David watched keenly from under the stairs as Stephanie was motioned into the back seat of the white convertible. The girl stopped at the entrance of the car and placed her two hands at the top, she looked around her environment as if she was expecting someone or something to show up. Dave could see her shrug before entering the car. She didn’t look happy leaving the hospital neither did she look happy to be well, she looked as if she was being forced and carried away against her will.
An elderly woman entered the back seat of the car through the other door. Dave guessed it was Stephanie’s mum. Two young ladies and a guy stood outside the car waving gently to Stephanie and her mum as the car began to move immediately they had settled in, the driver had already kicked on the engine while they entered the car. The car was reversed out of the covered car park it was and turned towards the gate. The wavers watched as the car reached the gate and was allowed to drive out of the hospital compound shortly after being checked by the security.
A man joined Stephanie’s friend who watched the car leave. Dave could recognize him even with the back view. It was Inspector Mac. The Inspector spoke some few words to the students and patted the male gently on the shoulder before leaving them to his own car.
‘Baby, are you sure you’re alright?’ the elderly woman seated beside Stephanie at the backseat asked with deep concern shown in her voice.
‘I’m fine,’ Stephanie replied briefly and faked a smile.
‘Come on, don’t tell me that. You’ve been moody since I arrived at the hospital,’ her mother pushed further.
‘It’s nothing mum,’ Stephanie insisted. She couldn’t tell her mum that she was still waiting to meet someone at the hospital.
‘Come on, are you still feeling pains somewhere?’ she asked, placing her right hand on Stephanie’s left shoulder. Stephanie nodded No to her question. ‘Then tell me what’s wrong. Or ain’t you happy that I’m here for you?’
‘Aww! Why won’t I be happy?’ Stephanie seemed surprised at her question. ‘I’m sure happy that I have you here with me.’
‘I’m sorry Steph. I know I should have come earlier but I couldn’t. I didn’t hear of the kidnap at all until you were at the hospital.’
‘It’s okay mum,’ Stephanie interrupted. She took her mum’s palms in hers. ‘ I understand your kind of job perfectly well and I’m not mad at you for showing up at this time.’
‘Are you sure honey?’ the woman asked, lifting a hand to Stephanie’s face, she stroked her cheek gently. ‘Are you happy?’
‘Yes mum,’ Stephanie said and grabbed her mum’s hand which was on her cheek.
‘But you don’t look it,’ the mum frowned.
‘I’m fine mum,’ Stephanie said softly, stressing each word. ‘It’s just that I’m not too happy about loosing my memory,’ she finally found a lie to tell her mum.
‘That?’ the mum sounded surprised. ‘But it’s just memory loss of events of the past fourteen days, I think you should be glad you didn’t have total memory loss.’
‘I’m glad about that mum,’ she said, folding her lips in. ‘It still feels awkward anyway.’
‘What is awkward about it?’
‘You know,’ she stared blankly at the ground of the moving vehicle. ‘Just imagine all those things they said happened to me. My meeting with Samantha Osman and my experience with the kidnappers. I can’t even remember anything about those experiences, I can’t be of help to the police in solving the case.’
‘Come on, I don’t think you should be bothered about that. The most important thing is that you are safe and sound. My baby is healthy. The police can do whatever they like to solve the case.’ she said and drew her daughter closer into a warm embrace. She allowed Stephanie’s jaw rest on her shoulder and she rubbed the girl’s back gently with her hand.
Madam Henrietta, Stephanie’s foster mom was a soft and kind hearted woman. Although being involved in an illegal occupation which was a secret to everyone including Stephanie, she still maintained a good heart somehow. It was during one of her night out on the job she had gotten Stephanie and since then taken responsibility for the girl like her own child. No one except for Stephanie and two of her close friends knew she didn’t give birth to Stephanie.
Stephanie was a complete opposite of Madam Henrietta in terms of dressing and fashion and even socialization. Madam Henrietta liked to do expensive and flashy clothes while Stephanie preferred to keep it simple. There was no day Madam Henrietta was found without make ups and flashy accessories. She always used the latest shoes, necklaces and bags, one would think she owned a fashion outfit even though establishing one in the future was one of her plans.
‘I think I’ll just have to take the Inspector’s advice,’ Madam Henrietta said as they released each other from the embrace. ‘You’ll have to move with me to the States.’
‘No mom, I can’t do that.’ Stephanie refused outrightly. ‘I’m almost done with my studies here, I should just be patient enough to finish up.’
‘No Steph, you have to move with me.’ madam Henrietta insisted. ‘That has always been my plan for you after your secondary school education but you insisted on staying here. I’m still wondering how you made that decision and why I allowed you.’
‘Mum, let’s just leave it the way it is. I just have to finish up and go for the national youth service. Then I can consider joining you there,’ Stephanie said.
‘You’re still going to have to consider it again?’ Madam Henrietta stared at her in surprise. Her mouth agape and eyes widened.
‘Mum, you are not planning to stay forever in the States, are you?’
‘No, I’ll be returning to Nigeria soon but I’m talking about you. I’m talking about your safety,’ she said and took in a deep breath, showing her deep state of worry.
‘I’m safe mom, the kidnappers and their accomplice have been arrested by the police.’ Stephanie said.
‘They been arrested, but is that all of them? You and I know that the cult is larger than just those few boys the police have behind bars and who says you don’t even have more people plotting against you among your friends, who says you don’t have more enemies in that your group, SWAD?’
‘Mum, come on!’ Stephanie exclaimed, giving her a reprimanding look. ‘Why are you so negative about this?’
‘I’m not being negative, I’m just being cautious.’
‘Mom, don’t worry. I’ll be fine.’
‘Stephanie,’ madam Henrietta called, shaking her head with a worried expression on her face. She didn’t look like one who was going to easily give up on the matter. ‘Do you know what you’ve gotten yourself into already?’
Stephanie was silent.
‘Did you hear what the police said about your encounter with Samantha Osman and the possiblity of her coming back to look for you?’
At that moment, Stephanie felt like telling her that she still had her memory intact and had not forgotten anything. She wanted to tell her that she didn’t think Samantha Osman was as bad as the police and media painted her and that she was looking forward to her return but she remained quiet and just recited Dave’s words of warning in her mind.
‘Baby, I think you just have to go with me. You’ll be safe in the United States.’
‘Is there anyone who says that Samantha Osman can’t come to the United States?’
‘You know that is unlikely, Nigeria has been her place of focus.’
‘Mum…’ Stephanie paused. There was a little jerk as the driver took a sharp turn into the opposite carriageway. ‘I just love staying in this country. I feel like I have a lot to do here.’
‘No Steph, you’ve always wanted to school in the United States. You always made this desire clear when you were in Secondary School. You only changed when it was time for the final exams.’
‘That was because I fell in love with the country.’
‘No, shut up Steph!’ Madam Henrietta slammed angrily. ‘You didn’t fall in love with any country. It was because I told you the truth and I allowed you see that…’ She stopped abruptly with angry hisses.
‘Why don’t you go on?’ Stephanie said in a teary voice. Her eyes were suddenly filled with tears. ‘Go on, call her whatever you like.’
Madam Henrietta, still fidgeting in anger turned her face forward. Her anger seemed to drop the same way it rose.
Stephanie knew who Madam Henrietta was about to blame, her real mum. She had been told about her maternity in her final year at the secondary school and allowed to meet her mother but she was made to understand that the mother had no charge over her though they could see each other if they wanted. Truth be told, the knowledge of her real maternity was the major reason Stephanie had changed her mind about schooling in the United States.
‘Everything just changed since I told you the truth,’ madam Henrietta continued stubbornly, her hands still vibrating as she gestured and her face squeezed angrily.
‘Just leave her out of this,’ Stephanie said, trying to wipe off the rain of tears that had rolled down her face. ‘We’re talking about me, it’s not that she said anything about staying to me anyway.’
‘Then why are you bent on staying here?’
‘I just love to.’
‘Suit yourself then, if that’s what I get for all these years.’ madam Henrietta looked away from her and stared out through the window by her side.
Dave finally got close enough to them after almost an hour of trailing behind them. He was just a car behind and the occupants of the car were too busy with their discussion to notice a car was following.
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‘Are you done restoring my account?’ a voice sounded from behind. It sounded like Tara’s voice but the gruffness with which it sounded was strange to Henry.
‘Tara,’ he called softly as he turned back, instead of answering her question. ‘The deactivation wasn’t from here.’
‘Then where was it from?’ she sounded cold. Her slow footsteps could be heard loud in the silent evening.
‘I don’t know but I’m sure it’s from an external server,’ he replied.
‘What external server?’ she asked as she stopped behind him.
‘I’ve not located it yet and I can’t do that here, it can only be done at the NSCC office.’
She stared at him with a mean look, shaking her head in pity for him as she imagined punishing him like she would have done if it was someone else. She stepped away from the back of his chair and sat on the seat to the main control system. She took about twenty five minutes to confirm what he said about visiting the NSCC Headquarters to rectify the problem. ‘It was deactivated from an external server? I don’t believe that, someone could have changed the address of any server’ she said after confirming it as true. ‘But we have to reactivate it anyway, using your own account will be dangerous for me. I’m sure it’s unprotected.’
Henry kept his gaze on her face and allowed her words sink deeply one after the other.
She got up from the seat slowly while the system was shutting down. ‘I think you’ll be the best to visit the NSCC office and rectify the problem.’
‘How do you expect me to do that?’ Henry flashed a quick look at her, with a shock expression on his face.
‘I expect you use your thinking faculty to get in,’ she said, confidently taking in a short breath. ‘You’ll go there first thing tomorrow morning and I advise you to play no games, you’ll be signing your death warrant that way.’
Stephanie needed not to ask Madam Henrietta why she had chosen for them to pass the night at a hotel when she had a duplex in the city. Madam Henrietta had mentioned before they left the hospital that she didn’t want any of her friends or family to know about her arrival into the country.
The hotel room was large with a large bed in it, specially designed for two. If not because a preorder had been made, Madam Henrietta would have requested for separate rooms for the both of them since they weren’t really on the same position about the situation. Both hadn’t mentioned a word after Madam Henrietta’s last in the car. They had carried the same ill and tensed atmosphere into the room with them.
‘You can take out your card,’ the receptionist said to the guest at the hotel reception.
Dave removed his debit card from the point of sale terminal machine and dipped it into his pocket. His phone vibrated in his the pocket at the left side of his trouser. He didn’t bother to check it, he knew it was the bank alert for the transaction he just made. He hissed as he thought about the money that was just deducted, that was fifty two thousand naira lost from his own personal account for a room he was very sure he had no need for. He could have requested for a receipt to provide as evidence so as to get a refund of money from the National Intelligence Service but he was sure he wasn’t going to spend the night there. He only hoped that he would find a way to get into the room Stephanie and her mum had taken. He had overheard madam Henrietta repeat the room number after the receptionist had assigned them.
‘Room 45,’ the receptionist said to him with a kind smile, handing him the access card to the room.
A young man dressed in the hotel attendant’s uniform appeared beside Dave. ‘Good evening sir,’ he greeted Dave with a kind smile as he took the bag Dave was carrying.
‘Room 45,’ the receptionist repeated to the young man.
Dave observed the young man’s body as he followed the lead. The man was about the same age or older than him, a little bit fatter than he was but Dave was sure he could still manage the man’s uniform if he were to snatch it. The only problem was the man’s height, it was way below average. Dave began to compare the dark blue jean trouser he was putting on to the black coloured trouser the man had on. His dark blue could still been mistaken for black if anyone does not placed a keen stare on it. He decided he was going to make use of the man’s shirt when they got to his room.
‘Do you have up to a hundred rooms in this hotel?’ Dave tried to strike a conversation with his helper after leveling up with him.
‘Yes, we should have about a hundred.’ the man replied with a welcoming smile.
‘So where are numbers 100 above located?’ Dave asked as they both entered a lift.
‘They should be from the seventh floor above,’ the man replied, greeting with a casual nod a young woman that entered into the lift with them.
‘What about 40 below?’
‘We have thirty five to fifty on the same floor we are headed for, the rest are on the lower floors.’
‘Oh! I see, I really do hope I enjoy your services tonight.’ Dave said with a smile. He had gotten the information he needed, Stephanie and her mum had been assigned room 37.
‘You sure would,’ the man replied with a kinder smile.
Twenty minutes later
Stephanie sat at the edge of the bed, staring blankly at the wall and lost in thoughts. Madam Henrietta had gone to use the bathroom after making several calls to different people, including the police officers and the doctor.
Stephanie did not want to hurt madam Henrietta after all the woman had done for her. She appreciated the woman’s kindness and honesty to her. Some other woman could have lied that her real mother was dead so as to move her mind completely off it but madam Henrietta was different, she didn’t only tell her about her mum but also allowed them meet. Madam Henrietta therefore did not deserve to get hurt by her. But even with everything, Stephanie couldn’t think of leaving Nigeria yet, especially not at this time when she thought her real mother needed her.
On the first day she had met her mother, there was really no connection between them. She had wished on that day there she didn’t even knew a real mother existed somewhere. Before they met, she had it in mind to accuse the woman who claimed to give birth to her of abandoning her for several years and not even making an attempt to reach out to her. But as it happened, she couldn’t when they met. They only stared at each other for few minutes without saying anything to themselves. Only after the third time of meeting, did they began to speak to each other. Since then, they had met only three more times in three years. The last meeting had been a memorable one for Stephanie. Her mother had spoken for so long with her, telling her of so many things of the past and also giving her counsel on how to thread carefully in life.
A knock sounded on the door of the hotel room and it distracted Stephanie from her thoughts. She stared towards the direction of the bathroom wondering if her mum, Madam Henrietta had called for anything.
‘Come in,’ Steph said. She crossed her legs and stared at the door inquisitively.
A uniformed man with a face cap walked in and closed the door. He bowed to greet at the entrance where he stood. ‘Room service, you called for us?’ he said without lifting his head.
Stephanie felt like laughing as the man looked awkward to her in his oversized shirt which was tucked into a skinny trouser. The expression on her face turned into surprise when the man raised his head up and took off the cap.
‘Stephanie, are you alone?’
‘No,’ she replied, nodding her head sideways, still in surprise of how Dave got there.
‘Who’s it?’ a voice rang out from the bathroom. Madam Henrietta was coming out already.
Dave quickly walked to where she was seated and dropped a paper on her lap. ‘Call me as soon as possible,’ he said and turned, hurrying back to the door.
‘Who’s that?’ Madam Henrietta stepped out of the bathroom just as Dave slammed the door. She stared at Stephanie’s face for a response.
‘A staff of the hotel, he came to the wrong room.’ she replied.
‘What nonsense!’ Madam Henrietta seemed pissed by the scenario. She walked to the landphone placed by the window side.
‘You don’t need to report mum, he apologized already.’ Stephanie said, knowing what her mum was about to do.
‘No, I have to. He could be a thief for all I care,’ she said as she raised the receiver to her ear. ‘Now, go ensure that the door is properly locked.’ she said to Stephanie while waiting for her call to be answered.
‘But we’re still waiting for dinner,’ Stephanie replied but Madam Henrietta was already expressing her rage to the receiver of the call.
To be continued