“Christ” he heard himself say and hurriedly climbed out of the bed to stop her. He stared at her unable to believe how far she was taking the whole thing. “What in God’s name makes you think I want to have sex with you?”
“Surely I have to pay you” she replied. “Sales were not good today and I’m really low on cash right now and I won’t be able to pay any time soon, so just…do what you guys do best” she explained as utter shock filled his face.
“What makes you think you have to pay in this way?” He did not want to believe that she had been giving her body to men just to foot the bills at home.
“What makes you think you’re different?”
“Onyi…do…do…” he could not even bring himself to ask.
She smiled and looked at him intently. “Do I sleep with men for favours and money? Yes, I do” she said all at once.
His eyes remained fixed on her as he thought of what to say. “Onyi, not everyone needs you to pay back, you have to understand that” he wondered if his cousin, Dimma, knew what her best friend had been going through.
She laughed lightly and bent her head to one side. “That’s what I thought Chinonso Okeke” she said. “But you know how the stories go…daddy dies…uncle promises to sponsor university education and when the time comes, he asks me to sleep with him first. I refuse…then mummy takes ill…and…and then I have no choice…I have to -”
“It’s okay” he said not wanting to hear any more. She sounded so calm and showed no emotion as she spoke. “Where is this uncle of yours?”
“He’s dead” she smiled. “Are you sure you don’t want to hear the rest of the story?” Nonso began to shake his head. “Of how my uncle only gave me ten thousand naira and the only way the doctor thought he could help was by asking me to pay in kind and -”
“Onyi, please” he said as she bent her head. “I’m really sorry for what you’ve gone through…but I do not want you to pay back…please” he as she nodded and rose to her feet and left the house.
After the encounter he had with her, she avoided him like a plague and smiled innocently whenever he went to her stall. He could not believe the kind of feelings he had started developing for Onyinyechi Nwodo. In an effort to see her, he had gone to her home while she was at the stall and informed her mother that Dimma wanted to meet her at the stream and in two hours, Onyi arrived at the stream.
She looked around but Dimma was nowhere in sight. She carefully walked to their sitting spot and took her place on the smooth stone. She was ready to get lost in thought when she heard a voice behind her; his voice.
“How are you doing, Onyi?”
She turned to be sure she was not just hearing things; he was actually there and he was already sitting beside her. He was supposed to be in a bus on his way to Port Harcourt. The three weeks holiday was meant to be over.
“You’re still here?” the shock was bewildering and there was frustration in her voice.
“I guess I still had some unfinished business” he replied as she wondered what he meant. “I really had to see you before leaving”
“Because…” he paused. “Onyi, have you ever wondered how –”
“No, I haven’t” she replied immediately as he looked away.
It was obvious she knew where he was going already. “Okay…if this is how we’re going to do this, then I don’t have a problem with that” he was looking down at the pebbles. “There are two reasons why I’m still here; one, I think I might get a call from my boss telling me to stay and two…I -” he stopped.
“Cat cut your tongue?” she asked in a mocking tone.
It was obvious she was enjoying watching him make a big fool of himself. “Onyinyechi, is there anything I can do to make you change the way you feel about –”
“No” she sounded uninterested
“Maybe, if you find out something about me; something that makes you change your whole mindset about me, then you’ll understand why I –”
“Okay, I get it. I know where this is going and just so you won’t waste your time and energy talking, I just want to let you know that I will never love you back” she said looking him in the eye.
“Ouch…that was… really harsh” he said biting his lips as she laughed; she had never been happier in her entire life.
“Not as harsh as you have been to me my whole life” she stated.
“But I’ve said…” he then realized he had never really apologized to her. “I’m sorry” he said sincerely but Onyi cared less.
“To hell with you and your apology” she said and rose to leave.
“Onyi” he called as she walked past him.
“Just go back to Port Harcourt” she said and left as a sigh of frustration escaped him.
He got up to leave and that was when he noticed that a little girl with a bucket of water had been watching them. He looked at her for a split second and left.
Nonso rushed into the police station and made his way to the DPO’S office. He knocked once and hoped the knock was as calm as he wanted it to sound.
“Yes” a gruff voice replied from within.
“Good evening sir” he saluted when he entered the office and the dark man who seemed to be in his fifties motioned for him to sit.
There was no time for chit-chat and they both knew that. Ndubuisi rose to his feet and walked to the file cabinet. It did not take long before he found what he was looking for. He took out the file and dropped it in front of Nonso who opened it without much ado hoping to see the reason why the call had sounded so urgent.
September 22, 1998. Seven year old girl murdered with her throat slit. Autopsy results reveal she was raped to death…
Nonso felt his blood run cold. He never knew such things happened in that area; there could be thieves and what have you…but not a murder and especially that of a little girl.
“Go on” he heard the DPO say as he turned and almost puked when he saw the three photographs. One laid emphasis on the knife mark; another on the blood in between her legs and the last was a full picture with her name below: Cassandra Oluchi Ezeh.
He turned to the next page and saw a similar story but in a different year and the girl had been only eight years at the time of her death.
December 25, 1999…
What a way to celebrate Christmas, he thought sadly. He could not imagine how her family had gone through with her death. “Her father was also killed that night; stabbed three times” he heard the DPO say.
The pictures were in the same format but the name was Nneoma Nwodo…that rang a bell. Onyi’s surname was Nwodo, were they related?
“Aside from her father, were there any other relatives?”
“An aunt and a cousin…”
That was the confirmation. The father of the little girl was the one Onyi had talked about –her late uncle who had asked her to sleep with him before helping with her education and mother’s bill.
He then turned to the next: December 2, 2003…
He looked up at the DPO. “This happened today?” he made it sound like a question and the aged man nodded.
She was eight and when he turned to the photographs, he gasped in shock.
“This occurred at the stream” he looked intently at the picture.
“Yes, but autopsy results are not out yet but I think it’s still our guy”
“I’ve heard a lot about you…you’re the best in your set and your use of logic is outstanding” Nonso knew he was referring to a man he had saved from facing the hangman by reading between the lines and presenting the real culprit before the court.
“Five girls have gone missing but if it’s this pedophile, we don’t think they are alive. We’ve had three officers on the case but each one dropped the case and the pedophile keeps hunting little girls. I’m counting on you…find this bastard”
“I’ll do my best”
“It better be good enough” he said while Nonso cast a final glance at the photograph of the last victim of the pedophile and closed the file.
That was the little girl at the stream that had been watching him and Onyinyechi.
“Why would he do that?” Onyi’s surprise was so obvious. She knew Dimma was engaged but Dimma had just told her that Ikenna, her fiance, had brought the wedding date closer and the wedding was in two weeks.
“Mostly business reasons and that he doesn’t have the luxury of time to spend on a big wedding anyway” she explained with a shrug as Onyi shook her head in disappointment.
“What kind of –”
“I agreed, so don’t start fussing about it…I also want to get this over with”
“Are your parents okay with it?”
“It’s what I want” she said as Onyi smiled at her.
“What has this guy done to you?” she had a kind of confidence that Onyi had not seen before.
“I don’t know Onyi…I just…I just love him…like I really really love him” she said with a distant look in her eyes.
“So you’ll be lovesick while all the work goes to me, right?” she said bringing Dimma back to the present.
“Of course…that’s why I have you and –”
“That was not what I was told” they heard Nonso speak into his phone as he entered the house and closed the front door behind him.
He walked inside without casting a glance at the ladies in the room.
Onyi stammered effortlessly. “Wh…w…what is…why is he still here?”
“He’s handling a case here. A pedophile who not only rapes but also kills his victims” she replied as Onyi’s eyes widened. “Why do you have that look on your face? Don’t you know about the little girls? Including your poor cousin” a sad look dominated Dimma’s face but Onyi’s face had confusion written all over.
“And they put him on the case?” she looked worried and Dimma did not fail to notice.
She had a feeling they both liked each other but since none of them had said anything to her, she preferred to keep her suspicions to herself. They would let the cat out of the bag soon enough. She actually thought it would be really nice to have her best friend and her cousin as a couple.
“I have to go” Onyi said as she sprang to her feet still looking worried.
“But –” the slamming of the door cut her short.
That same night, as he returned from the station, he felt he was being followed. The footsteps had not been so suspicious at first but when it was right behind him at every curve, he knew something was wrong. He was handling a dangerous case and he knew that. He had tried to speak to the three officers who had handled the case but they all told him the case was a dead end. It seemed like they did not even care and Nonso did not find that normal. They must have been bribed, but by who?
His mind went back to the footsteps behind him. He tried to make sure there was no change in his movements as he reached for his gun. He took in a deep breath and spun around. He pointed the gun straight at the stalker who was wearing a hooodie and was quite a distance from him but was still within shooting range.
“Stand still or I’ll shoot” he ordered as the person stood still. It could have been an innocent civilian or the pedophile but he was not taking any chances. “Get down on your knees” he said walking closer with so much tactfulness. The stalker probably had a knife or a gun on him and wanted to have Nonso at a perfect point before making his move. With that thought, Nonso put his finger on the trigger; he would not go down without a fight.
A foot away from him, Nonso stopped and tried to look into the face of the stalker which was clearly hidden behind the hood. There was no suspicious move from him but Nonso saw him bend his face towards the ground…
He followed his gaze and that was when the stalker pounced on him, hitting Nonso to the floor. The gun fell out of his hand and the stalker had a tight grip on his neck making it hard for him to breathe.
Nonso tried to push his hands away but they were just too firm and in the heat of the moment, he bit his attacker’s wrist and received a sound slap which almost made his face go numb for a second.
His attacher then got off him and took off the hood. Sitting beside Nonso, the order, “get up” followed.
As Nonso sat up, he began to realize how strange the voice sounded. It was feminine…and familiar.
“How could you be so stupid to take this case?”
“O…Onyi?” he made it sound like a question. “How –”
“Answer me. Why did you accept this case?” she said as he stared at her still in shock.
“Jeez! How –”
“If you avoid my question again, I’ll hit you in the head” she threatened as he laughed but it was not a normal laughter. There was something else in it; he still had not gotten over the shock.
“Because I –”
“Because you want to prove yourself right?”
“Why else would someone volunteer to walk on a rope across flames?” she asked angrily and turned to him. “Nonso” she called in a soft voice. “This case is dangerous…I was in shock after seeing my cousin’s corpse. This monster is ruthless”
“Why are you acting as if you care?” he asked massaging his cheek.
“Because I do” she yelled to his surprise and looked down. “And Dimma would feel hurt if –”
“How would you feel?” he asked as she rose to her feet and helped him up.
“I care about you…if that’s what you want to know” she said as a smile crossed his lips.
“Onyi, I can’t drop this case. Those girls need justice and –”
“Then just promise me that you’ll be careful” she implored as he moved closer and held her shoulders.
“I’ll be careful” he said as she smiled and hugged him.
Two days later, Onyi hurried across the street with a bag of medicines in her hand. She entered the clinic and with a few questions, she was able to locate Steve’s office. He was a young doctor who had taken a liking to her and usually checked on her mother. Her mother had also tried by occassionally mentioning how nice and kind Steve was. She knocked and when she entered, he welcomed her with a smile.
“Wow…what a pleasant surprise” he said rising to his feet.
“I was passing by and I decided to pop in and say hello” she said as he motioned for her to sit.
“So, how are you?” he asked as soon as she was seated.
“I’m great. Just went to get some drugs for mama”
“I hope she’s responding to treatment”
“She’s still alive…so…” she sounded unsure but had a positive smile on her face.
“I feel like I’m talking to one of my patients” he confided and walked over and sat on the seat next to her.
“So how are things here?” she asked turning to him as he shrugged.
“Going well and …since you’ve decided not to have a phone and a stable time at home, I have to keep resigning our meetings to kismet” he said as she smiled and nodded.
She had never heard that word before.
“I should be on my way now. Mama must have woken up and would be worried that her dinner is not ready” she said as she rose to go but her hand hit the table and the bag fell from her hand spilling its contents.
“Sorry. I hope you didn’t hurt yourself” he said as he bent to help her but something caught his eye.
He sat up and stared at a packet of drug while Onyi packed the remaining drugs.
“Is this for your mother?”
“Yes, who else?” she muttered as if he had asked a stupid question.
He took the bag from her and began taking a look at the packets of drugs
He stared at the drugs, most of which were thiazide diuretics and beta-blockers. “Your mother shouldn’t be taking these” he said. “She should be taking none of these” he sounded angry. “Where did you get these from?” he asked as she stared at him in fear and tears welled in her eyes.
“A family friend” she replied slowly.
“More of a family foe” he said sharply. “You’re taking me to him or her right now” he said rising to his feet as she held him shaking her head.
“Please, he has given us a lot of drugs on credit…just give me the names of the correct drugs…please”
“But it’s bad to let him go. He could kill people”
“He probably made a mis –”
“No Onyi, there’s no room for mistakes in our field. Are these the drugs your mother has been taking?” he asked as she nodded.
“The ones prescribed by the doctor were far too expensive, so I asked for cheaper brands and she has been taking these since then” she explained.
“No wonder…it’s a wonder your mother is still alive considering how long she has been taking these” he said and sighed. “Don’t worry. I’ll get you the right drugs on my way home…but promise me you’ll never go to that man again”
“I promise…God bless you Steve” she said with tears in her voice.
Nonso and Onyi walked quietly under the moonlit sky as though counting their footsteps. They had just left the house where Dimma kept on fussing about the numerous things that still had to be done before the wedding in less than a week.
“So, how is mama doing?” he asked finally breaking the silence. She had told him about Steve and his discovery of the wrong drugs her mother had been taking. Nonso had been so furious that Onyi spent a whole day begging him to let the issue die since Steve was going to help.
“I don’t even know, Nonso. Remember I got back home that day and saw the drugs on the centre table in the living room” she reminded him as he nodded. “Well, she’s been taking it since then but –” she stopped moving and faced him. “She has been complaining of numbness in her body; especially her legs…I mean her feet” she explained worriedly as he thought for a moment.
“It’s probably her reaction to the drugs. You know she has been taking the wrong medication for heaven knows how long. So just trust Steve” he could not believe he had made the last statement; he really did not like the Steve guy but he was grateful for what he had done for Onyi’s mother.
“Erm…that Ify girl…she seems like a nice girl” she changed the topic as a wide grin spread across his face but it disappeared the moment she turned to face him.
His father had invited his business partner, Chukwuma Nnaji, together with his daughter, who was Chinonso’s best friend.
“She’s actually a very nice girl” he commented honestly.
“Really?” she asked as if realization had just dawned on her.
“Yes; aside from the fact that she’s hot and rich, she’s also hardworking and a great cook. Trust me, you’ll love her food” he praised as Onyi glared at him.
“She’s not that hot” she said disapprovingly.
“Oh yes she is…hot and sexy”
“Seriously Nonso?” she said and began to move forward as he laughed and held her by her waist.
“I never said she was hotter than you” he whispered in her ears but she removed his hands as she blushed.
“Don’t patronize me, Mr. Okeke” she called him that whenever they disagreed on something.
“I’m not patronizing you, Mrs. Okeke” she said as she smiled while they walked on.
“Oh…how’s the case going?” she asked as his countenance changed instantly.
“It really is a dead end” he told her sadly. “No suspects, no witnesses…nothing. It just seems so weird in a way I can’t seem to understand…the officers I spoke to gave no positive response…it was as if –” he stopped talking as she turned to him.
“It was as if they did not want to tell me something…one had even told me to drop the case while I could” he said as she gasped.
“Is the case that –”
“I think so” he replied before she finished her question. “And that’s why it doesn’t have to be a dead end” he began speaking more to himself than to Onyi. “It’s just like a mystery game, the moment you find the pieces of the puzzle and you put them together…voila” he said opening his eyes widely as Onyi stared at him and finally realized he wanted her to say something.
“…and you haven’t found the pieces yet?” she asked slowly and hoped it would not sound stupid.
“Yes, and that is what bugs me. It’s as if the pieces are lying around…within my grasp but I just can’t reach them” he said his tone rising as she took hold of his hand.
“Nonso, everything will be fine” she consoled and looked into his worry-filled eyes.
“I just don’t want another little girl to get hurt” there was so much emotion in his voice that Onyi felt he would break down.
It was four days to the wedding and things were going smoothly. Onyi spent half her free time at the home of the Okekes and Dimma appreciated that.
“Wedding gown…check!” Dimma began and ticked it in her notebook. “Bouquet…check! Reception venue…check! Visa and flight ticket…check, check!” she said as Onyi and Ify who had been listening could not hold back a laugh.
“You’re studying mass communication, right?” Onyi asked Ify who could not hold back a look of surprise; because most of the time, Onyi tried to avoid her and if she tried to strike up a conversation, Onyi would simply walk out on her.
“Yes” she replied with her usual smile that made Onyi think made her more annoyingly beautiful.
“UNILAG” she replied without hesitation as the front door opened and Nonso walked in.
“Hello ladies” he said and walked past them without waiting for a reply.
Onyi noticed how Ify’s eyes followed him until he was out of the living room. “I heard there are a lot of prostitutes there” she said as Ify looked at her in anger.
“Onyinye” Dimma called angrily.
“What! I just want to confirm”
“You’re going to have to ask someone else…I don’t know” she said as she rose to her feet and walked inside.
“She’s not taking your boyfriend, Onyi” Dimma said dryly as Onyi turned to her but said nothing. “They’ve been friends for donkey years and if anything would have happened between them, trust me, it would have happened” she said and looked back at her list.
“Knock knock” she said even though the door was open and he spun to face her.
“Ify-love, are you seriously knocking? Praise the lord!”
“Daddy said I should knock before entering anybody’s room, especially if it’s a guy” she said as he laughed.
“Since when did you become so obedient?” he asked as she shrugged and sat on the bed crossing her legs like mediums did in movies.
“You still don’t know how to sit like a lady, do you?” he asked with a smile and sat beside her.
“Mummy tried her best…God bless her soul” she said and chuckled. “So, start telling me everything. No more boring phone talk” she said as he stared intently at her. She had grown more beautiful and he could see why Onyi had showed signs of insecurity when she was around him.
“Nothing interesting. What do you expect from the life of a police officer?”
“As if someone forced you” she taunted as he laughed.
She was the first person he had told about his ambition and she had supported him all the way even though his uncle and aunt felt and did the opposite; they felt it was a very stupid dream to have. She had given him the courage to face his parents.
He had once had a crush on her during their teenage years. He was five years older than her but due to how mature she acted, he sometimes forgot who was older. He could not express his feelings then because he had been scared of losing the friendship he had with her; and with time they turned best of friends.
“So, who’s the girl?” she finally asked.
“The one getting married? Dimma of course” he replied as she poked him in the shoulder with a light laugh.
“Stop it Nonny”
“Fine” he said and exhaled loudly. “We’re still on a low key something” he said as she nodded with a look of interest in her eyes.
“She’s pretty?” she asked as he nodded with a wink of his eyes. “Is she fair?”
“Not as fair as you”
“That means I’ll like her”
“As if you hate anybody…It’s Onyi” he said as she gave him a questioning look.
“Remember I don’t stay in this village, so I don’t know many girls”
“You are just crazy…the girl you were talking with in the sitting room” he said laughing as she frowned and suddenly understood why Onyi was acting the way she was.
In the years they had been friends, most of the girls who had a thing for Chinonso always saw her as a threat but she cared less.
“She…she doesn’t seem like your kind of girl” there was an iota of disappointment in her voice and he could sense it.
“You don’t like her?” he asked as she shrugged and smiled.
“I met someone” she said as he smiled ready to hear her never-ending tale.
On the eve of Dimma’s wedding, her parents had organized dinner and Onyi had been invited. At 9:50pm, she was walking home with Nonso. They had not spent more than a minute on the road when Onyi started to speak.
“Is anything going on between the both of you?” she asked as he tried to calculate his words and at the same time wonder why she would ask such a question.
He knew asking who she was talking about would only infuriate her since he knew she was talking about Ifeoma.
“No” he said simply.
“Then why was she all over you at dinner?” she asked as he sighed.
“Onyi…I’m seriously getting tired of this. Why are you feeling so insecure? If Ify was ever a threat, I would have been with her a long time ago; but I’m with you. Doesn’t that mean anything to you?”
“It does. It means you were not her type and you had to settle for a lower class girl” she said as he frowned.
She was clearly looking for a reason to quarrel. “Very funny” he remarked angrily and walked on.
“It’s just that –”
“It’s just what?” he was losing his temper. “Ever since you met Ify, I have not heard anything except Ify is this or she is that. Why can’t you just calm down and –”
“I can’t” she almost screamed and then her voice broke. “…because I’m scared”
“Ifeoma” she replied as he stared at her. “I heard her and her father while I was throwing out the trash. She was complaining…saying that a secondary school dropout was trying to take what belonged to her…and then he…he said he would deal with me…and if I’m too stubborn, it would not be so hard to get rid of me”