There was a knock on the door.
‘‘Come in,’’ said Major Daniel Chigere, making no attempt to put away the pistol he was cleaning on his desk. He knew who was on the other side of the door.
His personal assistant, a Corporal whose lanky physique looked as if the fast spreading starvation had seized hold of him without knocking him off his feet or turning him into one of Harold Wilson’s children, came in and saluted. Daniel merely nodded; he was bare-headed and he did not stand on ceremony.
‘‘The foreign journalist is here, Major.’’
‘‘Show him in, Okey.’’
Corporal Okey hesitated.
‘‘What is it?’’ asked the Major. ‘‘Is he carrying an Ogbunigwe?’’
The Corporal nearly smiled. ‘‘She is a woman, sir.’’
Daniel merely raised his right eyebrow. ‘‘And so? Let her come and do her job and get lost.’’
The Corporal saluted and disappeared. Seconds later there was another knock and the door swung open as the Major calmly slid his gun into the drawer. If the journalist behind the door knew anything about the territory she was visiting a gun would not unduly frighten her.
He looked up. If the Black Scorpion, Colonel Benjamin Adekunle, had burst into the room and opened point-blank fire, Daniel would not have been more surprised. Surprise was rather mild for describing what hit him in the face and on the head at that moment. Amadioha’s thunder was exploding right before him.
The Caucasian woman standing before him wore a T-shirt, denim jacket and matching jeans. A tropical hat hid her carrot-coloured hair. Widely-spaced sea-green eyes stared at him from medicated glasses on a sunburned face. She had a lithe figure that, to Daniel’s shock, still sent tingles reverberating up and down his spine. Her breasts and hips were still small and shapely. A bag containing the tools of her trade hung from her shoulder.
‘‘Nora.’’ It was a tribute to his military discipline that Daniel did not scream her name.
Nora actually backtracked, her eyes almost piercing her glasses.
The journalist swallowed air and looked at the compactly built, ebony-complexioned, clean-shaven man whose left arm was shorter than the right one, thanks to the machine-gun amputation from the elbow down during the grim battle for Owerri. The doctors had used their expertise and what awfully few equipment they had to set the bones and give the amputation a decent shape and look.
Before Daniel could reply Nora was holding him in a bear hug and bawling as if she was at Golgotha. The Major held her with his good arm and wondered what the Heavenly Watchers were contemplating. Nora Becker of all people! In his office after all that happened and the passage of time! What was happening?
He patted her gently and breathed deeply. Just as he anticipated there was a short, smart rap on the door. It was Bassey, his batman and guard. The hulking fellow was ready to blast in, his CETME rifle blazing.
‘‘Under control, soldier. At ease,’’ Daniel barked.
Nora’s bawls ceased at the knock but her emotions were barely reined in. Daniel smiled as she disengaged and wiped her tears with a handkerchief.
‘‘Jesus, Dan, this is how I find you.’’ Her perfectly modulated English voice was deeper than Daniel had known.
‘‘I am a soldier. My job has a price.’’
She sighed and pushed aside her emotions with an obvious effort. Daniel waved her to the visitor’s chair.
‘‘What are you doing in this hellhole, playing journalist? When my Commanding Officer and Headquarters told me I was going to be interviewed by a foreign journalist I did not bargain for a woman.’’
Nora smiled affectionately.
‘‘As chauvinist as ever. Well, I am a freelance. I write for ‘The Daily Telegraph’ and other British newspapers. The world thought Biafra was finished till you guys retook Owerri. People want to know the secret so here I am. How did the miracle of Owerri happen? How and why are you people standing when everyone has counted you out of the ring?’’ Her voice became solemn. ‘‘And I want to see the hero of the Owerri miracle. That is how the ‘Washington Post’ described you.’’
Daniel shrugged. Media plaudits, indeed all accolades about his wartime exploits, did not move him. He was not in this war for the glory.
He stared deeply into Nora’s eyes and could not restrain the flutter in his belly as she stared back in that her arrestingly open manner that never ceased to get his heart pumping.
‘‘Nora, you just told me part of the truth,’’ he said mildly. If she was really covering the recapture of Owerri by the Biafrans from the Nigerians, she would know about him. His crazy bravery and leadership of an equally daredevil team of commandos who entered the town under a hail of Federal bombs and singlehandedly cleared a strategic road was well known; it was a Biafran legend the world had lapped up. She knew who he was and about his loss before coming here.
‘‘Oh, Dan there is no hiding anything from you. Maybe if you had ended up a lawyer you’ll be wearing the silk by now.’’
Daniel permitted himself a smile.
‘‘The Nora I knew had no gift for flattery,’’ he said, coming to sit by the edge of the desk, watching her speculatively. Nora’s posture in the hard backed chair suggested that she was home, where she wanted to be.
‘‘So what do you want to know?’’ Daniel asked, wondering if this was really an interview.
Nora removed her glasses and extracted its case from her bag. She got to her feet. The agitation that seized her mobile features was obvious. She had never really been a beautiful woman but the vitality of her face had an appeal few men ignored. Daniel had paid serious attention to it back then.
‘‘Don’t pace,’’ he said quietly. ‘‘This is not a movie set.’’
Nora blinked. Her nose became a shade too red.
‘‘Listen, you gung ho killer, sitting so close to you makes me nervous.’’ But she came closer. Daniel was glad there was ample space on the almost bare cheap wooden desk so he made room for her to sit beside him. She sat, making sure their bodies were not touching.
‘‘Believe it, Major, I came to Biafra because I still love you. No other man would do.’’
Damn, whispered Daniel. I am not ready for this war. He forced an expressionless mask on his face.
‘‘What of Adrian?’’
Nora waved a dismissive hand. ‘‘We got a divorce last year. It was the right thing; every time the poor bugger was on top of me I cried out Dan in the heat of action.’’ There was no ribaldry in her tone. The Major felt sad rather than amused at her lewd confession. Both of them began to feel the old heat flowing in spite of the distance between them.
Daniel stood up and began to pace the room. He could not help smiling at the turn of events.
‘‘Who is being melodramatic now?’’ There was no mockery in Nora’s voice. Her eyes emitted a green fire.
Daniel turned halfway across the office. No need lying to yourself, he thought. There never was; there had never been; and there will never be anyone else. He had earned a reputation for not indulging in the ancient military past time of skirt sampling. Many of his colleagues and even seniors compared him to Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu, the January 1966 coup leader who died in action two years ago at the Nsukka sector because, like Nzeogwu, Daniel rigorously avoided entanglements with the fair sex. Little did they know that his disposition did not flow from moral principles or a staunch Roman Catholicism like the late soldier’s.
He stared at the wall, wondering what he should do with the woman behind him. The obvious solution was to order Bassey and Okey to drive her pronto to Uli Airport. But he knew he would not do that. Shooting her was also out of the question. If she could take the risk of coming to Biafra then this was serious business. Damned serious business.
Before he could collect his thoughts two cool, calloused hands wrapped themselves around his midsection. Just as they have always been, he thought. They were graceful in an unfeminine way. Nora rested her head on his back.
‘‘Dan darling,’’ she cooed.
Daniel breathed deeply as if to steady himself. He gently disengaged and swung round.
‘‘What do you want with a cripple?’’ he asked almost coldly. ‘‘I am not the man you knew back then.’’
‘‘Yes, you are.’’ Nora’s eyes were pools of passion. ‘‘You will always be, even if your arms and legs were gone.’’
Daniel stared at her wordlessly and then asked quietly:
‘‘Do you know you should be on the next plane out of this crumbling edifice?’’
Nora replied simply, ‘‘I shouldn’t be here at all. This is my first war beat and I angled for it.’’
Daniel made a decision. He went to his desk, strapped on his pistol and reached for his cap hanging from a nail on the wall. Its Land of the Rising Sun emblem looked as if it was blazing. He put on the cap. Nora felt a thrill of pride and fear. My man, the ruthless professional slasher of throats, she thought.
‘‘Get your bag, Miss Becker.’’
‘‘Where are we going?’’
‘‘You are a journalist, aren’t you? See things for yourself; get eyewitness accounts.’’ But the report of his eyes had nothing to do with the best practices of Fleet Street. Nora felt another thrill surge through her as she walked past him to the door. Daniel is the one, she affirmed silently to herself.