” Why did you keep it away from me?” I asked. I was trying my damnest not to give the jerk a punch. He had refused to pick my calls so I made a stop at his place on my way to pick up the baby’s things at purity hotel, where Funmi lodged.
” Shark..” Bankole began nervously. ” I did what I thought was best. Her chances were so slim and I..”
” You were supposed to run every thoughts and ideas by me before taking any action. Why do I have the feeling you weren’t on our side all along?. Whose payroll ware you on?” I asked.
He laughed nervously.” Shark, I am sorry. things turned out the way it did. I am not on anyone’s payroll. I would never do that to you or anyone else.”
” I believe you.” I lied.
He laughed nervously again.” Thank you. I can appeal the case….I swear it to you, all I did was in her best interest. I wanted her to walk free, I allowed my emotions to get ahead of me. That girl stirred something in my heart, Shark. I….don’t know what it was. I thought she could get few years if she pleaded guilty instead of life.”
” You doubted yourself.” I said, fuming with anger at the stupidity of his words.
” No…” He replied sheepishly.
” Who did you talk to about the case?” I asked.
” Nobody. I swear”
” Think, think, a friend or a girlfriend perhaps? ” I said, watching him closely. There was a brief change in his expression.d–n! he had told someone.” Who?”
” I….I don’t think..”
” I…I was drunk and….” He stuttered.
” Talk!” I barked, edging closer to him.
” Her name is Cecilia.”
” Description” I spat out.
” 5.7 ft, dark skinned and chubby.”
” Where does she live?”
“‘Shark let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Cecilia is a very decent and….. ”
” Where?” I cut him off rudely.
He reeled off her address, I shoved him out of my way and walked out of his apartment. I drove down to the hotel, wondering who Cecilia truly was and what her motive could have been. I was certain she had a hand in the PI’s death, or perharps she knew something about it.
” D–n!” I ground out.
There was a sea of people outside a burning building and a distant sound of the siren of fire fighters could be heard. I cursed and reversed my car, the goddamn hotel where Funmi lodged was on fire.
I looked down at the tiny bundle suckling at my b—m, his handsome face was relaxed in a smile. Despite the circumstances surrounding his birth, the little guy tugged at my heart and he was making me rethink my actions. He looked so fresh, angelic and innocent…he had awaken a deep maternal feeling in me and all I wanted was to keep him to myself. Just the two of us in a world of our own.
The atmosphere suddenly became hot, I felt his presence before he even walked into the room. Our knight in shiny armor, I thought.I didn’t even know his name. His arm was loaded with sets of baby wears and toys. I scooted and he dumped them beside me on the bed. These were not my things, why hadn’t he gone for mine? I looked up and our eyes met, he looked tired but handsome in a rugged way. He had a day’s stubble on his chin, his eyes were so dark and I knew he wasn’t a man to cross.
” Thank you.” I said, ” But these things are not mine. ”
” Yea I bought them.” He replied.
” Why?” I asked.
” The hotel was on fire when I got there” He said.
I stared at him in horror and a sob caught in my throat. My eyes burned with tears, my belongings and valuables were in that hotel room! Where would I go from here and with a new baby in tow? I had foolishly kept the money Cecilia gave me there because I felt I could leave the country at any time and I thought it was easier to keep it with me.
” Is…did… you get anything out?” I choked out.
” It was an infeno” He replied.
I nodded my head and looked away.
” You have no where to go right?,” he asked.” You will go home with me.”
I felt her first kick today. It was a gentle nudge at first, but that was all the encouragement I needed. There was a life growing inside me, a child I won’t watch grow up but for now I was content to have her all to myself. I sang her lullabies every evening, poems in the morning and we read our letters at noon. I know some might think I was crazy but I knew she could hear me. I knew she understood that we had very little time to spend with each other. Yesterday, her father was here to see me. He had placed his hand on my tummy, I asked her to show him she knew he was here and she gave a fierce kick.
When my father came to see me, he had prayed for us and I asked her to say hello and she did, I could almost see her tiny fingers at that moment. Maybe I was truly going crazy, maybe life had robbed me of my senses but I knew the only time I felt sane was when I talked to her.That bad lawyer had made us believe I would walk free by pleading guilty, I should have listened to my instinct. I should have asked to see Sly before taking any decision. Now I knew the lawyer wasn’t to be trusted but sadly it was too late and I had accepted my fate.
” Someone is here to see you,” a warder said.
I followed her to the visitor’s room and settled myself on the bench. Another warder walked in with a tall, ebony skinned lady who looked familiar. She wore a simple black gown with matching black sandals and a black purse. She had a smile on her beautiful face but her eyes seemed mean. This was not a kind soul, I thought. Her smile also seemed pasty and I could sense something dark about her. Where have I seen her before? I wondered. I was glad I had two warders with us. Goosebumps broke out on my arms and my head felt so heavy. The baby was also giving me fierce kicks and I patted my tummy gently, letting her know that I won’t let any harm come to her.
” Hello Dupe ” The lady said.” We’ve met before but I am afraid it wasn’t under favorable circumstances but I apologize. My name is Cecilia,I am..”
” I know who you are.” I replied tersely. ” What I don’t know is why you are here?”
” I came to see you. I know we started out on a wrong foot but all that is in the past now. And I must confess that I was misled by Mama.”
” Why are you here?”
” I can see that you are still angry and a bit wary of me but I come in peace. If there’s one thing we both have in common it is our love for Uche. I am here because of him, although it hurts to admit it, Uche loves you. He loves you a lot and his world revolves around you. I am afraid he might do something terrible to himself if he’s not under surveillance. Someone has to be with him all the time, put his mind at rest always, soothe and comfort him. He needs a companion…..a friend to keep him company so he wouldn’t go crazy with loneliness.
I know you wouldn’t want to see him suffer, I know you also love him and you want the best for him. Please Dupe, hand him over to me…..please don’t get me wrong. I am not saying all these for my own selfish reasons, I am saying all these because I don’t want to see him suffer.” She said,
” Please think about it, you don’t have to make any decision now. Please think about it, it is for his own good. Mama won’t be able to care for him well especially when your baby arrives. She will have her hands full with the baby and Dubem, the black sheep is also around now. There’s no telling what he might do, I am sure he has a mean streak in him.”
” Thank you. I will think about it.” I replied.
She took hold of my hands, in appreciation and I forced myself not to shrink back from her. She gave me a fake smile and stood up. I watched her walk out of the room with my heart pounding in my ears. Funmi had also asked me to tell Uche to marry her and here she was also singing the same tune. I knew it then, the puzzle to the mystery fitted in at that moment. They were after something and the only thing I could think of was the settlement. If there was a woman on earth I would trust with Uche and my baby it would be…
” Please I need to make a call” I whispered to the warder leading me back to my cell.
” It will cost you.” She replied.
” I know.” I said.
” Good. But you must be quick o.” She looked left and right before slipping out a Nokia phone from her pocket.
I collected it and typed in Uche’s number. He picked it up immediately and I almost hugged the warder in relief.
” Dupe. My love,” He said.
” Listen to me Uche. I want you and Annie to come see me tomorrow. I have something to tell you and it is urgent.” I whispered.
” Alright my love, how are you?”
” I am fine.” I said and disconnected.
I handed the phone back to her and slipped out some money from my bra which I handed to her. She squeezed it and transferred it to her own bra.
Watching them sitting beside each other confirmed my decision. Annie genuinely cared for him and Uche also cared for her as a brother would an older sister. She was also independent, honest, hard working and kind hearted. She was the right person, I would rest well in wonder knowing my husband and child were in her care. She would chase the bad wolves away and keep them save for me. I had only few months to live and I wanted to be rest assured that my heartbeats would be fine.
” You have been so silent” Annie said, ” What is the matter?”
” Dupe,” Uche said, his hands searching for mine. I took hold of his outstretched hands and gave it a gentle squeeze. I was making the right decision but why did it seem so hard to say out loud. Why was my heart beating wildly, why was my palm damp and uncertainty creeping down my back?
” I am here… I am here” I said.” Uche, I ….I want a divorce.”
His hands went limp.” Why?” He choked out.
” Because I want you to marry Annie before the end of this week.”
She gasped.” What are you saying?”
” Please. Please listen to me…. I have only few months to live and you both care for each other. I can’t trust anyone else with my child except for the both of you and Uche cannot do it alone. Annie…Annie…please….please see the wisdom in my words. Uche I love you but I want to know that you are well cared for while I am gone. I love the both of you and I know you both love me too….please do this for me. This is my last wish on earth, it will make me so happy. Please”
” I …..I can’t just divorce you. There has to be a reason and it is a long process.” Uche said.” I will be fine.”
” There must be a way out…” I turned to Annie,” I know you can make this happen Annie. I know there’s a way to go about it. You can tell them the truth or tell them I confessed that I cheated on you or something. Please do this for me.” I lifted up his hand to my teary face.” Please Uche, please Annie.”
” I don’t know…” They both chorused.
” Please…it would mean everything to me.”
” I don’t think Annie will…”
” I will” She replied.
I sighed in relief.” Thank you Annie. Thank you.”
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Through connections and several exchanges of brown envelope to the right quarters, so many things were over looked and we got a divorce. I cried myself to sleep the day Uche slipped the papers to me. He had also looked gloomy. I couldn’t eat the watery beans and pap which was served as dinner.
Cecilia came to see me again and I told her I was still thinking about it and that she should give me few days, she had left happily. Few days after the result came through, Annie and Uche got married secretly at a registry. They had both came to see me immediately after the wedding. I had begged her to accept my own ring because I couldn’t bear the thought of Uche slipping another ring onto her finger.
It had hurt so much seeing my ring glistening on her finger and I quickly choked on the jealous feelings when Annie carelessly placed her hand on Uche’s arm and my heart squeezed painfully.
” Dupe we are married now. I will take good care of him.” She said.
I nodded my head, there was a lump, the size of a fist stuck in my throat. He would be fine, he would be well cared for and that was all that matters. I thought, I did the right thing.
” I will never take your place Dupe.” She said, like she read my mind.
” Thank you Annie….thank you. I am happy.” I lied.
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