It was almost ten at night. Her attention was glued to Channels’ broadcast on the television: on the menace of fuel scarcity. It was at that time that a cold call dropped on her threshold. It wasn’t just the phone that rang out of its hook, neither was it the hour at which it came, but the cold still voice that threw her into rippling like a troubled brook. It wasn’t a good way to start the Christmas holiday, she thought to herself.
Earlier that night, she laid some food on the dining table, robed herself in a white transparent silk night gown she had saved for years, ready for them to begin the holiday on a right foot. Over the last few years, their marriage had groped in thick mass of darkness; she, buried in her work, while he, found a better comfort in-between sheets of booze – it proved a better company than her soothing arms.
Amara could do anything, but not what the cold authoritative voice requested of her. She had been asked to come down to their office. Everyone knew what is meant to be invited to a police station: trouble; either you were detained and all manner of crimes hipped on your head or they just try to extort exorbitant amount of cash from you, for no good reason. She was quite aware of her untainted reputation flashing on the pages of newspapers; her face on television screens and her soothing voice over Beat radio. She was indeed what we refer to as the twenty-first century woman. Her daily life revolved around three things: work, family, and a husband who barely escaped being arrested for drunk-driving. He was a heavy stone tied to her neck, but what could she do? He was gradually turning into a bad page in the reads of her long struggles in life. He must have been a bad boy; maybe he got on the nerves of the policemen she had tipped to keep a keen eye on him.
She switched off the television, hurriedly ran to the room, exchanged the night gown for a white shirt, black jacket on blue jeans, slipped her feet into flat slippers and dashed out to face the scents of midnight.
The air outside scented like burnt ash, unlike her home on Chevron drive. People had already travelled for Christmas holiday. Her driver would have driven her down to the police station, had his wife not threatened to leave him if he didn’t come home for Christmas. He hasn’t been all providing, but his wife still felt he was some sort of worthy possession. Although Amara suspected she was quite aware that her husband lived with an Ijebu woman and never sent a penny to her and the kids, what surprised her most was how a rural woman asserted such magnitude of authority over him from so far away.
As she glided through the road, the season reminded her of Achebe’s poem, “Christmas in Biafra.” The country was in a state of dilapidation: the cars clogged together at fuel stations, people walked away from street lights as though it was the reason behind the pains of the season. And the children on the street, they looked like dust of the earth that swept away from the side mirrors and glass, the moment the traffic lights turned green. They too, according to Clark, are casualties of war.
Nigeria that year, ranked one of the most poverty stricken nations on the face of the earth. This made her wonder about so many things: the latest cars in town – including the one she rode in, the high-rise buildings that settled on nothing but water, the flamboyancy of politicians and celebrities, and the gold coated places of religious worship. They all said otherwise about the state of the nation.
The broadcast over the radio gave an update of the state of the president’s son; Amara quickly tuned into her work station. She had had enough bad news for one day. It was past ten, and her sweet smooth sexy voice came on air; the episode was on bedroom acrobatics. She smiled sheepishly at the sound of her own voice, knowing the scandalous effect it had created. It threw her back to years when she was just starting; it was a tug of war between her and a rigid society. Columnists, puritans and heavy weights wrote against her. They said she wanted to kill the core values of society. They believe her teachings threatened the development of youths in society. Some zealous ones went to the extent of threatening her life. Years later, most of her clients turnout to be those religious fanatics, who often book for her services in private.
She put her car to a stop just in front of Ikota Police Station. It was a smooth drive from Chevron to her destination. She retrieved her husband’s black jacket, just in case he needed it. Who knows what he had put on when he got arrested?
She filled the visitors’ form at the gate and made her way to the reception. She had been there once; to visit a relation that was locked up, all the way from home. Her kinsmen called to inform her of her cousin’s arrest. It was embarrassing to get there and discover that his oga had locked him up for allegedly stealing his money. But the truth is, oga had been badly hit by recession; as a result, he couldn’t settle a boy who had serve him for fifteen years. He rather resorted to Police intimidation to shut him up.
She was made to wait for fifteen minutes, yet there was no sign of Chike. She noticed how the officers on duty avoided eye contact with her, as though they were aware of something she had absolutely no idea of. She took out time to survey the rickety looking office; nothing has really changed since the last time she visited: the walls that were formerly green had turned brown with black patches here and there. The room emitted so much odour which forced her to cover her nose with her husband’s black jacket. On the other hand, the officers seem to have been incorporated in the whole mess.
There were other visitors like her and they took turns to exchange eye contact. Some were lucky to be bailed, while others were brought in as new suspects. A little over thirty minutes into her arrival, a young man walked up to her. He wore a well ironed white shirt on a pair of jeans trouser and sneakers. Obviously, he was off duty. He was tall, lean and coffee coloured – not even the dirty florescent light could tone his complexion a bit. His brows were joined by four lines of wrinkles, while his palms were hidden in the front pocket of his tight looking jeans. She felt hungry for the things her eyes could see, but looked away immediately, occupying her mind with the issue at hand.
As though he calculated his words, brainstorming on what to say, he took his time to look at her from head, down to her well polished toes. Amara adjusted her jacket, which revealed a little bit of her upper boobs. She could not help being on the busty side. After what seemed like forever, he said;
“I listen to your programs a lot – over the radio, TV – and also follow you on your blog and....”
He retrieved his right arm from where he hid it, and waved it to emphasise that he was a serious fan. The first thing Amara noticed was his Bendel accent, because that was where she began her life. She blinked in confusion; they were in a smelly police station, her husband had been arrested, and there he was, trying to be nice. When he saw that she was getting edgy, he dipped his right hand back into his pocket and exhaled loudly; after all, it was harmattan, and he wasn’t even on duty. He searched her face once again before asking;
“Can we go to some place? It’s already late for you to see your husband. You didn’t come down on time and I would need some information from you.”
He looked around like an old conniving Ananse before saying, “Out of earshot”.
He watched her closely for the slightest reaction at his sense of humour, but he seemed disappointed about something that he expected to see. He kept on looking at her wedding ring and her face, as though, he was in self doubt about a decision he had already taken.
“But I just got a call from this station... thirty minutes ago.” She said.
He felt too sorry, but didn’t want to apologise for the ineptitude on the part of his team members.
“But can we go, now? I won’t take much of your time, I promise.”
More officers on duty and off duty, still crawled by as they talked. They never failed to drop that same look that got her worked up. She already felt uneasy; maybe they don’t allow women to bail, she thought. She got up to show she had agreed to his request, and he led the way out. He led her to her car, and while she waited, he came in front with a green old battered looking Rav4. As she followed closely behind him, she thought, why Nigerian police officers would never do good for themselves.
He still stared, long after she finished her tale on how she became famous, and one of the highest paid sex therapists in Nigeria. Nobody had ever wanted to know, including her husband. The only time anybody cared to ask was when she went for her first radio and TV job interview. They didn’t ask for details, they just needed a sexy chic with a good voice and good looks; a voice that could make men moan and tear down their phone lines, and killer looks that could make their ratings skyrocket.
Amara was just a fresh graduate from Nsukka. She studied gynaecology, but she had this extra knack for human sexuality. She practised on her roommates, and sometimes, classmates. By the time Amy-sexy – as she was often called – graduated from school, most of the lecturers on campus consulted her. As a result of her social media awareness, she gained her first radio and TV interview. She discovered that there was a bitter truth behind Africa and sexuality: religion, society, and lack of exposure were ruining the African mind. Afterwards, her call took her to the city of Lagos. It was there that she met Chike; he was an upcoming realtor in Lagos. He had also come to Lagos to make it big, just like herself. His was different, he wanted to go home and do justice to Aniocha. He had this home mindset, which sounded a little bit offsetting to her.
She was busy diffusing the warmth of a teacup when inspector Juma asked;
“Does your husband have enemies?”
She looked at him with the most disgusting look she could muster up. Maybe he had gone totally crazy! How would she know if her husband had enemies, and whose job was it to fish them out, if not the police? Had it not been that he possessed a drop of masculine charm, she would have added some brownie to his white crispy shirt. The question seemed more mocking than a line read off Agatha Christie or Sherlock Holmes.
He seemed to have read her nursed feelings. Inspector Juma left her and nibbled on his rice and chicken; she was sure it was his first and last food for the day. He was on the lean part, and the way he took his food said so less about his battered car. She forgot all about her anger or her husband; instead, her attention turned to him. She switched on her therapeutic light and zeroed in on him like a search light: his physic could not only break a bone but some hearts too. She waited a while before asking;
“Have you ever been in the army, officer Juma?”
His fork fell off his grasp. He looked up and she gave him a devilish smile. Now, he was the one who has been caught not looking.
Amara still felt the severe cold three hours after they had gotten home; or maybe, it was in her head. His face was calm, calmer than it used to be each night when he nestled on the pillow beside her, dead drunk. Maybe, it was one of the nights she was lucky to have him make love to her, while he was half his wits. But he looked calmer than ever; peace of mind, maybe. He had been carefully washed. They were too kind to shave off his bears which brushed against her bare breasts each time he bent over her. She had always begged him to shave it off but he would always smile down at her, and then dig in the more. She smiled at picking up a good read about them.
Their intimacy came like a man suffering from a disease of the joint; it came and went like fuel in the country, but she never complained. She always believed that a lot of defeat dwelt in complaints; to this end, she nursed her cravings and drowned herself over the radio, giving pleasure to other people, or charmed the guilt out of her mind while she was in front of the camera set during her shows. At times, she envied couples who consulted her. She didn’t understand the miracle behind sharing ones problem with another, and expecting a solution.
The scars and bullet could not be hidden. The bullet was point blank. Juma, as she turned to call him, said;
“Your husband had been shot from close range. The bullet went in through the right side of his stomach, bore a large hole through his spinal cord, and went out through the back. The autopsy result confirmed his time of death to be twelve midnight.” He continued, “The cause of death was excess bleeding, severe pain and spiral deformity.”
Amara got everything he said, but what she failed to understand was why she had been informed about her husband’s death twenty-four hours later. She was told that she would only be nursing a vegetable had it been that he survived the ordeal. Juma’s earlier question crept behind her mind: “does your husband have enemies?”
It was still dry season, people hadn’t returned from the Christmas holiday yet. There was no one to share her husband’s sudden demise with.
From where she stood, she heard the team of investigators sweep the house clean, for the very obvious evidence. They searched their safe, wardrobes, phone lines and their intimate corners. They were all looking too hard for something that would lead them to the killer of nobody. To her, Chike was only a drunk who was put off his miseries by a stray bullet.
Some of the officers she met at the station that night now looked her boldly in the eyes, knowing she had come to know of her misgivings. Their eyes weighed down by sand bags for days, weeks, and months of searching for the person who pulled the trigger.
She went from brewing her special coffee from Kenya to handing out plates of food during lunch and dinner. Ekette and Diana were never out of reach when she needed help. She never knew where the strength came from, but she just wanted to get her hands on something, rather than sit and be surrounded by an ocean of sadness.
At one point in their marriage, she had nursed the idea of leaving Chike, but her reputation was at stake, and he knew it too. That was why he didn’t seem to care, but sank deep down the more in booze. Her shoulders suffered from paying to keep up with his exorbitant lifestyle, because he had refused to come to terms with one reality: he was broke.
A deep voice came across from the door, “Madam, the inspector wants to see you.”
Before she could ask, the voice answered her question;
“He is in your bedroom.”
He studied her with eyes that have seen weeks of sleepless night, and maybe, a wife, a girlfriend or good shag. Her legs carried her from the passage, down the long hallway and dropped her in front of their room. Juma was busy, looking through some files, while he had his back to her. It seemed that the case might place the latest Jeep in his garage, if he had one. When he took note of her presence, he dropped the file on the bed, turned to her with the same familiar frown and said;
“Why have you wasted government’s resources for months?”
He got up but didn’t move. She too was unhappy with the question. Was it one of his stunts? Does he really suspect her of her husband’s death after they both roughened her bed sheet some nights before? Her mouth went dry – she left it open and hanging for a while – the cold air which oozed out of the air conditioner created cracks in her throat. She became in great need of liquid, not to quench her thirst, but to help her hold back her tears. She turned towards the door, and when she almost got her foot a little too close to the door, Juma moved in swiftly to block her exit. She bumped into his cologne without an excuse or shame. He held her back and enclosed her with his strong arms as she fought to free herself of his heavy weight which she realised for the first time. He berated her in strong tones. His words were like strong arrows that came for her heart;
“Why have you kept us in this house? I have never smelt a single drop of grief from you.” Juma said, “We have leafed through every single thing we could lay our hands on for months, yet not a single evidence points us to the killer. Everything seems to be in circles.”
As he talked, she struggled to free herself, but failed. She still couldn’t get herself to talk. She was in shock, and the fatigue she felt at that moment weighed down on her sense of thought. Before she knew it, he had already turned her back to him, too close to his middle section, then held her two hands against her chest, pressing down heavily on her breasts. At the same time, he made her press him too heavily to the door. Both breathed with too much effort. They sweated so much that the large bedroom could not contain the perspiration both bodies demanded. Her effort to free herself became more feeble and demanding. Both were mature, aware of what brewed in-between their pressed energy, only that they wished it happened on a common ground. When she had had enough of his harassment, in-between tight lips, she said;
“Let me go!”
Juma led her two arms to relax on her hips, with his arm safeguarding them. He brought his lips very close to her ears, and in-between hot steams, he said;
“The shot was too close to be from an enemy. The person who did it knew everything about him, including how he fucked, because he did so some minutes before the murder took place. The person didn’t have to trail him on the night of the murder. The murderer kept him company, and at the right time, an unidentified bullet killed a man worth billions of dollars.”
At this point, he was sure he had caught the murderer, because she shivered all through. He left her and she fell to the ground, where she covered her face in shame, weeping and murmuring something he could not hear. At this point, he pictured himself somewhere else, enjoying the sunrise with a chic by his side. He was sick of investigations in Nigeria; he almost got himself killed once, but this one was too easy that he couldn’t wait to leave.
He turned back to her; she seemed to have gathered a bit from the shock. He forced himself to look away from her hips and her hidden curves that have been a threat since the first night at the station. He frowned, and in a harsh tone, said;
“Dress up, we are leaving!”
It was no ordinary trauma when Amara sat quiet while Juma drove her in his battered jeep. It nearly knocked the wind off her lungs when he parked in front of Okonkwo & Co – her late husband’s lawyer and best friend. She didn’t know why he decided to call up all these forgotten memories. The last time they did business was fifteen years ago. When Juma killed the engine, she refused to come down.
“What are we doing here?”
He smiled with victory in his eyes;
“This is your Waterloo. Are you scared to meet your greatest fear?”
She had had enough of his suspicions, intimidation and accusations. She put her two feet to the interlocks below and walked with Juma, right into the law firm.
The receptionist made them wait for five minutes before they were ushered into Okonkwo’s office.
When Amara stepped in, the person seated didn’t flinch or show any form of recognition. Both looked at each other, until Amara carved out his father’s face from his face, and gave him a name;
The young man seemed too embarrassed at her, but gathered himself soon enough to get up and come over for a proper introduction.
“What of your father?” She asked.
As though she said something she ought not to say; as though a thick mass of dark cloud clothed his vision. He relieved himself of his thick lenses, rubbed his sockets, put them back before he said with a cold smooth voice;
“He was shot along with your husband.”
Amara knew the implications: it buried her deeper into the case. Her only hope of freedom was dead. She went stone quiet. A strong arm came from behind and made her sit. She lost all sense of reasoning. She knew one thing: kirikiri seemed too close on her threshold: her job, her reputation, her family, and all that she had ever laboured for, came crumbling before her like the city of Rome.
The room grew quieter as Junior unravelled the mystery behind the sudden death of her husband. As he spoke, Amara quietly went through all the papers and documents that were laid before her. She had come across most of them before; Chike never closed a deal without letting her know. In fact, some of the documents had her signature on them. This was what convinced Juma the more of her involvement in his death. Some were signed as far back as fifteen and eighteen years ago. She got to a property document in Abuja and asked;
“Where is this?”
Both men stared at her with guilt in their eyes. Then next was a sealed envelope. She opened it, and it explained everything she needed to know. Chike was about to divorce her; he already put his signature on the document few months before his business plunged under. Amara got up, picked her bag, and walked out of the room. She knew the investigation was over. Her life with Chike was just a mere scent in the night. All these while, Juma manhandled her, thinking she was her husband’s killer.
She hailed a taxi and went home. On her way, she had only one thing in mind: the sweet scent of Juma the night before.
Fast forward to few weeks later, Amara was onset for a new series when Juma’s familiar face popped up. They have been friends after the investigation and he always came by the house for a meal or chat. Unfortunately, her husband and Okonkwo entered a deal with a company and were about to hit some cool cash, but at the verge of payoff, the company declared bankruptcy. They refused to pay their investors. Her husband was among those who were greatly affected, and that was why he took to heavy drinking because his entire life savings was tied to that deal.
Years later, the company revived itself and started paying off their debts with interest, but someone got too greedy and decided to stand in the way of some people. He went to the extent of hiring assassins to eliminate those with the highest shares. Her husband’s was different, he was murdered right in a strip club without a penny in his pocket; the woman responsible for his death fled for her dear life. Long story short, it was Amara’s money, sweat and struggle that furnished the cravings of his scents at midnight.
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Nice , lengthy and full of suspense..... Good work
Nice , lengthy and full of suspense..... Good work
Quite lengthy, but very interesting. Fulll of suspense