It was at about eleven thirty PM when Uncle Jeffery woke up, feeling worried.
He took out his phone, and went to his received call list, and then cursed as he realized it wasn’t a dream. Mrs. Ugabi had called him earlier to ask if he knew anything about Andrew’s whereabouts.
How could Osirik let this happen? This — his one-way ticket to getting rid of the sinister box — was now missing?
He put on some slippers and went to the cupboard where he kept a lot of inappropriate things, including Osirik’s box, and took an object that was wrapped all around with dried leaves.
Osirik got to Ringewud estate a while later that night with the boy still slung over his shoulder. He wasted no time in observing the street before he banged his staff on the ground. Tiny silver sparks flew out of it, snaked their way through the tarred roads and into all the electric poles, cutting out the lights, causing the whole street to go pitch-black.
In the moment that followed — during which some of the neighbors began counting down from one to seven as they waited for the standby generators to kick in while the others went to their backyards to manually put theirs on — Osirik strolled like it was nobody’s business to Uncle Jeffery’s house. When he got to the door with the new signboard that said, The HINDAN House, he knocked three times with his staff and then waited.
Uncle Jeffery’s generator kicked on in seconds after the lights went out, and inside the house he took the object he was holding to the mirror. He’d just begun to unwrap it when he heard the knocks on the door.
He put on his bathrobe. “I’m coming,” he muttered as he picked up his phone and went downstairs, clicking every light switch on till he got to the door. He opened it.
Osirik was tall and slim in his black hooded robe. He held his serpentine staff as usual. There were still vestiges of his injury on his forehead, but Uncle Jeffery did not care about his appearance anymore as he saw the limp boy on his shoulder.
“Hand me my nephew,” Uncle Jeffery said quickly. He stretched out his hands to receive him.
“Is it safe?” Osirik asked his eyes on Uncle Jeffery’s anxious face. “The box, I mean. And your daughter is she away? Really away this time?”
Uncle Jeffery nodded without removing his eyes from Andrew. “I took her to the airport myself, and I was there when the plane left.”
“Very well.” Osirik handed the boy to Uncle Jeffery, who took him carefully onto his own shoulder.
Uncle Jeffrey could feel Andrew’s heartbeat, could hear him breathing, and this comforted him.
“The boy is alive and well, and his luggage is upstairs. You will call his parents and tell them he is all right.” Osirik paused and looked around the room. “You will explain anything you want to them – you will find that the boy will agree with whatever you say happened, because he will have no recollection of what had happened. You must be wise; remember he is just like his mother.”
“But,” Uncle Jeffery said, starting to feel uneasy as he shifted Andrew higher onto his shoulder, “what of Ama?”
“Ama will not ask the boy what happened,” Osirik assured him. “If anything, once she knows he is okay, she will hope that he has forgotten about the accident.”
“What if it is too much a task for the boy?” asked Uncle Jeffery. “I mean, I saw what it did to my daughter … the box.”
“You let your daughter touch it?” Osirik asked testily, pressing his staff to the porch.
Uncle Jeffery cringed.
“If she’s going to be a problem,” Osirik said, dangerously raising his staff, “then something must be done?”
“No,” Uncle Jeffery replied immediately, brushing at a slight wrinkle on his bathrobe. “I told her another truth to put her mind off it, to distract her. But –”
“It’s the bad blood. Hopefully none of that runs in Andrew’s veins.” Osirik said dropping the staff quietly. His tone became casual. “I have given you everything you need,” he continued coolly. “Now I have to go and wait for the elders. There will be a tribunal; I am counting on Eshury – you know, the boy I told you about.”
And without warning, Osirik was suddenly gone at the blink of Uncle Jeffery’s eyes, leaving a burn-hole where he had pressed his staff to the porch. Uncle Jeffery covered it with the welcome mat, and went inside the house.
“… yes, but first things first.” Uncle Jeffery took out a phone from his cupboard, and went downstairs in his pajamas.
It was early the next morning, when Uncle Jeffery woke up. He sighed deeply halfway up the stairs a moment later, thinking of the perfect story to cook up for Mr. and Mrs. Ugabi. He wondered if he should keep it simple, or go all-out. “The bus was halfway on fire when I got there, he thought, and I burned myself badly trying to rescue him. I thought we were going to die, but we were lucky.” He thought that story was stupid as soon as he finished thinking about it; obviously the people at the bus station would give them a full report on the conditions of the bus and passengers, besides he had no burn marks. Knowing his sister, she would drive down the next day to see if he was telling the truth. He thought for a while, and then came up with what he felt was a better idea at the time. “He was kidnapped; I tracked him down and found the hideout where they were keeping him. It was horrible, Ama, I tell you, just horrible!”
He even laughed at the sheer stupidity of the idea moments later. He pictured the exaggerated look of disbelief that would be on Mrs. Ugabi’s face when she heard this, and shook his head. He wasn’t going to think about it again. He would wait for Lydia to return and for Andrew to wake up. He rushed upstairs to have his bath.
Andrew woke up half an hour later feeling a little bit dizzy, oblivious to the details of what had happened a few hours ago. He took a quick bath and went downstairs in a t-shirt and a pair of shorts.
Uncle Jeffery was reading the newspaper with his legs crossed on the table.
Andrew did not like the lack of minute disorderliness in the house. Unlike his house, everything here was in perfect order; the sit covers were all placed at the same position on all the chairs, the miniature statues stood facing the chairs at the same angles. Even the CDs near the flat screen television were stacked according to their colors, and the dining table was laid with white tablecloth on top of which was about six plate-mats with matching coasters.
“Good morning, Andrew,” Lydia greeted him as she climbed the stairs past him. “Hope you slept well. I know you’re hungry – just give me a minute!” she added, dashing up the stairs.
“Lydia, don’t!” Uncle Jeffery shouted, not taking his eyes off the newspaper. “I will clean the room myself when I am ready.”
She stopped halfway into his room, and turned around at Uncle Jeffery’s order.
“You’ve been saying that for ages now,” Lydia called angrily.
“I wonder why,” Uncle Jeffery said with his eyes still on the paper.
“Will you put your legs down!” her voice carried into the room below.
Uncle Jeffery obeyed, and turned around in his chair. Andrew was standing at the center of the sitting room.
“Good morning uncle,” Andrew said nervously, hands behind.
“What am I?” Uncle Jeffery said excited to see him. “Your headmaster? Come here, my boy. Long time, it’s been.” He motioned him to come over with his hands, smiling more. “When did I last see you? You were probably some months old then – of course you can’t remember.” He patted Andrew on the shoulder as he stood closer and studied him. “You’re a big boy now.”
Andrew nodded and sat two chairs away from Uncle Jeffery.
“I was to be your godfather,” Uncle Jeffery continued pushing the newspaper aside and leaning towards Andrew. “I think it was between me, your dad’s brother, and a family friend. She kicked me out during your baptism; your mother did, from the church – right in front of everybody.”
Andrew did not know what to say.
“She did not tell you, eh?” Uncle Jeffery continued, relaxed. He glanced to the kitchen as sounds of the housekeeper moving about could be heard. “Lydia, hurry up, we are hungry.” He looked back to Andrew. “So, how are you?” Before Andrew could speak, Uncle Jeffrey looked to the housekeeper again. “Lydia, where did you put my other phone?”
“Check in the television cupboard,” she replied, gasping and then jumping as she almost spilled hot oil on herself. “If you will just let me get it …”
“I’m okay,” Andrew replied, getting up to get the phone.
“No, let me – you’re in my house now.” Uncle Jeffery got up to fetch the phone as Andrew sat back down.
He dialed Mrs. Ugabi’s number, and then smiled at Andrew as they both waited for it to ring.
“Hello!” The voice was hoarse, like it had been strained from too much shouting.
“Ama! Great news. We found Andrew. He was very lucky I found him when we did. Let me pass the phone to him,” Uncle Jeffrey said as quickly as possible before handing the phone to Andrew.
At the Ugabi household, Mrs. Ugabi was already planning which way to kill Uncle Jeffery. She stuffed the paper where she had drafted ways to kill him without leaving any evidence, and motioned for Mr. Ugabi to sit down, ignoring his protest about how late they were going to be if they did not leave for the heliport.
Relief flooded her as she heard Andrew’s voice.
“Are you okay?” she asked desperately. “Did Jeffery do anything to you? What happened, and how about your phone? Whose number is this?”
“It’s Uncle Jeffery’s,” Andrew said tiredly. “There was an accident, and then he saw me somewhere.”
“He recognized you?” Mrs. Ugabi asked suspiciously. “How is that possible? He hasn’t seen you in –” she glanced surreptitiously at Mr. Ugabi, who grabbed the phone from her. He was halfway through tears now.
“Thank God!” he said passionately, his concern relieved. “Your mother and I were worried, but I prayed, and God answered. Imagine how we felt when we heard you were in an accident and they couldn’t find you?” He waited for Andrew to speak, then said, “We will send you Jenny’s number, okay?”
A long discussion followed now that the heartfelt issues were satisfied, in which Mr. Ugabi asked if all of Andrew’s documents were intact. Andrew assured him they were. The conversation ended shortly, and while Mr. Ugabi was happy for this news, Mrs. Ugabi seemed indifferent. She did not jump about as she would have done when she heard good news, neither did she hug Mr. Ugabi. She did not even run to the window when Mr. Debo drove in a moment later. She just stared at her wall, thinking.
“I better cancel the flight,” Mr. Ugabi was saying more to himself more than his wife. He did not care to ask her what was bothering her.
“Don’t,” Mrs. Ugabi told him, finally holding his arm. “I still want to go there.”
“No, you are not,” Mr. Ugabi told her sharply. He was back to his old self again. “It’ll just be a total waste of time and money. I have to go now. Love you.”
She sat there after he’d left. It wasn’t that she wasn’t happy that Andrew was okay; she was ecstatic, but the circumstances surrounding it, according to her line of reasoning, were not pure. She hoped, if anything, that Andrew wouldn’t be as thick-headed as his father. She hoped that her suspicions about everything had rubbed off on him.
After a bit of musing, she got up and went to the computer to continue the new book she was writing.
Andrew got into the old 1982 Honda Accord with Uncle Jeffery that day for his first meeting with Miss Jenny. He wore a three-quarter short with a black and white pair of sneakers, while Uncle Jeffery went with a pink shirt, a pair of blue jeans, and a pair of black leather slippers. He was also wearing sunshades.
There was no one outside, Andrew noticed as Uncle Jeffery started the car. No children playing, no exposed mechanic shed, or carpenter’s workshop anywhere. The estate looked dead, like no one lived here. Unlike Lagos where Andrew stayed, there was less traffic, and there were fewer street hawkers and tiny kiosks placed around. Save for the hooded stupid driver in a blue Range Rover that tried to overtake them, everything was quite dull.
On the way to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, they drove past many buildings that Andrew found exciting. They drove past a huge mall, an exquisite mosque, and several handsome and tall buildings, unlike anything back at home. They eventually came to an alley, drove through it, and finally stopped in front a white building with a draw gate.