Nene was not under the tree the following morning when he arrived, his mother’s open-toe slippers safely hidden under the driver’s seat. With the news of the Onikoyi’s death the night before, his father had warned him not to leave the house too early. Until a new king was installed, there would be a curfew. He wished he’d followed his instincts and come back the night before to find her, but she would not have been there, anyway. And he wasn’t sure who to ask where to find her. The people of Ikoyi had no good use for Nene and would not help him, he came to the conclusion. He still needed to get to the truth of this matter. Nene had still not told him why she was so hated, even as a child. And he had some more questions about Kunle’s death.
He’d sent a message to Frank about the new curfew and told him to keep it silent. There would no longer be visits on the set, for security reasons.
“We’re rounding off this production tomorrow. I’m not ready to follow your king to the grave,” Frank told him the moment he arrived.
Seyi arched an eyebrow. “How possible is that? We’ve had two good days.”
“Thanks to you!”
“We’re moving to Oshogbo for the rest of the production,” Asuka said. “Frank has guys checking out a suitable location.”
Seyi gasped. “What about the interviews? And Oshogbo is not a part of Ijesaland, which is the focus of this episode.”
“Well, this is no one’s fault, Seyi.” Frank scoffed. “Your king died.” He clapped. “Let’s get this shit rolling, guys! In the drawing room.” He started walking away and yelled. “And Seyi, no babies to inspire you today, buddy. Get your inspiration somewhere.”
Seyi rolled his eyes. “Talk to him, Asuka. It will be so unrealistic to go to the state capital when we are documenting these areas. The bulk of the gold we’re talking about is around Ilesa. I only chose here because it’s my home.”
Asuka rubbed her arms. “Is Ilesa safe?”
“Their king is still alive.”
Asuka chuckled. “Oh yes, of course.”
The day was tough but he forced his mind on it. After work, he stopped by Pade’s office just for good measure. After their last meeting, he wasn’t willing to speak about Nene or her work. But the only way he could know what was up was to go there. One of the young men who worked with Pade was closing from work. Seyi greeted but chose not to ask questions. Pade’s car was outside, and a part of him hoped Nene was “cleaning” after work, as she said she did.
He went up a rickety staircase and knocked on a connecting door. He heard nothing and opened it anyway. He found Pade on the balcony, gazing into the dark night.
“I hear your father is going to be the next Onikoyi,” Pade said. “Not only are you a rich boy, you’ll be the prince.”
Seyi snickered. “You may have your head chopped for saying that in public, Sly.”
Pade arched an eyebrow. “By who? Ikoyi is a small town. With the way the Olori cried last night, the news was in the night market while Kabiyesi was still warm.”
“The part of my father being king is–”
“Just another fact. He’s next to the throne and we all know he was cheated last time.” He moved toward the door leading inside his house. “She’s not here, meanwhile.”
Seyi frowned. “Your assumptions are ridiculous.”
“You want her, don’t you?” Pade came closer and thumbed his chest. “You are the biggest fool I have ever met, Iwaneye.”
Seyi slapped his hand off. “Don’t talk to me like that, Sly. Why did you employ her?”
“She’s free. She needs to work, to look like a reputable member of society.” Pade sniggered. “And her work is good. But it doesn’t make her more acceptable.”
Seyi shook his head. “I don’t know why she agrees to such terms with you. She could go anywhere else.”
“She can’t. I don’t believe she’s a witch or anything. Just a girl with bad luck trailing her. Anything she touches destroys.”
Seyi couldn’t hold back the mean comment. “Like you?”
Pade shrugged. “That’s why I keep her close. If she tries anything, I’ll kill her.”
Seyi breathed. “My mum believes she destroyed your marriage.”
Pade frowned. “She asked my wife to leave me. What better way to destroy a person’s home?”
Seyi shook his head. “For no reason? I don’t believe that.”
“Believe what you like.” Pade went inside.
Seyi contemplated following him. Nene was not here and he didn’t want to hear more from Pade. The guy had so much bitterness in him, it weighed even on his walk. Seyi saw himself out, his head pounding. He drove back to the tree where he’d left Nene. The curfew would soon start, and he had to head back home. In a couple of days, the crew would move to the capital or Ilesa, if Asuka could convince Frank. There would not be time to make things right or see her again. If he left now, he would not want to come back…especially if his father became king. Those were not his goals, and he wasn’t ready for small town fame.
He parked his truck in the same spot Nene showed him the day before, and walked the perimeter, hoping to find something. He felt rather than saw movement for a second and thought it could be a small bush animal. It was getting dark, but not dark enough to not see also a whiff of clothing. He followed the direction, and unknowing slid into a small pit.
“Ahhggg!” He grasped at the small plants within reach but they just came off with his hand.
Finally, his decline came to a stop. He rolled to his feet and found his Maxlite camping torch on his keychain. It wasn’t so dark but this was a hole. Anything could be inside. He snapped on the torch and came face to face with Nene.
Seyi switched on a torch, jolting the darkness into illumine brightness. Her first instinct was to run further into the hole. She could hide, and he would never find her, but she stood stiffly, not even bothering to shield her face from his light. He stepped back for a second. She knew she should leave but couldn’t. He’d try to follow and may get hurt. She was on her way to town before the curfew started to help with Mopelola’s new baby, but now she couldn’t. If she’d continued, he’d have spotted her on the road. Maybe she should have let him, and simply told him she had to go and help with the new sickly mother.
He growled. “Are you not going to say anything?”
He slowly scanned the torch over her whole length. She was fully dressed in what seemed a very old nightwear and her feet were covered neatly with an equally old wrapper. He took steps closer to her and touched her trimmed eyebrow. She didn’t move and he traced the paths on her smooth face. When he touched her soft lips, she flinched and he snapped his hand back.
“What are you doing here?” He directed the torch to look around. “Inside a hole.”
“You need to leave. Before the curfew starts.”
“It’s so dark here.” He switched off his torch. “Why are you here?”
She could feel his breath on her face. Still, she refused to move. “Why? This is my hole. I live here.”
“You live here,” he mumbled. “You told me you live in Dada’s compound.”
“This is Dada’s backyard,” she said simply. “You need to leave. Vigilantes move around when the curfew starts.”
He switched the torch back on. “What do you have here?” He pointed the light in different directions.
When on her own, she delighted in the fantasy of building a big house for herself and her children. Over the years, she had turned the gully behind Dada’s house to her little mansion in the ground. To the outside world, it was a site destroyed by erosion and covered with bush, but once in the hole, it was her palace. Pieces of junk wood, leather, nails, and other materials from caskets from the workshop found their way into her “house.”
She was creative in her designs too. Seyi gasped and followed one of the narrow paths. The hole narrowed and caved in and she knew he could get hurt if he didn’t remain bent as he proceeded. He was smarter than she thought and returned within a minute.
“I need some answers from you,” he growled. “First, do you just allow men to touch you as they wished?”
“I don’t, what does that mean?”
“Because you stood still while I touched you just now. You enter this hole knowing I will follow you!” He breathed hard. “Where is this?”
“I wanted …” she moved a little more away from him. “What do you want?” She whispered.
“Answers.” he snapped. “Why do you do it?”
She exclaimed. “Do what?”
“Strip men of their dignity. Tease them into submission. Spoil them with lust. Then you destroy their destiny.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Her voice cracked. She moved back toward the small steps she’d carved. “You need to leave now. They will see your truck and destroy it!”
He barked. “Adunola’s husband!”
Nene refused to answer any of his questions till he agreed to move the truck to a safe place since he wasn’t leaving her. The implication of his decision hung around his heart like a cancerous growth. His parents would be worried about his whereabouts. His mother would not bat an eye till he returned home. And for him, he’d be spending the night with a mysterious woman he admired and feared. Though he would never admit either even as he pondered on the truth.
“Get inside.” He ordered after she pointed a big tree a few feet away, where he could hide the truck from the main road. “I’m not going to risk you running into another hole when I can’t follow you.”
She didn’t protest.
They came out of the truck and heard a man shout. “Who goes there?” The man came close holding a torch with bright lights.
Nene stiffened and grabbed his hand. She turned in the opposite direction a second before the vigilante saw them. If they’d gone the way they came, they’d bump into the watchman. Seyi had no idea where she was going but trusted her, and when she whispered, “Jump,” while still holding his hand, he did.
They landed on a wooden ground with a loud thud, and she whispered, “Ssh.” Another man joined the first and hushed voices made conversation as the men used what seemed like cutlasses to trash the bush. Then everywhere was silent.
“They’ve gone,” Nene said. “Come this way.”
She let go of his hand making him feel suddenly abandoned. Even in the dark, she knew her way through the gully, and shortly, they were back in the other hole.
He inhaled. “How many holes are here?”
“I don’t know. They are not big.”
“You should know. Why do you tell lies unprovoked?” He licked his lips. “I should have gone back before the curfew started.” He didn’t really mean that only wanted to see her reaction. She had none as he’d expected. He switched on his torch and pointed it rudely on her face. “Where can I sit? I’m tired.”
“Come.” She turned to a really small looking hole and went on her knees. “Watch your head.”
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