‘Why did you join a dangerous organisation like the secret service?’ Dorcas asked Sade. It was mid-morning and they had just finished their meal of thin tea and cheap bread. Dozie had gone to town to meet with the contacts for Sade’s papers.
Sade looked at Dorcas’ expectant face. She rose to her feet and walked to the centre of the room, backing Dorcas. ‘I joined the Service to run away from myself. Life had been rough.’
She turned to face Dorcas. ‘I was born without a father. My mother took in while doing her Youth Service somewhere in the East. She gave birth to me in her father’s house in Ondo. When I was three she married an army officer and took me with her to Kaduna where he lived. It was a bad marriage, they fought a lot and after eight years my mother left him. I returned to leaving with my grandparents in Ondo with three sickly step siblings.’
Sade looked at her hands as though her history was jotted on her well-manicured nails. ‘I was twelve when my grandfather died. I and my step-brothers and sister were shared among uncles and aunties in various cities. I went to live with an uncle in Port Harcourt. I laboured for his wife, hawking and working as cook, baby-sitter, house maid and all that. When this became unbearable I ran away from home. I was seventeen then. I joined street gangs. We fought, smoked and even stole. Three years in the street, I was involved in an accident in which I broke my leg. I returned to Ondo with crutches under each arm. My mother was at home; she was now married to a divorced retired agent. He said my stubbornness was made for the Service and insisted I joined them. When I recovered from my injuries, I applied and was accepted.’
‘You enjoyed being in the service?’ Dorcas asked.
Sade nodded. ‘I have my low points but overall, I don’t regret.’
‘Then why do they want to kill you?’ Dorcas wondered.
Sade regarded the other’s calm face. ‘It’s complicated, my dear.’
‘Are you a virgin?’ The words seem to be falling out of Dorcas’ mouth.
Sade looked at Dorcas sharply. ‘Why do you want to know?’
‘I just want to know.’
Sade regarded her for a long time then shrugged. ‘If a man is about to rape you and you have a gun, will you shoot him?’
Dorcas frowned. ‘Of course.’
‘So you will rather be a murderer then a non-virgin.’
Dorcas tightened her teeth on her lip. She nodded.
‘Now, what if a class of eighty pupils is about to be bombed and the only man who has information that will stop the blast asks to sleep with you in exchange for the information, in exchange for the lives of eighty people, what will you do? Will you keep your virginity and let the country dig eighty little graves?’
Dorcas had no answer for this.
‘I worked for the government; I have no life of my own. I have seen a lot and have been faced with grave, dirty situations. I have served Nigeria with all I have, and when I say I gave my country all, I know what I mean.’
The two women regarded each other, each thinking her thoughts, sorry for the other. ‘Any more questions?’
Dorcas shook her head.
A moment passed.
‘I have a confession to make,’ Dorcas broke the tension.
‘What is it?’
‘I was the one who called the police the day you came to our house to hide. I am so sorry, I-I didn’t know what I was doing. I guess I was…’
Dozie entered the room with the hide-out leader, Bony and Mark on his heels. Sade rose to her feet but Mark pointed his gun at her, ‘Sit down!’
Sade was surprised. ‘Dozie, what’s the matter?’
‘I told them I have made plans for us to leave and they started acting funny.’
‘Get her gun,’ Bony said and Mark yanked the gun off Sade’s hip.
‘What on earth is going on here?’ Sade demanded.
‘Sit down,’ Bony said. ‘Let’s discuss like family.’
They all sat down, the women on the bed, Dozie and Bony on the bench; only Mark remained on his feet, his gun covering Sade.
Bony began with an enormous smile on his face, the smile as artificial as a mud mansion. ‘We have a little problem; Dozie is my friend so I met him and discussed the problem with him. We are in debt and can only offset it with the sum of five million naira. We begged Dozie to borrow us the money and he said no.’
‘Because all the money in my account is not worth more than a million naira,’ he cried, his husky voice sounded like a sigh.
‘You can borrow from your friends,’ Bony suggested.
Dozie stamped to his feet. ‘Who is going to borrow you that kind of money in a time like this?’
‘Please sit down.’ Bony’s voice was steel.
Dozie sat down, rigidly, his eyes red with protest.
‘Think of your girlfriend and sister.’
‘I beg your pardon.’
Bony stood up. ‘Get us five million by this time tomorrow or there will be trouble here. If you don’t return tomorrow, Mark will shoot your girlfriend; next tomorrow and he will shoot your sister. The ball is in your court.’
‘So you are keeping us for ransom?’ Sade asked.
‘Must you put it that way?’
Sade smiled. ‘Why don’t Dozie stay here while I go look for the money. I am a professional, I can get the money in whatever means.’
‘You are a professional, which is why we can’t trust you. Relax, Dozie is a miracle worker. He will certainly come back for you girls.’
Bony turned to Dozie, ‘It is time to go.’
‘This is cheap blackmail, Bony, and you know it. After all I did for you guys? I defended you in court for little fee, I put my life and reputation in line just to…’
‘You talk too much,’ Mark interrupted him.
‘It is one minute past 12 o’clock. You have 23 hours, 59 minutes,’ Bony reminded him.
‘Go to hell,’ Dozie shouted.
Bony dropped his restraint; he grabbed Dozie by the collar and hit his forehead on Dozie’s face. Dozie’s nose broke with blood. Sade stamped to her feet. ‘Don’t move.’ Mark was ready to shoot. Sade clenched and unclenched her fists.
‘You want a bullet in your chest?’
‘Why should I want that?’
‘Then sit down!’
Sade sat down.
Bony led Dozie to the door and threw him out. Dozie hit his head on the passage wall. Dorcas began to cry and made for the door but Sade held her back. ‘Calm down dear, it will be fine.’
‘It’s your fault,’ Dorcas cried. ‘You caused it!’
‘I am outside,’ Mark announced. ‘The only way to escape is to jump out of the window.’ He laughed. ‘Sade, you try anything else and I will kill you.’ He left, hit the door shut and locked it from outside.
‘Stop crying while I think of a plan for escape,’ Sade whispered to Dorcas.
‘It’s your fault.’ Dorcas wept.
‘I know, that’s why I want to save us. You keep quiet and let me perfect my plan!’
Dorcas stopped crying but continued to sniff. Sade sat down beside Dorcas who had her face in her hands.
‘What of my brother?’
‘We will call him on phone once we escape.’
‘What is the plan?’ Sade looked at Dorcas’ emotions-soaked face and decided not to discuss it. ‘Don’t worry. We will wait until it is dark, then we take action.’
‘ ‘‘We’’?’ Dorcas couldn’t see how she could help in whatever plan this crook was hatching.
‘Just wait. When the whole building is asleep we will act.’
# # # #
‘Is she ready to be flown away?’ The man’s voice had a strong Latin American accent.
‘No,’ replied the other, speaking quietly on the phone.
‘How soon can we take her?’
‘I will hold you on your word.’ And the conversation ended.
The other sighed. He prayed that he got the opportunity to keep his word.
# # # #
It was now pitch dark. The entire building was dead asleep. It was time to act. Sade stepped down from her bed. She couldn’t see Dorcas sleeping by her side but she knew the girl’s position. She lifted her leg and gave Dorcas a vociferous kick on the belly. Dorcas heaved awake. Her scream was interrupted by a slap on her face, and another then an upper-cut. Dorcas released a cry that pierced the cold, dark night. Sade continued to beat her.
Mark opened the door and entered, a kerosene lamp in his hand. He saw Sade straggling Dorcas with one hand and yanking at her hair with the other. Barbaric! Mark gapped. He placed the lamp on the floor and rushed to separate the lioness as she battered the antelope, his gun raised. Few inches from the bed, Sade surprised him. She swamped her feet on his shins, sending him off balance.
As he fell on top of Sade, his gun rattled on the floor. Sade grabbed Mark on the neck.
‘Get the gun,’ she bellowed to Dorcas.
Mark landed a blow on Sade’s ribs. She held tight on his neck, he gave her another smash on her ribs. Sade’s hold on his neck weakened. As he made for the third blow, Sade blocked the blow with her hand. His neck was free. He made to dive for the gun but Sade held him on his shoulders. Together they crashed on the floor.
Like an idiot, Dorcas just sat and watched.
‘Get the gun, Dorcas,’ Sade cried. Mark sent an elbow breaking into Sade’s nose. Pain and anger tore into her heart. Sade tightened her two hands around his shoulder, pressing hard to link her hands.
‘Get the gun, Dor-cas!’
Dorcas stepped down the bed, trod to the gun and picked the pistol up by the barrel and held it in her hand like a frightened child would hold a dead lizard.
‘Place the gun on his head and fire!’ Sade urged her. Dorcas had exhausted all the actions in her, so like a lifeless dummy she stood, watching, her mouth agape.
‘Dorcas, I said…’ Mark had succeeded in pushing the distracted Sade off his back. Now his elbow pinned her head on the floor, but Sade held him tight on the waist. Pain burnt her head like hot stove, burning off her energy. Sade knew that her only way out was Dorcas.
‘Come on Dorcas, you can’t miss him now, press the trigger and SHOOT!’ Sade could have been shouting to a deaf-mute.
Bony entered the room, saw the two fighters on the floor and his jaw dropped. Then he saw Dorcas with the gun. He shifted his bulk back. ‘Hey, drop that gun,’ he said with little steel in his voice.
‘Take your thing,’ Dorcas said and handed the gun over to Bony.
Sade shut her eyes, it was over. She let go of Mark who stood up, grabbed his gun from Bony’s hand and began to club Sade on the head with the head of the gun. Sade didn’t resist, she took the blows like constructive criticism. Infuriated by her lack of resistance, Mark knocked her harder after each blow. By the time Bony ordered him to leave her, Sade’s head and face were covered with blood.
Dorcas heaved a sigh of relief when the two men left. ‘Thank God they didn’t kill her,’ she said.
The minute hand of the clock joined the hour hand at twelve. End of Day Four.