“So you don’t know where she is now?”
“No, I don’t.”
Sewa watched the frustrated look on Doyin’s face and wondered what the man’s motive was. He had deliberately turned Becky against her, yet he seemed unhappy about her absence from the restaurant. She observed him closely, trying to determine what his game was.
He noticed it too and smiled. “You don’t have an idea where she could be?”
“If I did, I would go there and bring her back, because it now seems that I misjudged her, because of what you told me.”
Doyin stared hard at the woman. “What are you trying to say? Are you calling me a liar?”
“No, I am not. I just wish I could see her again.”
They stared at one another, Doyin trying to be boldfaced, and she wishing she could tell someone to bundle him out of her restaurant.
“I will leave now,” he said.
Florence was surprised to see Toye outside the door of her sister’s house.
“What are you doing here? How did you find me?”
“Can I come in?”
“What do you want? I have left everything for them, I am no longer interested in their business.”
“I know, someone else is running the shop and your house has remained empty.”
“So what do you want?”
“I just need you to confirm some information for me, about the way they run their business.”
“Officer, I have lost my children, I don’t know where my husband took them to. I don’t want to have anything to do with this anymore.”
She began to shut the door but he held it. “Let’s make a deal then, I will help you to find your children, and you will tell me what I need to know.”
She hesitated for a few seconds then agreed. Before he left, she asked him.
“How did you find me?”
“One of your former neighbors told me.”
Uche was irritable, he paced the floor of his living room, puffing on a cigarette. Philomena walked in with their children. As soon as they saw his countenance, they began to walk towards the bedrooms.
“So you people did not see me?”
He said to their retreating backs. They turned.
“Sorry sir,” Philomena said. “You’ve said that we shouldn’t disturb you when you’re… thinking.”
“Does that mean I don’t deserve a common greeting?”
“We are sorry sir,” she said promptly, getting on her knees, her children joining her.
“You people go inside.” he said to the children who happily scurried inside the house. “Where is your friend?”
“How many of your friends do I ask about?”
“Florence? I don’t know where she is. It’s been weeks since she left everything and disappeared. I haven’t seen or heard anything from her.”
He looked at her. “You did something, I know it.”
“I keep telling you that I didn’t do anything. We were in the house together when you took her into our bedroom. I didn’t leave the house until afterwards, when I followed you to the police station.”
“Where did you go when you left the police station?”
“I’ve told you this before, I went to get the lawyer.”
“So where did she go?” he said to himself, resuming his pacing. “What you don’t recognize is that she’s a threat to us, anyone can get her to start talking.”
“You should have thought about that before bundling a married woman into your room to rape her.”
He whirled towards her. “That’s it! Your mind is not pure towards me Philomena.”
“My mind is pure,” she rose up from her knees. “I’m just stating the facts.”
He moved towards her, she took a step backwards. “You’re stating the facts? Who asked you?”
“Uche, I’m not in the mood for a fight today, please just…”
“Just what?” he lunged at her and grabbed the front of her dress and dragged her to the couch. Unbuckling his belt, he stood over her. “You want to say something? You have something to say to me?”
“No, Uche, I don’t. Please!”
“You will tell me where Florence is, I have to see her, I have to touch her… I have to conquer her…” He shivered as he said the last words. “She and I can do big things, I need a woman like that by my side.”
“Uche please, I don’t know where she is.”
The guilt of what she had done couldn’t be masked, Uche saw it. “What did you do?”
“I didn’t do…”
He whipped her arms until she cried out.
“I’ll tell you, I’ll tell you!”
She told him of her brief visit to Florence’s husband and the things she had told him.
“I think he took her children, and I heard that she’s still looking for them.”
Hatred contorted Uche’s face, and he descended on her, whipping her face, arms, neck and any other part of her body that his belt touched. After a while, he discarded the belt and began to punch her face, taking her head and slamming it repeatedly on the floor. He continued to torture her as she screamed, moaned and fell silent.
Their children crept out when they heard the front door slam, they found their mother lying on the floor, barely recognizable, her blood everywhere.
It was their daughter, Ufoma, who ran past the sleeping guards to tell their neighbors that their mother was lying still.
Toye found Wole, Florence’s husband teaching a group of students under a tree, his lesson note on his laps. He watched him teaching with a passion that was his alone, his students were chewing gum, looking around, a few took notes, others passed each other notes and some others dozed off in the gentle afternoon breeze. Toye wondered what had prompted the man to teach his students outside the classroom.
Someone rang a bell and the class soon dispersed. He walked up to the man as he closed his book and inspected it in an almost loving manner.
“Good day Mr Wole.”
The man looked up at him. “Good day…”
“I’m Inspector Toye Abegunde from the Abowu District Police…”
Wole rose to his feet. “Police? Has something happened…?”
“I am here to talk about your wife, Mrs Florence…”
The teacher eyed the officer with suspicion. “Yes, what about her?”
“We have been working together on a case and recently she told me that…”
“Florence has been working with the police?” he laughed bemused. “What kind of work has she been doing for you?”
“Unfortunately, I cannot reveal the details of the case to you. She told me that you took the children away…”
“Yes, I took my children away from that prostitute, I do not want to raise children of loose morals.”
“Contrary to what you think sir, she has not been involved with any other man.”
“Even the husband of the friend who introduced her to her wayward lifestyle?”
Toye noted the pristine blue striped shirt and navy blue trousers the man wore, much unlike what most of his colleagues wore. He smiled to diffuse the sour feeling in his mind. “What I haven’t told you sir, is that I have also been investigating your wife as much as I’ve been working with her. And I can emphatically tell you that she has no rendezvous with other men. She is very faithful to her business.”
Wole looked uncomfortable. “Even then Inspector, that woman does not deserve to be around children, she’s hardly around, and when she is, she’s always talking about business and money.”
Toye could see a shadow of his former self in the man’s composure, the slight droopiness of his shoulders that was reflective of his dependency on others and the diffidence that caused his voice to waver. He took a step towards him.
“Mr Wole, return the children to their mother, even if you don’t want to live with her again. She has done nothing wrong to you.”
“She disobeyed me, she went into a business I told her not to.”
“Be that as it may, it is no reason to deny her of her children. The problem is between you two, why punish the children?”
“I am their father, I will not surrender them to her.”
“She has stopped doing business with the Okafors. Let her see them, arrange something…”
“She will not see them. I am the head of the house, she cannot dictate to me…”
“She is not dictating to you, she doesn’t even know that I am here. Let her see them, I wouldn’t want to come back here to discuss this again.”
“Are you threatening me?”
“I won’t let you obstruct my progress, so I will tell you one more time, let her see her children.”
Toye walked away from the man but didn’t leave the wide school compound. Just as he expected, Mr Wole picked up his things and left the school hurriedly. Toye followed him to a small tenement building and watched him go into one of the rooms. He soon emerged with three children, all looking weak and hurried them into a waiting taxi. Toye followed them again.
When Toye returned to the station he was in good spirits, he knew where Florence’s children were and could therefore persuade her to tell him what he needed to know about the Okafors. He whistled as he walked past the counter where two of his subordinates were talking.
“I doubt that the woman will survive, even if she does, she can never remain the same again.”
“And the man was just released, talk about power!”
“That is what we should pray for my friend.”
He found Doyin staring out of the window. He turned to face him as soon as he heard Toye walking in.
“Where have you been?”
“You remember Uche Okafor don’t you?”
“Can I forget him?” Toye sat down and stretched his legs.
“That man will put us in trouble.”
Toye sat up. “What are you talking about?”
“He beat up his wife this afternoon, it is really bad, I don’t think the woman can survive it.”
The blood on the other man’s face chilled. Philomena was hurt?
“… I have always known that the man’s temper would get him into trouble.”
“So what’s happening now?” Toye managed to say.
“He was arrested but released, he was released for lack of evidence.”
“He was arrested in this station?”
“No,” he waved his hand dismissively. “I’m not worried about his marital problems, I’m worried about the fact that people knew this woman and the public will demand answers, answers that might shine a spotlight on Uche and his businesses…”
Toye now understood his friend. The last thing Richard and the rest of the syndicate wanted was any police attention that might jeopardize the operation they had all been looking forward to.
“This is trouble,” he said.
“Now you see what I’m worried about?”
“So what are we doing?”
“I’m going to see someone now, I’ll let you know what we’re doing.”
Toye held his head in his hands and thought about his last meeting with Philomena and her last words to him, it had been full of doubt in him, and it reminded him so much of his last meeting with Afonja Elewe. He was failing again.
Florence had willingly told him all she knew regarding the operations of the Okafor, and as she did, Toye wondered how she couldn’t know that their business was illegal. But just as he was about to condemned her for her actions, he remembered that he was part of them.
He stood outside Wole’s sister’s house now and watched Florence hugging her children and crying over their heads. They also looked relieved to see her. Wole stood by the side, watching them distastefully, his scorn evident on his face.
Toye had promised her that she could take her children, so when she led them to the car and Wole started to speak up, he walked towards him menacingly.
“If you want to take them away from her, go to court. You don’t even have the means to take care of them so why are you doing this?”
As they drove away, Toye thought of his own son who he had never seen and his estranged wife. He wondered where Becky was. The car passed by the children’s hospital, and he saw someone who looked like her, She wore a simple blue gown and had a baby strapped to her back. Her hair was neatly woven into cornrows and she carried a white handbag. He looked in the side mirror and saw her get into a taxi and exhaled, he wanted her, badly.