Nneoma had offered to buy her guest a drink, but Izuchukwu had declined the offer. Since Izuchukwu had earlier mentioned that he had come to check on her, as regards Jerry’s disappearance, Nneoma had decided not to bother him with her reply to the proposal he had made. That would be for another time, she had concluded.
“And how about Evans and Ruth?” Izuchukwu asked as Nneoma sat on a stool beside him: the stool had had no occupant for a while as Nneoma had excused herself in order to attend to a customer. That morning, Margaret, Nneoma’s sales girl, had complained of abdominal cramps, and Nneoma had granted her permission to go back home.
“They are fine.” she said. Nneoma wanted to continue on same line, but she restrained herself. No need for a hasty conclusion, I will watch him for a while; she mused. Nneoma had noticed the gloomy disposition of her son, Evans. She felt it was too early to share it with Izuchukwu.
“Every effort to track Jerry, or the Mr. Ray, has proved abortive.” Nneoma said. She had forced herself to say something, anything, to take her mind off Evans. The problem Jerry has raised is more pressing, she thought. “It is God alone who will save me.”
Those words were meant to be personal, known to her alone, but since it did not seem out of place, Nneoma did not consider the mistake for long.
“No harm will come to the boy. I’m sure he will realise his mistake soon.” Izuchukwu placed his hand on Nneoma’s shoulder. He wished it could remain there. But, he knew he had to keep his hand by his side when he sensed Nneoma’s discomfort. “He’s your son, once he realises his mistake, he will return to your house.”
Nneoma only sighed.
“And I’m sure you have learnt a lesson: do not keep a large sum of money at home.” Izuchukwu said with a smile. It was his attempt to lighten the tensed mood. “You know, that’s why we have banks.”
Nneoma sighed again.
Jerry placed his new mobile phone close to his right ear, hopeful. He had dialed same number twice; both times it had completed its ring, without any response. Beads of sweat lined his forehead, in defiance of the effort of the air-conditioner. He had fulfilled his own part of the bargain, and eight days seemed quite a long time to wait for a soothing response. Nothing else, his funds were fast depleting.
“Hello, Jerry. I . . . meeting . . . call. The—”
“Hello!” Jerry said, taking a leap from the bed. He moved towards the window. It seemed to be a more likely spot for a better reception. “Sorry, I did not hear you clearly.”
“Okay.” Mr. Ray sounded better. ” How are you?”
“I’m fine.” Jerry said. The words that followed came in a rush, “It’s good to hear from you again.” It was clearly enough: the boy was desperate to get to the more serious part of his concerns.
The other party chuckled. “I’m sorry I did not take your calls, earlier I mean. I was actually driving.”
“Okay.” Jerry said. And I almost concluded that Mr. Ray had purposely ignored my calls, he thought. “So, what’s happening, I mean the situation of things—my travel documents?” Jerry wished he was having a face-to-face conversation with the man. The conversation, so far, would have covered more grounds—he believed.
“Well,” Mr. Ray said. He paused for a second, but to Jerry, it seemed the pause lasted a longer time. “some bottlenecks came up, but, I won’t say that I’m surprised they did. It’s almost the usual situation.”
“I don’t understand—bottlenecks?”
“Relax, Jerry. Bottlenecks, yes. But they are not a threat to you travelling abroad. Still, we have to remove them, fast.” Jerry did not miss the emphasis on the pronoun—we. Though Mr. Ray had mentioned ‘we’, Jerry feared that the bulk of the responsibility would be his. He swallowed as Mr. Ray continued, “Some extra cash will be needed.”
Mr. Ray continued, though his words would hardly pass for a direct response to Jerry’s question. Jerry easily forgave him—likely Mr. Ray did not hear me. “The guys I told you about; the ones you’re to stay with when you get to Canada. Those guys are the ones who need the money, not me. Let’s say it’s to settle all expenses—logistics expenses.”
Jerry shook his head as if Mr. Ray was there to see him. “What if I get to settle all—they would have spent—when I get there?” He made a quick addition, sensing a need to make his request more convincing, “I know it won’t take me long before I find a job there.” Jerry felt a compelling need to make his request appealing too. “I could pay twice the amount.”
“I’m afraid they won’t accept that.”
“How much are they demanding?”
“A hundred thousand naira would be fine, just because they are my friends. Look, don’t get a wrong impression: these guys are not trying to enrich themselves with your money. On the contrary, you are the one to benefit from it: truly, those guys are really working hard to put things in place for you, to ensure that you have a decent place to stay when you get to Canada. Jerry, Canada is quite far from Nigeria. You will need a family there, and those guys are willing to try.”
Jerry did not hear most of the words that Mr. Ray had said, after he mentioned the amount that was expected. His mind kept repeating to him: where do I get the money? Jerry was not sure about the amount he had left, but he was certain that it would not amount up to a quarter of the expected sum.
“I’ll get back to you. Let me call someone.”
“Okay. But, please, be fast.”
“Wait! the—” There was no need to continue; Mr. Ray had already moved on.
Jerry heaved as he searched his phone contacts for a number. He dialed the number when he found it.
“Hello . . . mummy,”
Ruth sat alone in the living room. She strained her eyes towards the clock on the wall—5:42pm. Evans had been in his room—his room, since Jerry disappeared—for over an hour, with the door closed. She needed assistance with a maths problem, and she had waited patiently for Evans to show up. She checked the time again. This time she stood up: necessity urged her to take her problem to him in his room.
Ruth knocked briefly on the door, before she turned its knob.
Her eyes searched for Evans: at the reading table, next, on the bed. She found him sprawled on the floor, close to the wardrobe, in an awkward fashion.
To read the previous episode of this series, My First Kiss, click on this link: www.naijastories.com/2015/10/first-kiss-episode-11/