‘He told me to come to his room that he had something important to tell me… I don’t even think I knew what the word important meant,’ she laughed dryly, ‘I was groggy from sleep but I went. I was excited to spend time with him. He always travelled. And when he came back he looked at me like he didn’t recognise me or he had forgotten he had a daughter. I went into his room. He was reading through a document and asked me to sit on his bed while he finished reading. The T.V was on but muted so I watched the lady’s mouth move. I slept off soon. I was woken up by his voice. He was talking to someone on the phone. He looked at me and smiled. Kure, I was elated. Finally he acknowledged me. When he got off the phone he pulled me close. He told me he was sorry for not being there and that he loved that I looked like my mother more as I grew up. He pinched my breasts telling me I was growing up fast and soon I would be ready for marriage. I should have known better Kure…’
‘It wasn’t your fault… like you said you were only seven…’ I tried to control the fluctuations in my voice.
‘When he pulled of my clothes I was scared. I did not know much but I knew that this wasn’t right. I only took of my dress when it was time to change or when I was to bathe. I also noticed that there was something that stood erect in his silk pyjamas. I wondered whether he had grown an arm in between his legs…’
I laughed. She slapped by arm.
‘I am sorry…’ I said soberly.
‘He rubbed cream on himself and thrust his hands inside of me roughly. I tried to cry but he covered my mouth with his hands. I bit his fingers. He gave me a dirty slap… no there was nothing dirty about this slap. It was clean and precise. Doing exactly what it wanted to do. I wondered where the man who had just told me I looked mummy. I couldn’t fight him anymore. I just lay there and prayed and cried silently. He pinned both my hands with one hand… the other he used to cover my mouth…’
Another tear slid off the corner of her eyes. I brushed it away. I fought back the hot ones that surged through me now. I pulled her close, so that her heart beat against mine. I wanted her to find a cove in my heart; I wanted her to feel strength on my rather bony shoulders.
‘When he eased into me I fainted. The pain was more than frame could take. I dreamt. Strange dreams I dreamt. I dreamt of mummy. I dreamt of white garments and a light that blinded me. It must have been heaven; I woke up in a hospital. I wonder what he told them. These… these abuses continued. I thought of ways to run and get out of it. I even tried running away once or twice. He always found me. The beatings ensured I did not think of doing such anymore. Thank God for boarding school. Thank God for England. This was the only way I was able to escape from him. The only thing that kept me going on most days was the idea of revenge. I thought of all the possible ways of killing him. I carefully plotted how to take him down, how to make him suffer dearly. A chance reared its head when you guys decided to gain possession of the data disc. It had files of tax evasion and illegal flow of government funds into foreign accounts. I knew if I could pass this to the right people, especially his political rivals his chances of snagging the gubernatorial seat was slender… I had to get it from you guys… I pray you forgive me for what I am about to tell you now…’
I pulled away and looked at her; the doubt and distrust began to bud somewhere within. I feared what I was about to hear.
‘I started sleeping with David because he walked in Accounts and Tax of daddy’s company. I knew he was the one that made deposits regularly at Sync. When there was a breach and daddy’s documents were stolen I grew suspicious of him. They were affirmed the very first day I met you with him at the bar, I had seen you somewhere but I could not remember where. I’m sure he did not realise I would never figure it out but I did. Most men don’t think we women are that smart. I was the one that gave daddy a lead to investigate further on David’s background. It was because of me that Tokunbo was kidnapped and tortured. It is my fault he is dead…’
I dropped her hands and moved back. I could not believe all that I heard. Things had been perfect after the robbery. David thought of blackmailing Chief Dan-Princewill off a huge sum in exchange for the information we had discovered. Buchi had suggested that we just siphon the cash we had discovered into our own personal accounts. T.K wondered when we would rob again just for the mere thrill of it. Things had taken began to drift away from our plans when this girl with her beauty-pageant looks and mysterious spirit had come into our lives. I was apprehensive and warned David to steer off but he simply thought I was envious of what he had stumbled upon. If only I trusted my intuition more; if only he had listened things our fates may not have coursed along such gloomy lanes.
I walked away; closer to the banks of the river. As I tossed pebbles as far as I could. I saw things from where she stood. I understood how the heart could be blackened by hate and thirst for sweet revenge that the mind stopped seeing things clearly and could not tell when it was going into overdrive. But because of her T.K was dead. Because of her Buchi was God knew where and David was awaiting a trial that would not come. Of all the things that made me hurt like I was bleeding was thinking about the way T.K had died. When I looked at my reflections along the still waters, it was his face I saw…
The way you used to gulp down the slimy insides of raw eggs every morning made me cringe. You said you wanted a baritone like Buchi’s. The ladies loved a man with husky voice. Your mother she loved you even if you squeaked like a mouse; even if you had successfully broken the hearts of all the teenage girls on the street and their mothers dragged the teary-eyed girls to your doorstep. She teased you when you stayed up all night playing video games and refused to get a job. Yes, your mother she loved you. She called you oko mii. My husband. I guess you were since you had always been the only man for her since you dad passed away at the warfront. She was thankful for me and told me to look out for you like my little brother, she said she admired calm in my demeanour and did not see it as weakness. I wish she knew that it was you who taught me how to be a man. I did not tell her how they killed you, of how they found your body without your fingers and your toes and little slits along your arms. How could I? I simply told her there was an accident and that all that remained were your ashes. She called me a liar. She said I was a thief. She still sits by the window bordered by the ixora plants, so that she can see you when you run through the gate as you always did. T.K she is still waiting for you to come back home…
A tear dropped into the stillness. The water rippled. I felt Sonate’s hands snake round my waist. She rested her face on the broad of my back. I didn’t say anything. I didn’t know what to say so I simply watched the fishermen row towards the sun.
‘Kure I don’t know what to say… I don’t know if you will… if you can forgive me. I never meant for things to happen this way. I just wanted to make him pay. I wanted to protect my little sisters from what I went through. I was made it through but I was not certain that they could… and their mother she hardly remembers things. If you don’t want me anymore I would understand. If we make it into Bakassi then it we could go our separate ways… I would still wish you well…’
I let out a sigh as I looked over my shoulder.
‘Sonate I don’t know what to say… we are stuck out here…. with lives that neither of us in our wildest imagination could have seen. We need each other. I don’t know if I would forgive you or trust you completely again but I still want you beside me. I need you…’
‘Thank you Kure.’
‘But before we go further we must leave this entire load we are burdened with at the Niger and allow the currents to carry them away. We must travel empty handed as new people.’
‘I agree.’ Sonate said as she came to stand beside me.
‘For as long as I hold unto this,’ she said as she stared at the locket, ‘I would continue to remember. I did not want to let it go because it was all I had that reminded me of my mother. But it has to go. To my father I forgive you. Judgement belongs to God and not me. And the battle to be fought is not mine. I thank you for because of all that you put me through I know what I want to do with my life now. I pray for Zefe and Daniba. I pray that God will keep them from his harm. I will miss them. I pray for all those I hurt along the way, for the friendships I ruined in my selfish bid to win… I pray they all find it somewhere in their heart to forgive me someday…’
With that she tossed the locket in the sea and looked up at me with a sad smile. I smiled back at her. I smiled from deep places; I smiled all the way to my eyes. There was no resentment and bile in my stomach.
I brought out my photograph from my pocket and stared at it. I saw flashbacks. I saw faces and embraces. I heard their laughter and remembered the funny dance steps. I reminisced about high school days and spluttering over cigarette sticks as we sat on rooftops at sunset. I remembered the heated arguments about our favourite soccer teams and the evenings we spent at roadside bars guzzling down beers. I tried to think of what the future would have been like. Would Buchi have been rich? Would T.K have finally found a girl that made his heart stop when she walked into a room? What would have the name of my baby girl with Yetunde have been? Who would have been the first one to write nuptial vows… what-ifs and who-would-haves waltzed gracefully in my head and made it hurt. I stopped for a moment. It was during moments like this that the uncertainties overwhelmed me. The pace at which things were changing swept me off balance swiftly and I had landed hard on my bottom.
I simply tossed the picture into the water and watched it sail along. I wanted to say something sweet sounding and facile like how I missed my brothers and that in time all the wounds would heals even though the scars would run deeply. But I was empty. I was empty. Tabula rasa. And so I simply stood and watched. My memories burnt brightly in my chest. They would keep me going. I still dreamed that I would see them all again someday. If I uttered my farewell now it would make things too real. I still wanted to dream some more. I kissed Sonate on her forehead and took her hand. Together we walked back to the mouth of the bridge. We did not stop beneath the shady branches to steal anymore kisses. We did not even whisper silly thoughts. I looked back one more time and before stepping into the car.
I revved the engines and allowed it to hover and hum. Sonate fiddled with the knob of the radio as I burnt miles on the brick bridge. The wind tossed her hair around. She said something and threw her head back and laughed. I swallowed mine when I saw a barricade in front. These were not the police in their sombre uniforms and lopsided berets. What lay ahead had armoured tanks and machine guns. Things did not seem right. I feared the end may have come to an end. I looked at Sonate and she smiled. She nodded her head and I knew what had to be done. The waved us down from a distance. I pushed down on the gas as I changed gears as we drew closer to the barricade. I did not let go of her hand as we drove into the light.