Abigail put her hands over her opened mouth in shock, “Oh my God! How did he know that? He was already sound-asleep when I got back to the room.”
“The handkerchief, he saw my hanky with you.”
“I’ve been a fool.”
Richard narrated his ordeal with Cain in the car. He looked at Abigail after telling her the story; she was looking undeciding, as if there was something in her mind she was afraid to say.
“Abigail.” Richard called.
“Yes?” she raised her face to meet his gaze.
She was intelligent, Richard knew, one look at her and you knew about a million gears were spinning in her head, all meshing perfectly, well-oiled, quiet and productive. “What are you not telling me?”
“What do you mean by that?” she tried in vain to look puzzled.
Richard grabbed her shoulders and looked in her eyes, “You are hiding something very important. Please, tell me now before it’s too late.”
“You’re crushing my shoulders.”
“Sorry.” Richard released his hold, “Please, just try to reason with me. I will never forgive myself if Cain kills you. Besides, I may probably not be able to save myself after being convicted of the murder. We both know that an earthworm can never be innocent in the gathering of birds.” He knew somewhere deep down at the back of his own mind that if anything happened to Abigail, the world would be a far darker and less interesting place for him to live in, even if he were not convicted.
“What do you want me to tell you?”
“Everything you know about Cain. I think there’s a kind of evil spirit in him—like there’s a kind of mystery which follows around him like a shadow.”
“Just like the mystery surrounding your own life?”
Richard was startled, “What are you talking about?”
A few seconds elapsed before Abigail replied.
“I’ve known you for over a month and I’ve known you’ve not been a happy man since. Please don’t interrupt me, you’ve never been happy. And you rarely smile, whenever you try to, the smile never seems to cover that sadness in you. I initially thought it was because you don’t like the job you are doing, but I now understand it’s worse than that.” She paused, “Before I tell you what you want to know, I want you tell me about that sadness–I want to know.”
“Believe me, my only problem is my job, I need a better job.”
“You can tell that to a fool, okay? But I’m not one.”
“Abigail, there are some problems we keep private. It’s not all our problems we share.”
His decisive reticence suddenly annoyed Abigail and she blurted out, “Oh, I’m sorry. I really made a fool of myself by telling you about my own problems. You can take a hike with your problems, I don’t care.”
For the first time, Richard realized that Abigail really looked angry. Even in anger, she looked very pretty.
“You don’t want to hear it, I assure you.”
“Try me.” She replied, smiling broadly again.
“Okay, let’s start with this,” he said, staring in her eyes. “How would you feel if I told you that my father was dead?”
“I feel sorry, really, but my father is dead, too, remember? I guess that makes the two of us.” She returned his stare.
“Okay.” He looked away. Sweat broke out of his forehead, he checked his palms and found them damp with sweat, and then he rubbed them on his trousers. Telling the story was more difficult than he had imagined it would come. “In 1981, armed robbers attacked my mother’s parents when she was only eighteen years old and she was raped by one of them before their departure. I am the product.” He told her all what his mother had told him, leaving out nothing whatsoever.
Abigail opened her eyes wide, “Oh, my God!”
“The robbers were attacked by the police and killed immediately they left. I am the son of an armed robber—the gene of a cursed soul—the product of a rapist. Who would—”
“Stop it!” Abigail screamed suddenly. Richard raised his head and found tears in her eyes, running down her cheeks in passionate sequence. “Just stop it! Don’t you know girls cry when things like that are being spoken to them?” she wiped the tears with the back of both palms.
“I’m sorry you had to hear it. It’s not a story I tell with pride. We both have sad stories; I just don’t know who has the sadder between the two of us.”
He tried in vain to rid himself of the tears that formed in his eyes. “Now, tell me everything you know about Cain.” He said, forcing a false smile.
Abigail stood up, “I’ll need a modicum of discretion concerning what you are about to know today.”
“Every secret is safe with me—including yours.”
She went into an inner room and returned a few minutes later with a thick file which she gave to Richard.
“I came across that file when I was cleaning the bedroom.”
“When was that?”
“About a year ago, it says in there that on March13, 1978, Cain was admitted in an asylum in Yaba.”
“Christ!” Richard felt a jolt down his spine. He tried to visualize Cain spending some years in a sanitarium, talking to imaginary people and eating flies. He wondered if driving an insane employer hither and yon could subject him to lose his own sanity too.
“In 1983, he was discharged as completely healed. That was when he was twenty-seven years old.”
“Oh—then what are you still doing with a certified lunatic for crying out loud?” he cried out loud.
“Where do you expect me to go?” she demanded sharply, “I’m all alone; I have no family, nobody. Besides, I would be digging my own grave if I tried to leave him.”
“You don’t have much choice now, do you? He’s going to kill you anyway, even if you stay.”
“You don’t know that for sure. There’s nowhere I can go that he won’t know. I think he has employed a private eye to watch everywhere I go. Every time I drive out, I feel that he’s one step behind me—like a guilty conscience he follows me about. There’s nowhere to go.”
“We can go to—”
“We?” she cast an inquiring look at Richard who carried a silly expression on his face. “Richie, are you suddenly using the royal plural pronoun?”
“Um—well,” he spread his hands and looked away frowning, when he looked at Abigail, worry lines had wrinkled his face.
“For how long will Cain be staying in Abuja?”
“Three days, he will land at the airport on Thursday afternoon.”
Richard became more worried.
“What’s wrong, Rich?”
Richard looked at Abigail pathetically, “I’m afraid when Cain returns something horrible is going to happen.”
Then he looked suddenly determined.
“But don’t worry, Abigail. I promise no harm will come to you. Everything will be under control. Even if it takes the last thing I will ever do.”
“My hero.” Abigail said solemnly.
Eze Chima came in, “Madam, is everything all right?” he glared at Richard, “Why did you drive in like that?”
Richard glared back at him, “Like what, old man?”
“Like a maniac.”
The driver clenched his hands into a fist and advanced towards the gatekeeper. “Keep a civil tongue in your mouth, old man! Or I keep them for you.”
“Richard!” Abigail lashed at him, “What came over you? This man is old enough to be your grandfather. Are you insane?”
“Leave him, madam. Let him show his stunt, I’m not as feeble as he may be thinking I am.”
“Apologise right now, Richard!” she commanded.
Richard unclenched his fist and said, “I’m sorry, sir. That was very rude of me, please forgive me. I didn’t know what really came over me. It must have been the stress.”
Eze Chima smiled, “It’s okay, I shouldn’t have spoken in such a tone to you either.” He turned to Abigail, “Is everything okay here, madam?”
“Everything is fine,” she replied, “We were only discussing the obvious.”
“I was worried.”
“All’s fine. You can go.”
The gatekeeper left.
“I must have lost my head in anger. I almost beat up that man.”
Abigail smiled, “How are you sure you can beat him in a fight?”
“That old man? Come on, Abigail, give unto me a break.”
“He’s an ex-soldier. He fought in the Civil War in 1968. Believe ye me, he would break your bones.”
“You didn’t tell me that before.”
And truly, if Richard had heard about the old gatekeeper’s ordeals in the final battle of the Civil War in the year 1970, he would have kowtowed before Eze. For the old gatekeeper was one of the bravest soldiers in his own time.