Emem sat in her car and stared at her steering, was she doing the right thing? She thought. Should she turn around? What should she do? She wondered. She was still sitting when she heard the rap at her window. She slid the window down.
“Hey…Hi…” She said quickly, swallowing the saliva in her mouth which was threatening to choke her.
“Emem, what brings you here?”
“Bruce…we need to talk, it’s about Bisiola.” Emem said.
Bruce gave her a long look and nodded.
“I’ll go bring my car. Let’s talk at Sheraton.” He said.
She nodded and watched him leave, hoping with all her heart that she was doing the right thing.
Fred arrived at Ochuko’s house, it didn’t take him long because Princess was great at giving directions and she’d texted their house address to his phone. He alighted from the car and walked to the gate. It was open. He stepped inside. Ochuko’s family was standing outside in worry, her father was pacing the compound and making calls on his phone while her mother was leaning by the wall and cradling her head in her palms.
“Uncle Fred…” Princess said hurrying over to meet him. “You’re Ochuko’s friend, aren’t you? We haven’t met but I’m sure it’s you.”
“Yes, I’m Fred.” He said to her.
Amanda rushed over to them.
“Is he the police? Did you call the police?” She asked her sister.
“No, he’s the friend Ochuko told us about a while ago. He’s the one who housed her after she didn’t go through with the marriage.” Princess supplied.
“How did you get his number?” Her sister asked jealously. “I’m closer to Ochuko than you are and I don’t even have his number.”
“Can we talk about this another time? Where is Ochuko?” Fred asked, still quite troubled over all that had happened before he got here. Bisiola’s words still spun around his head in circles.
Ochuko’s mother rushed up to him.
“Are you the man who almost beat Vuoke up some time ago at the hospital?”
“Yes, I am.” Fred said, giving her a pointed look and daring her to send him out of her compound.
Instead, she surprised him by saying;
“Thank you so much for always being there for my daughter.”
Her husband ended his call and walked to meet them.
“Good afternoon sir.” Fred greeted. “I am Ochuko’s friend.”
“Vuoke took her away, I have no idea where he could have taken her to.” Ochuko’s father said with a worried expression on his face.
“I will try to find her. Can any of you give me his house address?” Fred asked.
“I’ll go write it down…I have the address in my diary.” Amanda said racing off into the house.
“Tell me what happened? She told me that she was coming home to ask for your forgiveness. How in the world did Vuoke get here?” Fred said.
“It was…it was…my fault…I called him…on the phone.” Ochuko’s mother cried.
“You what?” Her husband spat. “You called him?”
She nodded and began to cry again.
“Your tears will not save you ooo…if anything happens to my daughter…if Vuoke dares to lay a finger on my daughter…” Her husband threatened.
“Mummy why? You heard all what big sis said; is that the kind of life you want for her? All because you want your daughter to get married? Is that it?” Princess accused.
“I was blinded by a lot of things…a lot of things. I always feel left behind whenever my fellow traders at the market exchange wedding invites and also when they give out asoebis and chose colour themes. It’s almost like I don’t have any child that’s old enough for marriage. I feel so left out. I am sorry…now I know what Ochuko has been talking about all along. Now I know how she feels.” She sobbed.
“So, after all she told us about the rash treatment she’s being receiving from that cow, you couldn’t even empathise with her. You are her mother!” Her husband screamed.
“It was when …Princess came to tell us that Vuoke had driven off with Ochuko in the car that I became really afraid…I was so afraid…” She cried. “He might do something to harm her. What if he hurts her or…or…”
“Do you see what…” Her husband started.
“Let’s not point accusing fingers, the first thing is to look for Vuoke because that’s the only way we’ll find Ochuko.” Fred said.
Amanda rushed out of the house with a piece of paper in her hands, she hurried to Fred and gave it to him.
“Can…can I come with you?” Ochuko’s mother asked.
“No! Stay here, I’ll go with the gentleman. We will find Ochuko.” Her husband said.
Chioma spent her Sunday afternoon in worry, she didn’t know what to do, she kept glancing at the clock on the wall as though she needed the time to stop for a while in order for her to think.
“Chi, what’s wrong? Are you okay?” Her husband asked her.
They were both watching a Nigerian movie channel.
“Oh…wrong? Is something wrong?” She stammered.
“You seem perturbed. Is anything the matter? You’ve not stopped staring at the clock.” He asked.
“Oh…it’s nothing…I mean…” She said with a smile and focused her gaze on the television.
A movie was about to start, she closed her eyes and opened them again then, refocused on the screen. The movie title ‘STOLEN CHILD’ leapt at her. She almost had a heart attack.
“Huh? We can’t watch this…I’m sure it’s going to be lame.” She said, picking up the remote control and changing the channel.
“Why? I want to watch it.” Her husband said, taking the remote from her and switching it back to the movie channel.
“Some Nigerian movie producers are so annoying, what kind of movie title is that?” She said quickly. “Honey, let’s watch something else.”
“I am more intrigued by the movie title…I’d like to see what child was stolen and why.” Her husband persisted.
“It’s not real…it’s not going to teach us any morals or values. Let’s watch something that would be more believable.” She stammered.
“Of course, it’s real. People kidnap other people’s children and sell them to others in other to make money, there’s also a lot of child trafficking stories and I’ve even heard that in some hospitals, midwives sell healthy babies to those whose babies are dead especially when they are offered lots of money.” Her husband said.
Chioma didn’t say anything. She didn’t know what to say.
“Listen darling, even if it’s just a movie, I mean…we can learn something from it.” He said watching the opening scene where a woman in a nurse’s uniform brings out a child from a hospital room, looks left and right and quickly hurries off with the baby. “Do you see that? Isn’t it obvious that she’s stealing someone else’s child?” He says pointing at the television screen.
“What if she’s doing someone else a big favour. Come to think of it, let’s stop pointing accusing fingers at people when we don’t know the kind of challenges that they are facing. Imagine this, what if the woman who desperately wants the child just had a stillborn and was told by the doctor that she can’t have another. Won’t it be right for the nurse to give her a child?” Chioma defended.
“What? That’s preposterous! How can you say that? No one has the right to give anyone what doesn’t belong to her. Is the nurse the mother of the baby? Of course not! If the nurse were the mother of the child and wants to give her child away, then that’s fine. But taking another person’s child and giving it to someone else is a heavy crime and it’s punishable by law.” Her husband said.
“What if the woman that has the child has so many children already.” Chioma continued.
“The fact still remains that the child is hers. She is the only one who can decide what she wants for the child and same goes for the father of the child. What are you talking about Chioma? So, do you mean that if one of our kids had been exchanged or handed over to someone else while you were at the hospital, you’d have been thrilled? If I ever find out that my child was stolen from me, I swear that not only will I close down the hospital where my child was born, I’ll sue the doctors, nurses and everyone involved!”
Chioma looked at her husband and stood up from the sofa.
“I’ll watch an Indian movie in the bedroom instead.” She said and hurried away.
“Vuoke! Vuoke!” Ochuko screamed as he drove down the road and parked beside a building. “Where are you taking me?”
Vuoke didn’t speak, Ochuko looked out the window and saw a young lady walk towards the car, it was Vuoke’s little sister.
“Clar…Clar…please…get me out of here…” She said through the wound-up glass.
Vuoke’s sister walked over to Vuoke’s car window and he slid it down.
“Everyone’s out…but I was only able to convince them to leave for a couple of days. I told them that you’re giving us a treat for two days at the PrinceVille Hotel. They are there now.” His sister said, speaking of her flatmates.
“Good. I’ll send you some more money.” Vuoke said.
“Ahhhh…wait…did you plan all this?” Ochuko asked.
Vuoke’s sister walked away and hailing a bike, she was out in a flash.
“We’re going to go into one of the flats inside that building. Since you don’t want a proper honeymoon on an Island somewhere around the world, we’re having our honeymoon in the flat my sister shares with her fellow youth corpers.”
“Vuoke…listen to me, this is wrong. You are holding me against my will and it’s a crime. You could get arrested for this.”
“Who’s going to arrest me? The man you’ve been shagging all the while we’ve been together?” He spat at her.
“I never cheated on you, Vuoke.” She said.
“Really? Tell that to the birds. Now, get out of the car and in your best interests, do so, quietly and peacefully. Do not try to be smart with me or I’ll make sure you regret it.”
“Vuoke, please…” Ochuko pleaded.
“Why don’t you want to work things out with me, Ochuko? We are meant to be together! Yesterday was supposed to be the best day of our lives but you blew it!” He yelled.
“I tried working things out with you countless times. Everyday I told myself, ‘he’ll change, he loves you, he’ll change’ but it only grew worse. Marrying you will only lead to my eventual untimely death.”
“Is that how you look at me? Do you see me as a killer?” He asked.
“Vuoke, you are hot-tempered and you hit me all the time. Is it wrong to ask for a breather? I don’t want you anymore…is that too hard to ask?”
“Tell me the truth, it’s because of him, right? That guy, the one who punched me at the clinic a few weeks ago…”
“Fred?” She asked.
“Oh…that’s his name. Tell me, are you in love with him?” He asked.
Ochuko looked away.
“Let me go, please…Vuoke and I promise not to report you and your sister to the authorities.”
“Answer me dammit! Do you love him?”
“Yes! I love him but he doesn’t love me back. Are you fine now?”
He dragged her hair and pulled, she winced in pain but she didn’t cry.
“It’s broad daylight and someone would see us…” She said. “You’ll be in trouble, Vuoke.”
“How dare you?” He said as he released her. “How dare you look me in the eye and profess undying love for another man?”
“Why shouldn’t I? He’s more of a man than you’ll ever be. He didn’t have to ask me out, he didn’t need to buy me things or tell me how he feels about me but…but…his actions, his words, his character as a person made me fall for him and do you know what? I lied to myself all these while that I had no feelings for him because I do, I do love him even though he has someone else and …”
“Will you shut up?” Vuoke spat. “Do you know what Ochuko? It’ll be over my dead body that any man will have you, do you hear me? Over my dead body!”
Ochuko looked at him and said nothing.
“Now, I’ll get out of the car and you’ll be a good girl and open the door slowly and step out.”
Ochuko still didn’t reply. As soon as Vuoke stepped out of the car, Ochuko pushed her door open and wanted to step out to run but found that she couldn’t.
“Hahahaha…I’m smarter than you think.” Vuoke said as he rounded through the front of the car.
Vuoke had parked the car beside a wide and open gutter and there was no way that Ochuko could run out. She was forced to quietly step out of the car and on to the pavement. Then shutting the car door, she took baby steps on the pavement- while leaning against the car for support- until she was standing before Vuoke.
“Good! Now, let’s go…” He said, placing his arms firmly on her waist.
“We’ve searched everywhere…” Fred said to Ochuko’s father as he drove into her family compound and parked the car.
It was a few minutes past nine pm and he was so tired from looking.
“Where could they be? We went to Vuoke’s house and saw no one there and we even asked his neighbours.” Ochuko’s father said.
Ochuko’s mother rushed out of the house.
“Where is she? Have you found her?” She asked.
“Will you get back inside and pray that she’s found? If you hadn’t called that mad man whom God was so merciful to have spared my daughter from marrying, we wouldn’t be in this situation.” Her husband said.
“Do you think he took her outside Lagos?” Fred asked.
“Let’s go to the police…let’s file a report there…” Ochuko’s father said. “Vuoke has no right to take Ochuko by force, she’s not his wife! He’s not married to her in church or in the court so, we might have a case.”
“You have a point.” Fred said.
Bisiola was seated in her sitting room and waiting for Fred to call and tell her that he’s confronted his father and now, they can live their lives together in peace. She kept staring at her phone that she didn’t notice the nanny walk into the sitting room.
“Madam…” The nanny started.
“What do you want?” She spat.
“Ma…Zed is not home yet.” The nanny said.
Bisiola turned to look at her in shock.
“He’s not home yet? How? Where is he?” She asked in fear.
“He went with the driver for a haircut.” The nanny said.
“What do you mean by he went with the driver for a haircut? Aren’t you supposed to be with him?” She yelled.
“Yes ma but since today’s the maid’s day off, you asked that I stay at home and take care of the house ma.”
Bisiola jumped off the sofa in a panic.
“Call the driver…have you called the driver?” She screamed.
The nanny shook her head. Bisiola called the driver, his phone was switched off.
“My son…where’s my son? Oh my God! Zed! Zed!” She began to wail.
She quickly placed a call to Bruce.
“Bruce! Zed’s missing…I sent him with the driver to get a haircut and…” She started.
“He’s with me.” Bruce said.
Bisiola’s sigh of relief could be heard miles away.
“Wait…what’s he doing with you? And at this time?” She asked.
“Don’t worry yourself about Zed, he’s safe.” Bruce said.
“What do you mean by that?”
“What I mean is that for the meanwhile, you can’t be with Zed until I’m certain that you’re fit to take care of him.”
“What do you mean by that? I am his mother!” Bisiola screamed.
“You are unfit!” Bruce said.
“Ha! What do you mean? Please bring my son home to me.”
“No Bisiola, I won’t bring Zed home until you get your act together.” He said and hung up the phone.
“Get my act together? Is this man mad? Does he want me to destroy his family?” She said aloud. “Wait…I don’t understand. Why hasn’t Fred accused him yet? Wasn’t that what he intended to do when I told him about his dad? What’s happening? Where’s Fred? Something’s not right!”
She quickly dialled Fred’s number. It rang several times but he didn’t answer. She didn’t know who to call so she dialled Emem’s number. Emem answered the call.
“Emem, do you know what just happened? Bruce took Zed, he says I’m an unfit mother.”
“That’s what I told him.” Was Emem’s shocking reply.
“Look Bisiola, I know you think that what you’re doing is right but it’s not. You tried to turn Fred against his father all because you want things to work in your favour so, I told Bruce that you were suddenly acting irrational and that you have been saying things that you shouldn’t say. Not to worry, I didn’t tell him about Fred and all the lies you told him. I only told him to take better care of you and perhaps show you more love because you seemed to be lacking it.”
“Whaaaaaaat?” Bisiola raged. “I will kill you, Emem, I promise…. I will kill you!”
“Why? For having your best interests at heart even after you kicked me out of your place?”
“Do you know what your advice has done to me? Bruce has taken my son! He has taken my son away from me and do you know what’s worse? I doubt that Fred has even seen his father today talk more of accusing him of all the things I told him!” She yelled. “How do I manage to have such annoying, good for nothing, useless people in my life? You’re supposed to be my best friend and have my back at all times but what did you do? You have just given my son’s father the right to kidnap him and what about Fred? He’s supposed to love me unconditionally because I am his girlfriend, I am the woman he loves but what does he do? He dashes out of the house like a wounded animal and I haven’t heard from him since. Do you know what? I’m tired of sitting and licking my wounds because there are actually no wounds. I am going to do what I should have done a long time ago! If Bruce wants a fight, he’ll get one and this time, it’s going to be all out in the open, no more hiding and no more sneaking around in the dark!”
“Wait…Bisiola…Wait…” Emem started.
Bisiola ended the call and stormed out of the sitting room like a woman scorned.
To be continued….
Thanks everyone for the good wishes, I’m much better now. God bless you all.