Awazi did not return to the room for an hour. What killed Derin the most while he waited was that he had to guess at what she was doing by listening to the sounds. As if to torture him with more uncertainty, she slotted a Bob Marley greatest hits album in and turned the volume up so that the music drowned every other sound in the flat, effectively removing his auditory eyes.
When she came in, she stood at the edge of the bed, and looked him in the eyes for minutes. He could see she had been crying, her eyes were puffy even in the dim light. He opened his mouth to say something but even as he did, her right hand which had been behind her back came into view. The light reflected sharply on the object she was holding and it only took an instant for comprehension to hit him. His wife had returned into the bedroom where he was tied to the bedposts, immobile, with a huge kitchen knife. He tried to say something, but the music was so loud it drowned his voice. He tried to scream but a lump formed in his throat. If he screamed, to what effect? The house door was probably locked and no one could gain access, save for having powerful tools to break through the burglary proof and door. And even if they did, did he want them to see him like this? And in all that time, she would have done whatever she had in mind to do anyway. He knew, realized in that instant that he was fully at her mercy. What gripped his heart the most was the look in her eyes as she looked down at him. They did not hold hate or love, or any emotions for that matter. They were blank, empty eyes.
Ope had had a good day. She had long gotten past the beating herself for letting him go phase with Derin. She truly had tried to love other men, but it just hadn’t been the same, the relationships with them never measured up to what she had experienced in those magical years with him. She would have all the fun possible and do either of two things – marry a very rich oil block owning dude when she was almost forty or just have a baby and focus on her child. She had tried to get pregnant for Derin the last time they were together when his wife left him, but somehow, fate hadn’t smiled on her. He had gone back to his wife, and she hadn’t gotten pregnant. She had fallen into a mild depression.
She shifted those thoughts away from her as she sifted the information she had been able to gather since her meeting with Derin earlier in the day. First was that she was up against a formidable opponent. She had found out that Omega Hospital’s lawyer was the respected warhorse Rasheed Sanda, and an oooooooooooold SAN. She couldn’t have drawn worse from the fates. She wondered if Derin would be up to the dogfight she envisaged this would devolve into.
She had randomly googled Hakeem Ajanaku, and had seen that he was on Facebook. His profile had listed that he had worked in a hospital in the U.S and she decided to research his career there. When she googled using his name and the hospital’s name combined as keywords, the first and second pages of the results were majorly adverts and links to the hospital. But she struck paydirt on the third page – the never-forgetting internet threw up a series of news reports. She spent the next one hour scrounging every detail of the story, flitting from each news story back to his Facebook page. She established the timeline for his move back to Nigeria and smiled. This was good. She settled down to write the demand to the medical association. She decided to write the statement of claim simultaneously, as she was sure she would not get the response from them anyway.
Derin watched as Awazi rounded the bed to stand on the side, big kitchen knife in hand. She was still as naked as she had been when she left, and in spite of himself, he became erect, his body betraying his mind. Tears had begun to flow from her eyes, silent, quiet tears. The loud voice of Bob Marley came over the home theatre
“is this love, is this love…”
She leaned over and put her lips beside his ears. “Why would you do this to me, Derin, why?” and then without waiting for a reply, she cut the ties that held his hands and sat back on the ground.
Relief flooded through Derin, numbing him momentarily. His hands were finally free. He quickly undid the leg restraints and jumped to his feet. The sudden rush of blood to his feet made it feel like he was walking on miniature needles as his feet hit the ground. The first thing he did was to race to the living room to turn off that now maddening Bob Marley jam. As if the hours of inactivity had confined his movements to short races, he sprinted back into the room and stood in front of Awazi who was now sitting on the edge of the bed and shouted
“What the hell was that about? Tying me up and scaring me like that! What exactly were you planning on doing?”
Awazi didn’t shout initially but as she spoke her voice got louder. “What was what about? Tying you up was about having sex with my husband. Leaving you tied up was about my insensitive husband who raced to his ex-lover whose number he isn’t supposed to have and then asked her to be the lawyer in a case that every single person that matters in his life advises him not the prosecute!”
“She is the best lawyer I know for this case. Plus, she will not charge huge legal fees which would have made me unable to pursue the case. She was the only option for this case!” he shot back
“Why do you HAVE TO PURSUE THIS CASE EN? And you assume she would not ask for other payments if she’s forfeiting the financial ones? I’m not stupid Mr. Banwo, contrary to what your actions are suggesting, and I know nothing is free even in Freetown. Oh, you will pay and pay in full you will. And we both know what payment she will be demanding from you!” she shot right back.
“So, I’m a mindless fool without a will of my own? Once she demands, I will give in? Your opinion of my honor is really high, I see!”
“Oh shush! Honor, honor, honor. You want to pursue the case, to preserve your honor. You will fight this to the end even if you lose everything else, to preserve your honor. And then what?”
“And then we have justice!” He shouted
“And. Then. WHAT!” she said, getting up from the bed.
He searched for an answer, but he couldn’t find one.
“You won’t understand,” he finally said, a bit more quietly.
“But Ope does, yes?” she asked in measured tones
“Yes! She supported me, understood the need for closure. I wonder why my own wife cannot see things as I do!”
“And you assume she’s supporting you because she feels this is the best course of action? Or because she sees that you correctly don’t have support from your best friend, from your mum, and from me, and is offering you support because you are support needy, because you need someone to support you to convince you that you are right and we are all wrong?”
“Arrrghhhh!” he cried, raising his hands to his head. This was not getting them anywhere.
“I’m pursuing this case, with or without your support, even though I’d rather do so with it.” He said with finality and then picked the towel he had discarded earlier, wrapped it around himself and left for the parlor. Awazi did not bother to follow him; he could not truly hear anything she was saying.
The next morning, Derin and Awazi got ready for work, practically avoiding each other in their preparations. He bathed in the guest room, and only came in to pick his clothes up, dressing up in the living room. Awazi had thought of calling in sick at work, but she knew she wouldn’t have been able to bear being alone at home all through the day. She would drive herself mad with thoughts of what Derin was doing, and would see Isaac in every turn. The despair she felt tore her inside. How could she be dealing with the loss of a precious child to death, and the loss of her husband to this folly of revenge? She breathed a prayer to heaven.
When Derin got to his office in Ikoyi that morning, he was glad he had decided to come to work. At least the familiar routine and environment would take his mind off the many things that troubled him. A text message came in as he settled into his chair.
“The demand just left for the medical org as per license withdrawal. Would be sending claims on Wednesday as promised. Hope you’re holding up well. And here’s my PIN so we can keep up better”
He read the text message twice, rolling over adding her on his BBM for a few minutes.
“What the hec,” he said out aloud and then added her. The request went to the pending list.
Theirs was a small company of two teams and he worked in the business development team. He directly interfaced with the MD and so wasn’t surprised that morning when he was told by the MD’s secretary that he was calling him. He was on his way to the MD’s office when he realized he hadn’t finished the report he had been working on for his MD over the weekend. He hadn’t been planning on disclosing the events of the weekend to anyone at work yet, but he knew he would have to tell the boss when asked why he didn’t have the report.
“Good morning sir,” he greeted the MD, bowing slightly as he entered the exquisitely furnished office.
“Morning Derin, how was your weekend. I thought I made it clear that I wanted the report waiting for me this morning,” Arinze said, putting on his best glare for Derin’s benefit.
“Sir, there’s a perfect explanation for this,” Derin said, wondering why the nonsense secretary had not left.
“Let’s hear it sir,” Arinze said turning on his skeptic look.
“Sir, I’ll have to speak to you about this alone,” Derin said, tilting his head slightly towards the secretary.
“Dorcas, leave us,” Arinze said. The skinny legged young girl deliberately took longer than necessary to leave. Arinze made a mental note to cut her off; she was beginning to grow wings because she had seen oga naked. These girls always amused him at how replaceable they were without knowing it.
He turned his attention to Derin after she left “yes, I’m listening.”
“Sir, I lost my son over the weekend,” Derin said quietly.
“Ah! Lord of heaven, God of love,” Arinze exclaimed, feigning appropriate surprise. “How? What exactly happened?”
Derin went on to summarize the events of the weekend to his boss, and that he would be going to court. It was at that point that Arinze stopped him.
“I understand your grief, Derin, but going to court would not be the best for you now. First, on a personal level, your wife needs you more than your dead son, take that from an old man who has lost one son.”
Derin’s eyes widened. He didn’t know his MD had lost a son before.
Arinze continued, his voice sterner now, “and I cannot afford any disruptions to your work here that the court case would warrant. Except you would be appearing in court at non work hours, that is. I have a business to run here, and you would agree with me that I should think of that first.”
Derin could not believe his ears. How could this man who he had given so much to in the past one year be this callous and unfeeling to his pain?
“Sir, but the courts are in session only during working hours on weekdays. The court appearances will be few and far between and it will not disrupt any work sir, I can promise you of that.”
“Why don’t you ask your wife to represent you at these hearings? She might not be as essential to the work in her own office, maybe their operation is bigger. But here where I run a lean and mean one, I cannot have a staff distracted by a court case and bringing attention to our business. I don’t want some reporter snooping around about you and then digging up stuff I’d rather keep out of the public view.”
Derin could not have noticed the sly slant of Arinze’s eyes as Arinze said “wife”.
“Sir, my wife does not fully support me getting justice for our son, so I cannot count on her to be in court.” Derin responded.
“She is a wise woman, Derin, and you should again listen to an old man’s advice. Listen to your wife more. I have said my own. I will not condone incidents like this morning where you don’t deliver because you are pursuing a case. And I am not giving you any days off for court appearances. In fact, because of this subsidy wahala, no one is getting any time off anytime soon. If you can sort yourself out with that, fine. And if you cannot, I’ll be one staff short for a while, before I get your replacement.”
“But sir, I thought you will understand and be supportive of me…” Derin blurted out.
Arinze stood up, looking very imposing as he did “and you assume that I built a business of this size by being an understanding man? On sentiments? I’m a pragmatic, practical man Derin, and I’ve told you exactly what I’ll do, even as much as I like you. Listen to your wife.”
Derin stood up and left the office, his head held slightly lower than it was when he came in. He trudged through the rest of the day absent mindedly.
Awazi was facing exactly what she had hoped she wouldn’t have to. How the gist of Isaac’s death had spread in her office, she could never tell, but she had handled enough commiseration and condolences to last for a lifetime from her colleagues. She escaped for a breather for lunch when her phone rang. It was her mother in-law.
“Hello Awazi, how are you,” Agatha said
“I’m fine ma, I tried to call to find out how your trip went, but your number didn’t go through.” That was a lie, but Awazi didn’t mind telling it.
“It’s okay. How is Derin? Did you talk to him when he came back home about this court case matter?”
Awazi rolled her eyes. The woman wasn’t concerned about how she was holding up; she was just concerned about Derin. Some things would never change. She was just being friendly now because she thought Awazi could be useful to what she was trying to achieve.
“Yes I did ma,” Awazi responded.
“And what did he say? I hope you were able to make him see reason and leave this case?” Agatha asked.
“No,” Awazi responded, piqued. Agatha has suddenly phrased it like it was her responsibility to make Derin do something. How could she make a full grown man do anything when his mind was set on doing just the opposite?
“No, just like that? Awazi, you are his wife, you should be able to reach him and change his mind.” Agatha said
Awazi was not having any of this “And you are his mother and should also be able to reach him and change his mind!” she shot back.
“What!” Agatha shouted, enraged. “What responsible daughter in-law talks to her mother in-law like that?”
“The type that the mother in-law doesn’t care about how she feels after losing her only child and sees her only as a tool to reach her husband. I have to get back to work now ma, if you don’t mind” Awazi said.
“It’s not your fault. It is my yam that has made my hand to be stained with palm oil. Good day.”
The line went dead. She had hung up.
Awazi gathered herself up to go back to her desk. People at the canteen made bad efforts to conceal the fact that they had been looking at her. She must have been shouting. Silently, she sobbed, tearlessly on her way back to her desk.
Rasheed called Arinze that morning. He wasn’t sure about if his friend would actually try to convince the boy. Arinze had the annoying habit of pulling on some piety at the most unbecoming of times.
“Kilanko, good morning.” He said
“SAN, I know the morning is not good jor. It’s the boy you have called about.”
“But of course, you think I relish hearing you voice daily? How is that going? Did you speak with him?” Rasheed asked
“Rashy, that boy is stubborn. I spoke with him first thing this morning, threatened and all, but he didn’t budge. You are in for one hell of a fight.” Arinze responded.
“En, so carry out the threat now!” Rasheed said
“Oga, calm your creaking body down. First, he isn’t in court yet, so why would I say I sack him? Second, I don’t want an annoying court case on my head, so I have to make sure if I sack him, it is clean. As long as his pursuit of the case doesn’t require him to be absent from work, or cause non-performance at work, I cannot sack him without that possibility.”
“So, I take it that you are feeling cool with yourself now abi. Cos I know you won’t be spelling out all of this if you haven’t thought of a favorable solution in all this,” Rasheed said, slightly irritated that Arinze seemed to have bested him.
“Well, you should pay me for all this consultancy oh, Mr. SAN…” Arinze said
“Oh please, stop gloating and just talk jor!”
Arinze chuckled at his friend and then continued “well, you simply have to work with me to create a situation where he will have to choose between jeopardizing the case or lose his job. And I don’t think any sound thinking young man will chose to lose his job. So we win, you and I.”
“I see, and I can think of just the perfect scenario for this.” Rasheed said.
“Mo jeri e, I trust you, SAN, practicing law since we were under her majesty!” Arinze said.
“You are just a senile fool, Kilanko,” Rasheed said, laughing too.
“Oya, let me make calls that will bring money”
Derin checked and saw that Ope was now on his BBM contact list
He had been worried about the conversation with his MD in the morning. He couldn’t fault the old man’s logic, and yes, he wasn’t expecting the man to run this place like a charity. But he just felt that the man was just being plain rigid. He needed to talk to Ope, to hear a lawyer’s view on this. But even as he tried to convince himself that this was the reason he was sending her this message now, a more truthful part of him told him it wasn’t true.
“There’s something that happened at work with my boss today, a sort of veiled threat about pursuing this case. I need to discuss this with you, are you up for drinks tonight? We can do somewhere in Ikeja”
He waited nervously (he wondered why he was nervous at all) for about five minutes before the D changed to R on the message, indicating that she had read the message.
“Sorry, not in town, recall I said I would be out till tomorrow. Let’s either discuss on phone, or wait till we see during lunch hour on Wednesday.”
Derin felt like a fool. He didn’t like rejections (even though again, his mind told him he hadn’t been rejected and that only circumstances disallowed her from seeing him). He quietly began to round off work, somewhat sad that he would have to go home straight. Or maybe not. He called Kamal up.
Ope smiled on her bed. She knew Derin very well. The fact that he was unable to see her today and tomorrow would make him long for her even more. He wasn’t used to being rejected by women, and his mind and ego would have construed her message as a tacit rejection. She turned to the computer and continued work on the statement of claim. For the right time, she would wait.