Mr. Sunday sits with his head bent, studying the newly printed papers his secretary brought in a few minutes ago. I unclench my hands for the fifth time, feeling nervous and impatient as I attempt a wild guess about what the new investigations had revealed.
“The picture is a little hazy now,” Mr. Sunday announces, looking up and pushing his slipping glasses back up on the bridge of his nose.
I crane my neck at towards the papers. “What does it say?”
“Australian newspapers are now reporting that the money initially linked to Hassan and co is actually connected to another company dealing with the proxy in London who has a direct access to the account in the Bon Leu Bank in Bahamas,” Mr. Sunday says, handing the papers over.
I collect them, read briefly and raise my head to look at Mr. Sunday. "Bon Leu?"
"It sounds nothing like a bank."
Mr. Sunday purses his lips and scratches the rough stubble of beard on his chin.
"It is a subsidiary of a bank in Russia."
“So he acts as the go between for Va Rue and the guys in Australia through a proxy who is in charge of the account at Bon Leu.”
"Correct," Mr. Sunday says with a nod.
I nod at Mr. Sunday, my eyes still on the paper, but there is too much information to take in at once.
“So our guy might be vindicated after all.”
“Hassan and co?”
“But the first investigation linked the company to the scandal.”
“This one seems to contradict the first one somewhat.”
Deciding that splitting my attention between the paper and Mr. Sunday’s voice is counter productive, I lower the papers to his table.
“I am not entirely convinced about this new developments. The change is rather suspicious," Mr. Sunday says again with a frown.
“What is the name of this new company?”
“Billami Trust,” Mr. Sunday says, motioning to the papers sitting before me.
"Do you think the senate will buy this new report, given to the fact that they already have the first report before them."
"Oh...they are fickle enough to change overnight," Mr. Sunday says shaking his head and picking up a white handkerchief on the table to wipe at the beads of perspiration forming above his eyebrows.
As Mr. Sunday moves the handkerchief up and down his face, I think about Ladi. Has he heard?
"I still think we should stay on the case," Mr. Sunday says, finally returning the handkerchief back to the table. "My instincts tell me that there is more to this case, and my instincts have always been right. So keep your eyes open."
Leaning back in his chair, Mr. Sunday angles his head and watches me with a sympathetic smile.
"You look overwhelmed. Are you sure you want to continue following it?"
I assume a straighter position and flash Mr. Sunday a confident smile.
I pick up the papers holding Mr. Sunday's correspondence with his contact in London.
"It is not so overwhelming. It is not just...straightforward."
"You are right about that. It is not a straightforward case."
"And my only source of information is the internet."
And Ladi, a small voice whispers in my head. I ignore it.
"I know," Mr. Sundays says with a solemn nod. "Even that will mean something to the investigation. There is so much on the internet these days."
"I will do my best sir."
"Good," Mr. Sunday says, looking down at the face of the brown leather wristwatch on the wrist of his right hand. "I have a meeting with Mr. Aderibigbe by three o'clock, and it is almost two. I better start heading for Asokoro now."
"Do you have anything else you want me to go through?"
Mr. Sunday shakes his head.
"No. You are free to go. I just thought it might be useful for you to learn about this new development. Enjoy the rest of your weekend...but please pass me those papers."
I place the papers in the hand Mr. Sunday holds out to me. Placing my hands on the chair, I begin to push up from my chair but stop when Mr. Sunday continues talking,
"So when does your time with us come to an end?"
"It was supposed to end this week sir."
Mr. Sunday bends sideways beside the table, and then bringing up a black briefcase which he places on the table and unlocks.
"You sound as if you might just be staying back with us in Abuja after all."
"Hmmm, so I guess we can keep you here then."
I laugh and tell Mr. Sunday that I still have to go back to the institute at after the mint assignment.
"Okay, after you are done with them there, there is a place for you here if you are interested."
"Thank you sir."
I leave Mr. Sunday's office fifteen minutes later. At the gate, I stop a taxi and head to Lydia's place for a short visit before heading back to the apartment. I have a worry to share with her.
I climb the last step and switch my brown handbag to the other hand, preparing to knock when the door to Lydia's apartment swings open and a dark complexioned woman with a round smiling face steps out. She is dressed in a white nurse's uniform. Her hair is done into tiny braids that fall on her shoulders.
The foundation on her face ends conspicously before her hairline, and her full eyebrows seem to have been darkened with a dark brown eyeliner. Red lipstick trace the bow of her lips, and I can't help admiring her smile even though it slips as she looks at me, her eyes friendly and probing.
"Good afternoon ma," I greet, seeing the resemblance immediately. Lydia's mother.
"Yes, can I help you?" The woman asks, one hand on the half open door and the other holding a big boxy handbag.
"Is someone at the door?" A voice asks in the background.
The woman turns to look behind her.
"Yes. Are you expecting someone?"
Lydia steps into view, holding her blackberry to her ear.
I smile at her and turn back to her mother who is now beaming at me.
"Oh...you are the one I have been hearing about," Lydia's mother says, her hand falling from the door handle as she steps to one side.
I nod, feeling self conscious under her friendly scrutiny.
"Lydia has told me a lot about you," Lydia' mother says, beginning to walk to the steps. "It is nice to meet you. I am on my way to work now, so we will see some other time."
Giving me a nod, Lydia's mother climbs down the steps, the click click of her shoes echoing in the stairway. I look back at Lydia who is now at the door.
"At last," she says, opening the door wider to let me walk through. "I was almost thinking you didn't want to be friends again."
"Sorry. I had things to do."
Snorting loudly to let me know what she thinks of my claim, Lydia follows behind me as I walk into her living room.
"I am serious."
"You were busy with your new boyfriend," Lydia says, sitting down beside me on the next sofa and shaking her rubber flip flops off to drag her legs to the sofa.
"Anyway," Lydia said, waving the discussion aside. "Why did you go to the Compatriot today? It is weekend."
"I had a meeting with Mr. Sunday."
"Oh okay," Lydia says, tucking her legs under her. "What's up?"
"I want to talk to you about something."
"I am all ears."
"I feel like I am rushing things with Ladi."
Lydia gives me a puzzled frown.
"Too much intimacy."
"Too much intimacy?" Lydia asks, shaking her head. "What does that mean?"
I sigh and repeat slowly. "Too...much...intimacy."
Lydia's face relaxes and a smile turns up the corners of her lips.
"Fine. I know what you mean, but how is that a bad thing?"
"It is not enough. I want to be his friend."
"Then talk to him about it," Lydia says with a shrug.
"I will," I tell Lydia with a slow nod.
"Is he using protection?"
"Last night, we did not."
Lydia purses her lips thoughtfully, giving me a concerned look.
"Are you on the pills?"
"God forbid," Lydia says with a shudder. "Not Postinor. Something recommended by your doctor."
I shake my head. "No."
"I should take you to see my doctor one of these days. You have to be careful..." Lydia says, her tone reproachful. "You don't want to end up with an unplanned pregnancy unless you are sure of a future with Ladi."
I sit down quietly and think of Lydia's words. Do I have a future with Ladi?
I listen to my uncle speak and feel relief wash over me. The battle is over.
"So that means we are in the clear now."
"Yes. I saw the Vice President two days ago and he promised to help in finding out the real culprit."
"Well, seems like he did, but where did this company come from?”
“I don’t know. Could have been the original accomplice. We were pulled into something we knew nothing about.”
"You really did well Ladi."
I smile, feeling proud of myself.
Citing the need to observe his evening prayers, and reprimanding me for my lukewarm attitude to religion, my uncle ends the call. Dropping my phone on the coffee table, I walk to the kitchen to get a can of Heinekan.
I close the front door quietly. The living room is empty, but I can hear the sound of someone moving around in the kitchen. I move in that direction, but Ladi soon appears in the doorway, can of Heinekan in hand and a smile on his face.
We meet halfway behind his favourite sofa for a hug and I press my face into his neck, relishing the woody scent of his cologne.
“Nice smell. What is the name of your cologne?”
“Dior. Homme intense or something.”
I lean closer and sniff at his neck again. “Hmmm, I like it.”
Ladi laughs and pulls back. "So how did your meeting go?"
"It went well."
"Good guess," I tell Ladi with a smile, beginning to walk to the direction of the guest room. "I need to take a shower."
I rush through shower, and slip into a short blue jeans skirt and a black tank top. Ladi is watching a movie when I return to the living room. His sofa is big enough to accomodate an extra body, so I slip in beside him.
"There is new company involved in the mint case."
"What is the name of the company?"
"Billami, I think," I say, shifting sideways to lean on the arm of the chair, and lifting my legs to his lap.
"I heard about the change too."
"Does it have anything to do with your meeting with the Vice President?"
“I think so.”
“How did they do it?”
“Manipulate the investigations.”
Ladi leans back, his eyes still holding my own.
“You think there is foul play involved?”
“I don’t think so. We don’t even know this company.”
“How come it suddenly replaces your uncle’s company as one of the parties involved in the case?” At Ladi’s continuing silence, I sigh and tell him to ask his uncle to be sure.
“There is more to this Ladi. You met the Vice President, and then your uncle’s company gets cleared.”
“Maybe we just got lucky.”
“This has nothing to do with luck.”
Ladi says nothing, his face suddenly becoming an unreadable mask.
“I am losing you.”
“No you are not,” Ladi says, still with that dead pan expression.
“Let’s talk about something else.”
Lifting his head, Ladi sighs and says,
I am relieved to hear Arisha ask for a change in subject. A migraine had begun to form at the base of my skull from her probing. I massage the spot as I wait for her to start a new conversation.
“I am thinking,” Arisha begins, lifting her hand to my chin and tracing light circles. “We need to know each other better.”
“It is a process Arisha, we will get there.”
“Maybe,” Arisha says with a shrug. “But we won’t if we keep....”
I look closely at Arisha as she falters. “Go on?”
“Keep doing it.”
I smile and kiss Arisha lightly on the lips.
“I find you attractive, but you are right. We should take a break from that, and get to know each other better.”
“A break?” Arisha asks, giving me a small smile. “How long? Two days?”
I shake my head solemnly. “Two weeks.”
Arisha looks away from me to the television, her lower lip caught between her teeth. The action is distracting, but I manage to stay focused on our conversaton.
“Two weeks is okay I guess,” Arisha says, bringing her eyes back to me.
We continue staring at each other without a word, until Arisha breaks the spell with a question that surprises and amuses me at the same time.
“Do you like dirty talk during intimacy?”
“Never mind,” Arisha says with an embarrassed laugh. “I don’t know why I said that.”
“No, go on.”
Arisha gives me an uncertain look. “I am not sure it is necessary.”
I laugh and decide to help Arisha out.
“You asked if I liked dirty talk....”
I wait for Arisha’s nod and when it comes, I continue.
“Well, I am not entirely uncomfortable with the things you say in bed, and I am not sure I will classify it as dirty talk.”
Arisha smiles shyly and shakes her head.
“The things I say?”
Wriggling against me, she asks for a reminder. I oblige her and she dissolves into delightful giggles, and swears that I am not being truthful.
“I am,” I insist, giving her a mock frown and seeking out her lips for another quick kiss, but Arisha has other plans. She presses against me and parts her lips to deepen the kiss. When we break away, I smile at the cloud of desire in her eyes.
“Until two weeks.”
“You sound happy about it.”
“Well...someone wants to know me better.”
“Yes I do,” Arisha says, nodding slowly.
“So, any questions?”
Sitting straighter, Arisha appears to think for some seconds.
“Where were you born?”
“What do your parents do for a living?”
“Dad, retired general. Mum, doctor.”
“Where are you from?”
I chuckle and shake my head. “This feels like a job interview.”
“No, it is not,” Arisha says with a wide smile.
I shrug. “Okay.”
“So where are you from?”
“Dad is from Kano, and my mum is part Jigawa, part Rivers.”
Arisha blinks at me in surprise. “You have roots in Rivers state?”
I shrug again. “Yeah. Her dad was also in the military and you know the military sends soldiers to different stations around the country. I think he met my grandmother there.”
“Interesting,” Arisha says with a nod. “So how many siblings?”
“Three. All girls.”
“Muslim...a very lazy one.”
There is silence as Arisha bites her lower lip. “I have never seen you pray.”
“I told you I am a lazy Muslim. My uncle is always on my case because of that.”
Arisha is quiet again. I narrow my eyes at her.
“Is that a problem?”
Arisha shakes her head and then looks at her hands.
“I have never dated a Muslim before.”
“Guess you now know that we don’t have two heads and twelve fingers.”
Picking up my fingers, Arisha makes a show of counting them. I laugh at the mock seriousness on her face and kiss her again for the umpteenth time, feeling incredibly drawn to her.
“Your cousins...their names though.”
“Joseph and Dipo?”
“Baba is sort of named after his father.”
“So Dipo and Joseph?”
“Dipo’s mum is Yoruba.”
“Son of your uncle too?”
“No. Uncle Hassan is married to just Baba’s mother. Dipo is the son of my mother’s eldest brother. Then Joseph is adopted. His father was my uncle’s best friend. When he died with his wife in an accident, uncle Hassan adopted him.”
“Okay. You guys are a colourful mix. A mini Nigeria.”
“Funny you said that when i didn’t tell you that Baba’s mother is Igbo.”
I nod and reach for Arisha’s hands. “Certain things don’t matter when you want to be with someone.”
“You are right.”
I feel the air grow thick around us as we fall silent. Instinctively, we lean towards each other, our lips making light contact before my phone begins to ring.
I sigh in disappointment as Ladi pulls away to answer his phone, but the conversation is brisk and very brief. Pulling the phone away from his ear, he urges me to my feet and follows behind me.
“I need to make a quick run to Maitama.”
I nod and begin to sit on the sofa next to his own as he walks to his room. “Okay.”
Ladi stops mid stride and turns to me.
“You are coming along.”
I open my mouth to protest but his back is turned almost immediately. I look down at my skirt and pick myself up from the sofa to hurry to the guest room.
Fifteen minutes later, we are on our way to Maitama. The roads are deserted and Ladi attributes it to the impending nations cup final. Finally, he stops in front of one of the biggest gates I have ever seen. The gate slides open and I guess it is being controlled somewhere in the small house beside it. Ladi drives into a large sprawling compound with a mansion in the middle. There is a magnificent waterfall in front of the mansion, and I stare at it as Ladi finds a parking spot along the perimeter of the high fence.
I am intimidated by the sheer size of the house when we enter it. The furniture is mordern with an expensive feel. The living room is empty until a man in white shirt walks into it from one of the massive doors on our left. He nods courteously at me and tells Ladi that his cousins have driven out more than two hours ago. After delivering this information, he disappears back into room he came from. Ladi tells me to make myself comfortable on the large L-shaped sofa before the television that is as wide as a projector screen. Then he jogs up a spiralling staircase at the end of the living room.
I perch on the tip of the sofa, fold my hands primly in my laps. Ladi’s uncle is a rich man. A very rich man. He also happens to be a suspect in a bribery case I am investigating. What is the source of his wealth?
I listen to Arisha’s chatter all through the drive back to the apartment, but I can’t help thinking about the file I saw on my uncle’s desk. It had just been sitting beside the one Uncle Hassan asked me to bring to him at the golf course in Asokoro. It was curiosity that had led me to opening it. Now I wish I did not.
“Why are you so quiet?” Arisha asks as we wait for one of the security guards to open the gate to the compound.
I give her a smile to dispel the look of concern on her face.
“Sorry. I was just thinking.”
I give Arisha a sideway glance, weighing my options. I am slowly beginning to accept that she might be in my life for a while, but yet there were people who had been in my life forever. I have to protect them.
That night, after enjoying the football match with Arisha curled to my side, and listening to the sound of fire crackers outside the window, Arisha and I retire to bed. We enjoy a short conversation and darkness mercifully descends to save me from depressing thoughts.
I am slipping into sleep, Ladi’s steady heartbeat against my cheek when I hear my blackberry make a drumming sound against Ladi’s bedstand. I reach pull away slightly from Ladi’s chest, careful not to wake him. There is a text message from Lydia.
So, what did he say? Does he like it?
I sigh and send a text back.
I am not sure.
What happened? No action tonight?
We are giving it a rest for now.
Thank you. Goodnight.
Love you. Goodnight. You are still boring.
I smile and return the phone back to the bedstand. I lower myself back to Ladi’s chest. Before I surrender to sleep, I wonder briefly if it was the visit to Maitama or the drive to the golf course in Asokoro that changed Ladi’s mood. What had he seen?