(This is for my #1 Fan, Sencen whose birthday was Yesterday’s Yesterday. Cheers from Hard Voices, Beads of Love from Nigeria)
Humphrey slapped Olivier’s photo on the counter.
‘Do you know this girl?’
The cashier shook her head. ‘Never seen her before.’
‘Think again, this girl was here on Wednesday with another guy and they bought a lot here… Do you remember?’
The cashier studied the picture of Olivier some more and looked up. ‘What is wrong with her? Are you from the police?’
He smirked. ‘Worse than the police,’ he said. He spread his arms and she caught her breathe at the sight of the pistol head in his jacket inner pocket. The introduction made he asked, ‘Where does she live?’
Her eyes doubled in size with terror as her bladder filled up. ‘I don’t know, I swear. I have never seen her before that day…’
She was on the verge of tears. ‘I don’t know where she lives!’
‘Then find out.’ He looked at his wrist. Three o’clock. ‘I will be back eight a.m. on the dot tomorrow. You will get me her address, right?’ The cashier opened her mouth but he was still talking. ‘If I don’t get her address, I will take it that you are against our course. I will have one of my boys throw acid on your pretty face.’
He appeared to be bluffing but he was so cold and the red spots of light in his eyes were so real and they thoroughly unnerved her.
He wasn’t done. ‘If you wish you may call the police, then we will track you forever. Even if you hide in Army Headquarters, we will catch you and butcher you into pieces then set you on fire. If…’
‘I will find the address!’
‘We have a deal then,’ Humphrey attempted a smile—deadlier than his wrath. ‘Eight o’clock baby.’
He left, and for few moments the cashier continued to breathe in terror.
Meanwhile Olivier not having any clue about Humphrey’s hunt for her was preparing a meal for her and Iyke. He was seated on the bed watching her work. An ambitious, determined cook she was; she took so much space in the room, covering half of the room with bowls, plates, packages of ingredients, taking forever and asking so much questions—
‘Where is your grater?’
‘I don’t have.’
‘Where is your curry container?’
‘I don’t have curry.’
‘What of thyme?’
‘I don’t have.’
‘What is nutmeg?’
She wasn’t a great cook, he decided; from the aroma of the food so far, it wouldn’t make a great meal; it wouldn’t be a disaster though. But food wasn’t his problem, he had so much on his mind: His fresh unemployment, Olivier’s refusal to go home, the approaching deadline of Lucy’s excursion payment and least of all, OBJ’s threat. He needed a quick solution to this sea of troubles—these could make or mar him, mar him, more likely. He emitted a sigh.
‘What is it?’ Olivier asked. She was cutting onions and crying.
‘You thinking of your new enemy?’
‘To hell with him!’
She laughed a tear-soaked laugh. ‘You are afraid.’
‘Shouldn’t I be?’ he asked.
‘You can always beat him up like you beat up that shop-keeper.’
He smiled. ‘This guy is three times bigger than Okoro.’
‘Then you can shoot him with the gun.’
‘I will be arrested for murder.’
‘That is self-defence.’
She poured something into the sauce and turned rigorously. The way she held the spoon, with ease, like a real woman.
‘He will cut of your ears?’ Olivier inquired.
‘He will cut off just one ear, he is a kind fellow.’
She shrugged, seemingly unconcerned. ‘If he cut off one ear, you can still hear, won’t you? And it won’t be a big loss since you don’t wear earrings.’
He looked at her closely. ‘He also threatened to cut off one eye.’
‘You can always wear goggles.’
‘He will cut off one hand after that.’
‘It won’t make me stop being your friend.’
‘And when he cut my leg?’
‘You will have to sit on wheelchair and I will push you around, I don’t mind.’
He grimaced: she wasn’t the type to give sympathy, he concluded.
‘I will cook you a great meal so that no matter what your gorilla does to you, you won’t die empty-bellied,’ she said.
‘To hell with the food!’
Olivier laughed on his face.
The only way to get Olivier’s companion’s address was to ask her madam who it appeared knew her companion fairly well, so the cashier entered her madam’s office.
‘What is it, Pricilla?’
‘Er… Ma, that guy you… we gave credit of fifteen thousand on Wednesday… Em where is he—does he live?’
‘Why? Is it because of the money? Forget it, Ikechukwu can never run away because of mere fifteen kay.’
‘It is not because of the money ma—’ she choked with apprehension.
‘What is it?’
What should she say? ‘I just need—I must have his address!’
‘You must? Please leave my office.’
Pricilla didn’t hear.
She left the office, crying, sure she was in deep mess.
It was towards closing for the day that her madam came to a stop at the desk of her nervous wrecked cashier.
‘Pricilla,’ she was soothing, ‘tell me why you really need Ikechukwu’s address and I will sure give it to you.’
But Pricilla only responded with her eyes, pouring tears. Her madam studied her for a moment then sighed. ‘I can understand. You are a young lady and when you see a man you really like it can be crippling. And Ikechukwu is a very sweet boy.’ She smiled knowingly.
Pricilla nodded, her survival hinged on her madam’s mouth.
‘I will give you the address, but don’t pursue him too much. When you like a guy, give him clue and let him do the chasing.’ She grabbed Pricilla’s wrist and wrote Iyke’s address on her palm.
This night Olivier had a mysterious dream; she dreamed she was on a boat in the centre of a still sea, with Chuks pedalling. She was talking excitedly and throwing rose buds into the water. Suddenly a big speed-boat come out of nowhere and rammed its nose on their boat, there boat overturned. She couldn’t swim and was drowning. She heard laughter and saw that the speed-boat that hit them was piloted by a grinning Tony. ‘You again? No!’ she shouted and woke up.
She touched the space beside her but Iyke wasn’t here. She wiped her sweating brow. He must be sleeping on the rug in the other room. Sleeping on the same bed with someone of the opposite sex, someone you weren’t related to, most especially someone you have a crush on could be overpoweringly tempting, Iyke understood this so well and wouldn’t take chances. The night before he had slept on the rug in the parlour. This night he had slept off while resting on the bed. Olivier not anxious to sleep on the rug quietly lay beside him. Now, he was gone; he must have woken up in the middle of the night, realised he was sleeping on the wrong place and left for the other room. Iyke was that type of man.
She descended from the bed and made for the switch. The room suddenly shone with blinding brightness. It was quarter to four. She entered the next room but Iyke was not lying down there. Her heart missed a beat and began to hammer violently, hurting her ribcage. She rushed to the door but it was locked from the outside. Oh my God, where had her friend and protector gone to, at this time of the night locking her inside, when she needed him the most; she had just dreamed about evil Tony and needed the love of tough Iyke to contradict it, now WHERE was he?
A black heavy blanket of fear threaded with sadness descended upon her, smouldering her. She suddenly remembered something and dashed to the chest of drawers in the bedroom where Iyke now kept the pistol. She threw all the drawers opened—the gun was gone. She stood still, rooted to the floor, her heart-throb deafening. The world was wrapped tight in silence. Even the insects that quartered behind the house were conspiratorially mute, eavesdropping. The whole world was eavesdropping on her, mocking her.
‘Oh no,’ she threw herself on the bed and began to cry, she was finished, she was in love with an armed robber.
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