“Officer, like I said, I have applied for a new….” she attempted to explain.

“Young lady, the law is the law,”

“And I am in law school….four months shy of being called to bar, so don’t you dare think you can toss that in my face, okay? I know my rights, crystal clear!”

“Okay, barrister, I hear you oh!” The officer called back nodding on sarcasm. “Since you know the law so well, then you should know the serious soup you are in when I drag you down to the station. In fact, I must search your phones; I don’t trust you young people nowadays,”

“Ahan!” A shocked Temi let out now turning to a Tega whom was now out of the car and quietly standing on the passenger’s side of the vehicle. “Search our phones for what? Aren’t you people tired of stressing our lives? Look at the time for crying out loud! You’re here harassing two harmless people at this godless hour when you should be out there apprehending the real criminals. It’s unfair!”

Staring at her, the officer simply gave a sardonic scoff.

“Are you done?” He threw back. “All na grammar. All you young rich people think you can chop alone, abi? Look! You already have one strike and I am trying to help you here. See ehn! It’s very late so let us not waste any time here……so, just settle yourselves and go.

“Excuse you?” Temi let out.

“Did I speak German?” The officer retorted. “You should know driving g without a license is a serious offence.” Then he pulled out his Walkie-talkie. “Let’s see where that your running mouth will get you once I call for my fellow officers. I’m driving you back to the station and believe me, they’re not as friendly as I am,” Then he took a pause and stared at her curvaceous body without hiding his lustful gaze as he licked his lips. “But since you are a very fine girl and prison won’t fit you, I will let you go with just twenty-kay. And if you don’t have cash, there is an ATM just down the other street,”

“Seriously?” Temi fired back.

“Or….do you prefer we settle this at the station?”

At that, Temi had no choice but to sigh in defeat.

“Fine, officer…but…but all we have here on us is just three-kay. We just went out to get fuel and the queue was….”

“Okay, okay….” the officer cut her off with a wave of his hand. “Just add two on top and let’s make it five. I know you have it.”

Without word, Temi turned to Tega with a stare and he was quick to dig into his pocket. Now appearing flustered, Temi watched as Tega approached and handed her the One thousand Naira bills.

“There you go, officer,” Temi muttered with a scowl as she handed them over, and the officer snatched them without hesitation.

“Ehen!” He let out. “Now you’re talking!” Then he faced Tega and pointed the light into his face again and eyeing him. “And you…..you are a waste of a man.” Without word, Tega turned and walked off.

“I believe we can go now, officer,” Temi called and then opened the car door.

“Wait, fine girl,” the officer called again hurrying up to her, ogling at her with the same sultry gaze and Temi could not miss it.

“What now?” She replied, eyeing him in utter disgust.

“Listen….” he called taking a step closer. “This is not about the money, fine girl. As a lawyer, you should try to lead by example because when…..YEEEEH!!!”

He suddenly cried out, reaching for his neck at the sharp pain there. Then his legs went numb beneath him.

“You talk too much,” Tega called into the officer’s ears upon pushing the contents of the syringe into his veins.

Pulling out the syringe, they both watched as the officer staggered against the car, trying his possible best to fight whether had been plunged into his system.

“Give me my money!” Temi called instantly snatching the cash from his grip. “Long throat like you!”

Giving out a grunt, the officer dropped to the ground like a rock before them. Then Temi looked directly at Tega with a questioning stare.

“What took you so long? I thought this stupid thing would never shut up.”

Stepping back, Tega looked about the empty road to ensure no one or approaching vehicles were in sight.
“You know what?” Temi went on shaking her head. “Let’s just leave this one out here and let the cold deal with him. I’m tired and I’m sure you are too,”
“No,” Tega differed as he coldly gazed down at the unconscious form, rubbing his beards. “I have a better idea.”

TO BE CONTINUED….

Courtesy of Stock Axe Photos.

UNDER ATTACK. 

The sudden cry from the bathroom startled everyone in the large living room.

“That was Gabriel,” Temi was the first to speak out, biting off a prawn. “Is he….”

“Trust me, he’s fine,” Ochuko replied before reaching for the plate of chips on the glass center table before them. “It’s nothing serious.” Seated directly opposite her, Temi and Bash exchanged a stare before shrugging at each other.

A door was heard opening, and then a tall figure emerged from the visitors’ restroom, striding towards the group. Turning, Ochuko instantly wore a smile. “See, guys? I told you he was fine,”

“Sure,” Gabriel shook his head in sarcasm. “Lesson to the men here: never take a leak with peppery hands.” At that, everyone burst into laughter while he sunk unto the nearest sofa.

“My God!” Ochuko called out catching her breath. “That must sting a lot,”

“You think?” Gabriel called back, still wearing a face of displeasure.

“It’s times like now I’m glad I didn’t come as a guy,” Temi said, raising a hand.

“Like there’s a difference,” Bash said, referring to her low haircut, only to be replied with an elbow from his girlfriend. “But, Gabriel, you were in there for some time, are you sure you weren’t doing something other than take a piss?”

“Get your mind out of the gutter, Bash,” Gabriel replied. “I’m not you,”

“Come on, Gabriel, I have Temi,” Bash said touching her lap. “I can’t remember the last time I…..”

“Moving on, guys!” Temi called out as she reached for the bottle of red wine. “So, Ochuko, what did you finally do, concerning that cousin of yours?”

“First of all, Sharon’s not actually my cousin,” Ochuko immediately clarified. “She’s a family friend, and I told my parents I couldn’t put up with her trash anymore. So, I sent her back to her people.” Then she sipped from her glass. “I can already imagine all the horrible stories they’ve cooked up about me by now,”

“Like you can be bothered,” Temi said cocking her head. “That girl was out of control,”

“You know?” Ochuko let out. “I’m glad you saw it for yourself. Aside that, she wasn’t the cleanest person alive, and that was starting to reflect around the house. I really don’t fancy trash-talking people, but she didn’t help matters one bit,”

“We understand,” Gabriel said with a nod as he then crossed his legs.

“And all thanks to her, this whole estate now knows my dad is Chief M.O Martins,” Ochuko continued. “It’s been almost two years I moved here and just very few people knew that fact. That Sharon can kill someone, I swear. She was just too much for me,”

“This reminds me of back in school, when that girl who went clubbing,” Temi said tapping Bash. “She died in that accident on her way back the following morning,”

“Oh, yeah,” Bash called back. “Zainab, I remember her. The car flipped over, she was thrown out and then hit her head on the road. She was the only casualty, ”

“She was close friends with my ex, Eunice,” Gabriel mentioned, shaking his head. “It took her forever to get over that,”

“Wait, you had a girlfriend back in Uni?” Bash seemed surprised.

“That girl’s death was horrible,” Ochuko said. “But what I never fully understood was why people had her corpse updated on their Blackberries,”

“It was to pass a message,” Bash answered. “I put it up as well,”

“What message?” Ochuko was curious.

“That’s what you get for going clubbing at night when you should be indoors,” Bash boldly stated. “She could have avoided all that,”

“Are you serious right now?” Gabriel peered at him.

“You heard me,” Bash replied.

“Bash, you shouldn’t speak ill of the dead,”

“Look, Gabriel, I’m a realist,” Bash argued. “That girl got what came to her.” Everyone was astonished at Bash at that instant.

“Bash, she could as well have died on her way back from church, lectures….or in her very own bathroom,” Gabriel countered. “Death is no respecter of faces and what happened to that poor girl could have happened to any one of us,”

“True,” Ochuko nodded in agreement. “But I don’t get you, Bash. You were also an unapologetic clubber back then, if I’m not mistaking,”

“My case is different,” Bash replied.

“How?” Temi asked with a raised brow.

“I’m a guy,’

“WHAT?” Both ladies and Gabriel instantly exclaimed at once.

“You didn’t just say that!” Ochuko said, almost getting agitated.

“Dude, it’s either you’re messing with us or you’ve had too much wine tonight,” Gabriel said shaking his head.

“You people aren’t getting me,” Bash stood his ground. “But why should a responsible chick be out that late? It doesn’t speak well of her,”

“But it’s okay, simply because you’re a guy?” Ochuko fired back. “But tell me, Bash, since we “chicks” shouldn’t go clubbing, I guess you guys expect to rock yourselves, right?” Gabriel chuckled while Temi scoffed at her man.

“Are you minding him, Ochuko?” She asked. “Look, Bash, you sound just like judgey Gabriel back when he used to attend Campus fellowship five days a week – no offence, Gabriel,”

“None taken,” Gabriel muttered raising his glass of wine. Ochuko giggled, but Temi was not done.

“But tell me something, Bash,” she probed. “All those times we went clubbing back then….”

“It was just twice,” Bash immediately responded.

“Guys,” Gabriel called. “Can we end this already?”

“I agree,” Ochuko added, pouring herself more wine, and then she turned to her right side where a figure reclined beside her on the large couch. C.J had been present all evening but his eyes had been fixated on his phone. “C.J?” She called, touching his knee. “You haven’t touched your wine,”

“Oh…” he muttered finally looking up. “Thanks.” He helped himself.

“Have you had some fried chicken?” Ochuko asked shifting one of the various plates of delicacies to him. C.J grinned.

“Yeah, I have,” he gently replied.

“You should try another one,” Ochuko urged, chewing on one. “They’re really nice,”

“Next thing, she’d be offering to spoon-feed him,” Temi teased.

“Ha-Ha! Very funny,” Ochuko playfully called back. “I invited you all over, so it’s my obligation that all my guests are well taken care of tonight, okay?”

“It’s just like them good old days when Ochuko would cook and invite us all over,” Gabriel mentioned. “Always the sweet host, Ochuko. Good one tonight, by the way,”

“Aww,” Ochuko called. “Thanks, baby.” Then she blew him a kiss.

Gabriel smiled and then glanced at C.J.

“That reminds me, C.J,” he called. “Is your book-signing still holding this Saturday?”

“Yes,” C.J nodded as he had more wine.

“It’s holding at the Galleria,” Ochuko added with excitement. “Starts by ten on the dot,”

“And are you C.J’s campaign manager now?” Bash asked.

“I’m his very supportive friend,” Ochuko replied, touching C.J’s shoulder. “It’s not every day one of your dearest friends writes and publishes a bestselling novel, already making waves within a month of publication,”

“I won’t miss the signing,” Gabriel said, smiling now. “I’d like an autographed copy for my Director’s daughter. She’s a fan,”

“Sure,” C.J was beaming now. “And…it would mean a lot….you showing up.” Then Gabriel shook his head.

“It’s really amazing, you know?” He said.

“What is?” Temi asked.

“C.J” Gabriel said. “I read his book and…and I think it was crazy,”

“Crazy in a good way?” Bash asked. “Or in a…..”

“What do you think, Bash?” Gabriel asked back.

“I don’t mean to brag here, guys,” Ochuko called, raising both hands. “But let it be known that I was first to read and edit this bestseller before getting out there,”

“Pop champagne,” Temi dryly called back and they both giggled. “You’re such a scene-stealer, Ochuko,”

“Are you ladies done now?” Gabriel called. “Like I was saying about C.J’s work, I couldn’t have imagined all that creativity from that mind. I mean……Wow! The plot twist was insane, and not to mention the ending. There’s no way I saw that coming,”

“I know, right?” Ochuko added, playfully nudging C.J.

“I guess it’s true,” Gabriel said raising his glass. “Quiet people really do have the loudest minds. Great work, man,”

“Thanks, Gabriel,” C.J was all smiles now.

“Or you guys are being nice simply because it’s C.J,” Bash entered and they all faced him. “No bias?”

“Bash, give it a rest,” Ochuko called with an arched brow at him.

“But I’m just saying,” Bash said.

“Well, have you read The Crying Dead?” Gabriel asked.

“Nope,” Bash replied only to receive judging stares in return.

“And I won’t lie about it either,” Temi was upfront. “C.J, I haven’t bought a copy to start with. It’s been on my mind to, but you know how crazy my schedule’s been. Lagos Fashion Week is fast approaching,”

“It’s fine,” C.J said flashing a grin. Just take your time,”

“Oh, you guys,” Ochuko suddenly let out with a deep sigh. Then she had more wine. “Look at you all, ”

“What’s up?” Gabriel asked, all concerned.

“C.J’s finally gotten published, Temi defied her iron-handed dad and is doing okay in her modelling career, Bash has always been doing well in his real estate business, since our school years, regardless of his dad’s money and…..”

“Ochuko?” Gabriel called. “Why…”

“And you, Gabriel,” Ochuko wasn’t done. “You’ve always been killing it back in our Campus drama group. Look at you now. Your show’s been renewed for a second season, making waves on air and now nominated for Best New TV Show.” Gabriel gazed at her. “You’re such a brilliant actor, Gabriel; you could go as far as winning an Emmy or Oscar and.. and then forget about the rest of us here,”

“Ochuko?” C.J called now. “What’s going on?” Then she shook her head.

“You guys have no idea how much I’d give to be in your places right now,”

“Okay,” Bash called snapping his fingers. “Someone, take her drink,”

“Not funny, Bash,” Ochuko called.

“But I don’t understand,” Temi said. “Ochuko, I know people who would kill to be you – I know I would,”

“It’s easy for her to talk that way,” Bash stated. “Daddy’s little heiress, having everything handed down without struggle – this house, that big car outside, the high-paying job at daddy’s oil company,”

“Bash,” Temi threw him a look. “Don’t…”

“It’s all rainbows and unicorns for you here in your comfortable castle, when you’ve never worked for anything in your life,” Bash continued. “Babe, open your eyes and see how hard things have become out there. I’d count my blessings and quit whining if I were you,”

“It’s so easy, sitting your behind on my imported fifteen thousand dollar leather couch and judging me,” Ochuko countered as she suddenly crossed her revealing fair legs in her white bathrobe. “Maybe you weren’t listening well enough, Bash,”

“Okay,” Bash responded all ready to listen.

“So, my father has worked his ass off to provide this luxurious life for my brother and myself, and I enjoy it, if that’s what you want to know,” Ochuko stated. “Am I thankful I was born into one of the richest families in Lagos? Oh, hell yes! Am I thankful for being spoiled rotten and treated like royalty? You can bet I am, and I wouldn’t have it any other way, honey,”

“Then what’s your headache now?” Bash probed.

“Recently…….it’s like I’m suffocating,” Ochuko said, shaking her head. “Sometimes it’s like I have no identity and no idea what I want for myself. For once, I want to be someone other than Chief M.O Martins’ daughter – who wouldn’t have to wake up early tomorrow morning and rush to a job I don’t even like,”

“Calm down, Ochuko,” Temi said. “It’s what our twenties are for, figuring ourselves out. There’s time.” Then Ochuko smiled at her.

“I wish I were as brave as you are, Temi,” she replied. Ochuko truly admired her old friend seated right opposite her. Ochuko knew Temi’s strict father very well. Yet, she had defiantly called his bluff and pursued her dreams of modelling and fashion designing.

“On the contrary, Temi,” Bash called. “The problem is we think we have time,”

“You’re just a wet blanket,” Temi muttered eyeing him. “And we both know that wasn’t original,”

“I know that,” Bash replied, and then Temi’s eyes fell on Gabriel whose gaze was transfixed in space with his glass of wine in hand.

“Gabriel?”

“Yep?” He called, suddenly snapping back.

“Are you okay?” She asked.

“Maybe he’s had one too many,” Bash mentioned.

“Where was your mind?” Temi was curious.

“Oh, that?” Gabriel grinned. “I was still musing over the part where Ochuko mentioned my name alongside “Emmy” and “Oscar.” Then everyone exploded into laughter now. Including C.J.

“Oh, Gabriel!” Ochuko called, trying to catch her breath. “You won’t be the end of us,”

“Well, a guy’s allowed to dream big, can’t he?” Gabriel said and then faced C.J. “And C.J, hopefully, in the nearer future, when your book’s up for a movie adaptation, I’d love to play K.C,”

“Exactly!” Ochuko suddenly lit up. “I’d also want a part….like Beatrice. I love playing a good girl turned bad anytime, and that reminds me, guys, I’ve been considering a career in acting; I was telling C.J just yesterday.” C.J nodded as he continued tapping on his phone.

“Babe, your father will implode!” Temi called in surprise.

“I’m taking a cue from you,” Ochuko replied shrugging. “And I’m sure he’ll get over it,”

“You?” Bash rebuffed. “Can you act?”

“She’s always dramatic,” Gabriel said. “Ochuko could do well for an actress,”

“You’ve heard it from the pro himself,” Temi said to Bash.

“Being dramatic doesn’t substitute for good acting,” Bash countered.

“Wanna teach me my job, Bash? Fall in line,” Gabriel replied and then sipped some wine.

“Thanks, sweetie,” Ochuko called at Gabriel. “So, if I want to delve into acting, Gabriel, how do I start?”

“The same way I started,” Gabriel replied. “Attend auditions,”

“Oh, hell no!” Ochuko objected. “Isn’t that stressful?”

“Well, that’s how it’s been for us in the real world, who have to fight for everything we have,” Gabriel said and then Ochuko scoffed, waving her manicured nails.

“I’m sure there’s some people I can call,” she replied all haughty. “I met some producers at some cocktail my mum organized some months back,”

“See?” Gabriel suddenly called arching a brow. “It’s people like you that make jobs unavailable for us,”

“Gabriel?” Ochuko was stunned.

“Actors like myself have struggled and fought from scratch to get where we are, and then I see some individuals who just swoop in and…voila! They’re in. Gabriel narrated. “And the sickening part is most of them can’t even properly read as much a common sentence on a script to save their lives.” Both Bash and Temi were sniggering now.

“But, Gabriel,” Ochuko called. “What’s the use of having all the power and influence if not to use it to get what you want?”

“I see,” Gabriel muttered at her impenitent reply.

“Guys,” Temi called. “Gabriel isn’t kidding, you know?”

“Of course, I’m not,” Gabriel said and then got to his feet. “The thing is…most people think acting is mere performance – no, my friends, it’s not! Acting is an art. You’re either born with it or you’re not, just like how C.J’s a gifted storyteller,”

“Hmm! Preach!” Bash called while C.J grinned up at Gabriel who stood all histrionic, almost like a lead on a Broadway performance.

“I love you, Ochuko, I really do, and you probably can act, but my agitation is targeted at those who can’t.” Then he sat back and sighed deeply.

“Wow,” Ochuko muttered with relief. “Guess I’m lucky then.” Then she had her wine while Bash peered across the glass table.

“Really, C.J?” He called and C.J looked up from his phone. “Do we bore you that much?”

“What do you mean?” Ochuko asked.

“He’s been on his phone all evening,” Bash said. “This is supposed to be a group thing. His attitude is really anti-social, and it’s wrong – just saying!”

“Come on, Bash,” Temi called. “We’ve always known C.J to be on the quiet side. Why’s that a big deal now?”

“Yeah,” Gabriel added. “People are different, and we’re just who we are, I guess,”

“Till now?” Bash questioned. “To be heard, I think his “quiet” behavior is just too disturbing for comfort,”

“Emm….I’m still in the room, you know, right?” C.J coolly stated and everyone turned.

“Oh…” Bash let out. “He speaks!”

“Say whatever you want,” Ochuko called touching C.J’s shoulders. “C.J’s my sweetheart and I love him just the way he is. In fact, I find his quiet nature pretty cute.” Then she looked at C.J, whom now blushed.

“Anyways…”Gabriel called raising his glass. “I’m really glad we finally got to chill together like this again,”

“Right?” Temi added, also tiring of the bickering. “All of us haven’t been in the same room since we graduated. It’s been almost three years now,”

“I read somewhere that very quiet and repressed guys have high tendencies of being closeted gays,” Bash blurted out and everyone faced him instantly. “You know, the whole insecurity and all,”

“Bash?” Temi eyed her boyfriend. “Where are you going with this now?”

“I’m just sharing something I read,” Bash replied. “It’s really baffling how you know people for over six years and still act like a stranger amidst them,”

“Are you kidding me right now?” Ochuko called at him. “I thought we were done with this already,”

“So did I,” Temi added.

“Maybe you were,” Bash countered. It was obvious C.J was very uncomfortable. “All I just want is a logical explanation,”

“There’s no…..”

“Thank you, Ochuko,” Bash cut off an already agitated Ochuko. “But I’m sure C.J can speak well for himself,”

“Well, maybe I simply don’t enjoy talking as much as you do, Bash,” C.J calmly responded. “Or, your idle talk is usually of no interest to me, ever thought of that?”

“Then why not excuse yourself?” Bash probed further. “In case you don’t know, what you do with your phone at a social gathering is rude,”

“Bash, Ochuko invited me here,” C.J retorted gazing. “And what I do with my phone is no one’s business,”

“Do you two need a room already?” Temi thought to tease, as she reached for her glass of wine. “Is it just me, or do I sense some heated sexual tension here?”

“You’re crazy, girl,” Bash called chuckling.

“Not funny, Temi,” C.J gently said a bit uneasy.

“Why, C.J?” Bash called raising a brow. “I might start to think you’ve got something to hide,”

“And I think you’re enjoying this a bit too much,” C.J called back. “Anything to share, Bash?”

“Wow,” Temi muttered glancing at her boyfriend, who stayed quiet.

“The suya is getting cold, people,” Gabriel announced leaning forward. “Dig in, people.”

Irked, Ochuko peered at Bash with such disdain, wondering how she put up with him sometimes. But she was glad C.J had had put him where he belonged. Over the years, Ochuko was one of those few who understood C.J and she always felt obliged to look out for him. “Ochuko, please tell me there’s another bottle of wine,” Gabriel called, getting up.

“Yeah,” she gestured. “You can’t miss it, in the kitchen.”

C.J excused himself and got up to leave as well, leaving the three in the spacious living room.

“Hmm,” Bash let out. “This suya’s really nice.”
“Hey,” Gabriel called, seeing C.J walk into the kitchen. “You good?”

“Sure,” C.J replied as he headed for the massive white refrigerator.

“So, Bash is an ass – fact!” Gabriel stated as he picked the bottle of wine from the one of the cabinets. “You shouldn’t change your person just to please people,”

“Old story,” C.J muttered taking out a bottle of water. “I appreciate what you’re doing, Gabriel, but I’m good. I learned long ago not to give mind to people like Bash.” Then Gabriel chuckled and threw him a thumbs-up.

“Cool,” he called. “You know, I’m really amazed you and Ochuko have stayed close all these years,”

“I know, right?” C.J said shutting the refrigerator.

“And I meant what I said earlier,” Gabriel said. “Great job on your book,”

“Thanks, Gabriel,” C.J was smiling ear-to-ear now. “It means a lot.” You couldn’t get C.J any happier than when talking about his stories.

“You know, we should hang out after your book signing,” Gabriel suggested.

“Sure thing,” C.J nodded.

“Cool,” Gabriel called raising the bottle. “I’d really like to get into that creative head of yours and catch some of that mysterious cruise you give Ochuko,”

“Always dramatic, Gabriel,” C.J called out laughing, and then Gabriel joined in.

“Enough with the bonding, you two!” Ochuko’s voice was heard from the living room. “Hope you haven’t finished all that wine already?”

Gabriel gave a look.

“Coming already!”

***
“Drive safely!” Ochuko called at Temi and Bash who waved back, as he drove out the open gate.

“You know there’s going to be an earful when they get home, right?” Gabriel called emerging from the house with an unopened bottle of wine. The time was ten-thirty now.

“Hmm,” Ochuko scoffed. “They’ve always deserved each other.” Then she let Gabriel hug and kiss her on the chick.

“Tonight was great,” he commended. “We should do this again,”

“Right?” Ochuko was delighted. “I’m glad you liked it. Maybe hosting a sleepover wouldn’t be a bad idea. It’s a big house after all and it gets pretty boring and lonely sometimes,”

“Then get yourself a man,” C.J teased, approaching them.

“Look who’s talking,” Ochuko teased into his ear as he embraced her also.

“Crazy,” C.J giggled back. “I have to run now, guys,”

“Me too,” Gabriel called. “Unless….you want me to stay and keep you less lonely, Ochuko.” He teased and then flashed her a grin.

“Cute, Gabriel,” Ochuko giggled, stroking his sideburns. “By the way, you’ve got that short film on Thursday to prepare for,”

“Yeah,” Gabriel nodded. “Guess we’ll be seeing this Saturday, right? C.J and I also got some bonding to do as well,”

“Hmm,” Ochuko playfully eyed them both. “Should I be jealous, guys?”

“Come on,” Gabriel got all histrionic. “You know you’re ever the woman of my life,”

“You’ll always be my best girl,” C.J called as well smiling.

Ochuko laughed.
***

Emerging from her warm shower, Ochuko stood bare, before her large bathroom mirror, gazing at her curvy reflection. For a brief second, she considered making a try for modelling. Another fantasy. Despite having it all, she still felt displaced. Perhaps she should scribble her present musings down, and then her eyes befell her purple journal with the matching pen, lying side by side on her nightstand. Journaling was a hobby with Ochuko, long since her early secondary school years. But she was far too exhausted from tonight’s gathering to indulge tonight.

Reaching for her pink nightwear, she strode into her large bedroom and sat before her occupied dressing table. Ochuko always applied moisturizer before going to bed. Her glowing skin was one of her greatest assets. Reaching for her phone, Ochuko dialed C.J’s number first. She had to check if he had gotten……Then a strong hand suddenly clasped down on her mouth and Ochuko felt herself dragged off the stool before she knew what was happening. Then it dawned on Ochuko that she was being attacked in her very own bedroom.

Spinning, she scratched at this assailants face and he groaned, but only to reply her with the back of his hard hand across her face before she could scream for help. Ochuko’s entire body instantly went numb as she fell back on the large bed. The last thing she saw before she blacked out was her bedside journal and pen on the nightstand. Would she live to scribble this saga down? The thought briefly breezed through her dizzy head.

The stench of alcohol greeted her nostrils as Ochuko now felt him on top of her. Her attacker had a hood over his head which concealed his face. She badly wanted to fight for her life, but for unknown gut reasons, Ochuko remained still, holding her breath. This person slowly brushed her strewn weave off her face now, and then she almost cringed feeling his large hand slowly undo her nightwear, exposing her soft skin. For how long could she play unconscious and bear this? No doubt, Ochuko knew what was about to happen. Her heart pounded as she felt his body press against her, and then she felt his moist tongue on her neck which instantly sent goose bumps allover her. She could take it no more.

Reaching out, Ochuko grabbed for her pen on the nightstand, and then swiftly shoved it into her attacker’s neck. Jerking back, he groaned out while she snapped back to life, and with all she had, Ochuko shoved his heavy form off her and then jumped off the bed. She heard the hard thud as he landed on the floor as she reached the door. Grabbing the key from the lock, she frantically shut and locked the intruder in. Then Ochuko raced for the stairs, screaming as loud as she could.

Paul, the security man was already up.
***
“I’m so going to kill Sharon for this.”

C.J listened to Ochuko vent as they sat in her garden. She rocked herself in his arm around her as she pressed the icepack against her bruised face. It was past midnight now and the estate’s security and an ambulance flooded her compound.

“You’re okay,” C.J soothed. “Forget her, okay?”

“No,” Ochuko disagreed. “She caused all of this! I knew she was bad news from the start, but…”

“Ochuko!” They both looked up and saw Gabriel hurry towards them. It was obvious Ochuko was surprised.

“I called him,” C.J explained. “Since he’s staying with a friend here in the estate for now, I….”

“It’s okay,” Ochuko said as Gabriel crouched before them and took her hands in his.

“Sweetheart,” he called with heavy concern in his eyes. “I..I don’t even know where to start asking from,”

“I’m just glad you’re here,” Ochuko forced a smile and then she slowly raised the icepack. Then Gabriel faced C.J.

“How?” He asked. “And please tell me they got this bastard,”

“Yeah,” C.J nodded and then began narrating how Ochuko’s apprehended attacker was her married forty-something year-old neighbour, whom Sharon had secretly gotten involved with, amongst her numerous selacious activities, before getting found out by Ochuko herself. Mr. Irabor’s wife and three children were away all this while.

“Psycho!” Gabriel called. “So much for this being one of the safest residents in Lagos. So much effort in protecting you guys from the outside world when the real danger’s just next door,”

“Security found a ladder he used to climb over the fence,” C.J said.

“You all just wait till my father hears about this in the morning,” Ochuko seethed. “That bastard will never see the light of day again,”

“Hell hath no fury,” Gabriel muttered and Ochuko forced a smile.

“We’re just glad you’re fine,” C.J said.

“Tough chick!” Gabriel teased. “Look at you, taking him down all by yourself. The action lady, the femme fatal!”

“Oh, stop it, Gabriel,” Ochuko called, failing in her efforts not to laugh.

“Not everyone survives stalker attacks,” C.J said and she scoffed.

“I haven’t told Temi yet,” Ochuko mentioned.

“She and Bash can hear about it in the morning,” C.J replied. Ochuko just wanted all these unknown faces done surveying her entire house. “Oh, and hope you know I’m putting all of this in a book, right?”

“You wouldn’t!” Ochuko eyed him and they sniggered. Both guys were glad she still possessed her sense of humour. Then she squeezed Gabriel’s hand and leaned against C.J’s shoulder. “Oh, you guy..…I’m just glad you’re here right now,”

“And we’re not leaving you alone, okay?” C.J gently called, pulling her closer. Gabriel simply smiled, admiring their closeness.

“Tomorrow’s Wednesday,” he said. “I’m not due on set till Thursday, so I could hang around if you want,”

“Are you crazy?” Ochuko asked. “That’s not even a question. Of course, you’re not going anywhere,”

“The more, the merrier, right?” C.J mentioned and both guys grinned at the other.

“And look on the bright side, Ochuko,” Gabriel said. “You don’t get to rush to that horrible job, come morning.” Then Ochuko giggled while Gabriel glanced at his watch. The time was almost one in the morning.

“You guys,” Ochuko called, close to tears. “What am I ever going to do with you two?” She was not alone now and she was most thankful for that.
UNDER ATTACK.