She is so beautiful, he said to himself, eyeing the stick of cigarette between his fingers. And those eyes…He threw the unlit cigarette into the bushes and sighed. The crickets soon began their night time symphony, and he closed his eyes. What if he let her go? He shook his head. He was new here …and the others? He just couldn’t.
“Abeg, you get lighter there?” the gravelly voice of John or Lord Johnson as he now liked to be called, cut through his solitude. He reached into his breast pocket and brought out the small yellow lighter he picked from the general living room.
“Thank you,” Lord Johnson said, lighting his cigarette, “This girl papa no wan bring the money again?” he asked no one in particular as the thin cigarette smoke leaving his nostrils dissipated into the air.
“I think we should give him more time.”
Lord Johnson eyes softened. He clasped his big hand on Fada’s right shoulder. “You still haven’t learned to stick to Pidgin English.”
Fada made a face. “I just can’t get it to roll on my tongue the way you and the others do.”
Lord Johnson’s laughter was immediate and loud enough to cause the crickets to stop their singing for a moment. “O boy, see you O! You still never change. You think say na office you dey work?”
Fada looked back at their hideout. The cluster of small buildings around an open field where they gathered for their meetings was nothing like the gleaming offices of the oil companies he had been applying for a job for the past five years. Fada smiled and shook his head.
“No..be office work.” He agreed, stumbling through his words. Lord Johnson laughed more, the small scar on his face relaxing a little as his body shook with laughter. Fada watched his friend enjoy his clumsy Pidgin English, marveling at the change that had befallen his former best friend and classmate at the University.
“So John…” he stopped at the menacing look that returned to his friend’s face. “Lord Johnson” he corrected himself. “I think we should wait till tomorrow to hear from the girl’s father before we take the next step.”
Lord Johnson seemed to consider this before nodding.
“Okay, after tomorrow we go know wetin we go do.”
The sound of a boat being killed reached them and they turned towards the bush path that led to the compound. Fada recognized two of the others as they approached them. The sound of giggling could be heard above the men’s low guttural voices. Lord Johnson flicked the stub of his cigarette into bushes and abandoned him. As the men stepped into the light, Fada saw seven young women fan out behind them. His eyes narrowed as he took in their skimpy dresses and skirts. Lord Johnson told him about the campus girls they brought to the creeks on weekends. This was the first time he had ever seen them. The girls looked confident. After all, they were regulars at the creeks.
“The Lord!” one of them greeted Lord Johnson, throwing her trinket filled hands around his neck and wrapping herself over him like a blanket. Lord Johnson returned the favour with some groping of his own. After a few more minutes of laughter and lewdness, they all began to walk to the main house.
Fada almost choked at the strong fumes of perfumes on the chattering girls as they passed him. One of them gave him a wink. He kept his face straight, and appraised her long legs under the bright red micro mini skirt she wore. The girl whispered something into the ears of one of her cohorts and they laughed shrilly before disappearing after the men into the door of the main house.
Fada shook his head. It was difficult accepting that this was his fate. Five years at the university and he was forever banished to a life of dark swampy creeks and cheap skimpily dressed women. He thought of the girl again. She was so different. He couldn’t explain why he felt a pull to her. He wanted to see her again.
Ada looked at the room and made a sound of disgust. There were dark stains on the blue rug on the floor and the small television that stood at the far end of the room was coated in thick dust. Several old magazines crowded the center table made of cane. She pushed the bed covers away from her and pulled her knees to her chest. They should have the decency to keep the room well furnished if they collect millions of naira from families of people they kidnap! The small air conditioner made a constant buzzing noise that annoyed her.
“Stop with that buzzing!” she half screamed, picking a cardboard paper on the bed and flinging to the offending air conditioner. She collected herself when she realized that she was acting weird.
“Okay, okay Ada. Stay calm, you are not losing your mind.” She said to herself, taking deep breaths. She had no idea where she was. The men only removed her blindfold when she was thrown into the room. This was her third day in the room and the uncertainty of her fate was beginning to test her sanity. She pushed to the edge of the bed and stood on wobbly legs. She walked to the small bathroom beside the small television. For some reason, they kept the bathroom spotlessly clean. She looked at the clean towel hanging from the rod of the shower stall that one of them brought that morning. For the past three days, she had defiantly refused to make use of the toiletries they provided her. Keeping her nose in the air when they came with clean towels, food and whatever convenience they could provide her.
She looked at her disheveled appearance in the mirror and shuddered. She was a ghost of her former self. Her unusually light skin was beginning to show signs of stress. She touched the eye bags under her eyes with sensitive fingers.
“Oh Ada, you look like a mess.”
She set to work on her face, washing away the tears that had formed permanent streaks on her face. She pulled her long black hair into a tight plait at the nape of her neck and straightened the sagging neckline of her dress. She whimpered desolately when the neckline fell back to expose the more of her chest than she would have liked. She had to do anything to keep those beasts from taking notice of her body. The thought of being raped terrified her. What would her mother do if she lost her virginity now? After years of living in the United Kingdom with her virginity intact, her mother’s hope for her was to find a husband from their circle of family friends now that she was through with her university education. My daughter is still a virgin, her mother would boast to almost anyone that paid them a visit at their house after she returned back to the country.
Ada shivered again. When she was in London, she heard horror stories of how kidnapped victims were returned back to their families either raped or killed. She didn’t know if the men planned to kill her. She pulled furtively at the shoulder of her dress, attempting to tie it into a knot to keep her neckline higher than it was. At the third try she gave up, and began to brush her teeth with the small toothbrush she opened the previous day. She rinsed her mouth in the sink, and turned towards the small white porcelain bath tub, eyeing the big jar of bath soap beside it warily. When she decided that the bathtub looked harmless enough for her to experiment with, she turned the key in the lock of the bathroom door and shimmied her way out of her dress.
Twenty minutes later, feeling refreshed from her bath, she stood before the mirror, looking at herself. If only she had listened to her mother and not gone for her friend’s party escorted. She closed her eyes, reliving the terrifying moment she was overtaken by a Mercedes Benz with tinted glasses. She hadn’t had enough time to avoid the car before it blocked the road. Three masked men had dragged her screaming from the small Volkswagen bug she borrowed from her younger sister, and blindfolded her. They had driven away with her as she blindly begged for her life.
Ada jerked upright at the sound of the key turning in the lock of the bedroom door. She fumbled with the locked bathroom door in alarm. The key turned easily despite her shaky hands, and she wrenched the bathroom door open, breaking into a run. She deftly arranged herself on the bed in her usual cross legged position before the door opened. Her heart slammed against her chest as she recognized the incredibly handsome man who had been responsible for her food and toiletries.
He was tall and well built. He didn’t seem to have an ounce of fat anywhere on his body, unlike the others who came to make her talk on the phone with her father every now and then. There was an arresting quality about him that held her spell bound and tongue tied. Despite his strong square jaw, his dark long lashes gave his face a soft look that made her feel safe with him.
His hands were empty. He didn’t bring anything. Ada’s eyes widened when she saw his gaze travel to her exposed thighs. She uncrossed her legs hurriedly and set them straight in front of her, crossing her ankles. Oh God, no! She thought in fear, bracing herself for the worst. The man moved towards her, and she watched him in fear. He sat on the bed beside her and she scurried away to the farthest corner of the bed. A shadow fell across his face. He held out a hand to her. Ada began to shake. She had misjudged the man. He was no different from the rest.
“No, no please don’t touch me. Please, I’ll tell my father to pay you more than you people are asking for. Just don’t touch me.”
The man’s hand dropped lifelessly to the bed. “I am sorry. I don’t have any plans to do anything to you.” His voice was soft. Ada looked at him. He looked sincere enough for her defiance to come back.
“Who are you?” she demanded, bravely allowing a small hint of arrogance to creep into her tone. The man gave a half smile, “A friend.”
“Your name is a friend?” She asked, derisively turning her nose at him.
The man shrugged. “Maybe.”
“What do you people want from me?”
“I am not the one to answer that.”
“You are part of them.” She said in accusation. His cool attitude was galling.
Ada sighed, deflating like a burst balloon. She was too tired and terrified to intimidate anybody, much less one of her kidnappers. “I want to go home,” she said forlornly. The man’s company seemed to do something for her emotions. Her brimmed with tears. “I just want to go home.” She said in a whisper, looking down at the bed. The man seemed to hesitate a second before he closed the distance between them.
Ada couldn’t help but feel strangely comforted as he wrapped his arms around her. Just as suddenly as the storm gathered, she felt it lift again. The irony, she thought solemnly, one of my kidnappers is holding me in his arms. She settled more into the embrace, and her nostrils twitched in curiosity as she caught a whiff of his tangy scent. It was oddly familiar, like the cologne one of her best friend Emeka liked to use. It reminded her of the basic comforts she enjoyed at home.
Oh Ada, when last did you use a nice perfume?
She knew she didn’t smell half as good as the man that held her and she didn’t care. If they hadn’t forcefully taken her handbag from her, she would have at least had the small bottle of body mist she kept handy for emergency dates.
Fada thought he was in a dream. The girl’s face was buried in his neck. He felt a familiar throb of desire and made a grimace.
No Lord, not now. Not when she is beginning to trust me.
He caught a faint smell of her perfume and inhaled deeply. She still smelled good. It didn’t matter that she had been wearing the same dress for three days.
Time seemed to pass as they held on to each other. She seemed to be struggling to fit into his body and he cursed himself for his weakness. Fada decided that he had done enough comforting. If she moved again, he didn’t think he had the will power to stop from touching her. He pulled back from her, but she followed him. He cleared his throat.
“I have to go now.”
The girl snapped back to her sitting position so fast that he thought he imagined her in his arms a few seconds ago.
“Sorry.” She mumbled quietly, looking mortified. He gave her a reassuring smile and stood up with difficulty. Thankfully, she didn’t see the bulge in his trousers. She looked everywhere but at him.
“Have you heard from my father?” she asked, still looking away.
She looked up at him with eager eyes. “What did he say?”
Fada struggled with himself. He wanted to tell her what agreement was reached with her father, but he knew it was against the rules. He shook his head, hating himself as disappointment clouded her beautiful eyes.
“You will soon be out of this place.” He promised her, but she kept her face averted. Fada thought she looked as if she was going to burst into tears soon. He thought about the boat moored at the mouth of the creek, and shook his head again. He had to get out of the room before he did something foolish. He left the room quietly, leaving her to herself again.
The night was still. The crickets seemed to have exhausted themselves for the day. Fada leaned on the wall of the building he just left, trying to get back his composure. He couldn’t risk letting his attraction for the girl show. He cursed fate. Why did she bring the woman of his dreams to him at this stage of his life?
He heard footsteps approaching him and looked up. Lord Johnson was walking towards the house where the girl was. He tried to stay where he was. Barring Lord Johnson from entering the house was a very bad idea. His former best friend stopped in front of him, waving an expensive blackberry phone before his face.
“The deal has been done.” He said with a triumphant smile. They had just netted a forty million naira fortune. Fada opened his mouth wide. He had no idea the girl’s father was that rich. He had no idea that a job could fetch so much.
“So he will pay the money?” he asked incredulously. Lord Johnson nodded briskly and reached past him to open the door to where the girl was. Fada heard their low exchange, although Lord Johnson did most of the talking. The door opened a few minutes later, and his friend came out.
“Tomorrow morning we drop our cargo, and collect our cash.” He said, draping a friendly arm around Fada. “You see how easy it is.” He walked with Fada to the main house. “We should celebrate.”
“Yes, we should.” Fada said, looking back in regret at where the girl was. Now, her impending freedom made him sad.
Ada pressed her nose against the tinted glass, feeling both fear and relief. The men didn’t tell her where they were taking her to, but she was happy to be anywhere else but that dingy room. With a sigh, she settled back into her seat. The other three occupants of the car were very quiet. She looked at her favourite kidnapper. He didn’t seem to notice that she was there. He was the only one of the men who didn’t wear a mask. She admired his high cheekbones. If only the circumstances were different, she thought wistfully. Even though, she was a virgin, she was curious about intimacy. The man beside her was everything she had always dreamed of in a lover.
The car screeched to a halt, jolting her from her fantasies. “Park here!” one of the men in front barked to the driver of the car. Ada looked at the uncompleted building before them in apprehension. They hadn’t gone far from their hideout, and the bushes that flanked the road added to her discomfort. The man in the front passenger seat got out of the car, and opened the door for her.
“Get out!” he commanded gruffly, holding her hand bag in his hand. Ada obeyed. Now she was shaking so bad that she was sure she heard her bones clanking loudly against each other. The man grabbed her arm and marched her towards the house. She looked back to the car. The subject of her fantasies was just stepping out of the car. Their eyes met, Ada wasn’t sure if he smiled at her or not. Fear clouded her senses. She was pulled to a stop near the entrance of the uncompleted building. It was then she saw the bag. A brand new designer bag that only her mother could have picked stood at the threshold of the building. The man holding her, released his iron grip on her, and picked up the bag. He marched towards her, and flung her handbag at her feet without a word. Ada turned to watch him go.
“What about me?” she squeaked after him, but the man was already entering the car. Ada caught the look of the man who held her the night before. This time she was positive that she saw him smile before he entered the Mercedes with the rest of the gang and sped off. Ada realized that her ransom her been paid, and sagged in relief. Last night, the intimidating man who informed her of the decision to set her free didn’t tell her anything about the ransom being paid.
“Thieves!” she shouted at the cloud of dust left behind by their speeding car. She picked her bag from the ground in indignation, and waited for the car she knew would soon pick her up. Her parents were not the kind to leave things to fate. Soon enough, she recognized the white Land Cruiser jeep her mother favoured speeding towards her.
“About time,” She muttered to herself, walking towards the car.
Ada sidestepped the plastic cups littering the massive living room with a frown. Her mother didn’t know when to stop throwing parties. She nodded to the one of their maids as the woman picked the plastic cups from the ground. It had been three weeks since her kidnappers released her, and every day since then, their twenty bedroom mansion was always alive with legions of humans who came to celebrate her freedom and load their bellies with choice cuisines and wines. She saw her mother deep in conversation with a woman she didn’t recognize at the other end of the living room.
“Adamma, where are you going to?”
Ada rolled her eyes. She was beginning to feel worse than a prisoner these days. “Mum!” she exclaimed in exasperation. “I have a guest waiting for me outside.”
“Biko, you just came back. We can’t afford to lose you again.” Her mother called from where she stood. Ada rolled her eyes again and pulled the massive oak door open. Her jaw almost dropped to the floor at the sight before her eyes.
“You!” was all she could manage. After three weeks of thinking about him, he was standing at her door with an unsure smile. She looked past him to the uniformed guards that manned the gates of the compound. The phone call from the gate didn’t warn her of August visitors.
“How did you get here?”
“I have my ways.”
Ada looked at him in wonder. The man had guts! She didn’t know what her mother would do if she found out that she was well within the reach of one of her kidnappers again. He was exactly the way she remembered him, only that he looked nothing like a kidnapper. His light green polo shirt molded his lean fit body perfectly. He looked just like any normal man. A highly successful one too, she noted, looking at his expensive loafer shoes.
“Ada, who is that?” her mother called from behind her. She looked into the eyes of her guest. He gave a slow smile, challenging her.
“A friend,” She said after a long pause, her eyes never leaving his face. It was hard to despise him for what he was. Besides, he was her only friend during her kidnap ordeal. “Aren’t you scared that I might expose you and have the police arrest you?” she asked, her chin going up a notch higher.
He shrugged. “Maybe,” he said with a small chuckle. “I just had to take the risk to see you again.”
Ada’s mouth twitched with a smile and she almost kicked herself. Who finds the sight of a kidnapper this pleasurable? I need help!
“So,” he continued, angling his head a little to the side. “Are you going to invite me into your house?”
Ada crossed her arms against her chest, watching the way the light of the dying sun danced in his eyes. “I might let you in if you tell me your name.”
Ada laughed. “Father?” she asked, shaking her head at him.
“Yes, but it is spelled f…a…d…a”
Ada stopped laughing when she realized that he was serious. “Okay, Fada,” she said, stepping aside to let him enter the house. “You can come in.”
“Are you sure?”
“Are you scared?”
Fada grinned. “Come into my parlour, says the spider to the fly.”
Ada laughed, and shot him a sly look. “At least I am not a kidnapper.”
Fada greeted the pretty elderly woman the girl introduced as her mother, feeling trepidation as he followed her up a winding staircase to another wing of the house. What if he miscalculated and the girl decided to turn him over to the police? After leaving his new found job and making an enemy of his former best friend, Fada prayed his sacrifice was worth it. He watched her push the door to a spacious living room. For three weeks, he had gone over every detail of her face and body in his mind’s eye, but she looked better than he could ever imagine. Her complexion was glowing and full of health again. Gone was that hounded look that was with her in the creeks. Her hair was in a loose bun at the nape of her neck, leaving a few tendrils to frame her face. She sat down on one of the cream leather sofas arranged in a semi circle round a small glass center table, unsuccessfully pulling the hem of her skirt to cover her exposed thighs.
“Sit.” She commanded, patting the sofa where she sat. Fada obeyed with a smile. He didn’t care if her slept in a police cell that night. Being close to her was heaven.
“So, are you still a kidnapper?”
She didn’t seem to believe him. “How is that possible? Three weeks, and you are no longer a kidnapper?”
“I admire your guts you know.”
“So what do you want?”
Fada thought about it. “I don’t know.” He said with a rueful smile.
Fada watched her watch him. He had a gut feeling that the girl sitting across liked him. If she let him into her house despite the fact that he had a hand in her disappearance weeks ago, then that said something. He wanted to tell her his story. How she was his first and last kidnap victim. How the quest for a job five years after graduating from the university had led him to the creeks. But he wasn’t a man of many words. He just had faith. He knew he had been right in giving up everything to come after her.
“Are you ever going to go back to being a kidnapper?”
Fada was sure about that one. “No.”
She sighed, and then smiled at him. “So, do you like wines?”
He smiled. “I drink but I need to stay sober for this.”
She looked at him perplexed. “For what?”
Fada breathed deeply and looked into her eyes, “I am thinking of returning back my share of the twenty million your father paid to free you.”
Ada was quiet for some time. “But will it change anything?” she asked when she finally found her voice.
Fada shrugged. “Maybe not, but I will feel better about myself.”
“But I don’t know how my parents will take your decision,” Ada said, looking towards the closed door. “If my mum knows who you are, she will be calling the police.”
Fada didn’t look too enthusiastic about getting into trouble with the police. “Maybe I can just leave the money with you.”
Ada didn’t know why but she felt sorry for the man sitting opposite her. She reached for the hand resting on sturdy looking thighs. “You don’t have to,” she said, removing her hand when he looked down at it in surprise. “My parents will ask questions and I don’t want the money back.”
Fada smiled slowly. “You know I really like you.”
Ada said nothing. She just sat there watching him. A part of her knew Fada’s place was in her heart. Somehow this man, who had been part of the gang that kidnapped her, was the missing piece of puzzle that would make her life complete.