THE KINGDOM OF TA-SET
THE CITY OF QU-STUL
THE TEMPLE OF THE GODDESS
“Where dwells your mind Neferet? Why do your eyes look upon a distant place?”
Neferet’s smile dropped as Nemothi, one of the new temple attendants dropped beside her on the raised pavement of the courtyard. Neferet could not help but feel a mild annoyance at the intrusion on her private moment. Since her arrival at the temple at the opening of the year, Nemothi had formed a habit of stalking her, often appearing from shadows and every corner with a happy wave and a ready smile.
There was enough innocence in the almond shaped eyes of the new attendant to allay Neferet’s suspicions about Nemothi’s motives, yet Neferet held off from forming a friendship with her. She was a native of the city and Neferet did not want to make any more friends from the city. It was part of her new resolve to form bonds with the women from her land who had slowly taken root in the kingdom instead of the women of the city who her brothers, the men of Eshunna had condemned to the everlasting fire for worshipping the goddess.
Nemothi’s face clouded with disbelief. The dimples framing her mouth disappeared with her smile.
Shaking her head, she picked the skirt of her linen dress and fanned her legs. The air was beginning to heat up with the afternoon sun, causing the inhabitants of the city to yearn for the evening storms and its rains.
“It is something that brings the smile to your face Neferet. Tell me what it is.”
Her eyes lighting with another teasing smile, she bumped shoulders with Neferet.
“Is it a new lover? Is it the thought of him that causes you to blush like one prepared for the marriage bed?”
“No Nemothi,” Neferet said, jaw tightening with irritation. “It is nothing.”
The two attendants fell silent, looking ahead at the group of musicians chatting farther down the courtyard. Nemothi’s eyes were soon on Neferet, narrowed and contemplating as they watched her.
“What do you think of Neb?”
Neferet frowned. “What manner of question do you ask Nemothi?”
Leaning closer to the girl she hoped to befriend, Nemothi’s voice dropped to a conspiratorial whisper. “Surely you know she carries on in the manner of the goddess,” A flash of dislike crossed Nemothi’s eyes and her lips curved downwards, “turning up the chin in the bath house as though she were above and us beneath.”
Neferet studied the expression on Nemothi’s face, her guard lowering a little. She saw in the bright eyes of the new attendant a potential ally.
“She is the first maiden of the goddess, her station is far above yours.”
Neferet paused, frowning as she pondered Nemothi’s question. Had she heard a hint of mockery in the voice of the younger girl? She was still lost in thought when Nemothi transformed to the wide eyed innocent Neferet knew.
“You have heard word of the woman at the city well?”
Returning her gaze to the musicians, Neferet stroked her hair.
“The one who cries all day against the goddess, condemning us all to the eternal fire for refusing to bow to that strange god Enkil.”
Neferet’s hand stilled on her hair and she let it fall forward, hiding her smile behind it. Tef-Nut, the crier at the well had become her best friend. During the days when she found freedom from the confines of the temple, she and Tef-nut with the dozens of other women from Eshunna who had found their way to the city prepared meals of dates and honey, lentils with beans and chick peas for Ahmose and his men.
“They preach a strange custom Neferet. They say their god Enkil makes a slave of the goddess in Eshunna, Per-Uto and other lands. They call the ones born in the temple evil and say they must be thrown in the fire. I fear for the city Neferet.”
Pushing upright and dropping the hand supporting her weight from the pavement, Neferet pursed her lips together and pretended to study the smooth surface of the ground. She gloated at Ahmose’s imminent victory over the goddess and glowed inwardly at the thought of the people bowing and scraping before her procession as they filled the air with cries of Nebet! She Neferet would be female lord, ruling beside Ahmose over the people of this strange city just as the oracle of her family had divined.
“Do you not fear Neferet?”
Neferet pretended not to hear Nemothi’s question. Pulling her feet back to the pavement, she jumped to her feet.
“Apologies Nemothi, but I must prepare for the evening ritual.”
Her shoulders drooping slightly, Nemothi nodded slowly, disappointment in her big eyes.
“Farewell then dear Neferet. We will meet here at the night hour when the goddess and the crone goddess sit.”
Neferet said nothing, hurrying away in the direction of her bedchambers. She had lied to the talkative Nemothi. The hour for the preparation of the evening ritual was still far off. It was the thought of her husband’s strong arms that quickened her steps so that she did not see or acknowledge Hetep when he broke out of the shadows leading to the chamber of the goddess.
Behind her disappearing form, Nemothi was straightening her spine, her eyes no longer round like saucers. Her palms flat on the pavement, her fingers beat a steady beat as she turned over the conversation with Neferet in her mind. She had seen the secretive smile Neferet thought she hid behind the curtain of her hair and the veiled attempt to claim equal authority with Neb-Het.
The chief warrior priestess smiled in her disguise. Heaving gently to her feet, she dusted her calloused hands and straightened her dress. She walked, her feet barely making a sound, past the row of columns and down the long passage that led to the spiralling steps where several like her waited in the darkness of their chambers.
The dying light of the sun escaped through the window, casting a golden hue on Neferet’s skin as she sat naked before her husband, trying to stir his desire.
“You do not want to lay with me?”
Neferet regretted the petulance in her tone and tried to remedy it with a confident shrug of her shoulders.
“Then I must not burden my lord with such matters.”
As she reached for her dress at the foot of the bed, Neferet’s heart sank at the silence behind her. She had hoped for a better reception. It was almost a moon since Ahmose had allowed her in his bed. Her heart was troubled.
Had he taken another wife?
“Your silence wounds me my lord,” she said, struggling her with the straps of her dress. “It is as though you do not find me pleasing as in the past.” Tears glistened in her eyes when she turned to face him. “If you have taken a bride of the women of Eshunna or this city, tell me that I may have peace.”
The frown on Ahmose’s face eased. Drawing in a long sigh, he pulled the hand cradling his head and sat up in his bed.
“Forgive me Neferet.”
Reaching one hand out to her, he pulled her into his arms. Neferet went willingly to him, settling with relief against his chest. Ahmose stroked her hair, his voice low and soothing as he caressed her.
“I have desire for you Neferet, but other matters of great import do not allow me time for such pleasures.”
“You have taken no wife then?”
Guilt distracted Ahmose and he could not help thinking of the feverish kisses he had exchanged with Qalhata several nights before. He remembered with anger and irritation at himself how she had stolen his amulet. He knew it was her who had taken it the following morning when he had found it missing from the niche above his bed. It had been her plan all along. Their lovemaking had just been a way to divert his attention.
A soft knock on the door signalled the end of their meeting. Ahmose rose from the bed and tightened the belt of his skirt. A voice came from the other side of the door.
“Master, the men…they await your presence at the court.”
Reminded by her impending departure of her conversation with Nemothi, Neferet strolled to meet Ahmose as he picked up a parchment of papyrus from the table on the stone beside one of his large windows.
“I had word with one of the new attendants.”
She told him of Nemothi’s endless worship, exaggerating with careless abandon the ability of the other attendant to materialize from dark corners.
“She creeps on silent feet O Ahmose, like a messenger of the underworld,” she said with a giggle and a shake of her head. “She is as one denied a chance at childhood.”
Squatting beside the oil lamp on the table, Ahmose unfurled the parchment in his hands, nodding at Neferet and the dark markings depicting the entire city at the same time.
“And she is a daughter of the city?”
Ahmose rolled back the parchment into a scroll. Faint lines marred the smoothness of his forehead.
“You must be careful Neferet. Trust none in the temple.”
Scorn in her voice, Neferet shrugged off her husband’s warnings.
“I have no fear of the goddess or the ones in the temple.” Imitating the fierceness of her people, she squared her shoulders. “They are nothing before Enkil. They will be destroyed in due time.”
Ahmose sighed. “We yearn for victory Neferet but we must match the goddess in cunning lest we lose the war.”
Neferet cupped her husband’s chin, strength flowing from her into him.
“We cannot lose the war. You will be lord over this land. It is divined.”
The passion in her voice made Ahmose to pause in his speech. He could not help wishing for a moment that he could force himself to love her, to kill whatever memory remained of him and Qalhatta and embrace the warmth of her love.
“We will,” he said at last with a smile. “The city will be ours and the great god Enkil will reign.”
The sun had completely disappeared when Neferet stole out of Ahmose’s chambers into the courtyard where Ua-Zit and the other men waited. Stopping to greet them and the handful of new converts in their midst, she played hostess, one eye on the rapidly darkening sky. When it was time to go, she bowed before Ahmose, devotion and hope in her eyes. Ahmose returned her look of devotion, his heart firmly fixed on the woman who had stolen his amulet.
THE PALACE OF THE GODDESS
They sat in a semi-circle, surrounding the still figure of Qalhata. There were hundreds of them, females varying in sizes, all united by the oath of service that bound them to their goddess. All were young with the unblemished faces of those just yet to see their moon blood, yet they had lived for several hundreds of moons, their youth kept alive with the spell of immortality contained within the walls of the holiest of chambers.
They were the ones bound to the earth, watching over generations of goddesses past and those to come. It had been two moons since they travelled by air on each side of the crone goddess on the night of her return to the temple from the city of Opis. The chief among them, she who was called Nemothi sat at the head of the semi-circle, waiting for Qalhata to come out of her trance.
A loud gasp resounded through the room as Qalhata regained consciousness. Several tremors ran through her body. Her breasts, stretched thin and full, glistened with oil and shook with her movements. Flopping forward, she endured the last of the tremors and opened her eyes slowly, taking in without any hint of expression the silent warrior priestesses before her.
“They gather again in the palace of Ahmose,” Qalhata said, drawing backwards and sitting ramrod straight in her lotus position. “They plan to attack the city.”
“They swell in ranks,” Ishurti, the second to Nemothi spoke from the left side of Nemothi, her face red from the glow of the burning coals at the feet of the goddess. “They gain new converts each day. We wait at our own peril.”
“We wait but with good cause,” Qalhata answered, a hint of darkness in her dark brown eyes. “He waits too. His men ask for an order but he waits. He sets a trap, I am certain of it.” Inclining her head towards the chief warrior priestess, she sought to know her progress with the task given to her.
“She holds in contempt the ways of the goddess,” Nemothi said, eyes meeting Qalhata’s own. “Her loyalty is with the people of Eshunna.”
The goddess nodded, a bland smile on her face.
“She thinks herself equal with Neb,” Nemothi continued, a sneer staining her features, “and perhaps the goddess.”
Qalhata’s hands clenched into fists on her knees. She wanted badly to destroy the woman who had betrayed her trust, yet she knew the time was not yet ripe to exact vengeance. The safety of the city was greater than her personal vendetta against Neferet. Dragging in a deep breath, she quieted the raging in her soul.
“Perhaps, but she will be broken in due course.”
The meeting went on well into the early hours of the morning. Qalhata would slip into a trance every now and then, chanting instructions from the goddess while the warrior priestesses listened in rapt silence. It was an hour to dawn when they dispersed from the holiest of chambers, one by one did they go, disappearing into thin air and leaving their goddess behind. As they went, not one of them mentioned the unusual habit they noticed while in the holiest of chambers – how the goddess would run a gentle hand against her lower belly. Not one of them shared what they were thinking, but in their ancient hearts they knew that the goddess was with child.
MARCH 2 2015
The woman stood beside the sleeping figure of a young woman, eyes transfixed on the up and down motion of the woman’s body as she lay unconscious on the bed. The curtain fluttered and the woman standing beside the bed appeared to roll her eyes when she saw the men who emerged from the curtains. Crossing her arms against her chest, she turned to them.
“Do you not see the futility of what you do? The Great Spirit wills my freedom.”
One of the men, dark skinned and bald headed now that he had along with his partner adopted the outward appearance of the men of the city, smiled mirthlessly but said nothing. The woman laughed then, her young face transforming quickly into that of an old woman. Her teeth flashed in a ferocious grin at the men. The men, standing at over seven feet, stood motionlessly as she began to pace the room, her sheathed blue linen dressed whipping frantically against her ankles.
“You cannot stop me,” she hissed at the men, pointing a bony crooked finger in their direction. “I come to exact vengeance, to take that which is mine.”
The men maintained their silence. The one who had spoken walked in his well starched white skirt tucked into a pair of black trousers to stand at the head of the bed beside the sleeping woman.
“I will destroy her,” the old woman seethed, her finger moving from the window to point sideways at the bed. “I will leave her to suffer on this realm and take him who belongs to me.”
The other man at the window, equally dark skinned but dressed in the flowing robe of the men he had seen trudging to their Friday prayers a few days ago frowned with impatience at the woman.
“You will do no such thing. It is the Great Spirit who wills the affairs of men.”
The old woman laughed bitterly. “This Great Spirit, is it the same that watched while she,” her hand swung to the bed again. Spittle formed at the corners of her mouth, “pushed the knife into my neck and the heart of my beloved?”
The man at the window said nothing.
“This great spirit,” the old woman began to rock back and forth on her heels, centuries of pain pouring through her ghostly form, “what is it? Is it the goddess Nekhbet, the goddess Inanna or the god Enkil, Amen-Ra and Akhenaten? What is this Great Spirit? Was it not He who divined my victory? Who is it, this Great Spirit that you speak of?”
Compassion flooded the face of the man at the window. Love flowed from him towards the old woman and touched her tortured soul. Calm appeared on her face, but it was fleeting. Hatred soon returned, penetrating the air in the room with gloom. The woman continued her rant.
“You cannot stop me,” she shrieked, marching to the mirror beside the wardrobe and hurling against it a round flat sided bottle of perfume which she picked on the shelf beside it.
The man at the window stretched a hand towards the mirror, sending a wave of silence that sucked into its core the loud shattering sound of glass meeting glass. The woman on the bed moved in her sleep, a frown crossing her features. The man beside her, stroked her hair and muttering soothing words. The old woman left with another loud shriek, flying in a fit of rage through the window. She was followed by the man at the window. Together they floated under the dark morning sky towards the island part of the city.
Back in the room, the other man straightened from beside the sleeping woman and walked to pick up the perfume bottle from where it laid on the carpeted floor. Afterwards he melted into the shadows, leaving only his presence for the discerning.
I wake up to find my phone beeping tiredly at a frequency of two minutes beside my head. Stretching until my limbs feel sore, I reach for it and find the accusing face of my alarm clock. It is an hour past the set time. Feeling lethargic, I sit up in bed and yawn. Outside the window is the usual assortment of sounds. I focus on them for a few seconds before my mind strays to the dream of last night. A thread of unease travels up my spine, causing the hairs at the back of my neck to stand as I dredge up the image of the old woman standing beside my bed and pointing at me. There had been another too – an impossibly tall man with the kindest expression I have ever seen.
I remember the fear, the paralysis as I watched the old woman threaten me in a spattering of strange words. The tall man had been beside me, stroking my head and dispelling my fear with gentle words. I squeeze my eyes shut and try remember his words, but my mind is silent and unhelpful. Giving up with a loud sigh, I begin to lift my weight off the bed. That is when I see it. That jagged line running like a scar in the middle of the mirror across the room. I walk to the mirror, surprised by the sight of the crack. I touch it lightly, recalling how I had stood before it massaging the costly Clarins lotion from the set I bought the previous month with half of my salary.
“I don’t get it. When…what…”
Minutes later, I am still clueless and nowhere near the answer to the questions swirling in my head. Stepping back from the mirror, I lower my head sideways and study the crack with a tilted vision. I think of my sisters and heave a sigh of relief.
“It must be them.”
I meet the suspects chatting in the passage outside my room, colourful slips of nightgown making them an inverted rainbow.
“Who broke my mirror?”
Three pairs of eyes widen incredulously at the same time.
“Who broke what?”
“What is this one saying?”
I look from face to face, determined to solve the puzzle of my broken mirror.
“You heard me.” I clap my hands for emphasis. “My mirror.”
Theresa a.k.a Triss laughs and shakes her head.
“Irima, you are so weird sometimes. Why would anyone want to break your mirror?”
Celia and Martha giggle in support of Theresa a.k.a Triss and I watch them turn away from me with a renewed sense of horror.
Someone was in my room last night and it wasn’t my sisters.
I turn back to look at the half open door of my room with dread. A minute by minute replay of the dream sets off another panic attack.
It probably wasn’t even human.
I am startled out of my reverie and stare in confusion at the sight of Yetunde wielding a black object beside my desk. My disoriented mind soon makes out the object to be my intercom receiver.
“Your phone has been ringing,” she says, dropping the receiver back to the cradle with a loud clang. “Why are you so absent minded today?”
I sigh and shake my head, but the heaviness is still there, firmly latched to the coils of my brain and doing its best to drain all energy from me.
“It’s this meeting with the MD and this thing about moving to Gradias.” I shake my head again. “I don’t know how I feel.”
An indignant rap of keys rises from the direction of Becca’s desk and then the office becomes quiet. Yetunde and Joyce turn in expectation towards her. I turn too.
“You really need to stop,” she says, her tone stern and reprimanding. “You are going to work in an oil company, not going to serve a jail sentence at Kirikiri.”
I make a face, “but I don’t want to go.”
“Why not?” Becca says, throwing her hands up, exasperation on her face.
I look down at my desk and draw invisible circles with the tip of my nails.
“I wish I knew.”
“Must be the salary,” Joyce pipes from her desk, a snicker accompanying her words. “She is going to miss her seventy k.”
Becca and Yetunde laugh. The sound eases the tension away from my shoulders. I join them, coughing out choking laughter until my chest begins to ache.
“Anyway,” Yetunde says when she stops laughing. “They said to tell you that the driver is coming for you in fifteen minutes.” I watch her duck behind her computer and come back up. “Five minutes gone so you have just ten minutes left.”
My laughter fades and I look helplessly at Becca who says,
“Think of it as a short term loan, and besides one of us will be richer. You know what that means.”
There is a collective whoop of excitement. I listen to the happy noise and try to fight my sense of foreboding.
The secretary’s step were smart and efficient as she entered the office of her boss. Her figure filled out nicely in her sleeveless silhouette dress and her hair hung loose around her shoulders, framing her face. She had taken great care that morning to look her best as she always did with the hope that the man of her dreams would notice her efforts. In her arms were the files her boss had rang her for. He was at his desk, chair turned in the opposite direction as he laughed softly into his phone. Dropping the files on the table, she waited patiently for him to end his conversation.
“Sir,” she said when he did. He turned in his chair and popped his eyebrow at her. She pointed to the files now on his desk. “The files.”
The man looked down, head nodding as he acknowledged the files.
“And the lady Irima…she is here.”
The secretary watched with a rising sense of bewilderment as her boss appeared to freeze at her words. Her guess had been correct after all. There was something going on between the two. Anger and disbelief caused her heart to constrict painfully.
What could he possibly like about the girl? She is not his type.
“Okay. Have you shown her what to do?”
“I don’t know what she is supposed to do sir.”
The man flipped one of the files open. “She will be my personal assistant now. Someone has to help you with work around here.”
The secretary’s heart sank, crying out at the same time,
But I don’t mind, I really don’t mind.
“And her office?”
“Your office is big enough for now. We’ll put her somewhere with time.”
Nodding woodenly, the secretary gave her boss a tight smile.
Calm and collected as she exited the office, the secretary hid her turmoil from the duo of senior executives she met at the door as they hurried in for a meeting with her boss. She was still calm when she exchanged an awkward smile with the new occupant of her office.
“I hope you are okay,” she said, her smile genuine and open. At the other woman’s nod, she reached with shaking hands for the mobile phone on her desk. Her fingers swiped the screen in quick strokes, searching for a number. It was there on her call list. Number ten. The name beside the number said former comp.
The secretary typed a quick message to the number.
The chick I told you about. She is here again and he has made her his personal assistant. I think they are dating or something. When did you say you were coming again?
It’s been two hours since the soft spoken IT technician with a British accent introduced me to the sleek Sony VAIO computer, setting up my official email account and doing his best to dispel my doubts about my adeptness at understanding the technicalities of a touchscreen computer. The nostalgia at the memory of my trusted, uncomplicated Dell computer at Peachway Assurance has waned, leaving me hollow and a little intimidated. I blink in quick succession to get rid of the burning sensation in my eyes. Pulling my eyes away from the screen to ease the strain, I run into a pair of watchful eyes. It is the ever smiling secretary. The one who has been tasked with overseeing my absorption into the company fold. I quirk my lips upwards to return her smile, marvelling at her ability to keep her lips stretched for hours.
I shake my head. “Not really.”
Her smile turns sympathetic. “Sorry about that. You will get used to it all in due time.”
Her lips part as she begins to say something but the phone on her desk rings. I sit back in my incredibly soft leather chair and listen without reserve to her conversation.
I follow the eyes that scan her desk until they rest on a pile of plastic files.
“They are here….you want her to bring it?”
The secretary’s eyes lift to my own.
I do not wait for her prodding. Slipping my feet into my shoes just as she lowers the receiver to the cradle, I stand up and smoothen my skirt before walking confidently to collect the files she stretches out towards me. At his door, I knock once and walk into his office.
He is at his desk, completely relaxed and watchful in his leather swivel chair as I approach him. His right hand is propped on the arm rest of his chair, a small shining object rolling between the knuckles. When I go closer, I realize it is a coin, a small foreign coin. It disappears and pops out through his knuckles as his eyes attempt to pierce through me. I hold myself up, refusing to buckle under the weight of his appraisal. His left hand lifting lazily from the other arm rest of his chair, he points me to one of the chairs at his desk.
I almost balk at his commanding tone but cold reality slaps me in the face.
He is now your boss. Sit down.
I swallow my pride and obey the prompting of my inner voice, but first I let the files fall to the table with a loud, satisfying thud.
Our little induction ceremony is marked by monosyllabic responses and a stilted narration at my pressing. I study her body language the entire time, noting how stiffly she holds herself. Her gaze is direct and almost challenging. It was almost as if she is daring me, calling me out on the decision to bring her over to the company. In response, I stretch her job description, adding more responsibilities to the ones marked out in my journal.
“You are expected at my place every morning to go over the tasks for the day.”
Her chin lifts slightly and I can almost sense her struggling with herself.
“You have objections?”
There is a small pause and then she shakes her head.
I reel out several more requirements, enjoying her lack of dissent with every silent nod. There will be no room for mistakes, I tell her, putting more weight on her with every impossible task. I toss the money at her, quoting a figure I know is seven times more than what she earned at her insurance company. I wait for the profuse thanks but get a cold stare instead. I smile within and think how much fun this will be.
“Omoni will put you through what needs to be done.”
“We are done.”
There is a feminine swagger to her steps when she leaves. I watch her walk, judging her fashion sense and the stretchy material of the skirt clinging to her round backside. Leaning forward to my desk when the door closes behind her, I make a note in my journal. I stare at the entry for several long minutes and feel myself brim with sadistic pleasure. When the gloating wears off, I pick up my phone and call Harry.
“So when is he coming in?”
“Oh…with the evening flight tomorrow.”
I call Jude next to confirm my visit to his place. He tells me about a group of female friends he is inviting over to his place. The news does little for me and I find myself talking him out of his plans.
“Fine then. What do you want to do?”
“I just want a quiet night. My partner is coming from London tomorrow. I need my shit together before he comes.”
“Okay. I guess we’ll just sit indoors and bore ourselves out with office talk.”
I get off the phone with Jude and lose myself in my thoughts. The year was proving to be a challenging one. The falling naira and the falling oil prices had dealt quite a blow on the company’s assets. It didn’t help that I had a partner whose decisions were costing the company huge losses. Joseph Umana had played his part in my life. It was time for him to go.
I wait until the driver zooms out of the compound with her before I slip into my Mercedes. The highway is quite free when I enter it. I enjoy this freedom until I get to the toll gate and meet a long queue of cars. The wait is long but I am kept entertained by the open flirty smiles of a rather young woman driving a Toyota Camry in the next lane. When it is time to go, she gestures wildly to the street kerb and makes pleading faces. I turn her down with a wink and a shake of head. We lose each other at Ozumba Mbadiwe when she turns into Law School junction and I speed westwards towards the link bridge. I enter Banana Island twenty minutes later and the loud hubbub of the city falls back. There, the streets are quiet, the ambience peaceful. I roll down my windows as I drive, lean sideways to the open window and drag in a lungful of fresh air.
My bliss is shattered in the next second when I notice the flash of white breaking into my view. Adrenalin surging through me, I press down on my brake just as the panic in the woman’s eyes registers in my mind. I hear the screeching of tires and smell acrid smell of burning rubber. The Mercedes performs a series of spins, and I wrestle with the steering, trying to control it. Somehow I win and the dizzying dance is halted by the edge of a raised kerb.
The world settles down after what seems like eternity. Concerned faces spring up beside the car and hands reach out to offer me help.
“Oga is everything alright?”
“Sir, what happened?”
I wave away their concerns with a confident smile.
“I am fine. It was…”
I stop and frown.
The woman! Was she okay?
“The woman,” I look past the men to the darkened intersection of the long winding road where I had seen the woman step into the path of my car. “Where is she?”
The group of men who from their uniforms appear to be security guards, exchange looks and then shake their head at me in confusion.
“There was a woman,” I tell them, pointing backwards, “She walked into my path.”
“We didn’t see any woman.”
I want to insist but the conviction on their faces makes me change my mind. Thanking them and assuring them once again that I had suffered no injuries from the accident, I kick the Mercedes into reverse and cut back into the intersection where the accident had happened. At the intersection, there is only a stretch of road turning into a crescent. There is no sign of the woman or a body.
I swirl my glass, watching intently as the bubbling brown liquid inside sloshes against the glass. Jude has given up trying to make me talk about the accident and the mysterious woman. Slumped in his seat, he gulps down a large amount of alcohol and wriggles the leg balanced on his left knee.
“That girl…the one from the insurance company, you are keeping her for a reason?”
I nod and swirl my glass again.
“And the reason is?”
Jude’s eyes widen and his forefinger lifts away from his glass to point awkwardly at me.
“Wait! You are trying to pimp her out to Umana?”
I look down at my drink.
“I don’t know.”
“Man Luke, you can be crazy,” Jude says, chuckling and shaking his head at his drink. “I bet you don’t even get yourself.”
I give my best friend a lopsided smile.
“Maybe you want to fuck her.”
I shake my head. “Maybe I just want to see how far she can go for money?”
Squeezing his face in contemplation, Jude makes a low sound of disagreement.
“Nah, you haven’t realized it yet Luke, but you want that girl.”
I laugh off his allegation.
“She is not my type.”
I think about the dreams.
“I have been seeing her or someone like her in my dreams these days though.”
“You see? You see that I am right?”
“No, you are not.”
The alcohol kicks in approximately ten minutes later and I am left with a snoring friend and an unfinished glass of wine. I look at Jude as he sleeps and think of our conversation.
Maybe you just want to fuck her.
I laugh at the thought and down my drink. My relationship with Irima was purely business. It would be so until her contract expires in three months.