Nene went to bed very early that day, but sleep evaded her. At about 2:00 a.m. on Tuesday morning, when the whole house was asleep, she went downstairs and searched for Monday’s paper.
Her uncle usually kept the newspapers for the entire week in a magazine stand in the sitting room, and only threw them away on Sundays. He usually went through the newspapers a second time on Sunday afternoons to decide which articles he would keep. The ones he retained typically had some important information on the furniture industry, especially as it related to the Southern part of Nigeria.
Nene was grateful for her uncle’s peculiar habit because if he destroyed the papers immediately after reading them, she would have had to go to one of the newspaper vendors hoping they still retained the copy she needed. Thankfully, she could conduct her own hassle-free research within the confines of the house.
As she predicted, her uncle had destroyed the newspapers for Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday of the previous week. So, the only ones she found were bits and pieces of the newspapers for Thursday, Saturday, Sunday and the entire newspaper for Monday, which was the day before. She started out with the newspaper for Monday, scouring it for any kind of news or information on the Aba rapist. Nothing. Then, she looked at the cut out articles for the other days.
She was just about to give up her search, when she saw on the back of an article, which talked about a new furniture company that had opened in Asaba a month ago, the sketch of a man’s face. It was just an amateur pencil-drawn sketch from the top of the man’s head to his upper chest, but the details in that drawing were enough to freeze the blood in her veins.
From the large eyes to the broad nose to the thick lips and even down to the Adam’s apple, the face in the picture closely resembled Richard’s face. Even the piercings in both ears were present. However, some features were missing. The man in the sketch did not have the dimples, which showed whenever Richard’s face contracted into a smile.
Furthermore, this person had laugh lines near the outer corners of his eyes, and Nene strained her mind to remember if she had ever seen similar lines on Richard’s face. She grabbed her phone and quickly looked at Richard’s pictures. No laugh lines.
“Phew! Thank God!” she said.
But now that she had his pictures to compare with the sketch, her temporary relief dissipated, and was replaced instead by worry. Richard bore an uncanny resemblance to the man in the sketch.
Not knowing what to do next, Nene read the little article that followed the picture. It basically said that some of the victims had described the man who raped them and an artist had pieced together their descriptions to produce the drawing. People were asked to contact their local police station if they had any information about the identity or whereabouts of the man in the picture.
“If Brother James was so sure that Richard was the man in the picture, he would have alerted the police. Why didn’t he do so? It can’t be because of any sympathy he feels for Richard, that’s for sure. So what could be the reason?”
As she sat there deliberating, the answer came to her: he was not completely sure. And to tell the truth, Nene herself was not sure. She certainly hoped that it was not true, but Brother James had succeeded in planting the seed of doubt in her heart. There was a chance that he was wrong. Brother James was not the only person who had seen the sketch in that paper: the whole of Asaba and its environs had seen it too. They probably knew people who fit that description, apart from Richard.
“Of the 2 million people in Asaba, why must the Aba rapist look like my own boyfriend?” Nene groaned.
She decided there and then to let the police investigation run its course. But from that point forward, she would watch Richard closely. She went to bed but did not fall asleep until it was almost 5:00 am. She did not wake up until around 2:00 pm on Tuesday afternoon, spending the rest of the day indoors. Time seemed to crawl by slowly, but eventually, Wednesday arrived.
Nene and Richard had agreed to meet at about 5:00 p.m. that day. He arrived from Calabar just before 3:00 pm, but had to attend to some pressing matters at the new branch before finally making it to Nene’s house around 4:30 pm.
When Nene saw Richard, she struggled with mixed feelings. There was a part of her that wanted to embrace him, but another part distrusted him. Richard could tell just by looking at her that something was wrong. He walked up to her and hugged her, but she did not respond. Her body was stiff and cold like a tree trunk. Richard was alarmed.
“Nene, what’s wrong? Tell me. I’m here now. What’s going on?” a worried Richard asked her.
“Let’s go to your house,” Nene responded.
The house where Richard lived actually belonged to his close friend who lived in the United States. Apart from Richard, the only other people who lived there were the caretaker and his wife. They both stayed in the boys’ quarters, and they saw to the upkeep of the house in the absence of the owner. Richard’s friend had agreed to let him stay there whenever he was in Asaba.
As the house was Richard’s temporary residence, it was the one of the few places where they could talk with some measure of privacy. Normally, Nene avoided going alone to Richard’s house out of concern for her reputation in the neighborhood. She did not want anyone peddling rumors to her uncle and aunt, so she usually went to his house in the company of her cousins.
That day, however, she did not care. She needed answers and that was all that mattered to her. They walked in silence to Richard’s house, and he led her to the sitting room. There was no one else in the house.
“Okay now, will you tell me what’s going on?” said Richard, sitting beside Nene on a leather sofa. He tried to take her hand, but she pushed him away.
“I saw Brother James at the bus-stop on Monday,” Nene started.
“For real? Is Brother James the reason why you’re boning for me?” Richard asked in surprise.
“Let me finish.”
“Okay o, Madam. Carry go.”
Nene launched into a detailed account of her conversation with Brother James. As she narrated Brother James’ pathetic attempt at toasting her, Richard burst into laughter. But as soon as he caught the no-nonsense look on Nene’s face, he cleared his throat, and assumed a serious look.
“…And he said you were a criminal, and even named you as the Aba rapist,” Nene said, looking straight at Richard.
Richard jumped to his feet boiling with anger.
“And you believed him? What a joke! My goodness! Nene, are you that gullible?! Please tell me you don’t believe that nonsense?”
Nene took note of his reaction and continued swiftly with the second allegation.
“He also said that … that you had a son. Is that also a lie?” Nene asked in an icy tone, looking directly into Richard’s eyes. At the mention of the word ‘son,’ Richard tore his gaze away from Nene and turned his back to her. In that moment, Nene’s worst fears were confirmed.
– to be continued –