Lagos, a city of thirty million people and still, somehow unable to afford a girl some anonymity.
John junior took me to his father’s house and told me as much as I needed to hear.
Johnny had called him on the day he got kidnapped. He had intentionally tossed his phone when he realised he was being kidnapped, that was what he told his son in Lebanese when the kidnappers asked him to call his family. He told them that John’s phone number was the only one he knew off-head, but that wasn’t true. He didn’t want them seeing all the names on his phone and discovering all the people he knew. It was just like Johnny to have such presence of mind even in the craziest situation.
He told John that he had been kidnapped along with two of his friends and that the kidnappers were going to kill them if they, the kidnappers, didn’t get fifty million Naira. He told John to get in touch with Uncle Kamal who would make arrangements with the kidnappers.
According to John junior, he did not have any Uncle Kamal, so I asked him why his father told him to get in touch with the non-existent uncle. He told me ‘they’ had their way of dealing with such issues and he was in Nigeria to sort things out.
He seemed amazingly calm for someone whose father had been kidnapped. I asked him if he had that kind of money to pay the kidnappers and he smiled that smile that makes me want to throw my arms around his neck and kiss him with all my life.
“We are not paying a dime,” he said.
“But what’s going to happen to him then?”
“Nothing. We will get him back. And his friends.”
He never told me who ‘we’ were, but like he said, ‘they’ had a way of dealing with such things.
“How did you know I was at the police station?”
“I didn’t. I went to the hotel and they told me they’d arrested the suspects so I went to the station to see what they were talking about.”
“So you didn’t know who I was?”
“No, not really.”
“But they said you told them that Johnny sent you to look for me.”
“I had to say something. After I saw the way they’d… I asked the sheriff what the story was. He obviously had no clue. I couldn’t leave you there.”
“So Johnny didn’t tell you anything about me?”
“No. Should he have? Are you his…?”
“No. Nothing like that. He’s just my friend. He’s like a big brother.”
“Yeah. He’s driver said so. I asked him if he knew you. He said my dad would kill anyone that lays a hand on you.”
“How are they treating him?”
“Who? Dad? He’s alright. He’ll call me later tonight. You can talk to him then, if the kidnappers let him.”
“What about his friends?”
“He said they’re ok. I think they were after them and dad just sort of got in the way.”
“When will you get him out?”
“Don’t worry about that. We’re taking care of it.”
Again with the ‘we.’ There was a way he said it that made me know better than to ask questions.
“Tell me everything you remember about that night,” he said. “Did you tell anyone you were meeting my dad?”
“The sheriff said you were with a friend. Could she have told someone?”
I remembered how the policewoman had warned me not to go with him. Perhaps he had told them that ‘they’ had their own way to get a confession out of me. It suddenly didn’t feel safe to be in Johnny’s house.
I decided to make my case: “You said it was likely they were after the Americans, so even if I told anyone that I was meeting up with Johnny, how would I have known about his friends?”
“I’m not accusing you of anything. I just want to make sure I’m not missing anything.”
“Anything like what?”
“Like why they choose that day, at that hotel, to kidnap him.”
“I don’t know.”
“I know you don’t, but there might be something you saw, or something he told you.”
“Or someone I called?”
“Sorry ‘bout that. Now that you say it I see how it sounds. Look, I’m just trying to sort this thing out.”
“I want to go home.”
“Don’t you want to talk to him?”
I don’t know why I stayed but I did. I cleaned up and he gave me Johnny’s t-shirt to wear. I lay on the sofa while he made calls and spoke in his language. I knew I should leave but I was too tired and too worried over Johnny. I wanted to go home and look for Kike. The police didn’t return my phone and I hadn’t stored any numbers in my head. I could only imagine how worried over me she ways – she and all the girls.
I don’t know when I fell asleep but I woke up when I felt a hand on my leg. I curled away in panic. I was instantly awake. I immediately knew it was night; how long had I been sleeping?
John junior was on the sofa on the side where my feet were. He had a phone in his hand. I looked around and saw that there were other people in the room with us. All Lebanese, all old, and all sitting down and looking at me, quietly.
I sat properly and pulled the shirt to cover as much of my laps as it could.
“He’ll soon call,” he told me.
We waited silently. I wished I had more things on.
The phone rang and Johnny passed it over to the oldest man in the room. What followed was a bizarre negotiation over lives. The man kept insisting that fifty million was too much. He was so brash and so rude that I worried he might piss off the kidnappers. The other men watched on silently, and just when I thought he couldn’t get ruder, he called whoever was on the phone a ‘son of a thousand prostitutes’ and hung up.
He had been so animated a moment ago when he was on the phone, but he was suddenly calm and quiet again – all of them as well.
The phone rang again and he picked it up.
“Look, my friend, if you want to talk to me don’t shout!” he shouted at the person on the phone. “I want to talk to me son…You bastard! Give the phone to my son. You cockroach! Give him the phone now! I have nothing more to say to you until I peak to my son. Have you ever seen fifty million in your life? You think I kidnap people for my money, like you? Give him the phone now, you bastard son of prostitutes!”
A moment passed then the man spoke softly in Lebanese. The others listened intently. Next he was speaking to the kidnappers again and telling them that all he had was five million.
“If you annoy me I will reduce it to three!”
The conversation went on and on until he shouted at the kidnapper again and warned him that he would by God kill all his family if anything happened to his son. Then he ended the call.
The next time the phone rang he didn’t pick it up. They were all talking in Lebanese while the phone kept ringing till it stopped.
I looked at John junior. He smiled at me as if to say everything was ok, then he turned his face back to the conversation.
The phone rang again and John junior picked it up this time.
“Can I speak to my dad, please?” he said.
The kidnapper wanted to speak to ‘the other man’ but he insisted on speaking with his dad and soon Johnny was on the phone.
“I’ve got your friend here,” he told his dad, “Amaka. She would like to talk to you.”
But he didn’t give me the phone. They launched back into Lebanese till it was the old man’s turn to talk to him then to the kidnappers.
In the end, the calls lasted over an hour in which time the kidnappers agreed to five million Naira and the old man gave them a number to call to arrange ‘the rest.’ I didn’t get to speak to Johnny.
The men got up to leave and John junior saw them off. They greeted me and one of them asked if I remembered him, I didn’t. They must have carried on discussing outside because John junior did not return for another thirty minutes.
I looked around for a clock; I desperately wanted to know what time it was. When he returned he asked me if I was hungry. I wanted to ask him what was happening, what his father said, what the kidnappers said, but he wanted to know if I was hungry.
Strangely, I was.
He apologised that he had to send the cooks away so we would have to go out and eat. I told him I had nothing to wear and he suggested we go to my place to get my things.
I was happy to be going home but why had he assumed I would return to Johnny’s house with him?
The BQ was empty when I got there and I didn’t have my keys. I had just given up knocking and calling the girls’ names hoping there was someone asleep inside when my neighbour’s door opened.
It was Mama. She screamed my name and ran to me. She squashed me in bear-hug of an embrace and called the other girls to come out.
Long story short, when Kike returned and told them what had happened, they all decided it was a good idea to move out of the room. Kike was in tears when I saw her, but thank God she wasn’t hurt. Mama reminded me that she warned me not to go but I was too tired to even be upset at her timing.
They let me in and I changed. John introduced himself to each of the girls and apologised for how I’d been treated.
The girls didn’t want me to go and Mama even suggested coming with us but I managed to shake her off, but not before she told me that she had told Uncle China what happened and he was already ‘making some moves.’
I finally managed to say goodbye to the girls.
“Take us to a good restaurant,” John junior told the driver.
“What did Johnny say?” I asked him.
“He’ll be ok.”
I wanted to ask why he didn’t speak to me but it felt wrong to ask.
“How long have you known my dad?”
“A long time. He’s like my father.”
“Nice to meet you, sister.”
We laughed at his joke and the line returned.
I was attracted to him in a way I’ve never been attracted to a man. I knew I was going to have him and I knew he wanted me too. Why did he have to be Jonny’s son? Why did we have to meet like this? Why wouldn’t Johnny talk to me?
There was a time I would have slapped Johnny if he tried to touch with me. I would have done it not because the thought of it offended me, but because it was what the ‘me’ I had shown to him would have done. There had been moments when I knew he wanted to make a move but he never quite did, and there were times if had been bold we would have ended up sleeping together. So you see, this thing with his son was wrong wrong wrong. But it felt so right. I hardly even knew him but I already knew I would kiss him longer than I’d ever kissed anyone. I wanted to pray to God to stop me from doing something stupid but I didn’t.
The driver took us to Yellow Chilly, and there, as soon as we sat down, I knew I should have stayed with the girls.
Right next to us on another table was a man and two girls. It was the London boy and two young things.
He saw me the instant I saw him. He looked at John junior then he looked at me and shook his head. My blood boiled.