It was a bright and warm Saturday morning. The sky was clear, the air was humid, and a kind of exhilarating calm settled on the neighbourhood. Edet and his wife sat in their sitting room, watching a movie on the flat screen television. He bit the tip of his wife’s earlobe and she poked him on the ribcage in retaliation.
“Go and fry yam for me.”
She lifted her eyes to meet his smiling ones. “We both ate about two hours ago.”
“So?” he raised an eyebrow.
“I am not hungry yet.”
“But I am. Go and fry yam for me,” he maintained and returned his attention to the television.
“The rate at which you eat these days,ehn, like someone who is pregnant.”
“Stop complaining. Go and fry my yam,” he stressed.
She pulled away from him. “This is how you will be disturbing somebody. Somebody cannot even watch television again in peace,” she murmured.
Edet chuckled and glanced at her. “Don’t worry, I will narrate the part of the movie that you will miss.”
She shot him an angry look, “You?” she pointed an accusing finger at him. “Whenever I beg you to narrate a movie, it is like trying to draw out blood from your veins. You do not corporate at all.”
He began to laugh out loud. She hissed, got up and moved to another chair.
“Edua, go and fry my yam. Don’t worry, today, I will be corporative,” he assured her, grinning from ear to ear.
The door-bell rang. She lifted her weight off the chair and strode to the door. She peeped through the door-hole and saw an average height, dark skinned man clad in black suit.She turned to look back at her husband.
“There is a stranger at the door.”
He looked her up and her down. “Go and change into something decent.”
Edua checked herself out. “I think I am okay.”
“Go and change,” his voice became firm. “That sleeveless top you are putting on reveals your cleavage and the short makes your bum to shoot out like an overripe watermelon,” he got up and walked to the door.
She looked at herself again, then back at him.
“Go now,” he gave her a gentle push.
She walked sluggishly out of the room, she was in no mood to change her attire. He peeped through the door-hole and saw the man. He had no idea who he was. He freed the latch on the door and turned the door knob.
“Good morning sir,” the dark skinned man in black suit smiled at him.
“Morning,” he met his friendly gaze.
“Is this the Udeme’s residence?”
Edet sized him up. The man was in a complete black attire. The suit, tie, belt, socks and shoes were all black, except for his white shirt. He looked like a responsible person.
“Yes, how may I help you?”
“I am Barrister Ikechukwu Uchenna, Mrs. Adesua Ayenkegbe is one of my clients.”
Edet raised an eyebrow. What was his mother-in-law’s lawyer doing at his doorstep? He couldn’t think of any reason. The last and only time she visited them was about four months ago.
“I will like to speak with Mrs. Edua Udeme,” the man continued.
He grew apprehensive. “Why do you want to speak with my wife?”
The man smiled, noticing the concerned look in the younger man’s eyes. “Please, may I come in?”
Edet looked him up and down, then stepped back into the apartment. The man walked in, in an unhurried manner.
“Please sit down,” Edet took the seat in front of the television, picked up the remote and reduced the volume of the T.V set.
“Thank you,” Barrister Ikechukwu settled on an empty chair.
Edua came into the sitting room, dressed in an ankle length, long-sleeved greenish blue gown.
“Morning,” she greeted the man and sat down beside her husband.
“Good morning madam,” the Barrister smiled at her. Husband and wife stared back at him.
The man cleared his throat. “My client, Mrs. Adesua Ayenkegbe instructed me to release her properties to Mrs. Edua Udeme if anything happens to her,” he unlocked his suitcase and brought out a big brown envelope.
“What do you mean by ‘if anything happens to her’?” Edua slid to the edge of the seat. The thought that something bad had happened to her mother made her heart beat to accelerate.
The Barrister coughed twice and directed his sad gaze at her. “I am sorry to inform you that your mother passed away several nights ago.”
Her hand flew to her opened mouth, then she turned sharply to meet her husband’s consoling stare. He reached out for her waist and pulled her back to his side.
“The Police have launched out an investigation. It was discovered that a leaking gas cylinder might have caused the fire break…”
“Fire outbreak!” her light brown eyes almost popped out of their sockets in shock.
The man swallowed hard. “Madam, your mother, four other girls and a man were found in the building, completely burnt, almost beyond recognition.”
“This is impossible…” she began to shake with sobs.
“The security guard lamented that before the fire fighters arrived, the entire house was engulfed in flames, reducing it to a shadow of itself. I am so sorry for your loss.”
“Oh God, oh God, oh God…” she began to imagine how the flames must have consumed the house with her mother and everyone else inside. Edet pulled his wife into his comforting arms.
“I… I cannot believe that she is gone.”
“It is okay. It is okay.”
The Barrister watched the couple for a while. “Ma’am, your mother made you her next of kin. Her Boutiques on the mainland and the island, the six-bedroom mansion in Ajah, her luxurious cars and landed properties in so many locations all over Nigeria are now yours. Her Account Managers from different banks will call you later today. Your mother had about four Current Accounts and eight Savings Accounts.”
Edua freed herself from her husband’s arms and faced the lawyer. “I don’t want her money. I want my mummy,” her hoarse voice was barely audible.
The man dropped his gaze. “I am so sorry. Your mother is gone,” he closed the suitcase and dropped the brown envelope on the center table. “You can reach me on the address and numbers on the envelope. Every necessary documents, including a copy of her Will is in there.”
“Thank you Barrister Ikechukwu,” Edet got up slowly.
“Thank you too,” he picked up his suitcase and headed out.
Edet followed him to the door and locked it once the man was gone. The bad news about his mother-in-law didn’t sit well with him.
“I have been praying for her,” Edua placed her wet face in her palms. “I wanted her to reunite with God and live the rest of her life for him, but, now she… she is gone.”
He returned to the seat and sat beside her. “I believe that God answered your prayers,” he placed a hand around her shoulders. “I believe that in her last moments, she truly surrendered to God.”
Edua began to cry again. She didn’t know what to believe or think. Was her mother in heaven or in hell?
Ojemare flipped through the newspaper, seeing nothing in particular, for his thoughts were far away. The tragic news about his first daughter’s death had left him numbed for days.His wife had been inconsolable when Edua called to inform them. No parent wished to bury any of their children. The last few times he had spoken to Adesua was before Edua’s wedding and after the ceremony. He had already made plans to travel to Lagos again, in the bid of bridging the gap between mother and daughter, but, her sudden death had disrupted his well laid out plans. He hoped Adesua made peace with her daughter before she passed on.
“Abieyuwa! Abieyuwa!” Osasu marched into the sitting room, screaming the name of their maid.
His wife’s voice whisked him out of the deep reverie.
“Where has that girl gone to?” her brows knitted in a frown, hands akimbo.
“I thought you sent her to get something from Mama Ehis’ store.”
She turned to look at her husband. “She came back a while ago. Edua and Edet have arrived. I saw them alighting from a taxi. I want her to help them with their luggage,” she headed for the door.
Ojemare blinked in excitement. His grand-daughter intimated him a week ago that she was coming to Benin with her husband some days before the burial.
“Where is Abieyuwa?” he started to his feet.
“Eh… Lagos people, welcome,” Osasu went out of the building to receive her grand-daughter and her husband.
“Grandma,” watery light brown eyes held pale dark ones.
“My pretty baby girl,” Osasu drew her into a warm embrace.
“Evening ma,” Edet carried both bags in his hands.
“Eh… my son, welcome,” she let go of the girl and embraced the young man.
Ojemare hurried to the doorway. He felt relieved when he saw Edua and her husband in one piece. He wasn’t a fan of travelling by air.
“Grandpa,” Edua went into his waiting arms.
“My first grand-child,” he tightened his grip around her.
“Good evening sir,” Edet greeted the elderly man.
“Eh… my son, welcome. Come in, come in,” he ushered both of them into the three- bedroom bungalow.
Edet dragged the bags into the house and sat down beside his wife.
“How was your flight?” Ojemare picked up the newspaper and settled back on the leather chair.
“It was turbulent free,” Edua smiled at her grand-father. She was aware that he didn’t enjoy travelling by air.
“Abieyuwa!”Osasu called the maid again and sat down beside her husband.
A sixteen-year-old, dark skinned girl dashed into the room and knelt down beside her.
“For heavens’ sake, where have you been?” Osasu glared at her.
“I was at the backyard, ma,” she lowered her gaze.
“I have been yelling your name for the past several minutes. When did you become deaf?” she eyed the girl.
“I am sorry ma, I didn’t hear you when you called earlier on,” the girl apologized.
The elderly woman hissed and glanced at the young couple. “Pounded yam and melon soup is okay, right?”
Edet scratched a spot on his head. “You are our mother. We will eat whatever you offer us.”
She grinned and turned back to the girl. “Go and boil yam and pound yam for four. Hope you have finished cooking the melon soup.”
“Yes, ma. I have ma.”
“Good, go and be fast about it.”
“Yes, ma,” the girl jumped up and hurried away.
“Hope you are not planning to lodge in a hotel,” Ojemare looked at the young couple.
Edet and his wife exchanged glances.
“We have already prepared a room for you here. Don’t go and waste your money at some hotel with unsatisfactory facilities,” Osasu advised them.
“No problem, we will stay here. Thank you,” Edet assured them.
“You are welcome,” the elderly couple said in unison.
“I was told that you have expanded. Your mechanic shop is now located on the island,” Ojemare’s stare remained on his grand-daughter’s husband’s face.
He nodded in acknowledgement. “Yes sir. Cornerstone Automobile Solutions has rebranded. We have more customers now and we have also hired experts.”
“Good, very good. Everyone like to go to a good place. Why should I go elsewhere when I can have my car serviced by trained hands, in a conducive and security conscious environment,” Ojemare added with pride.
“I heard Edua is managing the place with you.”
“Yes sir,” he glanced at his wife. “Initially, I had to beg her for many months before she joined me. Now, she is claiming CEO of the company.”
“It is my right and entitlement,” Edua grinned from ear to ear.
Ojemare and his wife began to laugh.
“It is almost your first wedding anniversary. What are you two waiting for? When will our great-grand-children arrive?” Osasu queried them.
“Leave them alone. The children will come in God’s time,” Ojemare cautioned her.
“Why are you encouraging them? Do you know if they have gone to do one of these Family Planning nonsense?”
Edua’s phone began to ring. She picked the call, got up and went to stand by one of the opened windows.
“Hello, am I speaking with Mrs. Edua Imasogie?”
She didn’t recognize the voice. She wasn’t sure who was on the other end of the line.
“Yes, you are.”
“Good evening madam. It’s Barrister Ikechukwu Uchenna.”
“Oh… Barrister, good evening.”
“Madam, I need to see you this evening.”
She raised an eyebrow. “I am not in town.”
“Oh my gosh!”
“What is it Barrister?” her heart skipped a beat.
“The autopsy report of your mother’s body is out.”
She glanced at her husband. He was laughing at whatever her grand-parents were saying.
“When will you get back?”
“Sometime next week.”
“Okay then. Till you get back.”
“Wait, what does the report say?”
“Madam, I think we should wait till you return.”
“No, I want to know now,” she persisted.
She heard him exhale loudly. “Your mother died by strangulation. She died even before the fire engulfed her body.”
Edua placed her hand on her chest, gasping for breath.
“My client, your mother, was murdered and the detectives in charge of her case are leaving no stone unturned. They are going to fish out the culprit or culprits.”
“I cannot believe this…” she whispered. The woman she called mother had been taken away from her by some unknown persons.
“I will keep you updated. Sorry again for your loss.”
“Th-thank you Barrister.”
“I am at your service, anytime, anyday.”
“Okay…” she hung up and stared out of the window for the longest time.
She reasoned that her mother must have made a lot of enemies whilst running her business. Regardless, she didn’t deserve to be killed like an animal, in her own house.
“Darling…” he looked up at his wife and noticed her tears stained face.
She stepped away from the window and turned towards her husband. “The Barrister call…” then she glanced at her grandparents. She wasn’t sure it was wise for them to know about the autopsy report. There was no need adding to their pains.
“What Barrister?” Osasu panicked. “I hope neither of you have any legal issues.”
“Barrister Ikechukwu is your late daughter’s lawyer,” Edet explained to the elderly woman. “I believe he is just calling to offer his condolences.”
Edua nodded quickly and came to sit beside her husband.
“Is he coming for the burial ceremony?” Ojemare asked the young couple.
His grand-daughter shrugged. “I don’t know grandpa,” she placed her head on her husband’s chest, feeling overwhelmed and exhausted.
Edet wrapped his arms around her in comfort. He could discern that she had just received a very bad news.