He kept running but his legs felt weighted down by led, in the distance he could see the door; his escape route but try as he may he could not reach it, the door seemed to be running away from him. Behind him he could hear the wails of sirens, the barking of pursuit dogs and the pounding of feet as the police followed hot on his tail, he looked around for a place to hide but in the darkness, all he could see was the door ahead and not much else.
He could feel a sweat run a cold, slippery, path down the burrows of his back and melting into the helm of his jeans, his feet made a squishing sound in his shoes as blood from the wound in his side filled it up.
The pain in his side felt like an icy jolt of lightening each time his feet hit the moss covered ground. The bag on his back made a “pam” “pam” noise as it bounced around, its weight doing little to aid his escape, the door was coming more and more into perspective as he came closer to it, he could see the dogs; big as rams, their shaggy bodies weaving expertly through the darkness, their eyes like burning lamps in the blackness, their yellowed teeth glistening, lit up by the fire from their eyes. If only he could reach that door, he could shut this nightmare behind him, he put more spring in his steps, his outstretched hand reaching for the door.
Suddenly he could not move, try as he could his legs would not obey his command, the darkness gave way to light and he found himself standing ankle deep in mud; where had it come from. The dogs and their keepers were drawing closer, screams of “kill am, kill am” filled the air, he was sinking now and the more he tried the faster he sank, the wetness of the ground had now reached his chest and he knew that he would soon be buried in this wet, rubbery, red soil, the door had disappeared, in its place were bright lights and its luminosity was blinding him, forcing him to momentarily forget that he was sinking and shield his eyes from the fierce, bright light.
“Chijioke, Chijioke.” One of the policemen slapped him hard across the face. He felt helpless, disappointment filling his heart, he had failed, after all they had been through; he had failed them.
He opened his eyes to find a scrawny looking man hovering over him in a dimly lit room, his face furrowed in concern. He sprang up alert but the pain in his side forced him to lie back with a wince.
“Chijioke, what mischief have you been up to now?” His cousin Chuma asked. “You came here bleeding like a Christmas goat last night and blacked out as soon as you walked in.”
“Where is the bag?!” Chijioke asked wide eyed.
“Relax nwokem, I kept it in the corner,” he said pointing to the blood stain covered bag, “and do not worry, I did not open it, whatever problem it is you have caused now, I do not want to be party to it.” After a brief pause, he continued.
“Are you the reason there are policemen roaming the streets?” When his cousin did not answer, he left his side to go look out the window.
Chuma was not under the illusion that his cousin was innocent, he had heard rumors of his exploit as a cultist, it had been hard to accept it because he was still the same boy who had been a mass server as a kid and led prayers during the Block Rosary, whose parents were outstanding members of the catholic community! The apple did fall far from the tree on this one. He had seen it coming, the friends he kept were far from saints and all advice for him to steer clear of them had fallen on deaf ears.
That was a gunshot wound, he knew that for sure, he had seen a number of cadavers with the same wound and was certain the gunshots from the night before and the presence of the police in the area were all connected to his cousin but he had learnt long ago to always mind his business and he was going to do just that.
“Jioke, you know you cannot stay here? You have to leave, I do not want any problems with the authorities, I would be graduating in less than six months and I do not want to jeopardize that. I hope you understand.”
Slowly rising from the bed, his every movement marked by pain, he felt run over by a fourteen wheeler, his left side where the bullet had lodged was on fire causing him to grimace with pain. He threw his legs over the side of the bed, his body print marked by sweat from lying down on the bed, his head felt woozy as he tried to stand, so instead he reached for the shirt his cousin had given him and shrugged it on, heaving a sigh when it was finally on.
“You can fear sef! Jew man!!” His cousin just sniffed and continued looking out the window.
“You still have that your cab guy’s number?”
“Yes I do.” Chuma replied going to collect his phone, he gave Chijioke the number and returned to his post at the window.
An hour later the cab arrived just in front of the self-contain apartment, Chuma helped his cousin to the door, sorry to have turned him out but knowing it was best for both of them, as it was only a matter of time before the police commenced door to door search.
“Nna be careful.” He said his voice laden with emotion as he hugged him.
“E don do na, leave me before the taxi waka leave me.” Chijioke joked as he opened the door and walked into the bright light of the afternoon.
Her phone was suddenly working again, it had been beeping all morning, her voicemail was filled, she had almost a thousand messages across various messaging applications, she caught the eyes of the driver looking at her funny and read the question in his eyes. She put her phone on vibrate and placed it aside till it finally stopped vibrating. She picked it up again, the first message was from her friend Claire;
“Babe how far, I know say you dey flex, that boy go use enjoyment kill you.” as generic as always.
Isabella had sent her an astounding hundred messages, what the hell? She thought. She would have a talk with her when she got home, she was no longer a kid and needed to learn to respect her space, this was no longer cute. “Where are you, you cannot call again abi? I am worried jor, call when you get this oh!”
“Daddy was taking to the hospital today! I do not know what is going on but somehow I know it is connected with you!”
Her father had been hospitalized, what happened?! She dialed her kid sister’s number. She picked on the first ring. The squeal at the other end made her pull the phone from her ear. When she returned it, her sister was asking a barrage of questions. Like where she was, how she was doing, what she was doing, she was coming home. She let her finish before she spoke.
“Bella where is daddy?”
She heard the sigh and the drop of emotion in her sister’s countenance. “Mommy says his condition has not changed.”
“Where is mommy?”
“I don’t know I have not seen her once all morning, it is chaos here; it has been ever since your kidnap.”
That took her aback, did she say kidnap?! “Hold up! Who was kidnapped?!”
“You.” The phone almost fell out of her hand. “Who says I was kidnapped?! I have been in Cross River with friends, like I told daddy.”
“Lawrence abi? Wasn’t he kidnapped with you?!”
“No! no one was kidnapped!” She snapped.
“That is what Uncle Emeka said but I wanted to find out for myself.”
“Why all the kidnap question?”
“Just hurry home and find out for yourself.”
When the cab pulled up to the gate, true to her kid sister’s words the house was swarming with policemen, one of the two posted at the gate walked up to them.
“Wetin una dey find here?” He said in a gruff voice.
“I live here.” Rebecca stated tersely, she had little patience for policemen.
“How we wan take know say you dey live here? Driver reserve, go park for the other side.” When the driver seemed to hesitate, he cocked his rifle. “Oga I go bust this your tire! Come on move this your kpalasa comot for here!” He barked; his face a mask of anger.
“Isabella I am at the gate, these policemen would not let me in.” She said eyeing the men with disgust.
Seconds later her mother and kid sister stormed out of the gate, a picture of raw emotion, their hands waving in the air, their screams mixing with the chaos of the afternoon traffic. She climbed out of the car to meet them, surprised at their reaction; she had only being away a couple of days, yet they were acting like she had been away for years. Was it the kidnapping thing? Maybe Bella was not lying after all.
“Nwa’m oh! (My child!)” Her mother cried, scooping her delicately off the floor, her bosom pressing into her. “Nwa’m.” She kept saying, touching her all over as if checking for an affliction. Tears flowed freely down her cheek soaking her blouse.
“Mommy stop it.” She said quietly, conscious of the eyes beginning to gather around them.
“Ehn, let us go inside, have you paid the taxi?”
“Sule, come help my daughter carry her luggage inside.” She said softly to one the policemen.
“Mommy, where is daddy?”
“We will talk more when we get inside.”
When inside, she braced herself for the worst, expecting to hear stories of her father’s demise, the kidnap was a ruse to keep her mind occupied before they broke the sad news to her. She did not know how to handle the news when it came but it was going to come anyway.
When her mom started to talk, it felt as if someone had opened a floodgate of fire and it was consuming her one emotion after another. While she was frolicking, someone, an evil bastard had plotted to steal money from her family and in the process had sent her father to the hospital. Only one person could have done this, someone who had her itinerary and knew to manipulate the situation such that her parents felt she had been kidnapped. Ice Man. Rage boiled hot inside of her, as she listened to her mom sob through her narration, her body quivering with the heat building up inside her head. He was not going to get away with this, she would see to it.
The rest of the afternoon, she spent it answering a number of questions from the police, most of which were asked by her uncle; who had seized to be her uncle the instant she sat before him, a man he called Obidi was also present in the room, taking notes. They wanted to know her whereabouts for the past week; who she had been with, where they had stayed, they also wanted to know everyone she had spoken to and their phone numbers. They also wanted addresses and room numbers of all the places they had stayed in. They also grilled her about Stanley the bellboy; that had caught her off-guard, she had been so fixated on Isaac she had not giving thought to the idea that he had to have had accomplices keeping tabs on them. Pimply faced Stanley had been so nice and so innocent looking, that she would have argued in his stead if her uncle had not shown her the picture they had taken in the hotel room but he had been conveniently cropped out.