The camera found her in bed, nestled under a fuzzy blanket. Her crazy Rihanna hairdo had never looked crazier. Lips that were still puckered because of the million kisses that met her the night before lay slightly parted. There was a silent purr from her with every heave of her chest and the camera stayed on her that way. It adored her for a very long time until the crow of a cockerel outside a window beside the bed brought her into a stir. Her eyelids fluttered, lips closed and parted again. She went back to sleep. But the cockerel announced the morning once more and this time her eyes opened.
“Wake up, doll-face.”
She blinked and looked at the camera. A sleepy expression still written in her eyes slowly turned to a smile.
“Hey you,” the voice behind the camera came on again.
“Turn it off,” she said.
The camera retreated to a dressing table facing the bed but it remained on.
Jimi walked back to the bed and got under the blanket with Marie. His lips brushed against hers and left a taste of mint and freshness. She responded with a moan.
“We’ve been here ten days, Jimi…” she whispered.
“And you still won’t let me show you how beautiful Jos is.”
“You will but after I’m tired of you.” She left feathery kisses on his neck and bare chest and her hand began to travel down his abs but he stopped her.
“Today, we’ll talk, get to know each other better.”
“I hate talking,” she grumbled and laid her head on his chest.
“Okay, let’s make a deal. For everything you tell me about yourself, I’ll leave a kiss on you.”
Marie nodded enthusiastically. “But first,” she said, “take off those glasses, Jimi. We’ve been at each other like rabbits since we got here. You can’t still be shy around me na.”
Jimi removed the sunglasses he had on and rested his eyes on her lips instead of her eyes.
“Do you like me?”
“If I didn’t, I wouldn’t have followed you all the way to Jos with just the clothes on my back. You’re impulsive, you know?”
“Just after that first kiss and platonic sleepover, you shoved me in your car and drove me all the way here.”
“And yet you sat beside me without complaining or asking, like we were just going to Munchies to get ice cream.”
Marie laughed. “You’re crazy, Olujimi. Who would have thought that under your phobia you’re this wild? But I’m really not complaining. My dad was kind’a impulsive too. He was a drifter, never staying in one place for a long time. We were always on the road.”
“Poor baby.” Jimi kissed her nose, then her lips and her chin. “So I think we should go out today before we catch cabin fever. I want to take you round J-town and let you see the sights.”
“More or less. Another question. Is your brother going to let me marry you?”
Marie who had been drawing circles round Jimi’s Adam’s apple stopped at the question.
“Marie…I really like you and you’re cool and maybe it’s because of the way I am with women that’s making me this impulsive but I want you to be my wife. I wouldn’t have touched you if I didn’t have marriage on my mind.”
Marie pushed the blanket aside and sat up. “But we’ve known each other for just ten days, Jimi. Apart from the sex, you don’t know me.”
Jimi also sat up. “It comes with time, Marie. Me, I have nothing to hide. You’ve met my family already. I have a degree in cinematography and that’s because I want to be movie director but my parents think I should go into the family business. Erm… I have few friends and just one ex-girlfriend who left me because I didn’t sleep with her. That got me depressed and drove me into letting a prostitute be my first. I regretted it but I kept going back, just for companionship. What else? Let me see… Yeah, I’m impulsive, as you already know. I don’t think much; I just do.”
He dug his hand into one of the many pockets of the combat shorts he was wearing and pulled out a diamond ring.
“And that’s why I’m asking you to be my wife.”
Jimi paused the recording at that point. He didn’t want to watch Marie’s reply to his proposal. She had broken into an award winning smile and accepted the ring. It was all an act; watching it the eighth time couldn’t make it genuine. He shut his laptop and looked around his bedroom lethargically. It was a mess. He had attempted to do away with all things Marie but had ended up surrounding himself with everything that reminded him of her. He couldn’t quite bring himself to fully exorcise her.
He stared at his phone. There were plans to call Marie’s friends, Udoka and Bunmi. He felt they would know why she did what she did. But he was too afraid to ask them. What if the secrets they revealed were worse than seeing her alive on television?
He put off the calls till later and took a steaming shower, skipped breakfast and dialed Nnenna. She answered immediately; it seemed she had been expecting his call.
“How are you?” The question annoyed him. He knew she was asking how he was coping with Marie’s loss.
“I’m good. Ehm…mom, please could you text me Terdoo’s number?”
“Se ko si iyonu?”
“No, no problem, mom.”
“Okay, I’ll send it.”
Nnenna sighed. “Fine.”
“Can you come over, oko mi? We need to talk. Something came up.”
“Okay. I’ll be there.”
He ended the call and thought about his plans for the day. He had business to handle before he went to Nnenna’s. As he was about putting a call to one of his partners, the doorbell rang. Jimi stiffened and his hand automatically went for the pair of Ray-Ban sunglasses on the bed. He wore them and made unexcited steps to the front door. The peephole revealed two strange male characters that looked like Jehovah’s Witnesses, thanks to the crossbody bag one of them was carrying. Jimi’s head danced around the idea of letting them in before he unlatched the door and poked his head out.
The first of the characters, a man in his fifties, spoke first. “Good morning Mr. Olujimi Bahaushe.”
Jimi was unsettled by the fact that they knew him.
“I am Inspector Okupe from the EFCC and this is my friend, Roy Marks of the ICPO…”
“Interpol,” Roy Marks put in with a small smile. He was younger, had an agreeable face and a tainted accent. He was the one with the bag.
“Please, we would like to ask you a few questions, if you don’t mind,” Okupe said.
“What about?” Jimi inquired.
“Please, can we go in first? It’s of a sensitive nature.”
Jimi shifted away from the door and let them in. He offered them a sofa to sit and took another opposite them.
“Ehm…” Okupe kicked off. “We heard you lost your wife?”
“Sorry for your loss.”
Jimi said nothing.
“But ehm…the news we bring to you today is also not a good one.
Jimi crossed his legs and fiddled with a zip on his shorts.
“Mr. Bahaushe, we have reason to believe that your wife, otherwise known as Chimarya Bahaushe is in fact, alive.”
Jimi gave no expression on his face. He was glad his glasses hid the truth his eyes held. Okupe continued when he saw that Jimi had no reaction to his breaking news.
“She did not die…”
“What are you talking about?” Jimi cut him off. “I buried my wife. I saw her corpse.”
“You must have buried someone else. Your wife never died. Olujimi…can I call you that?”
Jimi did not answer.
“What did you know about your wife?”
“What sort of question is that? She was my wife.”
“I’m sorry for all this… but your wife, Chimarya, staged her death. And the only reason for that is because she’s a criminal.”
“That’s quite disrespectful, Mr. Okupe,” Jimi spurted. “I said my wife is dead and she was no criminal.”
“She was,” Roy affirmed and brought out a file from his crossbody bag.
“Chimarya Dauda was her name but we traced her birth records to a general Hospital in Yola and saw that she was named Rachel Ishaya at birth. Ishaya was her mother’s family name. Her father, Sani Dauda, whose real names we are yet to ascertain was a professional scammer in those days…”
Jimi leaned forward and stopped Roy. “I don’t know what this is all about but…” he faded off as his eyes caught the array of photos and documents Roy spread out on the center table. They had everything on Marie—birth certificates with different names, photocopies of several national IDs with diverse aliases, transaction documents of different types of businesses and finally a photocopy of her international passport ID under the name Ariya Imorle and a marriage certificate typed out in Portuguese that had her name changed to Ariya Benicio.
Jimi shut his eyes behind his glasses and inhaled deeply but he couldn’t still himself. He stood up and ambled around a little, letting the news about Marie’s real person sink in. Sadly Okupe gave him no peace as he went into more details. The more he exposed, the more Jimi felt like breaking into a run. It was one thing knowing one’s wife planned her own death to be with another man but it was a different matter entirely realizing his marriage had been a lie. All the memories of their moments together fizzled into nothing before his eyes.
“Olujimi,” Roy said gently, “based on all you heard, you must now know that your wife is on Interpol’s Wanted list. This would have been an EFCC issue alone but since she crossed the borders six months ago, she’s become a person of international interest, especially given that ten million dollars of drug money’s involved.”
Jimi turned sharply. “Ten million dollars?”
“Her second husband, Luiz Benicio, was part of a drug cartel in Rio. I don’t think she even knows that. There was to be an exchange of drugs and money and Luiz was spearheading it but he organized thugs to throw a monkey wrench in the works of the operation, making away with both the dollars and the drugs. No one knew he was behind it. His boss still suspects a rival cartel and people have been murdered on that account. Luiz is a criminal himself but he met his match with Ariya or Marie, as you call her. Yet she was blinded by greed. The moment she crossed the borders, we had her.”
Roy pointed at pictures of Marie in different locations in Europe, her face well hidden behind sunglasses and headscarves. Jimi recognized her only by the mole on her nose.
“Look, I’m really appreciative of you coming here and telling me all this but like I told you, Marie’s dead.”
Okupe looked at Roy in slight surprise.
“You mean we’ve wasted our time with everything we told you?”
“Someone is stealing her identity or something else fishier is going on, sir. But this person in these pictures is not Marie. And please, I’d love you to leave.”
Okupe breathed out. “Very well.”
Roy began to pack up the documents into his bag as Jimi strolled to the door and opened it. Both men walked to him and shook hands, leaving their complimentary cards.
“We have a feeling, she might contact you. If she does, call us.”
Jimi shut the door after them, shoved the cards into his pocket and disappeared into his bedroom for almost an hour. When he emerged, he was fully dressed. He was heading to the kitchen for a much desired breakfast but a sound somewhere in the house caught his attention. He followed it to the guest wing which had two bedrooms and a bathroom between them. He stopped when he saw a little boy of mixed race hopping in the corridor. The boy spotted him and ran into one of the bedrooms. Shortly after, Terdoo emerged.
“Good morning Uncle Jimi.” She curtsied. “I just came to get the rest of my things.”
“Can I speak to you in the kitchen? Is that your son?”
Terdoo nodded. Jimi turned around and she followed. In the kitchen, he turned on the water kettle, filled it halfway and turned it on. He kept his face away from hers as he spoke.
“I’m sorry about the other day. I was rude and disrespectful. Please, forgive me.”
“It’s okay, Uncle Jimi. I understand.” Terdoo smiled a little.
“So, I’d like you to stay.”
“I’d like to but I just finished my exams and I’m done with school, so I have no reason being around here anymore.”
“Oh?” Jimi dared to raise his head to stare at her. His eyes found the same introverted face he saw the other night and he averted his eyes immediately. “You’ve been schooling?”
She nodded. “At LASU.”
“Oh. Good for you. Congrats.”
“You need a job? I have connections. I can help.”
“Thank you but not yet, at least.”
“But how will you take care of your son?” Jimi’s eyes traveled to the kettle and back to her. Something in her intrigued him. He felt she had more layers than what he saw on the surface.
“I saved up some money. Besides, he stays with my mom. He’s going to Abeokuta tomorrow.”
“Oh, okay. But I’d really like you to stay…for Kiki’s sake. I don’t know how to handle her. And this house…it’s big and needs occupants. You have a room already. I owe you that much.”
“I’ll think about it.”
Terdoo turned around and Jimi’s eyes found her once more. He scolded himself for the momentary distraction her backside offered him.
“Uncle Jimi?” she swiveled round and he faced the kettle. “Remember I told you I could help you find Marie?”
Jimi scowled. Terdoo walked closer.
“I think…she calls me every morning when I’m with Kiki. It started the day after she…died. A call will come in at exactly nine o’clock through a private number and no one will say anything.”
“I’ll be saying ‘hello, hello’ and the person won’t speak. Initially, I thought it was a prank call but it kept going on until…” Terdoo breathed in and became embarrassed. “Until I started believing it was Marie’s ghost. I’m sorry. I didn’t know what else to believe.”
“This has been going on since she died?”
“Yes. But four days ago, the number showed and when I answered the call, the person said ‘shit’ and switched off. Uncle Jimi, I knew it was Marie. I was very scared.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“How can I tell you that type of story? Would you have believed me?”
“So you have this number?”
“Good.” His face went stony. “Keep it. I don’t want to have anything to do with it. Marie’s dead.”
Jimi switched off the kettle and walked out of the kitchen angrier than he had got in. He picked his car key and sunglasses from his bedroom and left the house.
* * * *
“Sesan will you stop playing that guitar let somebody hear something in this house?!” Nnenna shouted in the direction of Sesan’s bedroom where the loud noise of an electric guitar was coming from and filling the entire house. “They’ll soon call off Asuu strike and we can all rest!”
She hissed and looked at Kiki in Jimi’s arms. The one year old was in her usual form, wailing out a tantrum.
“And you, I don’t know what’s your own! You won’t eat anything they give you! What do you want me to do? Will I take out my flat breasts that have no milk to start breastfeeding you, ehn? Kilode!”
Despite the mood in the room, Jimi found himself smiling.
“Mom, relax. Everything will be fine. Nobody’s taking Kiki.”
Nnenna slumped into a single couch and sat with her head in her hands.
“Ah. Alhaja! E never bad like dat na.”
Sesan stepped into the sitting room. The guitar noise had died down considerably. He sat on the armrest of Nnenna’s seat and began massaging her shoulders.
“Help me tell her o,” Jimi said, bouncing Kiki in his arms. “Marie ni, Marionette kor. Just forget those people jor. Marie’s gone. Those guys are 419, looking for money. And how did you allow them deceive you that this beautiful girl here’s not mine?”
“Jimi, I know what I heard on that phone.” Nnenna wriggled away from Sesan’s hands. “It was Marie. Sexy,” she looked at Sesan, “you heard it na, dear?”
“No, ma. I just heard a hungry woman talking.”
Nnenna pushed her lips into an angry pout and shoved him off her seat.
“Mom, bone those guys. No one will take Kiki.” Jimi intensified his placating as Kiki cried even more.
“Ki lo se omo yi?” Nnenna almost broke into tears. “Her crying is killing me here!”
“Can you stop this your stressing?” Sesan went back to his massage. He got a smack on his knee and a strong shove but he put his arms round Nnenna, holding her tight.
“But oko mi,” she appealed to Jimi in a calmer tone. “At least, let’s arrange to meet them just to be sure.”
“We do not negotiate with terrorists,” Sexy said in Obama’s voice.
“I wonder! Geez, mom! Let it go!” the tone in his voice heightened Kiki’s wailing and she gave it all her lungs could bear.
“Olujimi, please take that child to Terdoo. She alone knows how to calm her, abeg. Thank God her exams are over. These past days have been hell. I’m tired.”
Jimi picked Kiki’s favorite stuffed animal and left the house. He strapped Kiki in her carseat, hoping that the drive home would do the magic but up until the moment his car came to a jerking halt a few houses from his, Kiki was still in her foul mood.
Jimi tried to get the car to start again but he was unsuccessful. He lifted Kiki from her seat and walked all the way home. The moment Terdoo had her in her arms, her crying lowered and she nestled her head on her breasts. She was making sounds that had Terdoo laughing and Jimi staring at them both in amazement.
“She’s reporting you to me,” Terdoo explained.
Terdoo nodded. “Baby talk. You wouldn’t understand even if you tried.”
Jimi looked at Terdoo’s son who was still doing his hopping act around the house. He had the urge to ask Terdoo who his father was but he held back. He took the backdoor to the garage to get a toolbox and found his way back to where his car was parked. There was a long contemplation on what was wrong with the vehicle before he opened the hood. But but Jimi was clueless in these things. After poking this and pulling that, he opted for calling his mechanic. He was unsuccessful, however, as a dead tone hit his ear three times. He sat in the car for a while, taking the time out for himself. The visit from the gentlemen of the law and Nnenna’s revelation had left him even more confounded than before. The Marie he knew couldn’t have done all those things they were claiming and yet, he knew she did them all. It was hard for him to accept the truth about her. He searched in his heart, for a part that hated her but there was none. Absent also was that part that held the warm feelings he once had for her.
He stepped out of the car, locked it and went back home. Terdoo’s son was still in his hop and this time, it was accompanied by excited screams as he reenacted a scene from some movie. Jimi strolled to Kiki’s nursery to check on how she was doing, noticing her cries had gone down. He had come with her stuffed monkey as a peace offering. He stepped in quietly and found Terdoo’s back to him; she was sitting on the chair Marie usually sat to nurse Kiki. For a while he thought he was staring at Marie, until Terdoo turned and exposed herself nursing Kiki. She gasped and sat frozen, humiliation scrawled on her face.
“What are you doing, Terdoo?”
She snapped back into thinking and covered her breast.
“I’m sorry.” The words rolled out fast as she stood with Kiki.
“For how long has this been going on?”
Jimi didn’t hide his face from her. His eyes stabbed hers.
“I’m sorry, Uncle Jimi.”
“Is this why she wouldn’t take anything else? How long has this been going on?”
Terdoo’s voice came out in a low quiver. “Since she turned four months.”
“What are you talking about? Marie was breastfeeding her.”
“She did it only in the mornings and then she’ll tell me to give her formula. I tried it the first day but Kiki refused the formula and cried till she had a temperature, so I decided to breastfeed her myself from then. I’m sorry, Uncle Jimi, I just couldn’t watch her cry like that.”
Jimi didn’t know what to tell her. He didn’t even know what to make of the whole situation as he took his eyes away from her just to ease the embarrassment that refuse to leave her face.
“But your son is all grown. How is… this possible?”
“I don’t know but I can still breastfeed. Uncle Jimi, I’m…”
He left the nursery and into the mess that was his bedroom. There was an instant plan in his head to get away. The day had been too weird and upsetting for him. Terdoo’s latest act was the last straw. He put a call to his travel agent to find if there were any flights that afternoon to Jos and when he confirmed and booked, he packed a small bag and called Sesan to come take him to the airport. Done with that, he met Terdoo in the kitchen and left some money for her. He told her he would be away for a week and also asked if she knew any neighborhood mechanics that could fix his car.
She shook her head. “I don’t know. But what’s wrong with it?” she asked.
“I have no idea.” He wondered why she asked. He suspected she was finding a way to ease the tension between them brought about by the breastfeeding incidence. “Sesan will get a mechanic tomorrow.”
He left the kitchen and waited for Sesan in the sitting room.
* * * *
The noonday sun burned Marie’s forehead with a passion. She felt a migraine coming up as she rubbed her temples and reluctantly accepted the hug Toshiba gave her from behind. His strong cologne choked her and sent a bad signal to her head. He left kisses on her neck and was going for her lips but she pushed him away. She ignored the disappointment in his eyes and stepped into the taxi that had just pulled up beside them. Down the street of their uninhabited estate, she saw Ato also giving Udoka a goodbye kiss that involved his tongue down her throat. Marie smiled sadly and waved at them, not knowing when they would see each other again. Udoka had gotten information that the Interpol were after them. They all had to slide, and to different locations but nowhere outside Nigeria or they could be caught easily. Domestic airports as well, were out of bounds and so were all mobile interactions.
“So where are you going?” Toshiba asked as Marie’s cab fired up.
“You know I can’t tell you.”
That was the rule. They were not to reveal their locations to each other.
“I love you,” Toshiba said and Marie delivered him a bland stare. She tapped the driver and the cab drove away. She turned back and looked past Toshiba’s hunched frame to Ato who was now standing alone. Her eyes misted over and she rubbed them before settling back into her seat.
“Bros,” she called the driver. “You know which park go still dey load motor to Jos?”
The driver nodded.
“Carry me there.”
A sort of peace filled her. The Bahaushes’ home hidden in Rayfield, Jos was a perfect place to lay low. But she wasn’t so sure she would enjoy her time there. The ghosts of the seven months spent with Jimi were sure to haunt her.
Se ko si iyonu? (Yoruba)- Hope there is no problem?
Ki lo se omo yi? (Yoruba) – What is wrong with this child?