Florence heard about what happened to Philomena when she went to buy some pap for her children two days after she recovered them. The news of the rich storeowner who had been beaten by her husband was being told by a middle-aged taxi driver who stood in front of the fascinated pap seller.
“She must have shown some arrogance to the man, because there is no way that a man can beat his wife like that without being provoked.”
“This is why I always respect my husband,” the seller said. “I don’t make him feel as if he means nothing to me because of my business. I agree with you, she must have provoked him.”
Florence collected her purchase and walked away from them. She knew Uche’s temper and eccentricity, Philomena had told her several times of her husband’s rage in their last days as business partners. Fear gripped her mind as she thought of what Uche could do to her now that his wife was indisposed. She hastened back to her sister’s house and began to pack their belongings. Thirty minutes later, she explained herself to her sister and called a cab.
“So where are you going with these children?” the latter asked worriedly.
“I’m leaving Abowu, I’ll decide where to go when I get to the park. Don’t worry about us.”
“Will you write me?”
“I will, when I get to my destination.”
Annabelle stood up as soon as Toye walked into the house.
“Where have you been? It’s almost ten in the morning,” she asked without preamble. “You didn’t tell me that you wouldn’t come home last night.”
“Annabelle you know my schedule why are you…?”
“Do I? I used to know your schedule but now I don’t.”
“That’s not my fault. I can’t talk to you if I don’t trust you.”
“I apologized for my mistake with Doyin, yet you have refused to forgive me.” She took a step towards him. “You used to tell me everything, but now… What is really going on?”
Toye stared at her for a while, taking in her long eyelashes and full lips. Her fair skin glowed with constant care and her dark, full hair created such a beautiful contrast that he was momentarily distracted by it.
He snapped out of his reverie and when he looked at her again, it was as if he was staring at someone else. Her beauty seemed to have faded away with his experience with her, and he no longer found her special. Strangely, she now seemed inferior to Becky.
“I’m busy, that’s all and I am under much pressure from work.”
Becky had changed, far beyond his wildest imagination, and she didn’t want him anymore. Toye felt that he had cheated himself and he longed for another chance with his first wife.
“I’m busy with work…” he started to move away from her.
“Is that why you cannot look me in the eye?”
“What are you taking about?” he answered, looking her in the eye.
“Who is she?”
“Who is who?”
“You’ve lost interest in me, I can feel it. You have changed…”
“Well I can say the same thing about you.”
“What do you mean?”
“Since when did you start threatening me?”
“I was angry…”
He laughed dryly and started to walk away.
“Let us talk and stop walking away all the time!”
“What do you really want from me? I’ve given you the life you want, even when it’s almost cost me my life, still you won’t let me be.”
“So you don’t love me anymore.”
He shook his head in frustration and took a step towards her. “I’m in the middle of something that might cost me my life, the last thing I want to be talking about now is how I make you feel. I’m already part of this criminal life, things cannot be the way they used to be between us anymore, I’ve seen too much.”
“What do you mean it can cost you your life?”
“I can’t tell you more than I’ve already told you, but you saw what they did to me when they took me away that night…”
“Let’s leave Abowu then, let us go somewhere else…”
“You know that won’t solve anything, they will find us. Besides, they know where our parents live.”
He left her before she could say another word.
Uche and Richard stood facing one another. They were in the latter’s house.
“You should have controlled yourself.”
“You don’t know what she did boss.”
“According to what I heard, you’re the one who brought another woman into your bedroom.”
“You’re judging me, boss?”
“You know I don’t pry into your affairs but you have crossed the line this time around.”
“I’m sorry boss, I wasn’t thinking.”
“That’s right, you weren’t thinking. How could you put our entire operation in jeopardy? Everyone is talking about the rich storeowner whose husband beat her almost to death. I’ve had to beg my contacts not to arrest you because we both know that arresting you will make us all vulnerable. Your only saving grace is that she is not dead. The consignment gets here in three days, and you know this is the biggest job we have ever planned.”
“I’m sorry boss…”
“If this deal goes sour because of you…”
“It won’t boss. Look, you know you need me. You make the plans but you know my men are fast and efficient. Forget all this, it was only a little beating, she will be fine. Let’s make this money!”
Richard looked away from him, he knew he was right.
Becky was preparing to leave the children’s hospital when she heard her name. She turned to see Sewa sitting in the lobby with Babatunde and their children. Amidst the exchange of pleasantries, she avoided looking at Sewa’s eyes, and instead focused on asking the children if they had been on their best behaviour and not forgotten the things she taught them.
“Becky,” said Babatunde. “What are you doing here? Is Bolutife sick?”
“No, he is not. I work here, as a cleaner.”
“And where do you live?” Sewa asked.
“I live not too far from the Anglican grammar school, I was lucky to get a room there.”
Sewa stared at her, wanting to say so much but too ashamed to speak. There was an awkward silence between them.
“Do they pay you well here?” Babatunde asked.
“Yes, the pay is just enough for us to live on.” She wanted to tell them that she could even afford to pay for night school, but she knew how Sewa felt about her getting an education. “We are not suffering.”
Another awkward silence passed, and then Sewa spoke up.
“If you get tired of this job, you can come back. Our house is yours.”
Becky smiled politely. “I will always be grateful to you for saving us that night, when I returned to Abowu and had nowhere to go.”
Sewa nodded, too emotional to speak.
“I have to go now so that I can get transportation.”
As she walked away, the couple wished desperately that they had done things differently. It was too late to change anything now.
Toye stood over Philomena’s bed and watched her disfigured body with pain. He felt that he had failed her, just as he had failed Afonja Elewe. He went over the events of the past weeks and wondered what he could have done differently. The woman lay still, her consciousness trapped in a coma.
“I am sorry Philomena,” he whispered as his eyes travelled to her swollen eye.
He thinks I’m a fool and he treats me as one, I want to show him that it is not so. The woman had believed that she would come out of the situation alive and in a position to gloat over her arrested husband but now it seemed that she had been the fool. Tears tickled Toye’s eyelids and he tore his gaze away from her.
This was why he had come to Abowu, to put people like Uche in prison and save people like Philomena. As he walked to the window and looked out over the compound of the Ministry of Agriculture, he realized how much he had changed. He saw how the desire for money and greed had altered all his grandiose plans of being a hero such as he had been in his village. He thought about Becky and the boy he had never quite accepted as his son, his turbulent relationship with Annabelle and the fact that their families were not in support of their union, and the emptiness he felt in spite of all that he had acquired. Of all the things he thought about however, none was as distressing as the fact that he had raped Becky.
A medical team came into the room and he excused them. He sat in the lobby of the hospital and simply watched people come and go, simultaneously thinking about the plans to hijack the consignment of imported electronics coming into Abowu and how uncertain its success was. Finally, he stood up and made to leave when a doctor called out to him.
“I thought you would like to know that Mrs Okafor has just passed on, and I hope that the police arrests the man who did this…”
The rest of the doctor’s words ended in a blur, Toye wanted to find a place to weep.
Bala clapped his hands in excitement. “This is exactly what we need. Now we can arrest that man and get him to talk…”
Toye took a sip of his beer and stared blankly at the table. They were in Bala’s favourite eating place, the former had requested a meeting out of the regular schedule.
“Why do you look gloomy?”
“Nothing sir, it’s just been a long day.”
“This is what we need. I will pressure my colleague to get him arrested, you go on with your plans. Do you know the location of the hijacking yet?”
“I will confirm it between today and tomorrow.”
“Good, let me know. In three days, my career will end on a very good note. Good work Inspector Toye!”
Uche was drinking a bottle of wine in his house when they came for him. He laughed, got up and adjusted his trousers.
“You people think you’ve got me.”
At the station a crowd had gathered, they cheered as the police van pulled to a stop and Uche was brought out. Still he laughed at them and cooperated with the police until they locked him up in a cell. He sat comfortably on the floor and waited for Richard to come to his rescue.
“I knew it would come to this.”
Richard paced his sitting room, smoking furiously, a frown creasing his face. Jay stood at a respectful distance and folded his hands behind him.
“What do you want us to do boss?”
Richard stopped. “We should send someone to get him out.”
He resumed his pacing and Jay stared straight ahead.
“You’re not saying anything. You don’t think we should get him out, do you?”
“I do whatever you think we should do.”
“Alright then, I think you should tell me what you’re thinking.”
“I think we should stay away from him in order not to draw attention to ourselves. This job is the most important one we will do, we don’t need unnecessary attention. It’s too bad Uche couldn’t control his temper but we shouldn’t jeopardize the entire operation because of him.”
Richard laughed. “This is why I like you Jay, you are always objective.” he took another drag of his cigarette. “We leave him then, and do the job on our own. More money to go round.”