KNOCKOUT

Her thin slow beep comes on as she tucks herself into bed. She groans and stretches for the phone. She clicks on the message. “What?” She says excitedly. Veronica rolls on the bed. She covers her mouth with her hand. Seeing Veronica is still asleep, she sighs, smiles, and drops her phone. 

_______________________________________________ Veronica yawned and stretched as she opened her eyes. “Rita,” She called. 

“Sister, good morning. You are awake,” Rita replied. 

“Yes, I am awake because all your rattling wouldn’t let me sleep. Why are you up so early? And why are dressed? Where are you going to?” 

“Veronica, all these questions this early morning,” Rita responded and turned to Veronica. 

Veronica gave her a surprised look. 

“Ahh, sorry o, Sister Veronica,” Rita jokingly corrected herself and they burst into a laugh. After some seconds of laughing, “Well…I’m going for an interview and they said to be there before 8. And you know I have to win against Lagos traffic to be there on time. “ Rita explained. 

“See my baby girl o. Ehen, what interview is that?” Veronica asked. 

“Well, you know I’ve been applying to be a host, and yesterday this show noticed me so I guess this is it,” Rita replied as she packed her things into her bag. 

“What show?” Veronica inquired. 

Rita put her hair behind as she bent to pick her shoes. “It’s a new game show called ‘knockout’.” 

“Knockout? I have not heard of it before,” Veronica said and climbed out of bed. 

Rita put her shoes in a nylon bag. “Yes, it’s new. I’m going to be among the first hosts they will be interviewing for their show.”

“Are you sure about this?” Veronica asked with a worried look. 

“Definitely. Wait let me show you something,” Rita said as she brought out her phone from her bag, she unlocked it, swiped left and right, and went over to sit with her sister. 

“This is the address,” She and Veronica stared into the phone. Rita took it and swiped again, “This is the flier with the people who own the show in it,” Rita said smiling. 

Veronica tried to smile, “Yea, it looks legit but I don’t know, Rita.”

“Come on Sis. I know you are worried about me but I’m a grown woman and I can take care of myself and besides I’m chasing my dreams,” Rita assured her. 

“Yes you are,” Veronica chuckled. 

“Okay we’ll do it like this, once I get to the place I’ll call you. I’ll video call you so you can see the place,” Rita suggested. 

“You promise?” Veronica asked. 

“Cross my heart. Hope to die.” They both giggled. 

“Oya come and be going before you go late. After all, there is nothing I’ll say that’ll make you change your mind,” Rita said. 

“Nothing o,” Rita voiced as she stood up. She picked up her things and headed for the door. She opened it, “Bye big sis,” and then shut it. 

“Bye, call me,” Veronica yelled. She sighed and went back to bed. 

“And then four hours later…,” Veronica tells her fiancé. 
_______________________________________________ Veronica entered her boss’s office with some folders, and as she stepped in, the folders fell from her trembling hands and she held on to the doorway. 

Her boss and his secretary looked in her direction. “Veronica?” Her boss called. 

“I’m sorry,” Veronica apologized and squatted to pick the folders up. The secretary joined her. 

“Are you okay?” The secretary asked her. 

“I’m fine, Chioma. I just felt dizzy. That’s all,” Veronica responded. 

“Are you sure?” Chioma insisted. 

Veronica nodded. 

“Go to the sickbay. I’ll give these to him and bring them back to you, okay?” Chioma told her. 

“Really?” Veronica asked. Chioma nodded, smiling. They stood up. 

“Go on,” Chioma urged her. 

“Excuse me, Sir,” Veronica managed to say out. 

“Okay, Veronica,” her boss replied. Veronica walked out of his office. 

_______________________________________________
“I didn’t see her calls or even a video call. I thought it was nothing. And then I went home, she wasn’t there. Her number was switched off so I thought maybe her battery was flat. So I decided to wait but then I fell asleep. I woke up and she wasn’t still back. 4 am and my baby wasn’t back. That’s unlike Rita. That’s why I freaked out and came here. You have to help me,” Veronica expresses in tears. 

“Hey, hey, hey, hey, don’t do this, okay? Calm down. Don’t cry,” Kachi consoles her as he dries her tears with his hand and hugs her. “You know the address, don’t you?” Kachi asks her. Veronica nods. 

“Good, so we will wait till it’s a little bit bright, then we will go,” he tells her. 

Veronica breaks off from the hug. “A little bit bright?” She asks furiously. “What if something happens to her?” She yells, “I’m not waiting for when it’s a little bit bright. I’m not planning to marry a soldier if I have to wait till it’s a little bit bright to take important actions. Besides, it’ll be a little bit bright by the time we get there. We are going now.”

Kachi is shocked. “Okay, I’m sorry. We are going now,” Kachi says calmly. 

“Good,” and she storms out of the house. 

_______________________________________________
“Something is wrong with her. Something is wrong with my sister, Kachi. I can feel it,” Veronica says, sadly and lowly. 

Kachi glances at her and faces the road. “Baby, she’s fine, trust me. We are going there to get her, and hopefully as a new employee. You’ll see,” he assures her. Veronica folds her arms and looks away. 

The day is already getting brighter. Veronica slowly sits upright. “What’s happening there?” She asks. 

“Where?” He replies as he passes the scene where people are gathered by the roadside. 

“Stop, stop, stop,” she urges him. 

Kachi brings the car to a halt. “What is it?” He asks. 

“I want to see what’s going on,” she tells him. 

“But baby, you can’t just stop in a place you don’t know to join bystanders,” he advises her. 

“I don’t feel comfortable. I feel like we should check it out, please,” she pleads. 

Kachi sighs, “Fine but we won’t take long, all right?” Veronica nods. 

They approach the crowd, they try to see what is drawing their attention. Veronica manages to see through; from the legs to the hand, the twin bracelet. She froze; feeling nauseous and dizzy as flashing lights cover her vision. 

“Veronica, Veronica,” she faintly hears Kachi’s voice. She blacks out. 

_______________________________________________
She put on her heels and knocked on the gate. “Who is there?” The gateman asked. 

“I’m here for the interview.”

The gate opened and she entered. 

“Good morning,” she greeted. 

“Good morning,” the gateman responded. “Welcome. Just go into the building, you’ll be attended to,” he instructed her. 

“Thank you,” she greeted, smiling. 

She cat-walked into the building still smiling with confidence. She scanned the beautiful interior and also saw some girls being led into different doors. 

“Hi, may I help you?” A voice cut her scanning. She looked at him; tall, handsome, and well built. 

“I’m Rita. I’m here for Knockout’s interview,” still smiling. 

“I’m Julius. The boss’s PA,” Julius introduced himself. “

“Nice to meet you,” Rita said. 

“Nice to meet you too. Can I see your CV?” Julius asked. 

Rita reached for her file, she brought out a paper and handed it to him. Julius rushed through it. 

“Nice,” he remarked. 

“Hope there’s no problem?” Rita asked nervously. 

“No, not at all. They saw it before calling you here and I think your CV is impressive.” 

He smiles. 

“Follow me,” he orders. 

Rita followed him through a door. It’s an office. 

“Sit,” Julius told her as he took a seat at the other side of the table. He pressed a sanitizer into his palms and rubbed his two palms together. Two casually dressed men entered. Rita looked back. “So who did you tell about your movement?” Julius asked and Rita faced him. 

Unsuspectingly, “my sister,” she responded. 

Julius took a pen and tried to write. 

“So where does your sister live?” He demanded. 

With a nervous laugh, “why would you want to know that?” 

The man of her left landed a backhand slap on her cheek. Rita screamed and another slap landed on her right cheek. Rita burst into tears, “what did I do?” 

Julius indicated with his head. One cupped his hand over her mouth, while the other twisted her hands behind her. Rita moaned painfully as they dragged her out of the chair. Julius stood up and began to undress. Rita’s eyes widened in shock as she understood what was about to go down. Rita struggled with the powerful men as they forcefully and firmly laid her on the table. Julius picked up a black box and took out a pair of scissors. He faced Rita with a devilish smile. 

Rita, with all the strength she could muster vehemently wriggled her body but she couldn’t break free. Julius bent over her, and he slowly cut open her dress from bottom to top. Tears fell down Rita’s eyes. 

Sans pity, “I’m sorry you honored Knockout’s invitation,” Julius told her as he climbed on her. 

_______________________________________________
Veronica opens her eyes. Kachi rushes to her side in the bed. 

“You are awake,” he utters. She looks at him, “it wasn’t a dream, was it?” She asks with a pale countenance. 

Kachi shakes his head. 

Veronica stares at him. 

“My colleagues went to the house. There was no one there. We are still on the search hunt.” 

Tears fall from Veronica’s eyes but she doesn’t blink. She rubs the bracelet on her wrist. 

“There’s something you should know,” Kachi continues. Veronica doesn’t take her eyes off him. 

“She was raped,” Kachi reveals. 

Veronica gasps, her mouth opens in shock and she starts breathing fast. 

Kachi grabs her, “Stay with me, baby. Don’t go off on me again.”

“My baby, my poor baby. They treated her like an animal. They didn’t just rape her but they left her for me without a head. You’re going to find them. You’re going to find them,” Veronica sobs. 

Kachi embraces her, “I will, my love. I will”. 

My Run Your Time

We alighted from the car after he had parked in the lot. I was so angry and frustrated that I had been towed there that Sunday. For God’s sake, I thought Sundays were for rest. 

“I have told you to stop wearing short dresses if you won’t wear them properly,” dad said as he dragged my dress down. 

“Dad stop this thing you are doing,” I angrily mumbled to him and he gave me a bad look. 

Sophia chuckled in front of me and it was I and mum’s turn to give her the bad eyes. 

We went into the hall. I’d admit it was beautifully decorated. They put a lot into it. 

I hissed and crossed my leg as I sat close to mum. “Mum do I have to be here?” I sulked. 

“Well, your father insisted we all come. He claims it’s a special day,” she said faking smiles as she greeted some people. And I realized she was just as dissatisfied as I was to be there. 

“Just relax and enjoy it. I bet it’s going to be fun,” the annoying younger sister squeaked like a rat. 

I frowned at her, “you… you better move away from me before I pluck your small eyes out,” I threatened and she humbly moved to the end of the roll. 

My sister was a pain in my ass; like father like daughter. 

I was still furious that I had to be there. “Why couldn’t these men just celebrate their end of year party alone just like when they always have their meetings.”

My thoughts were cut short when my sister tapped me. I didn’t even know when mum moved over to where dad was seated. 

Sophia was smiling sheepishly. 

“What is it?” I asked her without blinking. 

She signalled with her head towards the door. I looked and I saw that a very handsome man and his parents had just arrived and they were exchanging pleasantries with people. 

I was still staring when his eyes caught mine and I quickly looked away. 

“He saw me,” I whispered to my sister. 

“Really?” She giggled. 

I expired and pretended to be looking at my parents. 

Merriments had already begun and everyone was having fun especially Sophia who had already blended with some girls and was carried away by their small talks. 

After about what came off as hours, “Merit, come,” dad called from where he was seated. Mum had already been hauled away by her “fellow” women. 

I stood up and readjusted my dress, I didn’t want to get one of his looks in front of all the people there. 

“Dad,” I said as I got to him. 

“Ada m,” he remarked smiling. “This is my first daughter I was talking about.” He told the men around him. 

The man who I had seen earlier with the handsome man spoke, “I saw her sitting over there looking so pretty. She’s perfect.”

I was confused, what was dad trying to do?

“He’ll like her,” the man added. 

“Excuse me. Perfect, pretty. I’m sorry what are you talking about? Who will like who?” I asked. 

The man smiled and looked at me, “My son. I think you’ll make a perfect wife. Don’t worry, he’ll be here soon.”

My eyes widened and I tittered, “wife?”

“Yes. You will make a good wife to him, Merit,” my father commented with a straight face. 

“Dad,” I called and he gave me the usual look. 

I couldn’t explain how angry I was at that moment and I couldn’t express it either. So my dad was serious about this marriage talks and now he just wanted to peddle me off like that. I stood there like a dummy in front of them, waiting for a man I knew nothing about to show up. I couldn’t believe my life was going to change soon. Me, a married woman? I wasn’t even ready to think for myself let alone for two people. A new life. What was it going to be like?

“You pushed me into something I wasn’t ready for. You ruined my life. You almost killed me. I don’t know if I can ever forgive you, dad,” Merit turns her head to the other side of the bed. 

“Ada m,” her father calls but she doesn’t reply. 

Sophia lays down beside her and hugs her from behind. 

Her mother after staring at him for a while, “Did I not warn you? I told you all that glitters is not gold. You said let us try this gold. You said she’s taking too much time. I told you she’s just taking her time. For heaven’s sake, she was just 24,” a tear rolls down her cheek. 

“Now see what you put my baby through. See what you put our daughter through. I knew that that fine face was a demon from the very first day I saw him get angry at that party over a mere wine bottle that was broken by that poor boy. A wine that did not even concern him, bottle or wine did not even touch him. It was so glaring that he was a mad dog waiting to be unleashed and today, he intentionally broke a wine bottle and stabbed my child all over with it. The child I carried in my womb and suffered for, he almost killed her.”

She shakes her head, “somebody’s husband. I don’t care how long this abuse has been going on but that idiot will not escape this one.”

Merit’s father lowers his head. 

“Look at me.” 

He doesn’t raise his head. 

“Look at me Jacob,” she thunders. 

He lifts his head to look at her. 

“Now look at her,” she says in sobs. 

He looks towards the bed and her state pierces through his heart. He shivers. 

“Yes, I hope your conscience can handle this,” she swallows. “If not, I want Ebere to suffer like my daughter is doing right now.” 

She daringly looks into his eyes. Then she dries her eyes and strolls out of the room. 

Jacob sniffs, lets out a heavy sigh as he takes his eyes off Merit’s bed and leaves the hospital room too. 

Merit bursts into tears and Sophia tighten her hug. 

Bad Omen

Ignoring the rustling sounds of the dry leaves being blown around in the compound by the wind, she walks to the cleared spot on the ground and drops the basket. She wipes her hand on her cloth, moves to the hut, bends and goes inside. 

Few minutes later, she comes out and goes to sit on the cleared spot close to the basket. 

A man comes out of the hut, stretches and looks up at the sky. He exhales and he too goes over and sits on the other side of the clear spot. 

The woman brings out the little calabashes of food and they begin to eat. 

“Dim oma, what is wrong? You are not eating your favorite ‘ofe ora’ like you do. You don’t look happy and even when I came to call you from inside, you were in deep thoughts. Please talk to me. What is it? O gini?

He drops the fufu he is holding and lets out a disheartening sigh. 

“Dim oma,” she calls. 

“Ugom, I am worried,” he tells her. 

“About what?” She asks. 

“About what the Chief Priest said,” he replies. 

Ugo readjusts herself, “that’s true. You didn’t relate the outcome of your visit to the shrine yesterday. What did he tell you?” Ugo asks curiously. 

Her husband looks directly into her eyes, “Ugom, we are going to have twins,” he reveals. 

Immediately, “Tufiakwa. May the gods forbid,” Ugo spits. “Dim oma, how can the Chief Priest say that?”

“Are you calling the gods liars?” He asks her. 

“May I be damned if I ever blaspheme against the gods. Dim Oma, what I’m saying is that there is no way I’m going to carry twins in my womb and give birth to them. The Chief Priest may have made an unintentional mistake this time around. Think about it, my great grand mother did not have twins, my grandmother did not have twins even my own mother did not have twins. So how can I? It will not happen. It can’t happen. I can’t have twins,” she spits again. “I will give you a child and not twins.” She maintains. 

He gazes at his wife. 

“Dim Oma, stop worrying yourself. The gods will not allow such a bad thing to happen to us. Calm yourself down and eat, biko. Eat my husband,” she adds. 

She brings the fufu to his mouth and he eats it. 

Ugo comes out of the hut and as the night breeze blows on her, she wraps her arms around her body. She looks up at the dark sky with sadness. 

“Gods of my forefathers, please do not forsake me. Do not let me be put to shame. Do not let my husband be put to shame. For three years we have yearned for at least a child of our own to bring us blessing, not a curse. Gods of our land, I pray that you revert this curse if it is true and bless me with just a child. Please gods of our land.” She lets out a heartbreaking sigh and gently sits on a stone in front of the hut. 

“Ugom,” she hears him call and she turns around. 

“What are you doing outside in this cold night?” He asks her. 

She smiles, “I couldn’t sleep. The child was making me uncomfortable so I decided to come out for a bit,” she explains. 

“But you should have at least woken me up. Remember it is our child, not yours alone. So whenever things like this happens, let me know. Please my love,” he tells her. 

“Anugom,” she says still smiling. 

“Let’s go inside, this cold is not good for you and the child,” he tells her as he helps her up and they enter inside. 

Ugo’s screams fills the whole compound if not the whole clan as well. 

“Gods of our land, please protect my wife and my child. Please keep them alive,” he prays as he clenches his fists and paces around the compound. 

After about few more minutes of Ugo’s screams, he hears the cries of a baby. He could not contain his joy as he runs to the hut and back to where he had been standing. 

He turns around and sees the midwife looking downcast. 

Still smiling, “Adaku, how is my wife and child doing?” 

Adaku shakes her head, looks down and then back to him, “Bad omen,” she divulges. 

“No, no, no, no, no……….,” was all he kept screaming as he runs into the hut. 

He was still grieving when the Chief Priest arrived with his assistant carrying an earthenware pot. He looks up and his sadness is visible. 

Without looking at him, “Ozoemena, it has happened as I predicted. You know what you must do. First thing tomorrow else the goddess’s wrath will visit not just your family but the whole clan.” Then he turns to him, “tomorrow Ozoemena, tomorrow those weapon of destruction dies. For now, go in and bring them to me.” The Chief Priest orders. 

Ozo stands up and sluggishly heads into the hut. Few minutes later, he comes out with the babies, making efforts to ignore Ugo’s cries. Without looking at his babies, he hands them over to the Chief Priest who puts the babies into the pot. 

“You must come with two tubers of yams, two white cocks and two kolanuts for the cleansing of our land,” he turns around and leaves quickly while his assistant carries the pot and follows behind him. 

Ozoemena watches them with teary eyes till there are no longer in sight. 

Ugo walks out slowly and sits on the stone, staring into emptiness. 

She is startled as a hand touches her shoulder. 

She shuts her eyes knowing it’s her husband. 

“Why?” Ugo asks. 

He doesn’t respond. 

She takes his hand and holds it. 

“Why?” She asks again. “Why us? Three years of childlessness and then this. Obim, I waited, yearned, prayed and walked with pride for nine months, and all for what?” The sadness in her voice pierced through Ozo’s heart. 

Ozo squats and with his hand, he turns her head to him. 

“My love, you have to be strong. You have to be strong for me and you, for the child that we will have,” Ozo tells her. 

“And what if we have twins again?” She asks him. 

“We will keep trying. It is not the end of our world. As long as we have each other, we will be okay. We have lived three years without a child. At least people will know that you are not barren.”

“But they will say I have a cursed womb,” she cuts him short. He just stares at her. 

Softly, “do you know how it feels to not hear the cry of a child in this compound for three years and when I finally do, it’s a bad omen?” And then a tear drops from her eye. 

Ozo dries it with his finger. 

“Tomorrow we will get rid of the bad omen and we will keep trying,” he tells her and stands up. 

Ugo looks up at him. 

“For now, lets go inside. You need to rest,” he stretches his hand to her. 

“I am not pregnant and I’m not a nursing mother either. So there’s no need for all that care,” she comments sadly. 

“You’re still my wife and you deserve all the care I can give,” he states, still with a stretched hand. 

She looks away and reluctantly takes his hands. He helps her up and hugs her before taking her into the hut. 

Carrying the pot on his head, Ozoemena, Ugo, the Chief Priest with his assistant carrying the bag of the items for the sacrifice walk through the lonely bush that leads to the “ajo ofia” (evil forest), silently. Getting to the entrance, Ugo stops. 

The Chief Priest pauses but doesn’t look at her, Ozo urges her with his eyes, she ignores him. The Chief Priest continues while Ozo drags his wife by the hand into the Evil Forest. 

“Drop it there,” the Chief Priest points to a spot close to a tree and Ozoemena gently brings the pot down from his head and places it on the spot. 

The Chief Priest starts his incantations as he carefully takes out the sacrificial items from the bag, dropping them close to the pot, at the foot of the tree. As the incantations went on, Ugo holds on to her husband. 

“We are done. You’re free to go. The land has been cleansed. We have all been cleansed,” the Chief Priest, smiling, announces to them after the incantations had come to an end. 

“Thank you Great one,” Ozoemena and Ugo greets him in unison. And the Chief Priest nods in satisfaction. 

Ozoemena takes his wife by the hand and leads her out. Ugo turns back to look at the pot, tears welling up in her eyes. 

“Look at me woman,” Ozo says as he tries to shake her out of her grief. “The gods will help me give you a child and I will make you happy again. I will give you a reason to walk with pride again.” He tells her softly. 

Ugo looks at her husband and at that moment she believed everything he said as she felt a rush of peace down her spines. 

She stands on her tip toes and hugs him tightly. 

“I love you,” Ozo whispers.

INTENSE

We were laughing hard at his joke, and then she walks in. I look towards her and the laugh ceases. I become irritated on the seat as she walks over to kiss him. She gives me a bad look as she sits by his side. 

Feeling uneasy, I get up, “Sir I’ll leave now. Call me when you need me,” I say to him. 

“All right Sandy,” he replies smiling, that always gives me cold chills. 

I pick up my tablet, steal a glance at her and hurriedly leave the room. 

I sigh immediately I close the door behind me. 

I can’t explain but I always feel choked whenever I’m with my boss and she comes around. The way she even looks at me doesn’t make things easier. 

Twenty minutes later we are at the meeting I was discussing with him earlier on before she walked in on us and I am not surprised she is here too. Why does she always have to be all over him? She should let him breathe, she isn’t the first to have a rich guy for a fiancé. 

But what’s my business? Why do I care? It’s their life. 

Oh, Sandy stop this and focus. 

I cough softly using my left hand to cover my mouth as I raise my right hand up. All eyes turn to me. 

“Excuse me, I need to use the restroom,” I get up without waiting for a response and I quickly walk out of the room. I stop outside the door to catch my breath but as I hear another chair sound, I hurry to the restroom. 

I rinse my face and look into the mirror, “Oh my goodness,” I said in shock seeing him stand behind me. 

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to startle you,” he apologises taking my hand. I stylishly pull my hand away, dropping the napkin on the hand basin. 

“It’s all right Sir. I’m fine,” I say as I gaze intently into his face. 

“That’s your problem,” he utters. 

“What is?” I ask in a curiously calm manner. 

“You can look me in the eye when it’s just you and me but not when I’m with Jennifer. Why is that so?”

Woah, that question hit me hard. I wasn’t expecting it. How do I answer this? Thinking to myself as I scratch my head. 

“Sandy,” 

“Sir”

He gives me a quizzical look. 

I stammer, “It’s nothing serious. Just that I…,” 

He cuts me short, “Is it what I think it is?” He asks with that charming smile. 

Confused, “What do you think it is?” I ask him as my heart races. 

Still smiling, “that you li…,” immediately the door comes open and her head pops in. 

We turn to her and he exhales a sigh. 

“Baby, what are you doing? They need you. Come,” she says stretching her hand forward. 

He shakes his head and points at me, “We are not done with this conversation,” he tells me as he moves towards Jennifer. I swallow hard as my mind runs in circles. “Hope he hasn’t figured out?” I mutter to myself. 

Inadequacy

Having the usual smile, she receives the hundred naira from him and with a sufficient basis, I can form a mental image of what is going through her mind. 

He places a kiss on her left cheek, pats my head and then departs 

Immediately it disappears, the fake smile

She heaves a sigh of weariness as she slams the old wooden door 

Then she tells me to go play

I give her a quick nod and leave the room

Not to play but to watch her from the tattered curtains

And I was quick to catch her wipe the tears off her face

I hate seeing her trying to be strong even when she has no strength left 

Even I want the good things 

I want to have those fancy that hings children of my age have too

But I’ll have to lock in my wants for now 

I know daddy is trying

I know he’s doing all he can for me and mummy to be happy

And I don’t know why it’s still like this 

But I believe that this won’t last for long

My Gaffe

“Excuse me, what did you just say?” I asked in utter confusion. 

“I’m just saying that I have seen how she bubbles with joy when she paints. I’ve never seen her that happy when she sings,” my friend explained. 

“I don’t know why she sings anyways,” my friend continued as I stared into her face, clueless. I just watched her lips move but I wasn’t listening. 

“You should see the number of followers she has on her media pages.” 

I heard her say as I came back to reality. 

Goaded with anger, I stood up stunning her as I abruptly cut her short. 

“Mercy, what’s wrong?” She asked me in wonder. 

“Excuse me Cathy. I have to go,” I told her. 

“Did I say anything wrong?” She asked. 

“We’ll have this lunch next time,” I declared as I grabbed my bag from the table and stormed out of the restaurant not minding how she’d be feeling. 

“Welcome ma,” my gatekeeper greeted but I ignored him still having that apoplectic rage all over me. I rushed into my house, dropped my handbag on the couch and headed upstairs. 

I turned the knob and pushed the door open; stepped into the room as I looked carefully around. 

I sighed and walked to her wardrobe, moved it from its closed position. I brought out everything I could find in the wardrobe but didn’t find anything relating to what I was looking for. I was so angry to think straight. 

I turned and as I bit my lips, I caught sight of the fancy white cupboard close to her bed. I rushed to it, opened it and I became fixed to that spot. 

I reached for the papers with shaky hands and I became fully aware of what Cathy had told me. 

As I went through them one by one, the only question ringing in my head was how this happened under my roof and I wasn’t aware?

I wanted to get angry. I really wanted to explode but this beautiful paintings right in my hands were telling me otherwise. Then it dawned on me; these paintings were mostly of places we’ve been to for our music tour. 

I snorted as I rubbed my nose. How did I let this happen? How could I have let my concern for my own advantage swathe me at the expense of her own happiness?

My eyes fell as I fell on my knees. 

I couldn’t believe I had been a monster. 

I felt someone watching me so I turned my head to the door and my eyes met hers. 

Clara, nonplussed, stared at me. Maybe seeing her room ransacked and me in her room didn’t make sense to her. 

I stared back at her for a while before leaning on the cupboard to help me up. 

“Clara,” I called. 

She didn’t answer but bit her lips. 

I sighed with hopelessness. 

“How could I not have noticed you were so great at painting?” My hopelessness grew as I looked into her blank face. “How could I have let my own selfish reasons blind me from the truth all this while? Oh God, what have I done?” Tears streamed down my face as I walked to her but she moved away when I got to her. 

I stopped and turned to her, “My darling, I’m sorry. Forgive me,” I uttered. 

I saw a tear drop. 

“Please don’t hate me,” I said to her. 

With the aid of her palm, she wiped her eyes, “I can’t hate you mum. I know you did what you thought was best for me,” Clara spoke and I could feel my hopelessness fading away. 

“But not like this. I’m not doing it the right way. I know that now. I can’t keep pushing to be me. I’m sorry. Forgive me.” 

She let her bag fall to the floor as she threw herself in my arms. “I forgive you mum.” 

Catch Me

My eyes flickered as I tried to open them. 

I paused. What was that? A floating hand was by the right side of my bed. As my heart raced, I closed my eyes again forming in mind that it was just a dream. I gently opened my eyes but it was still there. Motionless. 

I got up slowly and then, it turned swiftly to me like it had been waiting for me to wake up. I let out an audible gasp as I moved backwards. 

It jumped on me and I let out a deafening scream. 

I screamed until I woke up panting. 

With a feeling of nervousity in my bones, I slowly searched my room with my eyes and in a flash the hand jumped right at me. 

I let out a sharp shrilling cry. It struggled to cover my mouth as I made efforts to resist it. 

He stopped struggling and turned away, then back to me again. He ascended and as fast as lightning he charged towards me with its pointing fingers. 

“noooooooooooooooooooo,” I screamed with my eyes closed. 

And with a spasmodic jerk, I woke up panting, drenched in my own sweat. 

Canteen Punks

“Oya, time don reach for all of you useless people to vamoose,” A fat man stated as he hit the table. 

In fear, all the ladies and children got up from their tables and walked out as some guys followed them out, laughing. 

I could feel dad’s anger rising at the rude statement the fat man had made.  

We had come to have lunch in the usual canteen close to dad’s small house which was also close to the local school. And this isn’t the first time Dad and I are hearing these taunts and rude words, especially to the female teachers. 

I knew today was going to be different as he stood up from our table and walked over to the table of the fat man who had just spoken. Seeing my huge dad approach him, he dropped the chicken he had picked from one of the female teacher’s plate with anxious concern. 

Dad sat on a table beside him; tapping his fingers on the table, he stared at the fat guy. 

Unable to hold it anymore, “what are you looking at?” He asked dad. 

But dad kept mute. 

“I asked you a question,” he roared as he leapt up and made to attack but dad was faster. Dad got hold of his fist and stared deeply into his daring eyes. 

The only guy who hadn’t gone out with the others moved to hit dad but he got a mighty punch that sent him to the ground. I chuckled. 

The fat man loosened himself from dad’s hold, charged towards dad and they started fighting. I figured out the other two had heard the noise because I could see them running in. Seeing that dad was gaining, I turned around and rushed for them. 

The lanky one tried to grab me but I ducked and immediately grabbed his arm and wrung it. I snickered as his cries filled the air. The chubby one rushed at me but I ran and I kept running around the table. 

“Jenny, I need you here,” Dad called, abruptly halting the fun I was having. 

I stopped running and so did the panting chubby man and with a blow to his forehead, I put him to sleep. 

“I’m here,” as I got to dad. He had hung a rope on the fat man’s neck but they were still struggling. Dad urged me to double the ropes. Torn between battling with Dad and me, his strengths faded, giving me the chance to double the ropes. As he let dad go, we watched him struggle for his life, upside down. 

The Getaway

Ignoring the altercation between the women in front, I entered the café. 

“Irekanmi, did you see her?” Mobo asked me after I came out. 

“No I didn’t,” I replied without taking my eyes off the doorway, “and these are not all the women that came for this getaway. I think Mum should be with the others.” 

My ears started to pick up what the women were saying. 

“You have all done your part and I promised to reward you, so calm down. My girls will handle you,” she said smiling. 

“Better o,” one of the women said. 

The manner Mrs Kate left them was suspicious. My eyes followed her till she entered her car. 

As I turned away from her, I caught sight of one of Mrs Kate’s girls who drew out a gun and shot one of the woman. My eyes widened in surprise as she fell to the ground whilst the other women screamed. 

The rest of the girls pulled out their guns and started shooting at the screaming women. The women ran and I realized they were not only shooting at the women but also at the children.  

Horrified, “Where’s Seye?” I asked my younger brother. 

“I don’t know sis. He was standing right here,” Mobo replied demonstrating to his side. With mixed feelings of confusion and fear, I took Mobo’s hands and led him hurriedly to the side of the café. 

“Mobo, listen to me. I want you to gather as many children as you can and run for mum’s car. Do you understand me?”

“I do but what about you?” He asked me and I could see the fear of danger in his eyes. 

I tried to be brave, “I’ll find Seye. Now go,” I said as I pushed him to run. 

I searched with my eyes for Seye as I ran for my life. 

With tears streaming down my face, I decided to run to the garage but a figure writhing on the ground caught my attention. I ran closer and not knowing whether to smile or keep crying, I carried him up and I realized he had been shot in the leg. 

“Seye, my baby. I’m so sorry.”

“Sis, what’s going on? My leg hurts and I’m so scared,” Seye told me amidst tears. 

“It’s going to be all right. I’m here now,” I told him as I rested him on my shoulder. 

“Mobo,” I called out as I saw him running towards the garage with some children. 

“Don’t stop running. I’m behind you” I yelled racing with Seye in my arms. 

I wished I could turn back to get my mum but what if? Running towards the car, I knew she would be happier with us being safe with the other children. 

Forget me

Getting to the palace they found out that it was guarded but not heavily. 

“How do you intend to go through them?” Udodi asked her. 

“Well, there was no plan of going in the right way, was there? We stick to the plan and that’s how we are going in,” Binyelum replied. “Let’s go,” she added. 

Udodi held her hand as she made to move. 

“Binye, wait! What if you get there and he embarrasses you, what will you do? Remember all he said to you,” Udodi expressed. 

“Udo, Chidubem is my family. I know he hurt me but my heart won’t be able to get around this until he says everything to my face. It’s been two months already and I should have gotten over it but I can’t. I just need to know why,” Binyelum told Udodi. 

“If you say so. I know I can’t change your mind. Besides we’ve come this far so let’s get on with it,” Udodi stated. 

They lurked through the bushes and to the front of the palace gate. Binyelum sneaked up on the guard by the left and Udodi, the guard on the tight wrenching their necks. The maidens nodded at each other as they entered the compound. 

Cautiously making sure no one saw them, they searched every hut in the palace and hid themselves when anyone was in sight. 

The maidens met at the back of a hut. 

“He’s not in any of the hut. I searched all of it,” Udodi said softly as she breathed heavily. 

“Me too. Just the palace maids going about their duties.”

“Are you sure they didn’t see you?” Udodi asked as she looked out. 

“Of course they didn’t,” Binyelum replied. 

“I think we should leave now before anyone notices the guards at the front” Udodi suggested. 

“I’m not leaving without seeing Chidubem,” Binyelum responded. 

“But we’ve……,” Udodi was cut short by a singing voice. 

They kept quiet and listened. 

“Chidubem,” Binyelum uttered with a smile, “That’s Chidubem’s voice. He’s close.”

She traced where the rhythms were coming from into a nicely trimmed bush. She froze at the spot when she saw Chidubem playing his “ubo” and singing his heart out. When she regained her composure, she sluggishly walked towards him. 

“Chidubem,” she called. 

Immediately he stopped and turned to look at her. He was dressed in royalty. 

“Chidubem,” she said as she knelt down and touched his face. 

Tears streamed down her cheeks and it was as if the anger she held for two months till this last minute had vanished. Seeing him again mattered more right now. 

Udodi swallowed hard and turned to look around at intervals. 

Chidubem, without words stared into Binyelum’s eyes. 

“Why didn’t you keep her busy long enough?” Binyelum heard a voice ask. 

She turned back and saw the princess standing with Udodi. 

“Why didn’t who keep who busy for long?” She asked the Princess. 

“I remember you saying that you didn’t want to see Dubem anymore,” the Princess asked ignoring the question. 

“That was after you sent your messenger to tell me that Dubem wanted me out of his life,” Binyelum replied. 

“Did she touch him?” The Princess asked, this time around making it obvious she was talking to Udodi. 

“Yes my Princess,” Udodi stammered. 

Binyelum was nonplussed but quickly collected herself. 

“What is going on here? Udodi, why do you have to answer to her?” Binyelum asked. 

Disregarding her, “One job, Udodi. I gave you one simple job to hold her off but you failed. You’re going to pay for this,” the Princess blurted.  

“My princess, I can explain,” Udodi quivered. 

Snubbing Udodi, she turned to Binyelum, “And as for you, I’m going to kill you,” she uttered as she made to grab Binyelum’s neck. 

Mixed feelings of fear and confusion circumfused Binyelum as the Princess made to hold her but she grabbed her hands instead. 

“Binyelum,” she heard him call. 

Letting the Princess who was still struggling go, she turned around and their eyes met. 

“Dubem,” she said and walked over to him. 

The Princess was filled with rage. 

“Binyelum, where have you been?” Dubem asked when she got close to him. 

She chuckled, “Dubem, you told me to stay away from you; you made it clear that you didn’t need me anymore, that you’re fine without me,” Binyelum explained. 

“When did I tell you that?” Chidubem asked her, confused. 

Surprised, “two months ago through the King’s messenger after you came to play for him and you never returned,” Binyelum told him. 

Chidubem looked at the Princess and gave her a bad eye. 

“Binyelum, do you think I’d ever live without you?” He asked as he walked towards the Princess with his hands behind him. 

“Sincerely no, that’s why I came all this way to hear you say it to my face,” Binyelum said from behind. 

Staring into the Princess’s face, “I felt something leave my body when I felt her hands on my face again. What does that mean, Princess?” he asked the Princess who looked at him with disdain. 

Binyelum sighed and closed her eyes as she compassed what had happened. 

“I told you that I was not interested. Why did you have to do this?” He asked her softly. 

“Why?” He thundered and the princess shook. 

Her guards made to move. 

“One more step and you’ll all visit the grave very early,” Binyelum threatened. The guards all knew her as a fierce warrior so they all withdrew. 

She walked up to where the Princess and Chidubem were standing and gave Udodi an ear splitting slap. 

“You deceived me for two months. My friend! You know how long Chidubem and I have been together but you still chose to stab me in the back. Just so you know and I mean both of you,” she said referring to Udodi and the Princess.

“Nothing will ever separate from Chidubem and I’ll fight for us no matter the cost. Don’t ever forget that,” she said spitting in front of them. 

“Ever,” Chidubem added. 

Binyelum turned to him excitedly, “I missed you,” she said as she took off the beads he was adorned with. 

“I can’t believe I spent two months without you,” he uttered hugging her tightly. 

“It’s okay my love. I won’t let anyone one come between us again,” she assured him. 

 He drew her close and with his arm around her neck, they walked out of the palace. She feigned she wanted to hit one of the guard and they all moved back in fear causing  Binyelum and Chidubem to laugh out loud.