CHAPTER FIVE ⃝ UNEN AND AKHMED: THE PRESENT

<<<<It was few minutes past 7am before I woke up. The cold wet morning and the joyful sound of chirping birds in the pseudo-coconut trees by my window told me a new day was here. Arise and Shine they seem to be singing and dancing; jumping from tree to tree. Oh happy day indeed for them. Wondering if they ever woke up feeling like they slept on potato sacks all night or if they felt the ‘PMS’ pains.

God! Not today! I prayed the cramps away.

I wasn’t ready to ‘Arise’ or ‘Shine’ just yet. Feeling like a little more sleep, I changed position, lazily curled up as a foetus would and covered myself in the warm soft Arabian duvet. It seemed it showered in the early hours and I had just few hours of sleep, I needed some more.

I dozed off, sweetly sinking into the cocooning dream world.

***************************************************************************

The ringing intercom disrupted my sleep. I opened my eyes slowly. The streaming sunlight forcing its way past my dark heavy blinds and the quietness told me the time was way past midday.

I was wrong.

It was just minutes past 10am. The birds had gone to get food without waiting for me to ‘Arise’ and ‘Shine’. Slowly sitting up, I stretched and picked on the third ring.

“Yes” I said as an unsuspecting yawn increased the circumference of my mouth. The un-brushed mouth odour diffused into the atmosphere and into the phone. Thank God there was no device to transmit smell just yet I thought humorously.

“Good Morning Ma” It was Iya Chef.

“Morning Iya mi” I said with a smile.

“Can I serve breakfast? Your visitor is out on the premises already”

“Oh! Of course. I will be out shortly” I almost forgot that Akhmed was around. We had a burial to plan.

“Yes Ma” she said. I hung up.

Mouthed a silent thank you to God and stood up to look at reflection in my mirror. A habit I guess.

The rumbling sound from my midsection signalled personal grooming was next.

You no na, Mama Ngozi visitation time.

***************************************************************************

“Good morning Akhmed, Iya” I said light-heartedly on entering the large kitchen with the polished wooden dining table right in the centre. Iya chef was fast on the job of making fresh juice of ginger and pineapple for the household. Akhmed sat with a steaming black mug that smelt of strong coffee while reading a newspaper.

“Good morning Unen. I trust you slept well?” he said lifting off his eyes from the paper studying my appearance. It was a cropped pair of black knee-length jeans and a long-sleeved white t-shirt that had a ‘LET THEM SAY’ inscription across my chest. With the rolled up sleeves and tied up hair in a band, I looked more like I was going out to work in the garden.

“Yes I did. Thank you. Is that today’s paper?” I asked taking a seat opposite him.

Taking a sip, Iya brought a plate of what looked like badly burnt toast.

“Yes, it is” he replied putting it away.

“Iya, the toast is burnt?” I asked

“I asked that she burn it” he said before Iya chef could give me a reply.

“Alright. Please Tea” I nodded to Iya that stood by uncertain about what to do.

“Yes ma” I disliked when she made everything so official.

“So what do you want to do today?” he asked looking at his toast as if he was inspecting it before picking it up and crushing it. He chewed nicely.

“Go back to bed?” I said with a ‘snortish’ laugh while I removed my elbows from the table to allow Iya drop my hot cup.

“Don’t we all? It is a fine day to be lazy” he said looking at me briefly.

“Yes. What plans do you have for …, well the burial” I said clearing my throat. Tongue got burnt. Too hot. Iya took to the rooms to monitor the cleaning soon after I cleared my throat.

“We would get a list and send the invite” he said completely in charge.

“Okay. Sounds like a plan” I said taking a careful sip. The taste buds dead.

“I am hoping for a quiet ceremony with close friends and well-wishers” he said with a pained look.

“Alright. Her friends know she is no more?” I asked happy that he was here to help with this.

“I suppose” he said calmly.

“Meaning?” I pressed.

“She was dead to many before now” he didn’t comment further. I let it go.

“I really have not done this before, I do not know where to start. I am relieved to have your help” I said taking another sip of the burning liquid set before me. It wasn’t getting cooler. Stupid tea.

“I will be happy to help”

“Thank you for coming. Shall we go to the library then?” I asked standing up and taking my cup with me.

The walk to the library was noiseless and for a moment considered telling him to lighten up the mood……….but to what avail? I walked in front leading the way. I made small talk.

“You have been here before?” I asked.

“Yes. The workers have been changed though” he observed drily.

“Oh!” was all I said. We got in.

“Please have a seat” I said sitting on a long dark blue velvet cushion. The airy library had been cleaned and scented fresh because of the fresh roses from the garden in the ceramic vase on the table top. It was its season and it blossomed every day.

“So, we start from invites yea?” I asked. He stood around for some time before siting. It looked as if he was taking an appraisal. Wished him gone, I wanted to go finish her journals. But I needed him anyway.

“Yes” he said quietly; obviously in deep thoughts while I made to power my Dictaphone. We sat quietly for a couple of minutes.

“Why did she leave me?” he said out of nowhere. I didn’t get it at first.

“What?” I asked.

“Why couldn’t she love me back?” he asked suddenly coming across from where he had taken a seat close to the bookshelves. He stood in my front with the question hanging over my head.

“I really don’t have an answer to that Akhmed” I said looking at the old wall clock for distraction.

It said 11:49am.

Finally, He sat beside me and faced me squarely.

“She never mentioned me? Us?” he asked doubting.

“She never mentioned anyone….ever” I stressed. He studied my face; trying to determine the truth. He relaxed the stare.

“I loved her. I loved her with the whole of my being” He announced. His chest rising and falling as the feelings escaped him. I wasn’t shocked. Just thought he was probably playing out his emotions. He was allowed.

“Did she know this? Did you tell her?” I asked. It took several more minutes before he answered.

“No” he shook his head in maybe regret? I looked at him. He seemed like he wanted to say more.

“Why not?” I asked.

“I didn’t know how” he looked helpless. I didn’t buy it.

“But you were married!”

“It made it harder” Eyes begging me to believe him. I didn’t.

“Obviously you two had issues but she never told me any of it. She never told me anything at all” I said to his handsome studying face.

He nodded. We were quiet again for a while.

“Shall we get the list started?” I asked taking up my cup of tea, tasted it. It was cold. Finally, I took a mouthful.

“No” he said.

“No?” I raised a brow.

“I am not ready to let her go just yet”. He said standing up and pacing the room……..just like Didi had written.

“So what do you want to do now?” I asked getting ready to go back to my room to continue reading.

“I need to go through her things. Make me feel closer to her?” he shrugged. I wasn’t going to allow that. I patted the seat beside me indicating he should come and sit. He did.

“It is okay to grieve and be sad. God knows I am too. But if you want closure, I suggest you find a way of letting your feelings out” I said trying to help an increasingly confused man. He looked right into my eyes, I had to keep blinking to avoid a stare.

“And how do you suggest I do that?” he asked. Was he really asking me that?

“Write her a letter or you could use a Dictaphone or something” I suggested in a wave.

“And tell her what? Not like she can read it or hear” he looked uncertain. I patted his hands.

“Why don’t you try it first?” I said standing up to go to my room.

“Where are you going?” he asked

“To my room” I replied simply.

“I don’t want to be alone” he stated flatly.

“Well?” I raised another brow.

“I want to talk to you” He patted the seat beside him. I gave a smile. Nice one. I sat back down.

“What about?” I asked

“I don’t know. Maybe you ask me about anything” he gave a weak smile that was meant to be cute but turned to a silly grin.

“And you will tell me?” I asked sceptical.

“Yes” he nodded to confirm. I gave an upturned smile.

“Alright” I said wondering what Didi would have wanted to ask him. I wanted to go browse her pages, maybe I’d see a question. Well, I would ask him the questions that came to my mind I concluded.

“When did you realise you were in love with her? I asked.

“The moment I knew I had lost her forever” he said without missing a beat

“What do you mean lost her forever?” I asked taking a lean back. It was fun to hear his side of the “story”

“I wanted to prove my worth to my father and of course business partners, there was a hitch. Funds. I needed her to do something for me……….well, persuaded her kind of. I was hoping she’d refuse. When she agreed, I ……..” he didn’t complete it. He looked pained and momentarily used his fingers to squeeze his eyes shot.

“Ok? I am not sure I get that” I pretended. I knew what he was talking about of course.

“It is a long story Unen” he shook his head, hanging it and twisting his long slender fingers. He looked at me for a long time. His eyes getting red from the excessive rubbing.

“What?” I asked. He looked like he had a lot going on in his head………….the eye dance Didi had called it. I wasn’t vast in this dance.

“Wondering why she entrusted a lot into your care, thinking if I can trust you like she did” he revealed.

“Oh! We had same interest, well, most. And she was a really a gift and I guess she liked me” I summed with a shrug and a private smile.

“Yes, I bet you two had a lot in common” his tone carried a meaning I did not catch.

“How did you know about me?” I asked.

“She always told me about you and I followed you up” he said simply. I wondered when she met with him that I didn’t know but I was more interested in the follow-up.

“Followed me?” I gave a startling laugh.

“Had you investigated” he looked as if he was ready for a confrontation if I wanted one. I had nothing to hide. He sure knew how to do that, doesn’t he? I thought with malice. Akhmed was not a very likable person. Well, let me speak for myself. I didn’t like the edginess I felt.

I perceived an inner negative energy that was masked with his handsomeness and impressive hair line, black meticulous beautiful beards that reflected careful ‘tendering’ that contrasted his fair skin with pink succulent lips that could draw any light headed female into kissing fantasies and smile that made you feel special. He looked good enough to be desired.

But he was not to be trusted. Underneath the cool exterior, the polished appearance and sophistication, I saw a man that played chess with human pieces. I could be wrong.

“Great. So that means you can trust me then” I smiled after my thought. He smiled back.

“I guess” he said loudly stretching and leaning back too.

“So you persuaded Didi to marry your Dad to have access to funds yea?” if this was going to go any faster, I had to tell him what I knew. He looked shocked at the new info.

“How did you know that?” he asked sitting back up.

“I read her diary last night” I looked without flinching.  He looked back.

“What else do you know?”

“What do you know Unen?” he repeated.

“Well, I know you are not Dr Ali’s son” I said looking at him for a reaction. None.

He nodded.

Then “Yes, sadly I am not” that was too ‘normal’ a reaction……….or so?

“So, the day she agreed to marry your foster father was the day you realized you were in love with her and at same time lost her” I continued. Prodding.

“Yes” he nodded again.

“But she married you, didn’t she? That must have meant she loved you too” I helped.

He didn’t say anything.

“So when did you two get married?” I asked as an interviewer would.

“Winter 2010 at London registry down at Edgware, Middlesex. I still see the look in her eyes, the feel of her warmth that night, the preceding days, I thought she loved me too” he said with a faint smile as the memories washed through him. The dreamy look I wanted to wipe off his face. It didn’t look genuine.

This was recent? I wasn’t invited to the wedding. Didi was more secretive than I thought. That was around the time I was in London for a conference, wasn’t it? Suddenly it dawned on me; Didi was living two lives as at the time I met her. Her journals were written right before me and I never knew. I was hurt but I would deal with the feelings later.

“Why do you think she didn’t?” I continued suppressing the urge to go to my room.

“She left me without a reason” he said sadly.

“She must have thought it best when she found out she was sick” I justified.

He said nothing.

“I think she married me because my foster father asked her to” he said as if he had thought about the possibility.

“I am not too clear as to how your father, I mean foster father would have asked Didi to marry you. Why would he do that when she was meant to marry him?” I was confused now.

“That is because he is her father. Didi couldn’t have married her own father now could she?” he looked strangely calm for the deathblow he had just thrown.

“WHAT?” I sat up.

“Dr Ali, my foster father is Didi’s real father” he reiterated.

“I think there could be a mistake in Didi being Dr Ali’s daughter. Are you sure about this?” I asked truly bothered and astonished.

“And you think I am mistaken because?” he asked with budding sarcasm.

“Because I read her diary” I said with an edge detecting sarcasm in his tone.

“You sure you read everything?” he asked without an expression.

I hesitated. Well, if you were not here right now, I would have…..I thought.

“You haven’t” he rightly concluded.

“I have not had the chance to………….”

“………………because I am here” he completed.

“I thought your foster father was married to Didi or was going to” I sounded unsure. I was unsure. I should have read the whole journal sooner I thought.

“Do you believe when they say it is a small world?” he asked standing up to pace again.

“Can you sit back down?” I asked politely with irritation underlining my tone. My thoughts paced, I didn’t need him walking around the room too. I was getting hot in the cool library.

“It bothers you?” he asked with same tone.

“Yes it does” I stated. He stopped pacing, looked at me with a disbelieving smile at my outspokenness and took another seat by the window. Glad the library was spacy like the rest of the house. He could sit anywhere he wanted. He looked out for few minutes.

“My dad had an affair. When my mum found out, she had an affair of her own too. Didi’s mother was my dad’s mistress. Didi and I are products of affairs” he revealed bitterly still looking out of the window. The twitching jaw as he moved his molars gave the vibe I guess. The ‘white’ woman was Didi’s mother? That accounted for her light flawless skin I thought taking the new twist in. How could this be?

This was bad, really bad.

“So Didi is Dr Ali’s daughter?” I asked still doubtful and thinking back to Didi’s dad being right about his suspicion.

They really made a mess of everything.

“Yes” he sounded so sure.

I took a deep breath only hoping she had found out sooner than later. She couldn’t have had any carnal relationship with Dr Ali, could she? I prayed not.

“Are you sure? DNA?” I asked eyes wide. He nodded again. I took his word for it.

Can DNA be carried out with ashes? I pondered.

“So your dad, I mean her dad asked her to marry you because?” I asked.

“I have no idea. Maybe marriage to merge? After all, I started the marriage proposal to get funds, didn’t I?” he said as a man with regrets would. Standing up from the seat beside the window, he steadily approached me.

Coming to stand beside me, he stretched out his hand.

“Come with me. It is a nice morning” he simply said. I gave him my hand as he held me up.

“Let’s go for a walk”. I took my Dictaphone that had been faithfully recording the conversation so far. God knows I needed the fresh air too.

**************************************************************************

“Always a good weather around here” he commented as we walked into the manicured green field. The grasses mowed and shrubs showing excellent topiary craft. The cold wet morning still left traces of wet leaves and grasses.

The sun hiding behind the emerging dark clouds.

It was going to rain again.

We approached the garden. The apple tree had ripe fruits and I wanted one.

“Yes” I answered his earlier comment on the weather; eyes on the fruit. Taking the fashioned wooden fruit stick, he plucked two ripe apples and we took the concrete seat in the middle of the garden with a shelter. Rubbed the fruits on our clothes, teeth sunk in. It was drizzling again.

“Why didn’t you tell her you loved her?” I asked putting the Dictaphone back on.

“I just couldn’t” he looked back at me taking a big bite. With another huge bite, he would be getting another apple for sure.

“How did she find out that Dr Ali was her father?” I asked the question that was on my mind from the walk from the house.

“Wasn’t hard. He had her investigated. He found out soon enough. I got that from him” He smiled meaning his investigative streak.

“Yes. Of course”

“I thought she chose me because she loved me. Sometimes, I think she did” he smiled while taking the last chunk of the apple. I wanted to tell him there was more, I bit my tongue.

“So what changed? Why do you think she was asked to?” I asked.

“Well, nothing really. We just drifted apart. I never stopped loving her” he said.

“Loving that you didn’t tell her” I added with a sad smile. he smiled back too.

Somehow, I didn’t believe the last part. The whole revelation sounded like half-truth to me.

“Did Dr Ali find out she was persuaded by you to marry him to fund your project at any point in time?” I threw a big question. He slowed down on his chewing. I waited.

Then came Akin running towards us. I was needed in the house.

“Excuse me” I muttered.

“Ma’am, you have a phone call” he said almost breathless.

“From who?” I asked out of ear shots from Akhmed.

“He didn’t say. He just said to get you to the phone discreetly because the message is important” he said in low tone. My hair rose on the back of my neck.

A bad feeling.

“I will be right with you” I said. He ran back.

“What was that?” he asked with interest.

“My Dad says he needs to speak to me urgently. Please I will be right back. You don’t mind, do you” I asked masking the lie. I knew the call was about this man looking at me with such mesmerising eyes.

“Of course not” he said standing up.

“More fruits?” I offered pointing to the tree playfully.

He laughed. I walked fast to the house hoping the strange man was still on hold. I got to the kitchen just in time.

I picked the phone. The click told me I was transferred.

“Hello?”

“Is that Unen?” it was a rich soft masculine voice-the kind that was non-threatening but was filled with quietness that screams danger.

My heart leaped within my chest.

“Yes. This is Unen”

“You will know me soon enough for now please be careful with Akhmed Bricks. If he has contacted you already, I suggest you thread carefully. Do not believe all he says. The situation is more serious than seems. Go to Didi’s room, read through her volumes and I will call again in 48hours, same time. Again, be cautious” the line went dead. I stared at the dead phone in my hand and swallowed a couple of questions that was already at the base of my throat.

What the hell was all this about? I thought long and hard.

I sensed a game and I was right in the middle of it. I needed to finish reading.

Heading back to the garden, Akhmed sure was eating another apple.

“Got it sorted?” he asked with suspicion or was it me?

“Yeah” I said brightly stretching for an apple from him.

“I thought so” he said giving me from his newly plucked collection.

“Thank you”

“Uhuh” He smiled.

“I wanted to bury the urn right here” I said as we sat back. The question about Dr Ali finding out if he was being played was not forgotten, just suspended. I was going to search through the journals. Somehow I knew I couldn’t get the right answer from him.

“Where?” he asked.

“Underneath the apple tree. Tessy rests here as well” I shook my head tears stinging my eyes. This was acting. I needed an excuse to go back to the house and to my room.

“You can” he looked and patted my thighs.

“Yes” I said sounding overwhelmed, blinking the tears away.

“Cannot believe she is gone” I intensified.

“Me too” he said.

“She made peace with her Dad?” it was a question I left floating.

“I only hope” he said sadly. It sounded genuine. I heard the voice on the phone. Caution. I stood up.

“I feel dizzy. Let’s go back to the house please?” I implored.

“I need to be alone” he said simply with a smile.

“Okay, I will be in my room. Please let me know when you need me”

“Sure”

I walked to the house through the kitchen again and saw Iya chef preparing lunch.

“What do you want for lunch Ma’am?” she asked. I really didn’t care.

“Anything you can rustle up. Please serve him lunch when it is ready. I will be in my room” I smiled and went straight to my room, straight to my bed, straight to the journals.

The room had a different feel. An intruder perhaps.

I hated cranks calls. Now I was uneasy.

I walked to the large window and noticed it was unlatched. Did I leave it unlatched?

I felt totally vulnerable.

Iya chef must have supervised the cleaning. I brushed it aside and opened the trolley that contained Didi’s journal. They were not arranged. It looked like it was tampered with.

Alert!

Someone was here.

Surely someone had tampered with the journals. I picked the intercom to call Iya, she picked.

“Iya, can I have a slice of your coconut cake and a bottle of your lovely ginger-pineapple mix?” I asked sweetly. I decided immediately she picked to keep the suspicion to myself for now.

“Yes of course” I could hear the smile in her voice.

Minutes later, with the cake in hand, I settled on my reading couch for a good read.

I should have looked at the window once more; maybe I would have seen the departing culprit then>>>>.

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