Andrew rested his head on his hand, and listened for a whole hour to Uncle Jeffery as he gave him tips on how to behave when he got to the Ukraine. It went on and on, covering the subjects in-depth until Andrew thought there were no angles left uncovered.
When it seemed there could be no words left on the topics, Uncle Jeffery finally said, “Good night. You have to wake up early tomorrow. Your bus leaves by eight.”
And that was it. So it was in regret and anger that Andrew went to bed and tried to sleep through the cold night.
If the previous night was cold, it was nothing compared to the temperature the next morning when Andrew woke up. It was seven o’clock as the early sun meekly warmed the chill air. He hesitated a few times before finally deciding to go and have his bath and get ready for his bus, which would be leaving very soon.
He was ready in the next thirty minutes, and waited for Uncle Jeffery to get ready only to discover that he had already left the house to pick his daughter who would be arriving that day. And so it was with much disappointment and no good-bye to his uncle that Andrew left the house with Lydia. There was a taxi waiting outside for them.
“Hurry up, Andrew,” Lydia said. The cold made her feel uncomfortable and she shivered as she waited. Andrew got into the car and she followed. The taxi took off. If Andrew felt bad about the day before, he was feeling much worse now.
“Did he say anything before he left?” Andrew asked hopefully as the taxi turned left. “Was he angry or something?”
“No, of course not,” Lydia replied kindly. “But you really do ask an awful lot of questions.”
Andrew smiled weakly. He was surprised that Uncle Jeffery would tell Lydia about their conversation from the day before, which proved that it had been significant to him.
“She died in a car accident,” she told him. “Elle was her name. He was driving – I remember it like it was yesterday.”
“You were there?” he asked, his interest growing.
“He was on the phone with your mother,” she told him.
“Is that why they don’t like each other?” he asked. “She told me about him, and the little she said wasn’t good. She said he is very tricky.”
“Yeah, that’s true,” Lydia replied her tone seeming like it was a good thing to be tricky. “But your mother is not exactly an angel, you know.”
Andrew managed to keep a straight face till they got to the bus station, but he did not like the words that had just come out from Lydia’s mouth. They angered him.
Those words rang in his head so continuously that he forgot to say goodbye to her before getting into the bus.
“He was on the phone with your mother.”
He found his seat among the other passengers.
He wasn’t sure if there was anything unusual about that particular conversation. Uncle Jeffery and Mrs. Ugabi usually spoke to each other on the phone.
But your mother is not exactly an angel, you know.
He frowned as he thought more about the conversation. Who did Lydia think she was? The fact that she had been Uncle Jeffery’s helper for so long did not give her the right to say such things. He scowled even more as he pulled his curtain closed. He tried to push Lydia’s words from his mind, determined to sleep throughout the journey.
Uncle Jeffery thought back over his life while he drove to the airport to pick up his daughter. His thoughts were of his children over the years, and he sighed deeply. He had not been a very good father to them. He knew this, and he now admitted it to himself. He opened the drawer of his dashboard, and took out a cigarette. He always smoked when he was depressed, but for a while now, two weeks to be exact, he hadn’t touched a single stick.
He thought of the boy Andrew, and regretted that he hadn’t said a proper goodbye to him. The boy was only being inquisitive; there wasn’t any harm in that, and he couldn’t really fault him. He then thought of Ama, his calculating sister, and wondered if they had ever discussed him. He really liked the boy, Andrew, and maybe in another world things would have been different, but now, things just had to be the way they had to be.
He wanted to tell Andrew everything. After all, the boy was sixteen; he would understand. But he wasn’t sure how the boy would react, or worse, wasn’t sure how his mother would react if she found out that he had told him everything.
He saw the same blue Range Rover through his rear view mirror following him, and hissed in annoyance. He decided to find out who this person was once and for all. With a flick of the half-smoked cigarette out the window, he accelerated the Accord and drove as quickly as was possible down the next few streets. He passed the first green light, hoping the next traffic light would be red so he could ignore it and drive past. He was sure the blue car would not follow.
The last traffic light loomed closer as he got nearer to the airport. It was still on orange as he got closer, and then it became red. Without hesitation he drove past it, not caring if there were traffic wardens around to chase him. He was lucky, none could be seen. He then turned left and entered a dark lane shrouded by taller buildings, and waited patiently; sure his follower would soon become the followed.
Behind him were two confused people in the Range Rover. The young man of nineteen and the girl of sixteen inside the blue car wondered where the Honda they were following had gone. It seemed to have simply disappeared.
“Do you think he entered the airport?” the girl asked the boy worriedly as she searched for the car in front of them. There was no sign of the Accord.
The boy shrugged. “We would have seen him. Maybe he knows we were following him.”
They turned right and got onto the road leading to the airport, looking out for any signs of the Honda.
“I don’t want to get into trouble with your dad,” the boy told her, concern in his tone as they parked the car and got out. “He’s been good to us. I don’t know what I was thinking helping you. Have you even thought this through?”
“Thought? About what?” The girl got out of the car, dragging her traveling bag with her from the backseat.
“How you’re going to trick him into believing you’ve just come back from France?” the boy asked. He looked around worriedly, feeling almost like a criminal.
“Jimmy, relax. I’m way ahead,” the girl replied simply, a hint of smile on her lips. “Your mother has been with us for ages. I don’t think you can get into trouble.” She straightened herself. “I already got some stuffs sent to me from there,” she continued. “Look, there’s no time to talk. Let’s just go. He should be appearing in the terminal very soon so we should get going. Once you see him, distract him, make sure he is far away from the terminal, and then I’ll come out, okay?”
“And then what?”
She made it sound simple, but he was sure it would not be.
They heard a car park and sounds of the car door open and then slam shut. They heard footsteps, and then a voice greeted them. “Good evening.”
The girl cringed, the boy backed away slowly. Uncle Jeffery walked towards them. He was angry.
“Miss Hindan,” he said in mock cheerfulness, dragging her by the hand. Then he saw the car very well. “Is that not my old Range Rover, the one I gave Lydia? Your mother will be very disappointed.” He pointed at the boy, who shivered, and almost wet his pants. “You are in big trouble, Jimmy. Go to my house now; your mum’s still there preparing breakfast. Go and explain yourself to her. I will join you shortly.” Jimmy entered the car without looking back, and then drove off.
Uncle Jeffery dragged his daughter by the hand to the car. “Will you ever change?” he asked her, as he opened the door so she could get in. “When will you start trusting me?”
“I don’t understand what you are talking about, dad,” she told him plainly. “You know I did not want to travel in the first place.”
“You think I don’t know you’ve been spying on me?” he asked, looking at her closely. “You think I haven’t allowed you to all this time?”
She pretended to be confused, a pout forming at her mouth. “Have you been smoking again?” she asked suspiciously as she perceived the cigar scent on him. “Aw, you missed me that much? But that’s no excuse.”
“Don’t change the subject, young lady,” Uncle Jeffery said sternly. “You wanted to know if I was going to give him the box.”
“Yeah, I was kind of suspicious that you wanted me to go and see Ugo and Kenneth the very day you were expecting my cousin Andrew,” she told him matter-of-factly. “I knew you were up to something, so I stayed, and watched you every time. Did you give him the box?”
“No, I did not,” Uncle Jeffery replied tautly. He started the car. “Thank you very much for not trusting me. I really appreciate it,” he added with a twinge of sarcasm, which was quickly replaced by a cheerful tone. “And I sincerely hope you got something French for Lydia. You know how she gets when you don’t bring gifts for her.”
He grinned mischievously, but she grinned back.
“She knows I never went. Where do you think I was staying?” She buckled her seat belt, and smiled triumphantly as his grin faded. She giggled. “Did you get some pictures of my cousin?”
A Slither Full of Claws, Horns and Tails
Though they were long gone from Abuja, the sun was still as intent on roasting everything in sight. Andrew ran his finger accross his forehead so the sweat could slide down, and then wiped his face with his handkerchief.
After a while, the sound of people getting off the bus and the following noise of hustle and bustle woke him up exactly two hours and forty-five minutes later; they had arrived Lagos. He waited for about five minutes for the old woman to get out of her seat, and another five minutes for her to get off the bus before he finally got off, too.
He took in a fresh breath of the Lagos air, and got out. He went to get his box from the boot behind, and after that went into the station and began to scan the area, looking for that bushy mane of hair that was Mrs. Ugabi’s signature appearance. He was surprised when he hadn’t yet seen her after a few minutes of searching in the station, and decided to go outside the station. He looked around for the car instead, and just there, behind a blue sedan, was their Passat. He made for it, but Ayo the driver, who was smoking a cigarette under a kiosk shade, had already seen him from afar. He quenched the cigarette he was smoking, and called out.
“Andrew – I dey here – I am here.”
Andrew turned around and went to meet him instead, wondering why Mrs. Ugabi was nowhere to be seen.
“How you dey?” Ayo asked, reaching Andrew and collecting his box. “How that place?”
Andrew wasn’t used to speaking in Pidgin English, but he answered anyway. “Fine, really good. But the place hot.” He looked around one more time. “Where my mama?”
“I am coming first,” Ayo replied, going back to the kiosk to buy something. “Make I just buy some sweet here.”
Andrew walked to the car, wondering where Mrs. Ugabi was. Not that it made any difference if she was there or not, but it was strange. He knew her very well; she would have loved to be there firsthand to see him and make sure he was okay. He hoped she hadn’t gotten into any sort of trouble.
He opened the car door and Ayo joined him shortly, putting his box in the boot. He started the car, waved at the cigarette sellers, before driving off.
“Madam no fit come,” Ayo told Andrew as he put on the car radio. “She been get small problem with Mr. Debo.” He nodded as he tuned the station to one playing jazz music.
Andrew shook his head, anger rising as Ayo explained. He had warned her not to get into any fights, and she had promised him that she wouldn’t.
“What kind of trouble with Mr. Debo? What happened?” he asked, a bit frustrated. They made a turn and a few hawkers gathered at the side of the road waved them down. “What are we using those things for?” Andrew added fearfully as Ayo slowed the car down to buy some cutlasses from the hawkers that approached them.
“We see snake for the compound,” Ayo replied, handing the hawker some money. “Madam say I should buy if I dey come. You suppose see the snake yesterday, the thing big and black.” He placed the cutlass under the car seat and looked back to the hawker for his change.
Andrew sighed with relief. He thought Mrs. Ugabi was buying it for Mr. Debo. “So what exactly happened?”
“I was just inside car sleeping,” Ayo started after receiving the money. “The snake just –”
“Not about the snake,” Andrew said, shaking his head. “About Mr. Debo and my mama. What happened?”
“Na, the usual,” Ayo replied, overtaking a Peugeot that they came up on. “Mr. Debo go park car for her window. How Abuja?” he asked, switching topics. He was obviously not interested in Mrs. Ugabi’s ordeals with Mr. Debo. “That your uncle – he get plenty money?”