Inside her bedroom, Mrs. Eke stirs. She sits up and rubs her eyes. She checks her phone for the time. It is midday. She stretches, gets up and walks out of her room.
She walks through the parlour and opens the kitchen door. Imoh is at the sink, pouring rice into a pot.
Imoh curtsies. “Welcome ma.”
Mrs. Eke yawns. “Did I hear voices?”
Imoh shrugs. “No ma.”
Mrs. Eke frowns. “Nobody came?”
Mrs. Eke peeks into the kitchen. “But I saw Oga’s car parked outside.”
Imoh shakes her head. “They didn’t come here ma.”
Mrs. Eke peeps outside. “Okay.” She shrugs. “Okay. And even that Oga’s driver is not a good person so I advise you don’t talk unnecessarily with him. You understand?”
Imoh nods. “Yes ma, I understand.”
“Good. I’ll soon go and pick Alice from her after school lessons. Will the rice soon be ready?”
Mrs. Eke looks around as though not convinced everything is alright. Then she exits. Imoh visibly slumps against the sink and sighs heavily.
Betty walks up to the door of Mr. Uzo’s residence, and retrieves a key from her purse. She inserts the key and opens the door. Betty walks in and comes face to face with Paul in the parlour, watching an action movie.
She folds her arms across her chest. “Well well well, what are you doing here? And don’t you go to school?”
Paul looks at her, hisses and looks away.
Betty snickers. “I’m going to tell your dad you did that.”
Paul frowns. “You think I care?”
Betty hisses. “Hmm, talking tough. By the time he gives you six lashes, your mouth will be trembling.”
Paul stands and heads for the room. “Say what you like, ashawo.”
Betty gasps. “Ehn? What did you say?”
Paul slams the door shut and the sound of the key locks is heard.
“Stupid boy. I’m going to tell your dad what you said,” Betty shouts at the closed door.
Paul shouts back. “I no dey fear you! Rogue.”
Mrs. Uzo drives into the premises of a huge office complex. There are two jeeps already parked in the lot. The complex is new and unoccupied. Four men are already surveying the property. Mrs. Uzo walks briskly to two of the men who stand together.
“I’m so sorry, I couldn’t come as scheduled,” Mrs. Uzo says.
The taller of the two men smiles. “That can be forgiven, I guess, considering Lagos traffic. My name is Supo Cole. And these are my colleagues, Dave, Erira and Gbolahan.”
The men all shake hands with Mrs. Uzo.
“I’m Mrs. Uzo.” She takes a deep breath. “Should we take a look?”
Supo nods. “Definitely.”
The group head toward the entrance of the building. Mrs. Uzo produces the keys and opens.
The late afternoon sun is hot. Mma Pastor and Suzie are seated in Mma’s parlour. Suzie is weeps into her hands. Mma Pastor sit watching her a while in deep thought.
“I think you’ll have to tell your mother about this.”
Suzie shakes her head. “No Mma Pastor, please. She’ll kill me.” She bursts into tears afresh. Then looks at the older woman with fear in her eyes. “You won’t tell her.”
Mma Pastor shrugs. “I won’t.” She pauses. “But she will need to know soon…”
There is a loud screeching noise from outside as that of the brakes of a car. Mma pastor jumps and runs to the curtain to check. Looks for a while. Suzie cleans her face and sniffs, indifferent to the sounds from outside. There is the sound of doors opening and banging shut.
“Oh my God!” Mma Pastor turns to look at Suzie. “Stay here.” She walks to her front door and exits.
Mma Pastor runs across the road. Her hairdressing salon staff are outside and there’s a small crowd gathered.
Mma Pastor bends over Angel whose uniform is covered in blood. “Call a taxi. Please somebody.”
Down the road in Mrs. Eke’s residence, Imoh undresses Alice and walks her into the bathroom. She helps Alice brush her teeth, and then leads her to the bath.
Mrs. Eke walks in. “Are you trying to bath her?
Imoh nods. “Yes ma.”
“What is that?” Mrs. Eke looks at Alice. “At your age, Alice!”
Alice smiles. “I like her. She uses plenty of soap.”
Mrs. Eke laughs. “Shameless girl. If your friends hear they are bathing you at this age.” Turns to Imoh. “The drycleaner is here. Go and see that he sorts the dirty clothes properly.”
“Yes ma.” Imoh curtsies and exits.
Mrs. Eke moves closer to Alice. “How do you like this new maid?”
Alice rolls her eyes. “I like her.”
“Of course she’s new so you may not really know much about her.”
“She’s nice.” Alice giggles. “She even fed me yesterday.”
Mrs. Eke tweaks Alice’s nose. “You’re a clown. You don’t know you’re not a baby anymore.”
“I’m still the baby as long as I’m the only child.”
Mrs. Eke pulls Alice closer. “Alice dear, you know sometimes we make some mistakes that are not good and we will not want to tell.” Alice nods. “I want you to tell me if Imoh does any mistake, you hear.”
“Or if you see her talking to Uncle Ade or daddy, you know.”
Alice shrugs. “Okay mummy.”
Mrs. Eke pecks Alice on the nose. “That’s my girl.” She heads for the door.
“Yes dear.” Mrs. Eke turns.
“I thought you said you won’t get another house girl unless you’re having a baby.”
Mrs. Eke flushes. “Pray for me dear.”
Mrs. Uzo and the group walk into a large empty space.
Mrs. Uzo waaves her hands in the air. “The beauty about this property is the multi-use capacity. I won’t want to miss it for the world.”
“What I just love is the space.” Supo looks at Dave. “We can finally handle our logistics ourselves with this.”
Dave nods. “It’s a bit pricey though.”
Mrs. Uzo shrugs. “You can’t get a better deal anywhere on the island. I can bet that with you.”
Supo sighs. “Well, we’ve seen it. I like it. Let me see what we can do, and we’ll get back to you.”
Mrs. Uzo clasps her hands. “And security, waste management, water and electricity is on us, remember that.”
Supo chuckles. “I will.”
They head toward the door. Mrs. Uzo’s phone rings. She smiles apologetically at Supo and the others. “Excuse me, please.” She picks the call. “Hello, Mma.” She gasps. “What?” Her face crumbles in horror. “I’m coming now.”
Supo arches his eyebrow. “Is everything alright.”
Mrs. Uzo puts her phone in her bag with trembling. “I’m sorry. I have to go now. I have to…” She rushes out.
The men rush after her. Supo calls to her. “You have to lock up.”
Mrs. Uzo turns back. “I’m sorry.”
The men leave the building. Mrs. Uzo’s hand trembles so much she can’t hold the key. Supo helps her to lock up.
Back in Mrs. Akpan’s residence, two men, Edem who is in his early twenties and Aniefiok about ten years older, enter into Mrs. Akpan’s compound and walk to Etido and Mfon. They carry overnight bags with them.
Etido shakes their hands. “Aba di e.”
Aniefiok says, “Idi o ke o.”
Edem pats Mfon’s back. “We came as soon as we could.”
Etido nods grimly. “Thank you.”
Edem looks about. “So where are they? Inside?”
“They have all gone out. But they will meet us here when they return,” Etido says.