Ochuko sat at the backseat of the taxi and silently thanked God that she’d managed to escape Vuoke. She was a sight for sore eyes. Her eyes were swollen and her left eye was closed while her cheeks were bruised and her hair looked ragged and dirty. She had hailed four taxi cabs and only the driver of this taxi had stopped for her as when the other drivers saw her, they pressed the accelerator and zoomed off thinking she’d escaped from a mental clinic.
“Is this the place?” The driver asked softly as he slowed the car to a stop. He seemed to understand that she’d been through hell.
“Yes…please…please wait…I don’t have any money here and my phone is not with me either but…but I need to…go inside and get the money.” She stammered.
“Is there anything I can do to help?” He asked helpfully.
“Can you go inside for me? Ask for Mr Louis and tell him that his daughter Ochuko is inside your taxi cab. Please tell him that he should bring your cab fare along.” She said, her heart filling with gratitude over the kindness of the total stranger.
The taxi driver turned off the engine and alighted. Soon, he’d disappeared into the house and shortly, her father stepped out of the gate with him. As soon as she wound down the window, his hand flew to his mouth.
“My God!” Was all he could say.
“Daddy…please pay the cab driver. I negotiated with him to take me to Fred’s place. I’ll be there till I can pull myself together.” She started.
Her father began to cry. Ochuko knew her father was quite emotional but she’s never seen him reduced to tears for her sake.
“Daddy don’t cry please…” She said with tears in her voice.
“This is what I was about to subject you to…” He wept.
“I am to blame, I didn’t tell you or anyone. I kept it to myself hoping he’d change. I hung on to the hope that he’d change.” She cried.
“You have to report this to the police. You need to write down a statement.” Her father said with anger in his voice.
“Yes, that’s our next stop.” She said wiping the stray tears that had fallen from her cheek. “I am going to the police and I’m not keeping silent anymore. Not only did Vuoke beat me, he kidnapped me as well.”
“Move over…” Her father said as he opened the car door.
She moved over and he got into the taxi.
“I am accompanying you wherever you go. Until you end your trip at Fred’s place, I will be by your side. You might be all grown up but you’re my still my little girl and woe betide anyone that will dare lay hands on you as long as I live.”
He pulled her to his frame for a hug and she sobbed against his chest. The driver started the car and just as he was about to leave, her mother rushed out of the house. She saw the car sitting at the front of the gate and rapped at the window.
“Wait” Her father said to the driver.
“No daddy, I don’t want to see her.” Ochuko started.
“I’ll handle this.” Her father said. He wound down the window and stared at his wife.
“What’s going on? You answered the door and left the house without a word. Is everything alright?” Her mother asked.
Ochuko’s father spoke to her softly.
“Ochuko, look at your mother.” He said.
Ochuko raised her face at her mother and her mother’s right hand flew to her chest in shock.
“Let’s go!” Ochuko’s father said to the driver.
The taxi driver started the engine and drove off while Ochuko’s mother stood there at the front of the gate, speechless.
Chioma was trying to sleep but her mind kept drifting to the money she had to raise for the greedy nurse.
“If only I’d never given her my phone number. Now, she feels she can oppress me because she has my number.” She hissed.
Just then her phone rang. Her husband opened his eyes and said to her.
“Who’s calling you at this time of the night?”
“I’m sure it’s a wrong number.” She said reaching towards the side stool for her mobile phone. She looked at the caller ID, it was Nurse. She closed her eyes and winced in pain.
Slowly, she got up from the bed and made her way to the door.
“Where are you going?” Her husband asked.
“I need to take this call, it’s my mother.” She lied.
“Why is she calling at this time of the night? Is anything the matter?” He asked worriedly.
“Go to sleep, I’m sure it’s not important. Perhaps she’s arguing with my younger sister again.”
Her husband nodded and went back to sleep. Her phone stopped ringing and started ringing again. Chioma entered the sitting room and turned on the lights, she had to make sure that no one was lurking in the dark. She took the call.
“What is it?” She spat.
“I need extra cash…as I speak to you right now, I am packing my things.” The nurse whispered.
“Why are you whispering?” Chioma asked.
“The biological mother of the male child we switched came to my house in the village. She is asking for explanations.”
It took a miracle for the phone not to have fallen from Chioma’s hands.
“I am telling you! I am as surprised as you are. This totally took me by surprise.”
“Wait…are you sure you’re not doing this to add more money to the amount you asked me to give you?”
“Are you mad? Do you think I can joke with something like this? If the authorities find out, I am going to jail but I won’t be going alone, I’m going to drag you with me. Look, I have risked so much for you and that baby. I left Lagos and moved here and now, I really don’t have any place to go except to leave the country.”
“Leave the country?”
“Yes, I have decided to leave for Canada. I’ll leave my house tonight and stay at a relation’s place then, first thing tomorrow, I’ll be off to Lagos and when I get there, I’ll process a Canadian visa, then, I’m off. I just need you to add an extra two hundred thousand naira to the money I asked for.”
“What do you take me for? Central Bank of Nigeria?”
“My dear, you have to start printing notes if you’ve not been doing that before. That boy’s biological mother has spunk and I can see that she’s out to get to the bottom of this whole thing. Something tells me that she is going to expose me very soon and I’ll have no choice but to expose you too.”
“Heeeiii…Chioma ooo…Chioma ooo…see you see trouble ooo…” Chioma cried.
“This is not the time to cry. This is the time for action. Get me out of the country and end that woman’s investigation or stay there and dull. I’ll have no chance but to rat you out.”
“I don’t have the money you’re asking for. I’ve been thinking of what to sell to raise up the first amount you asked for but till now, I haven’t thought of anything.”
“Don’t you have a car? Sell it now…”
“My husband just got me that car…what will I tell him?”
“Tell him that you were robbed at gunpoint or something. Or tell him that your car fell into the lagoon. Look for something to say but sell your car and send me money or the boy’s biological mother might actually find me.”
Chioma sat on the sofa and supported her cheek with her palm, she didn’t know what to do. This time, she’d surely bitten more than she could chew.
Bisiola stared at Fred and Bruce, they stood far from each other and waited for the news from the doctors. She sat beside the water dispenser and watched father and son regard each other as enemies. She thought of her son Zed and she suddenly wanted to know where he was, so she stood from the chair and made her way to Bruce. Bruce’s eyes were red and she could tell that he’d been crying.
“Where’s Zed?” She asked quietly.
He sighed and looked away.
“Bruce, answer me.” She said.
“You’ve gotten what you wanted right? You’ve broken my family.” He said.
“What did you expect? You can’t have your cake and eat it.” She said.
“How could you? After all I did for you. I picked you up from the gutters. I brushed you up. I gave you comfort, luxury and a good life. How did you pay me in return? You destroyed all I’ve worked for the past forty years of my life.”
“You brought this upon yourself and I really have no hand in it. It’s just a pity that you’ll be my father in-law. I’d hate to hate you.”
He looked at her and a rueful smile crossed his lips.
“Do you think Fred will marry you?”
“What makes you think he won’t?”
“You actually lack reason, Bisiola. How do you think that after all that has happened, he’ll end up with you?”
“Well, it’s because I’m the best woman for him and also, he really wants to piss you off so, he’ll stay with me. Besides, I know the best medicine for his broken heart.”
“Fred will never end up with you.” Bruce said with eyes flashing.
“Wanna bet?” She said with a smile tugging at the corners of her mouth. “I have Fred eating from the palm of my hands. He will be mine whether you like it or not.”
“I should have seen this from the start but I was blinded by lust and the passion to do what I please. If you want Zed back, speak with my secretary and she’ll tell you how to get him.” He gritted.
Bisiola turned to leave but turned back again to look at Bruce.
“Thank you, Bruce. And…I have a question. What do you think Zed should call Fred once we get married? Dad?” When he didn’t reply, she said. “Yeaaahhh…I thought so too.”
She turned around and walked away with a smile on her face.
Fred was crouched in a corner, silently waiting for the doctor’s report on his mother’s health.
Ochuko lay her head on her father’s shoulder and slept, she dreamt of her childhood, of happiness and of love. The car climbed a speed bump and she opened her eyes and looked up.
“How do you feel?” Her father asked.
They’d stopped at the pharmacy to buy painkillers.
“Better…I just need to sleep.” She said.
“This is Fred’s estate right?” Her father asked.
“I know you’d rather have me at home.” She said to him.
“I really don’t want you bothering Fred, he’s a nice man.”
“He’s my friend and he won’t be bothered at all besides, I don’t want to share the same house with my mother just yet.” She said.
Her father pulled her closer to him and said nothing.
“Daddy, will it be wrong if I don’t get married at all?” She asked.
“If that’s what you want darling, it’s your life and you make the decisions.” He said.
She nodded and kept silent.
“Na dis house?” The taxi driver asked.
“Yes…that’s the house.” Ochuko said.
Her father stared at Fred’s house and looked at her.
“Is he at home?”
“Where else would he be?” Ochuko asked as she alighted from the car. She made her way to the gate and rung the bell. The gateman answered.
“Ah madam…good evening.” He greeted.
“Oga dey house?” She asked.
“Noooo…he never return since he comot dis morning.”
Her father walked to stand by her side.
“Fred’s not home?” He asked, when she nodded, he said. “Why don’t we go back home? I know you don’t want to stay under the same roof with your mom, but I can’t leave you here. You’ll have to wait for Fred to return before you get into the house.”
“Ah no oga.” The gateman said. “Dis na my madam and house dey open for am anytime she come.”
Ochuko and her father looked quite surprised by the gateman’s words.
“Oga talk say make I open house for you anytime you come.” He said.
Ochuko almost cried in relief.
“I told you dad, I have a place here.” She said as the gateman opened the gate and she walked inside.
Lilian made her way to the nurse’s residence, she was in the company of two policemen who had followed her from their station at the town. Thankfully, Lilian’s secondary school classmate held a high rank with the police and he was willing to help her.
They stopped at the entrance to the compound and turned off the vehicle engine. Lilian stepped out of the police car and made her way into the compound with the policemen on her heels. She walked to the door of the house and knocked loudly.
There was no answer.
She knocked again and by the time she started banging at the door of the house, one of the police officers rounded to the back of the house.
“Where is she? I’m sure she’s in here.” She said.
The police man made his way to her and said.
“There is no one in the house.”
“What? No one? How? That can’t be possible. She was here yesterday.” She said, sounding devastated at how her investigations had reached a dead end.
“The house is locked with heavy padlocks and it seems empty too.” The police man said.
“What can we do?” Lilian asked panicking.
“We have to go back to the station and contact our colleagues at check points to look out for her. Do you have her picture?” The first police man asked.
“No…not at all.” Lilian said, shaking.
“You will need to give us her picture.” The second police man said.
“How? I don’t have her picture. What do you want me to do?” She began to cry.
Her phone chose that moment to ring and without looking at the caller ID, she took the call. It was her husband.
“Lily, I’m sorry.” His broken voice floated down the line. “I should never have doubted you…”
“This is a wrong time…” She said and hung up, stamping her foot and groaning in anger.
“Let’s go back to the station. We’ll take things up from there.” The second police man said.
As they made their way out of the compound, Lilian turned to give the house one last look. She had indeed, reached a dead end.
Nurse was holding her bag and standing at the side of the busy road waiting to cross. She had left the house last night and had slept at her cousin’s place then early this morning, she’d left in order to board a bus to Lagos.
She had to leave the country or else, everything will crash in her face. She hoped with all her heart that Chioma comes up with the money soon so that she can get everything sorted. Her mind was on the trouble that she was in that she didn’t think before crossing the road.
With her bag firmly in her hand, she took giant steps across the road and at that moment, felt something hard and painful, collide against her body.
She fell to the ground in a pool of her own blood.
To be continued….