A TALE OF FOUR WOMEN (Scratching the surface)

Ochuko walked into his father,s 11th floor office with a scowl on his face, He had been getting ready to witness  the  Formula one Monaco Grand Prix competition   in Monte Carlo when his father,s call came through, his father's voice was even less curt and harsh than usual. "Oghenochuko where have you been? " he barked, " you were supposed to be back in Nigeria since last week have you been following the news " "Dad.." he had tried responding  " you better be here by Tuesday latest " with that he hung up, that was three days ago,  dressed in a Polo T shirt and jeans Ochuko swung his long legs with confident strides as he made a beeline for his father,s office, the stir amongst the office  staff was evident, the atmosphere suddenly becoming quiet and a re echoing of "good morning sir" following him,  he ignored them all, stopping only at his father,s door to chat with the secretary a middle aged skinny woman who was standing over a young pretty woman in her early twenties typing on the keyboard with alarming speed "Ochuko he,s been waiting for you since yesterday." the woman said casually not looking away from the computer screen , he smiled feigning surprise "really!" "Morning Sir" the young lady said nervously, he saw the older woman scowl but he ignored her. "are you new here miss.."he inquired raising his eyebrow  "Jackelyn Sir..yes i am" Ochuko peered at her low cut camisole giving him ample view of her cleavage  "not bad" he half muttered to himself, " your wife has been calling, she left several messages with your father." "wife?" Ochuko queried he had almost forgotten that the traditional wedding made him a married man "yes ..Lucy i will call her " he replied shrugging nonchalantly "so chief is in." he asked tearing his eyes away from the lady,s breasts , she nodded Ochuko didn't even wait for a response before bursting into his father,s office.

His dad sat with his glasses perched on his nose, he was dressed in a neatly tailored dark suit with his bulging stomach protruding visibly from under his trouser belt . He looked up as Ochuko approached grunted noisily and continued reading the papers, "Miguo Papa" Ochuko greeted , as expected his dad ignored him, they had played this scene before, he went to the large windows and stared down at the activity below, he remembered peering through this window as a child and getting excited viewing Tin can island port visible at a distance from the view the windows exposed , dreaming of becoming a sailor that seemed like a life time ago right now. "Ochuko tell me which married man leaves his wife for three weeks without even calling" his father began after he had folded the newspapers he had been reading neatly on his table, Ochuko said nothing experience had taught him to let his father vent responding was just going to make matters worse "and to make matters worse you fly from the UK to Yemen to Mexico and then Monte Carlo making it difficult to track you down, you told me you were going to be gone for one week to attend a friends wedding and you suddenly disappear!" Ochuko kept his gaze firmly fixed on the window with his hands in his pocket trying not to get upset, he was thirty five  years  he didn't need to be scolded like a baby but his dad was still his boss  'for now' "as if all that was not bad enough it,s all over the papers that  the prostitute you,ve been parading around  for several years attempted to commit suicide because you did not tell her about your marriage with lucy ' his father continued "what!!" Ochuko screamed swinging from the window and facing his father "bring down your voice this idiot she didn't die" his head was reeling, lillian he murmured  feeling  sick to his stomach he was surprised none of his friends had  informed him, "look as i told you stay away from that girl, she is bad news and obviously mentally unstable. go and see your wife i,ve been pacifying her father since you left and i hate baby sitting.there is also the thing about that Sapetro contract meeting due for Friday, did i have  to drag you down here to remind you sometimes i wonder what will happen when i am not here to chase you around  "He muttered angrily , Ochuko knew better than to ask his dad  if he knew the hospital where Lilian was recuperating ,he would most likely  shout his ear off he was filled with a mixture of emotions and suddenly realized he missed his dark honey. He sat down and braced himself for the continuous insults he was expecting his father to throw at him.

Ndidi sat inside chicken republic itching for a smoke, she stared at the woman who sat across from her fidgeting with her bag , it had been an absolute nightmare trying to get Esther,s daughter to leave the table so the two women could speak privately, Ndidi had finally agreed to buy her a second cup of ice cream if she played video games at the cafe spot for thirty  mins, "so Nurse Ekong are we going to get to the bottom of this or not." Ndidi asked abruptly she was getting tired of the whole foot dragging  , Esther bit her lip to stop it from trembling, she stared at the woman in front of her searching for some form of sympathy ,she steeled herself as the woman,s liquid brown eyes stared back at her emotionless she took a deep breath and began her story "have you ever been married Miss Akiwu?" Ndidi raised her eyebrow and said nothing she knew when not to interrupt a dam that was about to burst "i got married fifteen years ago to Desmond he was .." her voice faltered with emotion "i thought he was my husband sent from God, he proposed after a month of meeting him and i said yes." Esther continued telling her of how naive she had been when she got married, even after Desmond was posted to kaduna, she stayed optimistic quickly adapting to a long distance arrangement plan ,traveling to visit her husband at least once in a month, it wasn't till their seventh year in marriage that she began to see the cracks, he had been re deployed back to Lagos and they were under one roof for twenty four hours she began to realize her husband was no Godly soldier bent on redemption,his exploits during the war had turned him to something else, it began with the court-martial by the army, her husband had been accused of unbelievable offenses whilst serving during the Liberian peace keeping mission, the offenses included rape , murder and armed robbery, she had given him 100% support believing the charges to be false , she remembered going on dry fast for three days, praying that God would silence all their enemies who were trying to bring them down , it was the final charge that came during the last days of  the trial that stunned her, two brothers had accused him of sodomy they had been fifteen at the time , at this point the tears rolled slowly from Esther,s face, it occurred to her that  people might be looking their way but she just felt relieved to be able to share this with  someone else, for Eight years she had kept this alongside everything else to herself, this was not the kind of information her family needed to hear, God had been her only confidante for Eight years. Ndidi felt sorry for this woman, tears rolling down uncontrollably from her eyes she reminded her of her own mother and the similarities were there, married to men they knew next to nothing about before marriage , wishfully thinking prayer was the answer to everything but staying put in that kind of marriage instead of leaving. "would you like some water?" Ndidi asked when Esther began to tremble she felt the woman needed a break to collect her thoughts together, Esther nodded gratefully.

Five minutes later when Esther had finished drinking the bottle of water she looked down at her hands clenched in a fist ."God has never ever let me down you see" she continued as if she was in a trance "i didn't believe the man God had set aside for me was a monster, i felt that maybe it was all some big mis- understanding, but anything was better than fully understanding that  i had made a huge mistake." Esther continued to tell Ndidi her tale as if she was sitting in front of some grand inquisitor , the court martial had ruled that there was insufficient evidence to give a guilty verdict but there was enough evidence to show that her husband's conduct had been dishonorable he was discharged from service ,her husband had changed considerably after that he came back at odd hours of the night reeking of alcohol and cigarette, he refused to follow them to church and started keeping mistresses by the side,"one day he came home drunk and i had challenged him tired of all the evil he was bringing into the house, tired of his immorality , i was surprised when he threw me against the wall hitting me continuously .." Esther's shoulders began to shake at this point her eyes red and lips trembling  "i thought i was going to die when i saw the blood flowing down my head, he called me all sorts of names, accusing me of being a witch in disguise, that everything bad had begun to happen to him when he met me, "where is your God" he had shouted shaking me, "where is your God now for me !",wounded i crawled to my room thanking God Grace had gone to my parents for the weekend but he was not done with me," she continued wiping her face with her hands "  he burst into the room tore my clothes and began to rape me through my anus". Ndidi gave an involuntary shudder as those words dropped from Esther,s lips of all the things she had expected not this kind of horror."i screamed from the pain as he rammed into me again and again and again and when he was done i looked up, my eight year old son favor stood at our door staring at us speechless." Ndidi got up and walked to the counter to calm her nerves, Esther had excused herself to go to the bathroom, at this point she needed to make a quick decision either to let this poor woman be , a woman who had endured this kind of ordeal or let her continue so she could chase her story, five minutes later she gulped the cold water like her life depended on it, more than ever her fingers twitched she needed a smoke. Esther came out of the bathroom with water dripping down her face, she had not even bothered to wipe her face she needed to feel the water on her skin to remind her that she was still alive, the last thirty minutes had seemed like years on a therapy session, she was beginning to like this reporter whoever she was , she could not even remember her name. She did not look at her with contempt or judgement in her eyes instead she had looked at her with pity, that she could live with, she looked at her watch turning back to check up on her daughter who was now dozing off on the computer screen at the cafe section of the eatery.

Ndidi had made up her mind, she saw when the woman had looked at her watch and turned to check for her daughter that might have been her cue to say "you can go home now " but she was determined to finish this , pain or no pain this woman had a major confession to make." so how does Rotimi play into this scenario now?" Ndidi asked prompting that scared look  she had seen initially from Esther .'Rotimi" Esther repeated wearily  sitting down , "you see Favor became his father,s re incarnation, at eleven he was already getting into fights , at thirteen he had been sent out of almost every secondary school i sent him to, his father became less and less visible in our lives, he would show up and stay for two weeks or so and be gone again, i decided to send Favor to a boarding school in Benin, i felt that maybe he would receive the discipline he so desperately needed if he was away from home, that was where he met Rotimi, they became very close, if Favor was a bad boy Rotimi was worse, i would receive calls from the Principal almost on a weekly basis on their exploits, three months ago the worst i feared came , the Principal called that the school had expelled them both , they had been accused of forming a secret cult in school, it was when a student had been injured during one of their initiation ceremonies that the truth came out, i was confused ,humiliated and distraught , luckily for me Desmond came home that night and he was in one of his good moods , i felt grateful at least there was a man in the house to handle Favor,s increasingly bad behavior, Favor and Rotimi came home the next morning, both looking rough and unkempt, we called Rotimi,s parents in Ibadan and they said they would come and pick him up the next day, Desmond was furious and for the first time i was glad he was an ex  soldier he put fear in them warning them that he would lock them up at the dungeon in the barracks if they continued the way they were going, i was on night duty that day i left for work.around 6.00 p.m ",suddenly Esther stopped talking, Ndidi leaned forward this was where she had wanted her to go all day, she had spent almost an hour with this woman she could not stop now, "what happened when you got back from work Esther?" Ndidi prodded softly, Esther,s eyes were gone "i usually come home around 6.00 a.m but i could not wait, i was anxious to check up on my son, we had already sent Grace off to my brother,s house the day before when we knew favor was coming back, i needed to have family prayers with both men under my roof , i needed God to take control in my family as we were disintegrating, i parked my car around 5.30 a.m and opened the door with my keys , the first thing i saw was the blood." Ndidi leaned closer as Esther had began to whisper at this point as if no one was supposed to hear this part of their discussion. "whose blood esther? whose blood?" "Rotimi lay naked dead on the floor, his neck had been sliced open. Desmond was crouched naked at the corner ,blood was  streaming from his hands, my fifteen year old son stood shaking with a knife in his hands , blood was everywhere" Ndidi paused to take it all in, her breath caught in her throat she could see Esther,s mind was relieving the events as if they were happening before her , her eyes looked glazed and out of it. suddenly she snapped out of it and looked at Ndidi squarely in the eye "i have forgotten your name Miss.." "Ndidi ma'am Ndidi Akiwu" "well Ndidi my son caught his father and his best friend in bed making love to each other," she narrated bluntly the tremors and emotion gone from her voice " he stabbed his friend and sliced his throat and then  stabbed his father five times on his arm, i came in just in time to stop him from making it a sixth, my husband and  i washed the blood away whilst Favor locked himself in the bathroom, we wrapped Rotimi,s body in the blood stained carpet and placed it inside desmond's truck, he told me he would deal with the body himself and we must not tell anybody about this if not favor would go to jail" " I Esther Ekong lied to his parents that Rotimi had decided to leave for home himself that morning but i knew they would never see their son again" she continued matter of factly, " i have not seen my husband since that day and my son...." she paused sighing " my son  has not said a word to me since that day, God has left my house Ndidi ,i pray to Him every night but He does not answer because that home is defiled with lies and blood and i can not surrender my son to the police ..i can't , i have no husband literally i cannot lose my son." with that Esther was done she dropped her head on the table and began to sob.

Ndidi was still parked at the car park across chicken republic forty minutes later, she had just finished her third stick of cigarette but her body was still shivering, it had taken all the self control she had in her not to express as much shock as she felt within when she  listened to Esther,s story, after Esther had calmed down she had told her exactly what she needed from her , Esther had nodded in agreement  like a zombie, she should be elated that she was finally getting what she wanted but she found herself still in a daze, without thinking twice about it she picked up her phone and called Fredrick. as soon as he picked up his line she blurted out. "I need you Fred  , i can't be alone this night." Fredrick did not even hesitate "can you drive home?" he queried "yes" "go home, take a shower and pack a few things i will come and pick you up within the hour." Fredrick,s voice was like a soothing balm, like a light in a dark twisted world, she put out the cigarette and started the engine thinking to herself, just when she thought she had heard it all more things come to light and she knew there was more to come, this was just scratching the surface.

To be continued.