By Tomi Adesina
Fola pulled up at the nearest bus stop and checked his wristwatch. It was turning out to be longest night of his life. His birthday had been more of a revealing day for him. Break up with Sarah. Peterside returning his cheque. Finding out about Aaima and now being on the run for his life. He dialled Obi’s number. Obi was meant to meet him here. No response. He checked his car locks as he relaxed in his seat. He thought about Aaima. Yelling at her was not his wish but it was necessary to keep her safe and far away from him. He was bad news. Obi would be a better man for Aaima. He adored her too. Fola knew life didn’t work that way. He might not have been a direct recipient of love and emotions but he knew they didn’t always come the way we did want them. If only Aaima would see Obi…and of course, if only he could stop feeling so strongly about her. He looked into his side mirror as a figure approached in the distance. His heart palpitated at the thought of one of the men sent after him catching up with him. He placed his hand on the ignition ready to push it but smart enough not to whine the engines. As the figure drew closer, he knew it was Obi, he pushed the ignition and released the locks for him to get into the car.
Fola moved the car as soon as Obi settled in. “What happened? I thought you said you were going to Greg’s? Didn’t the ambulance drop you there?”
“I left the hospital in the ambulance just like I told you, but I don’t want to talk about Greg now. Just drive.” He replied.
Fola blinked. “I am driving and I am listening. What happened at Greg’s?”
“Fola, drop this matter. We go talk am later.” Obi replied. “How is Aaima?”
Fola clenched his teeth, “She is fine. She is with my mother.”
Obi nodded. “What are we going to do? If it’s Umar coming after you, we are in trouble.”
“I just want to get through this night, Obi. It’s the longest night of my life.” He replied.
Obi exhaled. “So…have you heard anything from Sarah? Is she safe?”
“She should be. I don’t know. I called her, she didn’t answer. Anyway, I have other plans and she can’t even be let in on any of them because it involves screwing her over.” He replied.
Obi blinked. “I don’t understand.”
“I am going to work with Yemi to help Aaima get out of this mess. And that doesn’t favour Sarah at all and knowing the sneaky little girl she is, I am afraid she could do something really stupid.” Fola replied.
Obi cleared his throat.
Fola stared at him. “What is it?”
Fola focused on the road. “That is not nothing. What is it?”
“Look, Fola, I just want to sleep. You have started with second-guessing everything everyone says. Fola, its fine.”
Fola nodded. He knew it wasn’t fine. There had to be a reason Obi didn’t stay at Greg’s. He had risked his safety to leave the hospital in an ambulance so he wouldn’t be spotted by anyone, only for him to change his mind. He couldn’t understand why Obi would not want to tell him the reason for his change of plans.
Yemi struggled to stay awake as she struck away on her keyboard and sipped her coffee. She was preparing for her day which would see her do a lot, maybe much more than she had done in the previous weeks. Her door bell went off. Fola couldn’t be at her door. And of course, not Sarah. She panicked. She took a deep breath and turned to her phone as it vibrated. Sarah. She frowned. Why was Sarah coming to her house at this time? She hurried to the door and peeked through the hole before opening the door. “What are you doing here?”
“I am sorry. I had nowhere else to go.” Sarah replied, stepping into the house.
Yemi locked her door after her. “Like I told you, I am not big sister that you can come running to whenever you have issues.”
Sarah nodded. “I can sleep on the couch, I’ll be gone in the morning.”
“Sure you would.” Yemi replied.
Sarah stared at Yemi’s laptop. “What are you doing?”
Yemi closed the laptop. “None of your business.”
“Oh come on Yemi!” Sarah groaned. “For how long are you going to keep treating me like this? We are a team!”
Yemi smiled. “Team? When did I ever give you that liberty?”
“Yemi, I know this whole behaviour works for you, but it doesn’t for me…and I am getting really pi—”
“-Shut it!” Yemi said, cutting her off. “I make the rules around here, lady. You should be glad I am giving you somewhere to lay your head. I advise you sleep and be gone tomorrow morning. I am not your mate and I am not Fola who has given you the liberty to hatch your eggs and grow into a bird. I will cut your wings down and I won’t even bat an eye. So, watch how you talk to me.” She concluded, carrying her laptop.
Sarah clenched her teeth. “Goodnight, Yemi.”
Yemi smiled. “Goodnight.” She replied, leaving for her bedroom.
Mrs. King stared at Aaima with a smile. “You know, when Fola’s dad left, I almost thought that I couldn’t raise him alone. I was young, scared and alone.” She started. “But then, every day I spent with my son made me stronger. I didn’t see the need to have anyone in my life but my son and I raised him that way. Emotions made us weak, so we fought through the tides alone. We had each other and that was just enough.” She said, hesitating a little. “For me.”
Aaima stared at the glass of water in her hand to avoid Mrs. King’s gaze. The woman’s beautiful large eyeballs did more than just look at her. They were piercing through her, coming with a subtle plea. Aaima knew this phase pretty much. She knew how the human mind worked. It might have not been the older woman’s direct motive, but she was selling her son to Aaima. Oh well, selling the fact that he was loveable. But, Aaima didn’t need her help to figure that out, she was already swooned by him.
Aaima looked up.
Mrs. King smiled. “Where are you?”
The woman shuddered. “As I was saying, Fola is not a monster and even though he must have helped the man who murdered your sister walk, he regrets it. You see, Aaima, the way life is set up, we never know who we would meet and what impact they’ll have on us.”
“I don’t resent him for that.” Aaima said.
Mrs. King stared at her. “Oh? You don’t.”
“I can’t blame a man for doing his job.” She replied.
Mrs. King sat back. “Even when it did involve your life?”
Aaima exhaled. “I don’t know, ma’am. Fola has made some mistakes in his life just like we all have. I made one when I came to Nigeria to visit my sister and that is what has brought this fear upon you. We don’t even know if they are coming to get me here and hurt you in the process.”
Mrs. King smiled. “Aaima, that was not a mistake. That was fate.”
“Fate? Fate is not when you are on the verge of dying.” Aaima replied. “You are at risk because of me, this is not fate.”
Mrs. King chuckled. “I sure can do with some excitement at this stage of my life. It’s been boring and lonely. I can do with some hiding from bad guys and trying to jump into a moving car and maybe break my teeth in the process, or maybe just die. Just die. You know?” She said, laughing. She stopped for a while and stared at the younger lady who had so much fear in her eyes. Her life had only just started, she didn’t need this now. Not like Aaima was the only worried one but someone had to keep the balance. They were both worried for their lives and for Fola who had gone out ‘to find help’ as he had told them. Mrs. King smiled and reached for Aaima’s hand. “Fola has not been to see me in many years. I get monthly allowances that are enough for some families to live on for a year from my son who would not see me because of a silly bet that we both did. I told him the day he was called to bar that he’d lose his first case. I was only kidding. Fola looked me right in the eye and said, ‘Mother, you did not raise a loser. The day I lose my first case is the next time you’ll see.’ I was shocked, I laughed about it but still agreed to the bet because I thought he’d get beaten someday, I mean, even the best do fall. Aaima, Fola is yet to lose a case, the only reason why he is here to see me is because of you…and if that is not fate, I don’t know what else is.”
Aaima swallowed. “I don’t know what to say.”
“Give yourself room to be happy. I know it’s all chaotic right now, but it will be alright and if it’s not alright…it’s not over yet.” Mrs. King replied, smiling. “You know, sometimes I wonder why I never loved another man after Fola’s biological father jilted me. I get so mad at myself whenever I think of my lonely days and nights. I just sit at home, read, write, stare at the Television, sometimes, I drive around…alone. I eat in cafés alone. Alone. I didn’t see the need for friends either, it has always been Fola and I. I regret not allowing my son have so much fun. He didn’t grow up how the normal kid would. He was always there for me…even when I ought to be there for him. These streets toughened him up too early. I would give anything to see Fola happy. I want him to have a normal life. I want him to have a family…to be a good Dad.”
Aaima stared at her. “Fola is his own man.”
Mrs. King nodded. “I know. And that is my fear. But I think he is broken…I hope he is.”
The door opened and Fola walked in with Obi. Aaima smiled as soon as she saw Obi. He was safe. Obi walked over to meet her and she met him in a bear hug. Fola shared a glance with his Mom at this before going into the house.
“Thank God you are fine.” Obi said, releasing her from the hug. “I am so happy to see you, Aaima.”
Aaima managed a chuckle. “Come on, Obi. You are the one who was out there.” She said. “It’s good to see you are safe.”
Aaima looked around but neither Fola nor his Mom was in sight. Her smile faded as she took a seat. Obi took his seat beside her. “Did you see their faces? I mean the men who came after you? I could help identify them if they are the same men that took me.”
“Now I understand why you would not tell me the truth about you. But, I am going to do everything in my power to protect you, okay?” he said, assuring her.
Aaima stared at him. She didn’t deem it fair to him. “Obi…”
He swallowed. “Yeah?”
“I…” she started and stopped almost immediately. “Obi?”
He blinked. “What is it?”
“It’s not you.” She said.
He nodded as he struggled to keep his gaze on her. “Okay…”
She exhaled. “I wish I had these feelings for you. I am sorry.”
He looked away.
“I know the timing is not right, but, I hope you’d understand that you are a great guy and you deserve-”
“-Don’t start.” Obi said, cutting her off. “You are about to start the ‘you deserve the best in world speech and what’s not…and I know it’s meant to make me feel better, but it will only make me feel worse.” He said, forcing a smile.
Aaima smiled back. “I am sorry.”
“It’s fine. Maybe I’ll meet her someday.” He said. “Fola is a lucky guy.”
Obi nodded with a smile. “Yeah, I could figure that out. Fola is a great guy. He just doesn’t know it.” He said. “You know, we have been friends forever and I’d never want to lose him.
“Are you giving up for him?” Aaima asked.
Obi shook his head. “You are not even in love with me. There is nothing to fight for. I already lost the fight before having the opportunity to get into the ring.”
Aaima took a deep breath. “Obi, I really wish…”
Obi smiled. “Come on, Aaima…stop wishing. It’s never going to happen. I know when to break my own heart before you can.”
Aaima exhaled. “Come here.” She said, hugging him.
“Yeah, that’s the friend-zone hug.” He said, chuckling.
Fola stared at them as he approached from upstairs. He clenched his teeth in anger and returned upstairs, unnoticed.
Mrs. King’s heart skipped a beat as Fola slammed the door after him. “Fola…”
Fola took his seat. “They are happy together. Mom, just leave me alone.”
“Adefolarin.” His mother started as she took her seat beside him. “You might just be overreacting, you know?”
Fola stared at her. “Oh really? Did you see them together?”
Mrs. King managed a smile. “You are jealous.”
“I am not jealous.” He replied.
Mrs. King drew closer to him with a smile. “You are jealous, Fola.”
Fola stared at her as she made faces at him. “Mom, stop it.”
“Admit it, Fola.” She said, wriggling her fingers.
Fola stared at the fingers, he knew what was next. “Mom….don’t.”
Mrs. King ignored him as she tickled him.
“Fine! Fine! I…am…am—jealous!” Fola replied, to break free from his Mom. “Mom!” he groaned. “Are you happy now?”
“Yes, I am.” She replied with a smile. “It’s going to be alright, Fola.”
Fola shrugged. “I don’t know, Mom. It’s been one hell of a night. I just want to sleep. Tomorrow is going to be longer.”
“It’s a good new year for you, Fola. I am the proud of the man you have become.” She said, standing up. “I’ll just let you sleep. Is Obi sleeping in here too?”
Fola frowned. “He can sleep in Aaima’s room for all I care.” He retorted.
Mrs. King chuckled. “I’ll get him up here soon.” She said, heading for the exit.
Mrs King nodded. “Sleep well.”
Umar dropped his phone onto his lap and fell back into his bed. He had struggled with finding some sleep in the last hour and so he decided to call his boys to know if they had found Fola King. They had negative answers for him. He was going to kill someone in the morning with the pace at which things were moving. He was further irked by the fact that Yusuf was not returning his call. The idiot must have been asleep. He sighed as he thought of how to ship in his new consignment. Things were not going well for him with the government hot on his trails, looking for any opportunity to nab him. This situation with Aaima looming made things more uncomfortable for him. Umar had some friends in the Police department, he would talk to them in the morning to help alert him if his missing sister-in-law surfaced, this time, he would finish off what he should have done when he had the chance. He was foolish enough to keep her alive and now he wished that he didn’t. He couldn’t be worrying about a stray girl and drugs at the same time. The drugs were his priority. He needed to sort that out first. He sat up and picked up his phone. ‘Someone at Customs should be able to help me.’ He thought to himself before checking his wristwatch. “Normal people are asleep by this time, Umar. Find some sleep.” He urged himself, before dropping back into his bed.
“The deal was for you to get up early enough and be gone before I step out here.” Yemi said, standing over Sarah with a cup of coffee in her hand. “But then, I have gone out and returned. Look at you! Sleeping away precious work time. How do you want Peterside to retain you after your service if you don’t even get up to go to work on time?” she asked.
Sarah groaned as she tried to get up from the couch. “I am not used to sleeping on the couch.”
Yemi chuckled. “Oh Princess! I forgot Fola let you lay in his royal bed.” She said, laughing. “How do you like your new reality?”
Sarah ignored her as she sat up. “What time is it?”
“Eleven am. Do you know how productive this morning has been for me and for every other serious person in Lagos?” Yemi asked, taking a seat.
Sarah sighed. “I’ll just take a shower and we can be on our way to the Police station.”
Yemi laughed. “Did you not hear anything I said? I have already done my early morning errands while you were sleeping away your legal career.”
Sarah exhaled. “Okay, so what’s the status at the police station?”
“Same as yesterday. They should start circulating Aaima’s missing photos by the end of the week.” Yemi replied.
Sarah stared at Yemi intensely. “I thought you said that they would already have done that.”
Yemi smiled. “Are you not familiar with the Police system in Nigeria?”
“Rubbish! I know how persuasive you can be, Yemi.” Sarah replied.
Yemi sat back. “I don’t sleep with people for favours. You do better at that.”
Sarah groaned as she rose to her feet. “Show me some respect!”
“People earn respect! And you my dear, you can’t earn any.” Yemi replied and picked up her bag. “I am heading to the office to see if there is any progress from the Police. They could be proactive too.” She said, rising to her feet. “Gather your things, I’ll love to lock my door.”
Sarah took a deep breath. “Can I just shower?”
“No. Please leave.” Yemi replied.
Sarah shook her head. “You are unbelievable.”
“My house. My rules.” Yemi said with a smile.
“Good morning.” Aaima said as she walked into the kitchen with her plate from breakfast. “Why didn’t you join us for breakfast? And you disappeared last night too…”
Fola ignored her as he washed the plates.
Aaima dropped her plates by the sink. “Can I clean my plates?”
He stepped away from the sink handing her the sponge.
“I see we are not talking.” She continued as she started washing her plates. “Your Mom said you made breakfast?”
He rolled his eyes.
Aaima rinsed the plate and dropped it to dry. “You know you can at least say good morning too?”
Fola returned to the sink and continued with the other dishes.
“What do you want from me, Fola?” she asked.
He continued with the dishes.
Aaima was done. She exhaled and walked out of the kitchen.
Fola’s phone rang. He dried his hands and pulled it out. Yemi. He answered. “Hey!”
“Fola, get your girl down to the station to file her statement.” She replied.
Fola shook his head. “I…I can’t be there. I am trying to stay totally disconnected from the case.”
“Ah yes! I forgot that part. I am coming for her.” She replied. “Are you home? I can be there in five minutes.”
“No. My mother’s. I’ll send you the address.” He replied. “Thank you, Yemi.” He said, hanging up.
Sarah stormed into Greg’s office. “Listen to me, you underachiever!”
Greg stared at her. “What has come over you?”
“You threw me out of your house in the dead of the night and I am going to get back at you for it.” She started.
He hissed. “You are late to work and Peterside has asked of you. That would worry me more if I was you.” He replied and focused on the brief before him.
“Did he…he ask of me?” she asked.
He scoffed. “Don’t you have friends that you have probably slept with for favours around here? They can confirm that.”
She blinked. Peterside was stern. She was in trouble if he was asking of her regarding her lateness…but what if Yemi had already done the needful? A smile lurked round her face as she turned to Greg. “See you later.”
Sarah adjusted her button as she got to Mr Peterside’s office. This was her closest shot at glory. She was going to claim it. “Good day Sir, you sent for me.”
“I understand you are a corps member here, right?” he asked as he shut his laptop.
She nodded. “Yes, Sir.”
“I pick certain days to do my rounds, so as to know the commitment level of my staff. You have been found wanting.” He said.
She swallowed. “I…I don’t understand.”
“You were late to work today. In fact, I hear you clocked in after noon.” He said.
Sarah stepped forward. “I had a serious emergency that I had to attend to.”
“I often find emergencies more believable when you are maybe in the emergency room. I have called your Local Government Inspector and reported this incident. You are suspended for the next one week.”
“Sir?!” Sarah said as she gaped.
Mr Peterside nodded. “If you have any complaints, speak to your Local Government Inspector.” He said. “Have a good day.”
Sarah exhaled as she walked out.
Mr Peterside stared at his phone and dialled. “Hey, Yemi, it’s done.”
Fola walked into the living room. “Are you ready?” he asked. “Yemi would be here to pick you. She is your attorney. Is that clear?”
Aaima stayed quiet.
Fola cleared his throat. “Do you remember everything I have briefed you about? Is there anything that is unclear to you?”
She ignored him.
Fola frowned. “Aaima!”
She rose to her feet and stared at him. “Are you angry? I hope you are, because this is how it feels to be ignored.” She said and turned away to leave.
Fola pulled her back and close to him. He stared at her as he could feel her chest pounding against his. He leaned into her and kissed her.