Belema left the following morning, with a vague promise to call him. A blessing in disguise, he realised, an hour later when Rebecca came stumbling through the gates, wearing the same attire as the previous day. She sprinted towards him, arms outstretched. “Sir, Sir.” Her approach brought into view distinct splash marks on her blouse. Dots of red. Blood. She launched into his waiting arms, holding on tightly, and then as if immediately recognising her forwardness she withdrew, sinking into silent tears.
No measures could possibly have prepared Samuel for the guilt that lay siege upon his conscience. It came flooding in like a high wave, and like a city overwhelmed, he welcomed it without quarrel, hoping only that no harm had befallen the girl. Her hair was ruffled, the top three buttons of her blouse unhooked. Samuel could see the top of her breasts, expanding and contracting as she panted, glistening with beads of sweat. He had a vision of himself stabbing Uzor in the stomach fifteen times. “Are you alright?”
Her response was hard to decipher. “I can’t,” she said, gesticulating wildly, still trying to catch her breath. “Oohhh, I tried, this morning…oohhh.” Her eyes were unfocused. Her moaning seemed to suggest some kind of pain. An injury? He had to act fast.
“Come inside, come, come.” Samuel ushered her into his study. As per Emergency First Aid protocol, he laid her down on the couch, lifting her legs, easing off her rubber slippers. “Sit here and catch your breath.” He rushed into the kitchen, and when he returned he was holding a glass. Following no known medical stricture, Samuel turned some brandy into the glass and handed it to Rebecca. “Here, drink this.”
In one go, she poured the drink down her throat, wincing and coughing. Ten minutes later, she was steady. Her eyelids hung low, like those of a spiritual medium, possessed by the ghost of some sailor drowned at sea, and Samuel’s, after a shot of his own, were of the widowed wife, looking on with a mixture of anticipation, revulsion, pure terror, all superseded by a naked desire to know what happened.
“I can’t go back,” Rebecca said. “Please, don’t make me go back. I’ll do anything, please just don’t make me go back there.” She was getting hysterical.
“Calm down,” Samuel said, “Calm down. No one is sending you back.”
When a patient died the hardest thing was often not the loss, but having to stand in the direction opposite to it, trained to not feel it, to not accept responsibility. If healing was his to facilitate then how was a failure to heal not his fault? Taking another shot of brandy, Samuel excused himself. He went upstairs into his bedroom, and shut the door behind him. “I’m taking you up on your offer,” he whispered into his phone. “When can she come?”
“What are you talking about? And why are you whispering? Where are you?”
“The maid. I need her to stay over at your place for while. She has this problem, she’s not very stable right now, trust me.”
“Samuel, Samuel, listen to me. I’ll say this once. You’re joking if you think she’s going to stay at my place. The girl’s lying.”
“Oh, not again.”
Belema made Samuel a proposition. “Give her the phone, let me speak to her. If she satisfies me, I will take her to my place, she can stay as long as she likes, no problem. Or fine, you don’t want me scaring the girl, no problem, just keep her there, doing her work or whatever. I’ll come by later and trust me we’ll clear this up once and for all, okay?”
Samuel wasn’t entirely sure how he felt about this plan. There were plusses as there were minuses, and they seemed neck and neck when he weighed them. His instincts told him to refuse, to insist that Rebecca had been through enough already, but before he could say a word, Belema hung up the phone.
“I’m sure you know who I am.”
Trembling, both hands held at her back, Rebecca stared into the face of the figure towering above her. Clad in a navy blue skirt suit, Belema might as well have been wearing military fatigues, for the menacing way she glared. She wasted to time getting to the point. Had Rebecca been fondled improperly?
“Is this really necessary,” Samuel said.
Lowering her eyes, Rebecca stammered and then fell silent. Belema turned to glare at Samuel, and with a slow shake of her head, turned back to face Rebecca. She repeated the question. Had anyone touched, fondled, or raped her?
Afflicted with a light shiver, Rebecca said, “No, ma.”
Samuel felt the earth tremble beneath him. He could not believe his ears. “What do you mean?”
Belema showed no reaction whatsoever. If anything, she seemed ever more determined, pressing Rebecca to go into detail, to be more specific, to leave no room for, as she put it, misinterpretations. “So you come here to someone’s house to tell a lie, is it? Yesterday, today, all lies, right? Let me just warn you now. This is your last chance. If you don’t tell me everything, I’ll call the police immediately.”
Rebecca dropped to her knees. The mention of police seemed to send the fear of God into her. Please, no police, please, she would tell the truth, she said. Trembling, nodding repeatedly, she said yes, she did lie yesterday, and yes she lied today also.
Belema took a step forward, her shoulders rising and falling, her eyes fixed on Rebecca’s head. She seemed to contemplate taking it in one hand, dashing it against a rock. “Why? Tell us, or I’ll call the police.”
Samuel put his hand up. “That’s enough.”
“What did I tell you?” Belema exploded in a shriek of laughter, springing into a weird bounce. “Did I not say she was a liar? We’ve only started, we’ll soon get to the root of the matter.”
“I said enough.”
At that instant Rebecca turned to Samuel, lifting her upturned palms. “Oga, I beg you. Allow me to go, please. I won’t come back again.”
“Nonsense. Stand up. I said stand up!”
“Why in heaven’s name are you protecting her?” Belema asked in amazement. “We need to get to the bottom of this.”
“What you need to do is leave.”
There was silence for the briefest time. Both of them locked eyes, each as shocked as the other. For he had spoken in his doctor’s voice.
“Tell me you didn’t hear what she just said, the game she’s been playing.” Without waiting for a response, Belema froze, her eyes narrowing into slits. Snapping her fingers, shaking her head, she said, “No way! You can’t do this. You won’t dare!”
Samuel stared at her, his expression blank.
“You know what, take her,” Belema said. “Do whatever you want. You two deserve each other.” She turned around and stomped off, shrieking, “It’s not me you’ve shamed, that’s all I know, it’s not me.”
Samuel trailed behind. He was in no great hurry. He could have stopped her at anytime, but instead he watched, as the left heel of her shoe got caught between some stones, and snapped, as she lost her footing and stumbled, as she cursed. Limping to her car, she held the door open and turned back. “Just tell me one thing. Why waste my time? I mean if you knew you were going to…I don’t understand, it’s so beneath you, and I know you know it, at least I want to believe you do, but then again, you were never much of a man, were you, so who knows?”
There you go, Samuel said to himself. There you go.
“Real men know when to act,” she continued. “What do you ever do, tell me, what, besides hide behind that desk of yours, writing those complaint letters you call essays. A lazy, diplomatic …punk is what you are!”
Under his breath, Samuel said, “I’m so sorry I didn’t die.”
For a moment, Belema’s face went completely slack. She held him in her gaze, as though contemplating the actions of not a man, but a grotesque, netherworld creature. Her eyebrows arched high, her face crumpling as she let out a mad shriek that descended into a profanity-laden rant. And as if immediately recognising the futility of words on such an occasion, she stamped her foot, hocked and spat, a thick phlemgy missile that sailed in the air and landed smack on Samuel’s left shoulder. She slammed the car door and screeched away.
Forcing a smile, Samuel turned to go back in. For this was no time for sentiment. This he was doing for principle alone. If the girl was to heal then she needed a place conducive for that healing. He could provide that. Rippling underneath this knowledge, however, was a turbulence of terror. For he had known all his life of the duplicity that often corrupted good intentions, making possible the collapse of great nations, their schools becoming hotels and even brothels, their men laying waste to the very lands they had sworn to protect. Catching sight of Rebecca by the window, he froze.
Rebecca could hear faint voices outside, and deliberated whether or not to push back the curtains and take a peek. The shouting quickened her curiosity, and she scrambled to her feet. Standing by the window, fists clinched around black protector bars, she peered out into the darkness. She couldn’t see much of what was out there, but she heard the dull roar of a departing car, its twin headlights illuminating the dark road ahead. She saw Samuel turn towards the house, and stop, his eyes as wide as if he’d seen a ghost, his face pale. They locked eyes for a time, and only when he resumed his advance did Rebecca fall back, the curtains unravelling.
Zino Asalor is a writer of fiction and poetry, currently based in Port-Harcourt, Nigeria. His work has been published in several literary magazines including Sentinel Nigeria, New Literati, Saraba Magazine and Glossolalia Flash. He is currently at work on his first novel.
An excerpt from this story was previously published by New Literati.