Mama took over the house in no time, doing all the cooking, monopolizing the children. Her help made me realize I didn’t need help. All the things I should have been doing to keep loneliness away, she usurped. Before I was up, she had started making breakfast, she was already getting the children ready for school. I should have been grateful, but instead I felt chagrined. It felt as though Mama was passing a cryptic message about my dispensability. It seemed like she was saying ‘We would have been happier if it was you that died and not Femi’. But then again, I knew that wasn’t true. Mama did all she did from a good heart. It just hurt to see my children return from school and the first person they asked to see was Grandma.
Saliu hadn’t been picking his calls for three consecutive days. I was getting worried. He had better not think of pulling a fast one on me. I had invested 250k into this investigation, he still hadn’t given me anything concrete. He had just been following his ‘lead’. I entered into the toilet of my room to call Rogers. I didn’t want to stay in the room, I didn’t want Mama eavesdropping on my end of the conversation and trying to figure out what I was up to.
“Hello Sola, how are you holding up?”
“I can’t get a hold of Saliu. He hasn’t delivered and I’ve been paying him”
“You should have kept the money till he was done” Rogers said and drew a hiss through his teeth.
“So, you think he’s absconded?” I felt lightheaded. #250,000 gone, just like that?
“I’ll call him now”
Rogers dropped the call. I paced around in the room. Shaking, fussing, sweating.
“Mummy, what’s the problem?” Sandra poked her head through the door.
“Nothing baby. Mummy’s just a little upset.”
I sat on the bed, trying to pull myself together. If Saliu was failing me, I couldn’t let myself down. I could dig out some facts myself. After thinking for a while, I decided to start my interrogations with Femi’s closest friend and colleague, Moses. I could perhaps find something.
I sprang up from the bed and stormed out of the room. “Mama, e jo, e bami toju awon omo, mo’n bo (Mama, please help me take care of the children, I’ll be back soon)”
“Nibo lo’n lo (Where are you going)?” Mama asked and before I could answer she went on to say that she didn’t think it was appropriate for me to start going out just yet.
I wanted to say that my life didn’t have to stop because my husband died. But I exhaled and said, “I’ll be back very soon. Bye”
The smell of Femi’s blood still lingered in the car. I had sent the car to a car wash, had all the seats shampooed and all the interiors washed, yet the smell remained. It wasn’t just a whiff, it was heavy. So heavy that for a moment I felt if I looked over my shoulder, I’ll see the backseat drip crimson drops unto the foot mat. I continued my journey to Moses’ home, it felt like Femi was in the car with me, everything in the car bore his memory. I could almost see him switch through the channels on the radio. I turned on the stereo, trying to fill the silence but the song that came on, Mercy Chinwo’s Ome kan na ya, was the last song Femi played. It was a song he loved. There was a time when we used to sing together, when we prayed together, a time when we were very passionate about God’s word. What happened? We didn’t stop going to church, we still held morning devotions, but there was no life any longer. When did we lose our fire? I tried to trace it in my mind. Was it when I conceived Sandra? Was it after her birth? I couldn’t place a finger on a particular time, what I realized, however, was that there was a steady receding in our passion for spiritual things and this was around when Sandra was born, around the time when Femi got promoted in the chambers where he worked. It was around the time when I also got a raise at the Salon where I worked as a marketing strategist.
I pulled up in front of Moses’ house and checked my watch. It was just 1:30pm. What was I thinking? Moses would surely not be at home. I felt like a fool for letting impulse lead me over reason. Thankfully, Omotola, his wife was at home due to her maternity leave. I got down from the car and sighted another car parked in front of their house. It wasn’t Moses’. I approached the door; I lifted my hand to knock when I heard it. I dropped my hand to my side and listened. I wasn’t mistaken. I went towards the window and peeped in. My suspicion was confirmed. Omotola was sleeping with another man right there in the living room. I recoiled. A lot of thoughts ran through my mind. Tola was cheating on Moses? She had just put to bed barely two month ago. She had some guts to be doing it in the afternoon, in her matrimonial home, in the living room! How dumb could a person be? Her sidepiece’s ride was parked right in front of the home, for crying out loud!
This is one of the disadvantages of estate life. Back in the day when the whole village raised every child, every man was his brother’s keeper… maybe not keeper per se, but snitching was very licensed. Any strange move and ‘fiam’ they’ve gone to tell the owner of the house. If they see your child or wife or husband doing anything strange, roaming suspiciously, they run to you with the tea. Now, there’s mobile phone. What are the neighbors doing? Tola would never have had the effrontery to do this if not for estate, mind-your-business life.
Other thoughts came. If Tola was cheating, then there was a possibility that Christine, their new baby, wasn’t Moses’ daughter. This is serious. What am I meant to do now? Am I supposed to rat Tola out? I decided to face my own problems. Maybe the estate, mind-your-business life is the best choice after all.
My thoughts screeched to halt when my phone started ringing. I took it out of my bag. The caller was Saliu. I swiped the green icon and walked to my car.
“You won’t think I’m a moron when you see what I have” Saliu replied, unfazed. Typical.
“Nah, we have to meet up”
“I am a fresh widow. I’m not going to be rendezvousing with some strange man. I’m not an idiot lik-” I held my tongue, realizing what I was about to say. Sola, s’ori e pe?
Saliu chuckled. “We meet in my car. I’ll text you where to meet me.”
I was about to turn on the ignition when Tola’s lover stepped out. He was lanky, had a jaw of beards and a smug smile between his mustache and beard. Bastard! I wanted to get down from the car and wipe his smirk off with a hot slap, but then I didn’t want myself mixed up in Tola’s family drama, more so, I could save my anger for more important things like dealing with my husband’s murderer. I took out my phone to check the address Saliu texted but not before I took a shot- no, I took two snapshots- of Tola’s lover through my windshield. I drove off.
I got to the place and scanned the area for the navy Honda that Saliu said he was driving. I saw him standing by his car and waving me over.
“Good afternoon madam.”
“Out with it already, Saliu!”
He grinned. “I found that your husband wasn’t really a saint.” He chortled and raised his hands at the look I shot him. “I’m sorry but, what I’m about to say might shake you.”
I sat up, clutching my bag to my midriff. What had Femi been doing?
“There is a man Aderile Andrew, you probably know him. He’s involved in local politics.”
“What about him?” I was getting tired of Saliu feeding me the information painful bit after bit.
“He was also involved in human trafficking. It took quite some digging to get to this but there are girls in Libya who were deluded into believing they were going on scholarship. These girls were taken from the interiors in the East and now they are being used as sex slaves. Somehow, your husband laid his hand on this, he had something strong to have been able to blackmail Andrew into rolling money into his account. That’s all the fact I have for now, the rest is reasonable extrapolation: your husband got greedy or Andrew got scared that your husband might just up and rat him out and so your husband become another hurdle in Andrew’s way. And trust me, there’ve been many.”
I looked out through the window. My mind whirred. The swirling in my head returned.
“Thank you Saliu. That will be all for now.”
“I know vengeance thirst when I see it,” Saliu said, inching closer to me. “You don’t want Andrew to walk away with this one. You want your pound of flesh. However, this is a good time for you to use your brain, not your heart-”
“I beg your pardon”
He drew lines on his steering wheel with a finger absently as he studied me. “If you want to take Andrew down, you must be sure you really want it. You must be sure you want it with everything you have” He paused for effect. “Because it might cost you everything you have.” He leaned back in his seat, leaving me some more seconds to think. I couldn’t think of anything else apart from the fact that Femi had been hiding so much from me. It was unbelievable; what was worse was the fact that he wasn’t around to acquit himself or validate the claims. Femi, my doe-eyed Femi, gleaning money off of a politicking criminal? It was almost inconceivable.
“If at the end of the day you decide to lock horns with Mr. Aderile, call me. Good night.”
I stepped down from Saliu’s car with weak knees. When I got back to my car, I bowed my head on the steering wheel and stayed that way for minutes. There was a nudging in my heart that was familiar, it was a gentle beckoning to the place of prayer. It was as though God was playing a music to me, calling me back to a place of communion; a place where I traded my weakness, fears and burdens for his strengthening joy and peace. But there was a barricade in my heart. I had drifted far from God. When last did I pray? When last did I study the word? When last did I obey God’s instruction? I wasn’t ready to face God.
I lifted my head from the steering wheel and looked at my reflection in the rearview mirror. I tucked a stray strand of my weave behind my ear. What else was left for me to do?
Moses. He has to know something. Am I ready to face Moses with what I know concerning his wife?
Their family issue is none of your business, Sola. Go and find out more about the truth.
I drove back to Moses’ home. It was already evening. My head ached just thinking about what I will have to tell Mama and the children when I got back home. What lie do I have to cook up this time?
I picked my bag, got down from the car and locked the car with the keyless remote. I barged into Moses’ house without knocking, I was too lost in thoughts to remember knocking. The door opened to interrupt a moment the couple were sharing. They were dancing to music playing from the stereo. This woman has no scruples! I was disgusted at Tola and beneath that I felt bitter that my husband’s best friend was in his wife’s arms dancing barely a month after his death. But then, can I blame him? Life has to continue.
“I’m so sorry,” I apologized clumsily, hating myself for acting like a scatterbrain.
“Sola!” Tola exclaimed, coming over to hug me. I wanted to push her away but I had to endure her hug.
They were giving me condolences I didn’t need when I cut to the chase. “Moses, I want to ask you some questions.”
One will expect that aunty Tola will get the message and excuse us, instead she leaned forward in her couch and asked me to go on. I clenched my jaws, trying to keep my eyes from rolling out the disgust I felt.
“Who do you think might have been behind Femi’s murder? You’re his best friend, you practice in the same chambers he practiced, you must at least have some suspicion.”
Moses reclined and twiddled with his beards. Don’t just sit there playing with your beards! Tell me what you know!
“What exactly happened that night?”
I was sick and tired of recounting the story, of reliving it. First it was to the police, then to literally everyone who came for the funeral, or came to greet me thereafter, but then, I had no choice.
“I was in the kitchen. I stepped out and I saw a masked man holding out a gun. He shot and left immediately.”
“He didn’t say anything?” Moses asked.
“No, I mean the killer.”
“No, he didn’t.”
Tola heaved a dramatic sigh, clapping her hands. “God have mercy.”
Can someone just tell this slut to shut the hell up? Or do I have to shut her up myself?
Moses turned his wedding band on his ring finger again and again. “I think it was Aisha”
“Aisha? Who is that?”
“She was our mate in law school. She used to have a huge crush on Femi but he never noticed her- no, it was more like he shunned her. That was a strike on her ego. The final strike came few months back. Aisha’s dad claimed his land had been stolen by one Alhaji Kazeem. She represented her father in court and Femi represented Alhaji Kazeem. The truth is that we knew Alhaji was not the rightful owner of that land, but then Femi was Alhaji’s personal lawyer and he paid handsomely. Femi nailed Aisha in court. After the judge declared his verdict in Femi’s favour and the hearing was over, Aisha walked over to Femi, spitting fire and spilling tears.”
I scoffed. “Sore loser”
“She said that land was all her father had. She threatened to destroy Femi. Femi laughed and walked away.”
“I don’t think that’s reason enough for anyone to want to kill. Murdering is a big deal oh,” Tola said.
Adultery is also a big deal oh. I wanted to retort, but she had a point. I nodded.
“Yes, coming from any other person what happened is no reason to kill Femi but Aisha is bipolar. I’ve seen her paranoid once while we were in school. It wasn’t pretty. That day in the court when she threatened FM, I knew he was in danger. I tried to warn him but he was dismissive, as usual. He believed he was untouchable. He believed Aisha was still the girl striving to win his attention. He thought she was a toothless bull.”
“Thank you, Moses. I have to run home now. The children must be worried by now.”
I made for the door, then stopped when I remembered what Saliu told me. “Moses, are you privy to any case my husband was working on before he died?”
Moses thought for a moment. He seemed to like taking his time before he said anything, did anything, made any move. Phlegmatic. Except that this trait was annoying to an impatient Choleric like me.
“He was working on a pro bono case for a certain lady”
That wasn’t what I wanted to hear. “Did you know of anything else… Perhaps a clandestine case he was on?”
Moses shook his head. “No,”
“Alright, thanks.” I opened the door and walked to my car.
As I drove home two names rang in my head. Aderile Andrew. Aisha.
Which of them was behind my husband’s death? At least I had two people. My options had been narrowed down. I looked in the rearview mirror and saw the same grey corolla I had been seeing for some time, on my tail. Fear leaped into my throat. Why am I being followed? Who could be following me?
The corolla was gaining on me. I pressed hard on the accelerator, striving to stay ahead. I took a wrong turn on purpose, I needed to lose this person following me. It came as a relieving shock when the car didn’t follow me, it just sped right on like any other car will. I exhaled. Sola, you need to stop being paranoid.
I’m not paranoid; I’m just trying to be careful. Femi said they’d come for me. My children need me alive. I felt my abdomen with one hand, while I steered the car back to the main road with the other.
“Damn you Femi! Damn you! You’ve left me with so many questions.”
When I got home that night, I was ready to face an intense diatribe from Mama. Instead when I entered the house, I saw Mama sitting on the couch with the children snuggled to her side. She was reading to them from their book of Bible stories. Sandra was asleep, but Deyemi’s eyes were wide, whatever story Mama was reading to them had to be riveting. I sighed and managed a smile. Mama welcomed me enthusiastically, I was about to start apologizing and explaining why I was away for so long but she cut me off with, “Ko si problem my dear. You know I enjoy staying with these precious ones”
I was touched. Mama’s simple kindness moved me, it reminded me that I wasn’t alone. I had someone who cared for me. How could I have suspected that this woman would mean us any harm? My own mother died about three years before I married Femi, however, Mama Morris didn’t let me feel like a motherless person. It was wrong of me to have judged her. I took my lips in between my teeth, and nodded in Mama’s direction. “Thank you so much, Mama. Ese gan” I walked to her side and knelt down. She hugged me gently.
“I miss Femi.” She whispered.
“I do too. I miss him so much.” My voice was broken, barely audible. I could feel sorrow settle in the atmosphere. “But I thank God I have you, Mama”
“And these wonderful children.” Mama added.
I stood up and made for my room when Mama called to me. “And how is the little one doing?”
I spun my head in her direction. I had not said a word of my pregnancy to anyone except my children. Call me superstitious, but I’ve never been the lady to announce my conceptions. I believe baby bumps come at the time they do for a reason; the arrival of a child didn’t need my announcement; the baby will announce itself whenever it’s ready. Moreover, now more than ever, I felt the need to hold my cards to my chest.
“What little one, Mama?”
“The baby we are expecting of course.” Mama said with a slight chuckle.
I shifted uncomfortably. “I didn’t mention anything about that”
“And I wonder why,” her eyes narrowed. “You seem to have forgotten that I’ve been through four pregnancies myself and I’ve seen many others too. You didn’t think I will notice?”
I forced a smile. “Of course, you will. I need to get inside and get a shower. Deyemi, come.”
“What do you need him for?” Mama asked and I raised a brow.
She laughed and said, “Didn’t you just say you were going to have your bath?”
I felt disgusted by Mama’s nosiness. I ignored her and faced my son. “Deyemi, come”
“Mummy please let Grandma finish this story” He pleaded, batting his lids. He knew that always melted my heart but not today. If anything, I was further infuriated by his obsession with ‘Grandma’ and Mama’s silly possessiveness. Deyemi is my son!
“My friend come here now!” I bellowed.
“Ah ahn. What has he done so wrong that you’re shouting at him?” Mama questioned me with that tone that made me feel like a child she was chiding. This woman is gallantly strutting on my last nerve. Who does she think she is, anyway? Did I try to teach her how to raise her own children in her time?
“You’ve been through four pregnancies, abi? You should know how these things get at times.” I realized the moment I spat those words that I had been rude to my mother-in-law. Yes, she had been overbearing but then she was only well-meaning. Being saucy was inexcusable. She chuckled and shook her head. Deyemi came to me with shoulders slumped and feet dragging. He followed me to my room and he sat on the bed, watching me as I took off my sandals and wore my slippers.
“Mummy, Grandma told us the story of Samson and the skulls. It’s the scariest Bible story I’ve ever heard.”
“Samson and what?” What was my son saying?
I scoffed. “There’s no such thing. Did any of you say anything about my pregnancy to Grandma?”
He shook his head. “Grandma told me the story of Samson and the skulls.”
He sprang up and grabbed me by the arm. “Let’s go and ask her.”
I hissed. I didn’t have the energy nor time for my son’s antics. But on a second thought, I wanted to apologize to Mama for the way I spoke earlier, so I tagged along with Deyemi.
“Mama, I’m sorr-” I started.
“No need. I understand that grief plus pregnancy can be a lot to handle”
I exhaled. I was going to express my gratitude to Mama for being so understanding before Deyemi asked about Samson and the skulls. Mama burst into laughter; I couldn’t hold my laughter too.
“I kuku told him there was nothing like Samson and the skulls oh, but he won’t even let me hear word.”
“I told him that Samson used the jaw bone of a donkey to kill several people. Sandra then asked where the jawbone was located…”
“And you said the skull.” I supplied, figuring how my son got his title. I looked at him, his face was tight with confusion.
“But Grandma you told me of how Sam-”
“You need rest darling. See your sister is already fast asleep. You too should go and sleep. Oya! Bed time.” Mama quickly said. She pushed Yemi to his room. Yemi still remained convinced that he had heard a story about Samson and the skulls.
When I retired to bed that night, I kept thinking of Mr Aderile and Aisha, contemplating which of them was behind my husband’s death, planning the perfect vendetta. Somewhere between those thoughts I slept off. What woke me the next morning was a phone call from an unknown number. I picked the call groggy and grumpy.
“Hello, who’s this?”
“You be Mr Morris Femi wife abi?”
I sat up in my bed. The caller sounded troubled.
“Yes, I am… was” I didn’t know which was appropriate “Who are you?”
“I dey call from the cemetery oh. Dem don come theif your husband body oh,”
I jumped out of the bed. “What? Who?”
I heard background talks from over the phone before the line disconnected.