SHOTS FIRED

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Chapter Five

Tuesday had been hectic. Global Press had to deliver thousands of government programmes at three different local governments, so Ben had totally forgotten about the crazy woman he’d met that morning.

Or so he’d thought until he’d woken up from a weird dream where she’d been pressed up against his arse, moaning like she was in the throes of passion, while he battled to hide a monstrous erection from Kate and his uncle, the owner of Global Press.

It was a disconcerting dream and he hated that he’d had it. He’d woken up feeling anxiety knots in his stomach and though it’d receded while he’d prepared and went to work, it returned every time he recalled the dream.

Ben was also reminded that he hadn’t spoken to Kate to find out if the crazy woman – Rita, had called her. That he even recalled her name was cause for worry. And he wished it was just her name he recalled or the fact that he’d been staring at her curvy behind as she walked to the door; he was a man for crying out loud. But he also recalled what she’d said to him before he’d slammed the door in her face.

Women had flirted with him before. He wasn’t a green horn. He’d also flirted with women and more than a few of them had graced his bed. He was also sure his mind blanked out the coy words of those flirty women two days later because they meant nothing.

The problem was, he didn’t think she’d been trying to be coy. Maybe, at the beginning, with her greeting, but her last words seemed...desperate; kind of – true?

Ben shook his head, leaning back in his swivelling leather chair with a sigh, he needed to eat. A quick glance at his wristwatch confirmed that lunch time had passed.

His office door opened after a single knock, revealing James Eso, the assistant branch manager and sort of, friend as he’d been responsible for showing him around town without his asking. Ben had been born and bred at Lagos, so even though he was from Akwa Ibom, could speak the language enough to do business, he didn’t really know places and James had been a huge help.

“You had lunch?”

James grinned in his usual ready-to-have-fun manner, “You’re a mind reader, Ben, boss of mine.”

“I’ve asked you to cut that out,” he told him with mild exasperation.

“You’re buying lunch.”

“I’ll give you extra meat to stop that boss shit.”

“Make it a week.”

Ben rolled his eyes, “Deal,” he agreed, towering over James as they shook on it.

At 6’1, he towered over everybody, especially, Rita. No, he hadn’t just thought that. Why had he thought that?

“I really need to eat,” he grumbled to James as he shoved the assistant manager out of his office.

“Okay, okay, calm down,” James said chuckling as he led the way out of the firm.

They came face to face with Kate in the stairs. She was going up while they descended. Usually, he wouldn’t have noticed anything. Back at Lagos, he’d been so focused on work that he’d seemed aloof to his colleagues. But, it appeared that he was on some sort of cosmic mood that revealed the tension between Kate and James as they passed themselves on the stairs, barely civil to eachother.

Then Kate smiled at him. She was beautiful and any man, even him, would be lucky to have her.

“Hey, Kate. How’s your day going?” Ben smiled back, then he dimmed the smile when his peripheral vision caught James’ thunderous frown.

“Good. Yours?”

“I can’t complain.” He replied, standing aside so that she could pass to the landing and continue up to her floor. She did just that but then he remembered the crazy lady...again.

“Hey, Kate, did anybody by name Rita Ukara call you on Tuesday morning? I forgot to inform you there was such a person, she was here pretty early, and she looked like she’d rolled off her bed and appeared here.”

Mentally replaying what he’d just said, Ben struggled to curb the need to cringe. Why the hell had he said that? Thankfully, Kate didn’t think his words were weird, not while she glanced at James, looked away and whispered the name in a bid to recall.

“No. Nobody like that called me.”

“Oh.” What the hell?

“Maybe, she called the office?”

“I don’t...have your office lines.”

Kate glanced at James again, a nervous look. “Well, let’s hope she calls. But thank you, for giving her my number. I appreciate.”

“It was no hassle.” Uh-huh, no hassle at all, except, she likes my arse.

“Later, Ben,” Kate waved and continued up the stairs.

“Later,” he replied and followed James down in a silence that was choking.

“My car?” James snapped. It was the perfect choice since he’d parked at the periphery, close to the gate.

“Oh, he speaks. How many times did you growl like an animal in that staircase?” Ben was smiling at a frowning James instead of opening the car the assistant manager had unlocked.

“You have her number?” James seemed to be controlling his anger, perhaps, because he was his superior.

“Hey, she’s beautiful. I was new in town and she’d been nice to me when we met.” Ben shrugged in a don’t-blame-me manner. “I’d thought to approach her...

“Approach her? I’ve introduced you to several beautiful women that you barely look at.”

“That’s not the point. But now that I know she’s yours...”

“I didn’t say she’s mine.” James slid into the driver’s seat.

“You didn’t have to,” Ben countered after he’d settled beside him.

The silence settled again like a wet cloak in the moving car.

Ben cleared his throat, “Well, we chatted a few times and...” the growl came again, James’ hands squeezed the steering and Ben smirked at him. “She’s yours, James. But I won’t make it easy for you if you eat my extra meat for a whole week.”

James said nothing in the midst of Ben’s chuckle.

***

A bottle of red wine graced the table in Eka’s house, with wine glasses carrying the liquid, spread out in front of the three friends.

“We are not here to talk about me. I have a plan for Eka.” Rita reiterated to her nosy friends.

“You got us worried.” Eka pointed out.

“And you have to tell us how it went.” Nene slurped her drink, her eyes flashing excitement.

“Can we be done with Eka...and then I’ll tell you?” This was the right thing to do. Jude, Eka’s husband would be back any moment, and she didn’t want him meeting them there, not when the tension in the Ebong family was still high.

“Sounds good.” Nene agreed.

“Promise?” Eka pushed.

“I promise.” She replied in exasperation while rubbing sweaty hands on her jeans shorts. Just recalling the embarrassment she’d felt at the door slamming in her face usually broke her in a sweat. Which is why she’d avoided going back...for now, until she could control the reaction.

“Well, the last time, you purposely fronted my issue because you suspected we’d be against your idea.” Eka accused.

“Sue me for caring,” she snapped and Nene laughed, almost spilling her drink on her immaculate grey corporate gown.

Eka smoothed her short Ankara gown over her thighs. “I didn’t mean it like that. What is wrong with you anyway? You’re grouchy.”

Nene cleared her throat, grinning, “I’m thinking it’s one hot, melanin man called Ben.”

Seriously, was she that obvious? Rita was good at taming her emotions in the guise of acting free, fun and crazy. It usually ended up working for her psyche too; it was the way she got off not dwelling on problems. But, with Ben, she was stuck.

“So, from everything you told us on Monday evening, your mother in-law seems to be the problem here.”

“I agree.” Nene concurred. Both her friends sat straighter.

“No offense, but I knew Jude, we all did, before the marriage. We also experienced his total adoration for you in the first three years, despite your baby worries. The point is, your mother in-law isn’t the only problem, Eka,” Rita looked her in the eye, “You are, too.”

Nene frowned, dropping her drink on the table.

“How...how do you mean?” Eka bristled. “I’ve been nothing but submissive to him.”

“Submissive? Really? Are you listening to yourself? Did Jude marry you submissive?”

Silence reigned.

“You weren’t submissive, Eka. Not that you were arrogant, but you knew what you wanted. We all did. This is why our friendship was easy and has lasted.” Nene said, gazing into her drink unseeingly, as though she was recalling those years.

“I...” Eka choked on what she was going to say, her eyes expressed disbelief and hurt that her friends believed she was the cause of her marital problems.

“Do not feel betrayed. We are only speaking the truth. And it is in accepting this truth, being aware of your fault in the problem, that you can take corrective steps to save your marriage.” Rita was pleading.

Silence suffused the large sitting room decorated with homey furniture but a discerning eye would recognize how expensive they’d been. Jude was from a wealthy background. He was a trust-fund kid as opposed to Eka who’d come from middle class homes like hers and Nene. In his mother’s eyes, it wasn’t a match that would work, seeing as their social background was worlds apart; but it had. They’d been so in love, Rita had felt like she’d been watching a romantic flick.

Eka rubbed her ring hand over her temple, presumably chasing a headache, or perhaps, shame.

“Tell me what I did wrong.” She whispered, not looking up.

Rita sucked in breath, glanced at Nene who nodded encouragement and spoke.

“You lost your confidence. You lost your light. You lost your diverse interests and settled on the baby problem.” Rita stared but she still didn’t look up. “You even lost the manner you loved your husband.”

“I did not! I never stopped loving him!” she cried, seeming appalled at Rita’s words. Nene scooted close and rubbed her back.

“I didn’t say you did, Eka. I didn’t say you did. I’m saying you lost the manner. You dropped your romance movie inspiring manner of love and took on fear.”

Rita got to her feet, the tension in the room firing her nerves. “You took in fear and felt less of yourself; you felt less of a woman... and along the way, you felt unworthy of Jude.”

She had not planned these words. In fact, she was having an epiphany as she spoke to her friend. Her plan had been to tell Eka to block her mother in-law’s numbers from Jude’s phones, to reduce some of the venom the woman fed her son. But now...now, she was seeing herself in Eka. She was putting herself in her friend’s shoes and that shoe pinched...hard.

Having babies for Jude had been, in Eka’s mind, the only value she was bringing to the table. And when that hadn’t happened, she’d felt like a failure and had assumed Jude felt the same way about her. He probably began feeling that way because he’d lost his friend and love; he’d lost his defence from his nagging mother and it was now easier to just obey her venomous directives.

Rita felt pain and pity for her friend. By the time she joined them on the couch, sandwiching Eka as they’d done at her own apartment, Rita was sobbing too; they all were.

“I’m so sorry, Eka. We should’ve noticed sooner.” Eka’s sobs increased. They probably made a sad picture of chubby, slobbering ladies on Eka’s luxurious couch.

“We should’ve noticed sooner and we would have told you, Eka Ebong, that you’re more than babies. It should never have been the focal point. It should never have been important enough to make you feel less of yourself; it should never have made you feel less sexy for your husband. It should never have grown strong enough to cause fear and made you lose the power to protect your husband from his mother’s venom.”

“Is...is that what I did?” Eka hiccupped, seeming pathetic but realizing.

Rita sniffled and nodded. Her hand tenderly touched Eka’s face as she looked at her. “I’ve just realized dear friend, that your light, love and confidence, was Jude’s defence from his mother. Remember we met her during the wedding planning, but you were never afraid of her despite our concerns. Even Jude was worried for you, but her meanness seemed to bounce off you harmlessly.

“And suddenly, Jude felt free; he could breathe for the first time in his life. There was a woman who loved him without rancour and was even able to block off his mom’s nagging and focus on him. Do you remember that?”

“I do,” Eka nodded, even Nene nodded; they all recalled how sunny Eka had been.

“You lost the focus, Sister. And the defence crumbled. Once again, Jude was left exposed to his mother’s brand of love. And without the strength of his partner, he found it easier to accept, hook, line and sinker, what his mother peddled.”

“Jesus loving Christ!” Nene’s hand settled on her chest, also realizing the truth.

“Oh, God, I fucked up, didn’t I?” Eka sobbed, covering her face on her palms. “This is why...this is why he’s mean and angry at me,” her voice was muffled by her hands.

“He probably doesn’t realize it, but yes. And this can be solved, Eka. Deep inside, you know how to solve this. Be you again. Be the woman Jude fell in love with. Be his partner in crime against his mother. And it can start by the original plan I came here with...block her numbers on Jude’s phones.”

“Wowza! Yes! I like this plan. Maybe, you can just tell him what you did and why you did it. Then seduce him by force, rape him if need be, you need to force him out of hibernation.” Nene postulated.

Both her friends stared at her in amazement. “Who are you and what have you done with our friend?” Eka joked and they all laughed.

“Hey, seriously, I need all of us to be happy again. Even you, Rita, if this guy is what you think will spark your lady part into shooting rainbows, then, I don’t care, do it!”

“Shooting rainbows?” Rita sputtered, unable to control her mirth.

Eka groaned, trying not to succumb to the pressing need to laugh, “But...but, wait a minute, I thought we hated everyone at Global Press and we wanted them dead.”

Rita’s eyes widened and the laughter continued.

“That’s the attitude, but step away from the morbidity and you’ll be just fine,” Nene advised, sniffling and wiping laugh tears.

“Babe, few seconds ago, you just commanded me to rape my...”

“Who’s raping who?”

The mirth ceased like someone had hit a switch. And indeed, someone had. Jude had returned home at the point of an inopportune statement. He looked pissed.

They were speechless and scrambled to their feet to find Jude filling the door way. How they hadn’t heard his car or his arrival at the door, was lost on her. And Rita worried, how long might he have been standing there?

She cleared her throat, “Hey, Jude, welcome.”

“Hi, Jude.” Nene greeted.

Eka cleared her throat, rubbing her neck uncomfortably. “Um...” she couldn’t even get a greeting out. Rita noticed she looked jittery.

“I asked a question,” Jude snapped, his eyes narrowed on his wife.

Indeed, this was a different Jude they weren’t used to. Rita and Nene exchanged alarmed glances and proceeded to gather their belongings in a warped speed that communicated a need to vamoose the premises.

Still, Eka was yet to speak. They were witnessing what their friend had become. And it seemed, the more timid she became, the angrier Jude got. Speak, Eka; be you, Rita mentally prodded. She wished she could speak into her friend’s mind and prod her.

“Tell him, Eka. Tell him about the sex,” Rita whispered loudly. This could work, but if it didn’t, then she’d be remembered as the woman that destroyed her friend’s hanging by the rope marriage with her craziness.

Eka turned bulging eyes to her, “Hmm?”

Even Nene looked like her eyes would fall off at her words.

“You know, what you told us you would allow Jude to do to you in bed.” She wanted to laugh at Jude’s stricken look, because, he was hearing this conversation, about him, in front of other women apart from his wife that he’d not slept with for months.

Rita was recalling that Jude had encouraged Eka in their early days of marriage to be sexually adventurous. Jude had enjoyed embarrassing Eka in front of them by speaking about such things.

Fear powered through Eka’s gaze. It was so heavy, Rita felt suffocated with it. And as was her reaction when she felt constricted in any form, she exploded.

“Eka has been longing for you to tie her up, blind fold her, and do all those things you’d only spoken about. Not for anything, but the fun of it.” Rita’s peripheral vision caught Eka practically shrinking into herself. But she also saw Jude swallow with some difficulty, his eyes not so angry as much as they were smouldering...in lust, she hoped.

Rita shifted to Eka, not taking her eyes off Jude, she pinched her friend’s thigh to bolster any reaction that wasn’t fear or timidity. Eka gasped at the pain, standing straighter and trying to move from her fingers but Rita held on. This resulted in Nene busting into laughter at the comic picture they both made and Eka joining in laughing but tried to curb it, so it looked like she was being coy...the same way she’d been in the past when Jude would bring up the topic in the presence of her friends.

Jude shifted his weight and cleared his throat. “I heard rape.” His voice had changed. It had changed enough to catch Eka’s attention, because she stopped being timid and stared at her husband, her mouth dropping open.

Was this their sex call; the wife recognising the need in her husband’s voice?

Nene coughed mildly. “She believed you wouldn’t want to do it. That would be when I advised her to...err, seduce you and well, if that didn’t work, she should...um, rape you.” She had finally gotten Rita’s aim. Or maybe, she’d also noticed the shift of emotions in the room.

Rita thought Nene looked like she would want the ground to open up and swallow her. Even though she could be crazy with her friends and was opening up more and more with her husband, this was different; but she’d summoned courage to do it...to save a friend.

“So, wife,” Jude left the front of the door and seemed to avoid the sitting room, where they gathered. He dropped his suitcase by the monstrous bookshelf and loosened his tie, but left it draping around his neck. “Will it be rape or seduction?” his eyes held challenge and he licked his lips.

Jude wanted his wife. It was glaring. So, Rita leaned into Eka and whispered in her ear.

Eka sucked in breath and levelled come hither eyes at her husband. “Rape,” she pronounced and marched to where his stood. His eyes widened when she dragged down his neck by his dangling tie and fused her mouth with his.

“Wowza!” Nene exclaimed in a loud whisper, giggling when Rita slapped her arm and then dragged her from the room. They endeavoured to close the door softly while husband and wife moaned into each other’s mouths.

“Oh God, I’m so happy. I hope they work things out,” Rita gasped, having just giggled as they got outside and approached their cars. Dusk had once again fallen while they’d talked and like clockwork, Nene’s phone buzzed and her reply confirmed that her husband had called.

“I hope so too,” Nene concurred after the call. “Wait, what did you tell Eka to get her all fired up?” she looked interested and mischievous at the same time.

“Exactly what she did.” Rita smiled and then laughed when her friend cackled.

Then she levelled Rita with a knowing stare. “And what about you? It appears you’ve slipped from our fingers again.”

Rita grinned as she opened her car, “It’s more like an opportunity to bring more juicy details next we see.” She winked.

Nene chuckled, shaking her head, “Well, good luck, sister.”

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