POSTED 07/25/2018 13:19
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She didn’t wait to pick a side or to confirm what was true and what was false. The loud music had become nothing but muffled sounds and the only bass she could hear was that coming from her chest. Akpan turned to her, his face was a display of emotions. He reached out to touch her but on impulse she shrunk away and everything around her blurred as the tears began to flow.
Tears of hatred and despise. Anger heaved within her, bolstering her footsteps as she hurried for the door, ignoring shocked faces all around her. She focused on getting away, putting as much distance as possible. These days all she did was run when things went wrong.
She pushed and shoved her way through, ignoring grunts and sighs until she was out in the night’s cold air, alone in the parking lot.
She stopped to breathe, leaning heavily on her knees and realizing she was out of breath. She was riddled with pain but not at Akpan. The anger wasn’t even about Akpan. She was mad at herself. Repulsed at the weak groveling being she had been. She trembled again, wanting nothing more than to forget.
In her head, the snickers from her childhood were loud and clear, ambient as if they were all around her once again, watching her with mocking eyes and whispering to one another.
“Edima.” She felt Ada's touch before she saw her. Her lean model-fit friend was gazing down at her in worry.
“Ada.” Edima managed a weak smile and resumed full length.
“Are you okay?”
“Yes.” Edima shut out the nagging in her head and moved to find her car.
“What are you doing? Are you leaving? You barely saw the party halfway. The boss will be mad.”
“Well, I don’t really care. Tonight, I’m done. Ada. Now, if I can remember where I put that car.” She sighed, wading through the fog in her head, sauntering through the lot, her eyes sweeping through the cars like strobe lights for her Corolla.
“Edima!” Akpan yelled from the door.
Her breath hitched and a new-found hatred flooded in. She kept walking, forcing her tired legs to pick up the pace and find her car quickly.
“Akpan? You know him? How?” Ada gasped. Edima turned to her, surprised that her friend knew him too. She was curious to know how.
“I could ask you same.” Edima raised a brow.
There was a small bite in her chest. One she wouldn’t admit. Envy.
The cogs in Edima’s head were already turning. Ada was a free-spirit. A label she so freely gave herself. She wasn’t into relationships but she had a long list of flings. She wondered if Akpan’s name was on that list. For a split second, she eyed Ada with spite.
“Edima!” She had almost forgotten about Akpan. He was now standing a meter from them, looking remorseful.
She turned her back to him and found her car. She hurried to it, ignoring them both. She needed to get away from all these people. It felt like ever since she saw Akpan, all the hurt from the past had begun to surface. She didn’t want this man in her life. She didn’t want this pain anymore.
He was confused.
He was standing there and nothing else seemed to matter. Not even the dirty invisible shackles he wore every day. They were heavy but today something much heavier threatened to bring him to his knees. His heart ebbed regret and his lips trembled.
He had never found himself in this position before, wanting to apologize to a woman. Not him. He was the GO-Getter. The man every woman wanted. At least he was. These days, he found himself alone and trapped. But still, his heart fluttered at the thought of this woman and everything else brightened in comparison.
“Edima. I’m sorry. I–” he wavered and thought he sounded dumb.
He contemplated a more convincing way to start. “That was a different me in a different time. I was a bastard then, and truly I feel remorseful about the things I did then. Not just to you but so many other women. You have to believe me. I’ve changed. Jozi just brought it up, to hurt you.”
“I know.” Was her response. Subtle and brief. She turned to him.
Her face was calm but her twitching fingers betrayed her composure. She was mad. She was so mad. For all he knew, she could be contemplating using the gun in her glove compartment but still he was standing here, hoping to wade the storm.
“It’s fine. We all have little monsters, Akpan. Thanks for the company but I have to go now.” She said slowly, taking each word at a time as if she feared betraying her thoughts.
“Let me make it up to you? I’ll do anything? Let me drive you home.” He sputtered, struggling to keep his tone from faltering.
Next to him, someone cleared her throat. He turned and for the first time in three straight minutes, acknowledged Ada. She had her signature scowl on her face…and he remembered how he had left her halfway content on one of those hot, lust crazed nights. He blinked.
“Edima, I’ll drive you home. You look stressed out.” She quipped and shot him a glare. “This bastard is like the rest of them. He's lying through his teeth. He doesn’t care about anything else but his crotch.” She spat as she sashayed past him and took the keys from Edima. His inner man wanted to hurl a comeback at her but he feared it would obliterate any chances he had left with Edima.
He watched a resigned Edima get into the car next to Ada and could do nothing but wave as they pulled out of the lot. He felt like an Idiot.
Two hours later he parked in his driveway and killed the engine. He looked at the time. It was almost 3a.m in the morning. He was tired. Tired of his life. Tired of his burdens and upset about how the party had turned out. He had hoped to get Edima’s number tonight but Jozi had to put everything in the trash and Ada only helped close the lid.
He needed a drink. He hoped Ima's friends had left some wine in his bar. He struggled out of his car and up the front stairs. The front door was open. As he expected. Inside was a mess, still upturned from the party but he felt no emotion. He was just tired.
Ten minutes of rummaging the wine racks and he had come up with nothing but empty bottles. Now, he was pissed. They drank all his wine. He stood at the bar fuming, unsure of what to do. He took out his cell and dialed Ima's line. It never went through. She would probably be drunk from the party, sleeping God knows where and next to God knows who. He resorted to sending her an obscene text full of curses…He opened the message app and began typing away, pouring a fountain of abuses…but then he stopped.
Deep breaths. He had to calm down. What was he doing? He knew he was mad but subconsciously he knew he wasn’t mad at Ima, not particularly. He also wasn’t mad about the party. It was deeper than that. He tucked his phone back into his pocket and headed out the front door.
The cold air did wonders for his nerves, alleviating the anger. He stood there a while, listening to the silent whispers of the night breeze. Edima crept into his thoughts again but this time he shook her off. He needed to stop with her. He had already blown it. He was going to spend the next few days at a hotel, refresh himself and think while a cleaning service attended to his house. He needed some time away from Ima, the Etims and maybe Edima. He was starting to concede the fact that there could be nothing between them, especially not after last night.
He walked back to his car and got in. He felt his pockets for his wallet. Took it out and confirmed he still had his credit card on him. Reached over and put on the stereo, Nina Simone’s “Blackbird” serenaded the car.
He then moved to ignite the engine.
The passenger door next to him swung open and a man clad in a tux hopped in. The shock lasted for only a split second, his gaping eyes met with dark smiling eyes in that moment before he lunged to get out!
But his body stilled when he felt the cold muzzle press into the side of his face painfully, bulging into his mouth, wedged between his two jaws, holding his tongue captive.
“Relax, Akpan.” The voice was low and mocking.
Akpan did not move. He remained as he was, a hand on the car door, muscles tenses and heart roaring.
A moment passed. Slowly, the muzzle was retracted from his face. Akpan slowly turned to observe his captor.
The face was familiar but he couldn’t remember. The man in the tux was big, probably a bodybuilder with fearsome veins protruding in his neck. He casually put the gun away, under his coat and took out something else.
“Don’t fret, Akpan. The police is your friend.” The man taunted, flashing a badge and putting it back.
“I didn’t see that.” Akpan protested. “You don’t have a right to come in my car and put a gun to my face.
I’m not a felon!” His blood boiled.
“No, you’re not. Not yet at least.” The bigger man flashed a sly smile.
“Let me see your badge again!” Akpan demanded, going full lawyer mode.
“How about…” the man's hand moved like a dart, and Akpan saw the gun's steel flash before he felt the cold smack in the side of his face.
The pain jolted him and he crashed hard into the car window, tasting blood in his mouth.
“How about I do the talking from here on, Akpan.” The bigger man chuckled.
Akpan could barely pick the words in the haze of pain.
“Look at me. I want you to remember this face when you sleep.” He hissed and Akpan complied, cradling half his face in one hand as he turned to the man. His body was shaking from a lot of emotions all at once; anger, pain…and fear.
“We want something. Something we know you can get.” He paused and touched the muzzle of the gun lightly on the cusp of Akpan’s nose, like a lover.
“Who’s the we?” Akpan snapped.
“Don’t ask questions again. I'd hate to mess your face up. We need you looking good for the task at hand.” He smiled.
“What is it you want?!” Akpan raged.
“We will tell you when we are sure you can bring it to us.”
“What? I’m a Lawyer. I will not soil my hands or bend to your filthy demand!” Akpan protested.
“Guess we don’t need you.” The man sighed as he leveled the muzzle with Akpan’s forehead.
“No! Wait!” Akpan screamed, shutting his eyes tight, bracing for death.
That bullet never came.
“Yes?” The man chuckled. Akpan opened an eye and then the other.
“I’ll try and get it. I think I know where he puts it.”
“Good! We know you are in relationship with his daughter. We are sure that would work best in our interest if you could spice up your love life a little? Say, want to spend the night with her in her father’s mansion. I’m sure Pius won’t mind, there’s already a lot of talk about you two getting married. To be frank, we don’t care how you get it but we’re giving you a week.”
Akpan was gawking horridly at this man. He wondered how much more they knew about him.
“Come now, don’t be so shocked. We've been watching you for a while, burying Pius’s skeletons and washing his dirty linen. Isn’t this how you shot your way to the top?” The man grinned wickedly.
“You know nothing.” Akpan seethed.
“Yes. That’s why we need those documents. The files containing all Pius’s dirty deals and all the dogs he keeps on his leash, such as yourself.” The man smiled.
Then there was a knock at the window.
“Oh, we also have a present for you.” The bigger man said as he pressed the window button. The car windows wind down, another man in suit was waiting with an envelope held out. Akpan couldn’t see his face, he had a mask on. The bigger man took the envelope and wind the windows back up. He opened the envelope and took out some photos. He handed them to Akpan.
“See for yourself.” The bigger man smiled.
Akpan took it. The first photo made his blood curdle. It was of him…at the café…Edima’s café . The next photo was of him talking with Edima. The next photo was of him in the shower. His whole being shook violently.
“I’m showing you these so you know we have been watching you. We are watching you and we will be watching you.” He smiled lightly.
“Why? What do you want?” Akpan looked up at him, now trembling.
“Keep looking at those photos.” The man commanded. Akpan obeyed.
The next photo turned his blood to ice. It was a photo of both of them, together in his car! It had been taken just a few minutes ago. He squinted hard at it. It showed the bigger man flashing his badge at him.
“We have duplicates of this particular one.” The man laughed.
“Why?” Akpan was confused.
“If we let you go and you even try to run off reporting this meet to Pius. He'll receive this photo of us. And I think you of all people know Pius very well. He's paranoid and he hates snitches. He'll think you're talking to the police and he'll get rid of you quicker than you can blink. So, don’t go telling out on us.”
“You know Pius is paranoid, what makes you think he doesn’t know we’re talking right now? For all I know, he may have had someone watching me all these years.” Akpan whispered.
“Yes. He did. We took care of his spy yesterday, in the morning. If you read the news today, you'll find that there was a car accident yesterday on your usual route to work. That was our doing and that was Pius’s eye spy. So don’t think for one second we don’t have the means.” The bigger man smiled.
“This is another gift for you.” The man reached into his coat and took out a phone. Akpan gawked. It was his previous cellphone. The one that had gone missing the first time he set eyes on Edima at the Café.
“How… How did you…?” Akpan mumbled as he took the phone. The bigger man ignored him, casually reached over and took Akpan’s current phone. Akpan watched helplessly.
“These are the rules, Akpan; adhere to these and we promise you will come out if this unscathed. Don’t use any other phone except this one that’s been handed to you. Do that and you’re dead. Don’t call the police or any one in connection to the police or you’re dead. Don’t talk about this meeting to anyone or you’re dead. Follow your usual routine. Anything out of ordinary and you’re dead. Don’t get me wrong, we need you but we can do well with or without you. Or who knows, we can employ that beautiful Edima in your place.” He laughed.
“Don’t fucking go near her!” Akpan screeched.
“Follow your instructions and we won’t have to” He said, whilst reaching into his coat again. Akpan dreaded what he might bring out this time. Everything he had brought out from that coat only added to his woes.
The bigger man flicked a paper at him. Akpan picked it up.
“Those are your instructions. Adhere to it or you’re dead.” He patted Akpan softly on the head and hopped out of the car.
Akpan sat in a daze over five minutes after that, staring blankly at the photos before him and the paper in his hand. He should have quit the country when he had the chance. He had done a lot of dirt for Pius Etim; The only logical thing to do after that was run! But he had stayed, clutching on to his dreams and now this.
He took the paper and unfolded it, scribbled on it was an address and time…