Family dinner had always been a lively affair—and compulsory. As the house was big and most of the children well into their teenage years, dinner was the only alternative to making sure everyone was still at home. Sometimes the girls would hang around the garden or the pool, the boys usually sequestered in the rooms, reading or playing games while a few went out with friends. The children played, all day, in the yard, and some of the adults went to work early. Dinner gave a chance for everyone to catch up on their days and have some little family time.
Her aunt, Cecile, from her father’s side of the family had cooked the meal for that day, and it was, as usual, spicy hot. The garden egg sauce Aunt Cecile prepared along with boiled plantain, yam and potato were favourites of her father as they reminded him of home and his mother.
It seemed, as Coty looked up, they were also a favourite of Eight, who stood at the far end of the table, eyes feasting on every plate and occasional licking of his lips as he watched them eat. Coty silently wondered if he had the luxury of eating like this wherever he was hiding.
“Cot?” she looked up from her plate to look at her father with a raised brow? “How is this friend you mentioned? Maggie? The one who helped you with your surgery or implants.”
She smiled and chuckled with him. “Fine, dad.”
“You should invite her over sometime.” Her mother piped up, reaching over to pass a bowl of sauce to Evie. “We would like to thank her for supporting you and maybe also get to know her. You have very few friends, and this one was so considerate with you. Spending all that time taking care of you at the hospital, keeping you company.”
“I thought about it, but I didn’t want to impose further. Maggie had plans with someone else, so I decided that it would be best to wait and give invitations when I am sure that she is free.”
“Well, I think she is cool.” Ama shrugged, setting her fork down and resting her chin on her hands. “I liked her dressing, she is very stylish. Maybe, when she finally gets to come over and meet us, she would agree to model some of the clothes I make.”
Coty stared, wide-eyed for a moment before nodding in agreement. “That I am sure would be amazing.”
Coty blinked and pushed some plantain into her mouth to stop herself from reacting to Eight’s voice. He had the worst timing.
The door slammed shut, and Samuel, one of her brothers strode in, head bowed as he clicked away on his mobile. Her mother pouted, shaking her head in disbelief as he continued to strut into the room, distracted by whatever was on the screen.
“Which one is this?” Eight whispered to her, she twisted in her seat to face her brother.
“Samuel.” She called, subtly answering the question and using the same opportunity to wake her brother out of his haze.
Her family, as Eight had discovered and marvelled at, was a large one. Samuel and Abe were the only boys, but her aunt Cecilia had three boys and a girl. Most of them were still teenagers, so they lived in the house along with the rest of her family with a few visitors pouring in for holidays. Samuel was the eldest of the two boys. He had a fascination with robotics. No doubt, he and Eight would get on well.
“Coty.” He cried, finally looking up from his phone.
The bag he swung over his shoulder slid to the floor, and he jumped over it to run over to her.
Samuel was like her father, he had a very imposing height, towering over her. He dipped at his knees and wrapped his arm around her shoulders, his rumbling laugh shaking her.
“Hello to you too.”
“Oh, big sis, it is so nice to see you.” He planted a deep kiss against her cheeks, and she squeezed her eyes together, grinning uncontrollably before playfully swatting him away. “Oh, look at you. Look at you look at me. They are beautiful, your eyes.”
“Thank you.” She whispered back softly, closing her eyes once again as he leaned forward to press a small kiss to her forehead.
There was a loud bang, and Coty’s fingers immediately clutched the knife while Samuel shot to his feet, turning towards the door. Fear buried Coty under waves of paranoia, her breathing became ragged. Her heart slammed unevenly in her chest.
“Please not again,” her aunt sighed, sitting up a little to look over at the window that faced the driveway. “They are back at it again. I don’t know why they decided to move at night, how many moving trucks does one house need?”
Coty looked over her shoulder as well, trying to see past the lights at the entrance, her grip slowly easing off the knife. “Moving trucks?”
“Yes.” Her mother laughed. “We didn’t tell you? Those horrid neighbours that used to throw their loud parties at night finally moved out, a few weeks ago. Best sleep I have had in a while. Then three nights ago, they took down the “for sale” sign and moving trucks started coming in to remove and replace some furniture.”
“What’s wrong?” her dad muttered, taking a sip of his wine glass. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah.” She shook her hands out to get the blood flowing through her knuckles again. Then she repeated with more conviction, “yes. I just got startled by the noise that is all.”
Samuel turned back to her and pinched her shoulder fondly before walking over to his parents and hugging them with equal enthusiasm then plunking himself down on a free seat. Tania ruffled his curly afro and kissed him on the cheek before passing him a plate and standing to serve him.
Coty smiled to herself, her fingers fluttering to the base of her neck where a pulse was roughly beating against her skin. They all fell back into their cheerful arguments and stories, but Coty was deeply unsettled by the noise. She couldn’t pull herself out of the panic.
After dinner, Coty spent most of her time under the warm stream of the shower, washing the day off and using the time to collect herself. She stepped out when she was dressed then walked over to her bed, towelling her wet hair quickly.
Resigned to tiredness, she pulled the covers back and slipped into bed, propping herself against a set of pillows. The panic of the loud bang she heard during dinner had slowly worn off, but the fear still lurked in the dark corners of her mind. Her neck and back were sore, her eyes hurt from the lights and she was developing a minor headache. Nothing trumped the fact that she had an unwanted presence hovering over her.
Eight was by the dresser, lounging in her chair and watching her quietly.
“Can you read my thoughts?”
Her voice was low and soft, but she knew he heard her. In reality, he wasn’t at her dresser, she didn’t need to raise her voice to get his attention.
Eight shook his head, looking a bit amused as he stood from the chair to walk over to the window, but he did not look out, he didn’t look at anything but her. “I can’t hear your thoughts. No. I can only hear what you hear and maybe a little further because the robots in your ears have a hearing range of their own and so sometimes I might hear what you wouldn’t. Aside from that, nothing special is happening in there.”
Coty nodded, lifting her index finger to her lips and nibbling on it nervously. Eight didn’t mention any family, but it didn’t necessarily mean he didn’t have any. How many people did he have to leave behind when he went on the run? People he cared for but had to pull away from because of a secret he never created. Did he even know if they were alive or if the organization had gotten to them?
Selfishly, Coty wanted to hate him for involving her in his self-righteous act, but he didn’t intentionally choose her. She had not reserved the contacts or pic them by herself. She went in, and they gave her the contacts. He had no hand in it.
“What happened to your family?”
Eight smiled sadly at her question, folding his arms and widening his stance. “My parents still live in Nigeria; I usually speak with them once a month over on skype, but I text more often than that. They don’t know what’s happening to me over here, I try not to get them alarmed because I am afraid that if they snoop…”
“They could be hurt?”
“Yes. Or could be used to draw me out in some way and I won’t want them to be in that kind of danger.”
“And my family?” She muttered, pulling her finger away from her lips. She curled them into her palm and sat forward, resting her elbows on her knees. “What would I do when they come for my family?”
“I know that you wouldn’t believe me when I say I don’t want you or anyone in your family to get hurt, but I swear that it is the truth. If there was a way to stop them, without involving another soul, I would have done it, but I am on their list. I couldn’t work without their notice. It was either let them win and hide my whole life or fight back somehow.”
“I have a job.” She seethed, looking around her room and waving her arms frantically. “This is the life I have known for twenty-eight years. Simple and boring. The most exciting thing I have ever done in my life was to ride a bicycle around the house. Now, you want me to jump into the middle of some government plot to create assassins from their volunteers. Like we are some kind of lab rats. What exactly do you think I can do?”
“Write some code? I don’t know how.” She laughed hysterically but still tried to keep her judgemental tone low enough to avoid attracting attention. “Am I going to need to be armed now? Join Evie’s self-defence classes and learn how to become some kind of spy. God, the words coming out of my mouth don’t even make sense to me right now.”
Coty trailed in shock, thinking on the words finally feeling the weight of the day settle in. She was or was supposed to be, his spy. Whimpering quietly, she dropped her face into her palm and shaking her head, frustrated.
“I work in real-estate. I sell houses for a living, and I stay by myself in a two-bedroom apartment.” She laughed, throwing her head back. “Ava has done most of the work for me for so long. She wakes me in the morning, she controls my car being driven to work, places orders for me, takes me calls when I can’t answer…”
“I know,” he quickly jumped in before she had another opportunity to drift off again. “I know this is hard. I didn’t mean to turn this upside down on you, and I don’t intend on sending you on any missions or making you into some type of spy. Honestly, not to make you more terrified, but this is as far as I have come in my plan. I am still going through the code they wrote for the contacts to find ways to override what they did. It is difficult.”
“So, what? You are just going to sit in my eye, drooling over the food and gawking at women?”
“I have half a plan figured out. I feel like if I give you cliff notes right now, you’d get upset.”
“What plan is that?”
“It is not the kind of plan that you would easily get on board with.”
Her door clicked, Eight stood from her bed as her mother walked into the room.
Coty eyed him quickly then looked over at her mom. She was dressed in an unflattering pair of purple boxers that dwarfed her small legs, falling just below her knee and a loose camisole.
“How are you feeling?”
She sat up, taking a deep breath. “Fine. Just getting myself ready for bed.”
“Cot.” Her mother sat down on the bed, her voice suddenly serious. watching her mother wearily. “Is this really okay with you? Are you okay with this?”
Coty nodded, steeling herself against balling her eyes out in front of her mother. She needed to be strong for their sake. Whatever this madness was, she wasn’t interested in risking their lives in the process.
“Yes. It takes a little adjusting to, but I am happy.”
Her mother took her hand, quietly assessing her before smiling and standing up from the bed.
“Okay, I will leave you to get some rest. It must have been a long day for you. Say your prayers and get some rest.”
Coty nodded. Her mother waved at her, and she left, closing the door quietly behind her.
Eight looked mournful, but she was having none of his pity. The fact that he was sorry wouldn’t get the contacts out of her eyes, it wouldn’t change that she was now part of a stupid plot.
She reached for the covers and pulled them up to her shoulders, sinking down into her bed after shutting the lights off. In the darkness of her room, she allowed herself to be bitter.
She hated Kyle for putting her forward, even if it was out of the goodness of his heart. She despised the friendly, luring voice of Doctor Lina Smith. The voice that made her think she was safe, and lastly, she hated him.
Fault or not, he dragged her into this mess, and now her life was in danger. So many different conspiracies ran circles in her mind. Men in dark suits and cars coming for her, being watched from the bushes.
For the first time in her life, Coty truly felt blind.