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“Inspector Toye…” Uche said, puffing out a cloud of smoke. “How did you know about this place?”
Toye fidgeted in his seat, the man standing over him was burly, and a few inches taller. The Okafor’s sitting room was hazy with cigarette smoke, it was gloomy, the curtains weren’t drawn and none of the light bulbs were on. The man’s bloodshot eyes were staring down at him and he saw nothing but contempt in them. As if he could read his mind, Uche puffed his cigarette smoke in his face. Toye waved away the smoke and glared at him.
“You haven’t answered my question, what are you doing here?” Uche said.
“Why don’t you sit down and stop blowing that thing in my face?”
“And what if I don’t want to sit down? What will you do? Hmm, young inspector?”
Toye’s ears tingled with embarrassment, how dare this man despise his uniform? It had been a week since the death of Afonja Elewe and he had a week more to end the menace at Alafia or get demoted. Coming to Uche’s house alone was the only way he could do his job undetected by Doyin and whoever else was in on the armed robbery in Alafia.
“Well, if you won’t sit down, I will stand up…” he made to get up but the bigger man took a step forward and stood in his way.
“No, you’re my guest, you will sit down.”
Toye’s heart suddenly began to palpitate, he was at Uche’s mercy and he wondered why he hadn’t thought of another way of interrogating him. Anything could happen to him and no one would know his whereabouts. His palms became sweaty and he wiped them discreetly on his trousers. Uche’s thick body suddenly began to wobble with amusement and a deep laughter escaped from his throat.
“Are you afraid?” he teased. “Who made you a policeman? People like you belong in schools or in the church, yes, you will make a good pastor.” He laughed again and turned towards the armchair opposite Toye.
“What do you know about the death of Afonja Elewe?” Toye asked in a shaky voice, he was intimidated and he hated the fact that Uche had seen through him.
The bigger man turned sharply towards him. “Afonja Elewe,” he said distastefully. “That wretched dog, you’re here because of him?”
“What do you know about his death?” Toye asked again.
“He got what he deserved, that’s what I know.”
Toye stared at him and swallowed. “Do you know who killed him?”
Uche laughed. “You shouldn’t be asking me these questions. They are beyond your level.”
“Beyond my level?”
“Way beyond your level. You see, you’re like a puppet, you only move if the ones who hold your strings pull you.”
Toye had had enough. He shot to his feet and took a step backward. “I will be back Mr Okafor, this is not the last time you’ll be seeing me.”
“Yes, Inspector Toye, you can leave my house. But don’t come back here, otherwise I will pull all your strings until those who own you can’t recognize you.”
Toye glared at him, stuffed his notepad in his shirt pocket and walked out of the room, the muscles of his legs jerking out of nervousness.
Mama Abegunde was out to the monthly meeting of the women of her age group. It had been almost two weeks since Becky had come to the village with her mother-in-law. Her body though still sore was healing and she had gained some weight from resting and eating good food. Bolutife was getting bigger too, and his little body glowed with care. All was going as well as possible, Becky avoided her husband’s siblings and father-in-law as best as she could, greeting them at appointed times and not speaking to them unless they first spoke to her.
Becky was still not allowed to do any work to the annoyance of her sisters-in-law who thought that their mother was spoiling their brother’s young wife. For the time they’d been in Igba, Funto had silently seethed, watching Becky, eat, sleep and send her mother on errands. Funto did not like Becky and she made it obvious to anyone who cared to know.
And so on this late morning when Mama Abegunde went out to her meeting, Funto thought that a lesson in respect and hardwork was in order for the young mother. Becky had just had her bath and fed her son. She’d placed him by her side and fallen into a peaceful sleep when Funto came into the room and slapped her leg.
“Wake up! You’re not the only mother in this village, and they don’t sleep the way you do. Get up and come and help to clean the house.”
Becky rubbed her eyes and stared at Funto disoriented. Mama had said that she was not to do any work until she was healed.
“Have you no ears? Or am I speaking to a statue?”
“But I thought Mama said…”
“Are you questioning me? And why are you still lying down? Can’t you get up while I’m talking to you?”
Becky gathered her wrapper around her plump body and got up from the mat.
“What about Bolutife? I can’t just leave him here…”
“And who’s going to carry him away? Are you the first person who will give birth in this village? Is your child so special that someone else will want to take him away? Has my brother even accepted the child as his?”
Becky stared at her, dazed by the harshness of her words.
“Why are you still standing over there?” Funto yelled and clapped her hands angrily.
Becky followed her out of the room slowly, until they got outside of the house where two of her other sisters-in-law were sitting on the bench in front of the house.
“Get the broom and sweep the front of the house.”
Becky imagined herself bending over to sweep and shook her head at the thought of the pain. “I’m sorry, I can’t bend over with my stomach. The pain will be too much.”
“You can’t do what?” Funto said incredulously. “Has my mother emboldened you so much that you can refuse my instruction?”
“I didn’t say that I won’t, I said I can’t because of…”
“You can’t or you won’t, what’s the difference?”
Becky did not have the energy for the trouble that Funto had brought to her, but she still tried to explain her situation. “Look, the pain in my stomach is intense. I can barely even stand up straight…”
Funto grabbed a broom from under the bench and threw it at her. “Start sweeping,” she said, before going back into the house.
Becky sighed and stared at the ground that looked like it had already been swept. She bent her knees while keeping her body erect and picked up the broom but the pain she felt from the effort shot through her entire mid-region. She winced and rested her back on the wall, waiting for the pain to pass. She could hear her sisters-in-law giggling, but she bent over, held her stomach and began sweeping the ground gently. Within a few seconds however, the pain she felt was so intense that she cried out loud and raised herself back up. As quickly as she could, she slid on to the bench beside her and breathed through the pain and began to cry.
Funto returned outside the house and saw her sitting on the bench.
“Why are you sitting down? Have you finished what I asked you to do?”
“Please my in-law, I cannot sweep the ground. I tried but the pain is more than I can bear.”
“The pain is more than you can bear? Did anybody force you to sleep with my brother? Why couldn’t you close your legs like any decent Yoruba girl would? You’re only fifteen and yet you’re a mother. Even those of us who are older than you are yet to be married, talk less of having a child, why were you in such a hurry to be married?”
Becky bowed her head and cried some more. When will Mama be back?
“Becky! Can’t you hear me talking to you? I said why were you in such a hurry to destroy my brother’s life? Why? The three of us here would have been going to school if not for you, ever since he married you, we no longer enjoy his money in this family. So I will not just let you come into this house and sleep and eat as if you’re a queen.”
Funto derided her for as long as she desired and promised her that life in Igba would be miserable.
“If you were in such a hurry to spread your legs for my brother. You will also quickly learn how to respect his family.”
Later that night, as Becky lay beside her son, she realized that even though coming to Igba had been good for her, she had a lot to contend with. Then she remembered Mama’s words, sometimes you will be unhappy here but you must learn to take it as part of your training. Nobody will do anything for you here. She wiped her eyes and thought about Toye, what he was doing and if he was even thinking about her. In spite of everything, she missed him and wished that he would come and see her soon. She still loved him, she only hoped that he could try to love her back.
Sewa hurried to open the front door, wondering who it was and why the person was knocking so urgently.
“Florence! What is it? Do you want to break down my door?”
“Sewa!” Florence barged in and sat on the nearest chair. “You will not believe who I saw today.”
“Who did you see?”
“Philomena! Sewa, I saw Philomena.”
“I saw her in a big provisions store in Ligali market. Sewa, she owns the place. Philomena owns the big shop and everybody was saying, yes madam, no madam. Chai! I wanted to faint. She is now very fair and fat. I don’t know what she is eating but she must be eating it well.”
“So,” Sewa said disinterestedly, sitting beside her. “Philomena now owns a big shop in the market?”
“But why is that important?”
“Because I know that they got their money though crooked means and I am going to find out how.”
At this, Sewa sat up. “Florence, why don’t you mind your own business? How do you know that they got it through crooked means?”
“Because they were doing nothing serious to make such an amount of money. If you saw all that was in the store…”
“Florence, mind your own business and let things be, ehn?”
“I should have known that this is what you will say.” She leaned closer to her. “But what if they are behind all the robberies in this community?”
Sewa leaned back and pondered on this.
“Oh, so now you’re thinking what I’m thinking.”
“Florence, I still think you should just leave her alone.”
“Never, if they are guilty of what I’m thinking of, they will go to jail.”
Annabelle could see that Toye was not listening to her. He nodded as if he was listening intently but she could tell from the distant look in his eyes and the way he tapped his two index fingers together that his mind was somewhere else.
“Toye, what is it?”
“Nothing, I was listening to what you were saying.”
“No, you’re not really listening to me.”
He laughed tiredly. “I was, you were talking about the fabric sellers association weren’t you?”
She sat up and faced him. “Your mind is somewhere else, I can see the way you’re tapping your fingers like you do when you’re in deep thought. Tell me what is wrong.”
“There’s nothing wrong, Annabelle. I just had a tiring day.”
“Are you thinking about your wife and son?”
Toye turned sharply towards her. “Why would you even think of that?”
“I know something is bothering you and I don’t know what else can bother you so much.”
Toye sighed. “I’m not thinking about them. They’re fine where they are.”
“So what is wrong? Tell me the truth. Are you in trouble at work? Whatever it is, we are in it together, and you can tell me.”
Reluctantly, Toye told her about the Alafia case, Uche Okafor and his implicit threat, and Bala’s deadline.
“So it is either you arrest this man or you get demoted?”
“And you can’t arrest the man without anyone finding out?”
“So why don’t you talk to Doyin? Come clean with him and tell him that you need his help.”
“Didn’t you hear all I just said? According to Afonja, I can’t trust anyone…”
“You mean, you don’t trust Doyin, because you know that he works for these people.”
Toye’s mouth widened in surprise, as his eyes searched Annabelle’s. “How did you know…?”
“I know Doyin, much more than you know him.”
Toye was confused. “How is that possible? We met you and your friend Franca on the same night.”
“Yes, you did. But I know him. I had seen him before that day.”
“What do you mean?”
She waved her hands dismissively. “That’s not the important thing. Go and speak to Doyin…”
“Annabelle, you need to tell me what you know about Doyin.”
She shook her head as if she was trying to get what he said out of her memory. “Go and speak to Doyin. The solution to the problem is to cut off Uche’s power. You cut off his power, then you can arrest him and keep your job.”
“But Doyin will not agree to that, he’ll get into trouble if I arrest Uche.”
“You must be willing to work with him. Both of you have something at stake. And I’m telling you, you don’t want to be on Doyin’s bad side. He is a very nice man, but he doesn’t forgive his enemies.”
“Anabelle…” Toye said, trying to understand how much of Doyin his girlfriend knew.
“Go and see him and do what he tells you to do. There’s nothing new under the sun. Besides I won’t tell you to do something bad would I?”
Toye couldn’t sleep that night, for once in his adult life, he was afraid of the woman sleeping next to him. Who was she?