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Episode 12

Lara held the phone with one hand and closed the door to her mother’s bedroom with another. Her brain was running the race of a thousand miles in seconds. Something wasn’t right! She had seen several credit alerts on her mother’s phone, most of them, in thousands – hundreds of thousands at most-  but this was the first time she was seeing a whooping sum of hundred million Naira as a credit alert in her mother’s phone. She shook her head as she climbed down the stairs, heaving towards the sitting room. Her mother wasn’t there. The sound of cutlery came from the kitchen and she walked there hastily.

Her mother sat on a high stool in the kitchen drinking orange, with a long white saucer filled with oranges on the cabinet before her. The two cooks, both dressed in short gowns and aprons, were going about their duties, preparing dinner. Lara frowned at the image her mother posed. She was drinking the juice out of the orange but was also looking blankly out of the window. She seemed to be deep in thoughts. Lara noted absently that her mother had been completely different ever since she returned from her abductors. She felt for her mother, wondering just how much the kidnap had affected her mother.

Lara entered fully, gaining the attention of the maids but her mother didn’t move. She had the orange locked between her lips as she gazed out the window, looking at something only her eyes could see. The maids bent their knees slightly and greeted Lara but she only nodded at them as worry took over her. “Leave us” she murmured to the maids and they both scrambled out.

Lara walked quietly towards her mother and on reaching her, touched her shoulder slightly. Sewa jumped under her touch and the orange practically slipped out of her mouth and hand, rolling to the floor. She turned to stare at Lara with a shaken look on her face. “Oh Lara, it is you!” She murmured, “when did you arrive?”

Lara leaned her back against the cabinet, facing her mother. “A couple of minutes back” she answered simply, then craned her head to the side to stare at her mother more closely. “What is wrong mother? Is everything okay?”

Sewa smiled brightly, too brightly. “Of course! Everything is fine”

Lara shook her head. “I don’t think so mum. You were lost in thoughts when I came in; what were you thinking about? You know you can talk to me right?”

Sewa smiled. “Of course I know my dear, but I wasn’t thinking about anything serious; it is nothing”

“Care to share the ‘nothing’ with me?”

Sewa chuckled and slid off the stool, coming to her feet. “Oh Lara, you are almost as stubborn as your father” she said as she picked the orange on the floor and disposed it in the waste basket.

“And I am almost as beautiful as my mother” Lara finished.

Sewa picked another orange and started walking out of the kitchen. “Oh, believe me honey, you are much more beautiful”

Something flashed through Lara’s mind, making her remember her reason for searching for her mother in the first place. “Mum?” She called gently, trying to put enough nonchalance into her voice. Sewa stopped and turned towards her daughter. “Actually mum, I came to give you your phone. I stopped by your room when I came back but you weren’t there. I saw your phone on the bed. I think you got a message” Lara finished. She removed the phone from her back pocket and took two steps towards her mother, before giving it to her. Was it her imagination or did her mother go a shade paler than she already was? Lara grabbed one orange and halved it before bringing it to her lips. She watched her mother from the corner of her eyes as she opened the message. Sewa seemed to grow paler as she hurriedly tucked the phone away and made to leave.

“What was it about?” Lara asked as casually as she could manage. “The message?” She hinted. “Hope all is well?”

Sewa shifted. “Uhn? Oh yes… The message? Of course… Everything is fine. It is just that a… Errrr… A friend of mine sent me a reminder message, I am supposed to meet her in a few minutes. Can you believe it, I actually forgot” she laughed nervously. “Let me rush off”

Lara nodded stiffly. “Of course mum”

Lara heard the hastened steps of her mother as she rushed off. Her mother had lied to her! She shook her head to shake off the evil thoughts creeping in. Something is wrong somewhere, she thought gravely as she discarded the half-drank orange on the cabinet and walked out of the kitchen. Her mother had received an alert of hundred million and was hiding it. This can’t be good!

*****
*****

Tunji Banks walked out of the government Secretariat with his guards following closely. His black jeep still shone out in the night’s darkness. The door of his black jeep was opened for him and he stepped in gallantly. The door closed and he turned his head to the left. His sharp eyes drilled the young man sitting next to him. “Did you follow him?” He asked directly.

“Yes sir” the guy answered, keeping his eyes respectfully lowered. “He lives in a dignifying area, here in Ikeja, I was also able to trace the ownership of the property to him sir” the guy concluded.

Tunji smiled. “That is good”. Now that he knew everything about Jack’s financial capacities, all he had to do is convince Lara to also see the benefits in this joining and accept Jack as her husband, he thought with a smile. Besides, it was her fault that he lost all the money meant for his campaign, she would have to help in getting it back. As for those kidnappers, he would still get them, he vowed. He would get his money back! “That would be all” he murmured to the guy, who bowed his head slightly and hopped out of the car.

Tunji’s driver immediately entered the car and drove out of the Secretariat, heading home. Maybe he even has something to thank the kidnapper for…

*****
*****

Lara walked behind the maid her father had sent to call her. She pulled the ropes of her night robe around her and secured it firmly behind her. The lie her mother told her hours later still rang fresh in her mind and she couldn’t piece up the pieces. As she got to the door, leading to the small parlor, the maid bowed her head slightly and left. Lara took a deep breath and opened the door. What she met was a heated argument between her dad and mum. She frowned. They didn’t seem to notice her presence as they argued angrily.

“Whether you like it or not woman, I would make sure the person who kidnapped my daughter and extorted ‘my’ money is exposed” Mr Banks was saying. “I can’t believe you are against this.” He stated, bewildered. “The bastard kidnapped ‘your’ daughter and collected ‘my’ money, without even releasing her” he roared. “If the poor girl hadn’t escaped, she might still be with the bastard, going through God knows what”

Sewa had her arms on her hips. “All I am asking is that you forget about the kidnap, for Lara’s sake” she yelled back. “Talking about the experience might be painful for Lara, besides, the kidnapper might try to strike again if they notice that we are taking steps to expose them”

“What are you saying woman? If they notice we are trying to expose them, they would become tense and try to run. Their anxiety would be to our benefit”

“Why not let…” Sewa turned and saw Lara by the door, standing pensively. Mr Banks also turned towards Lara. “Very good. Omolara, come in and close the door” Sewa said.

Lara closed the door but stood by the door.

“I am sure you heard the argument Lara, I have been trying to convince your father to let the kidnappers go. We can’t put you through the stress of reliving the kidnap dear”

Lara stared at her mother for some seconds. “Actually mum, I agree with dad. I want the kidnapper to be caught. He and the person he works for might strike another home; I wouldn’t want any other person to experience what I did” Lara said.

Sewa deflated as Lara went to stand beside her father.  “Okay” she said grudgingly. “I think you are right”

“Of course she is right” Tunji said. “Now, please leave me alone, I want to talk with my daughter” he added, putting his arm around Lara’s shoulder. Lara stiffened. It was not like her father to openly display affection, even one as simple as putting his arm around her shoulder. Lara swallowed as her mother walked out of the room and closed the door. “C’mon Lara, sit” he said gently. “Let us have a father to daughter discussion”

Lara sat down without a word. Her heart was beginning to race faster. If she still knew her father well, she would bet he was on the verge of telling something very unpleasant.

“Do you want any drink?”

Lara’s anxiety rose a notch. “No, thank you dad” her father was being too nice for her peace of mind.

“Okay” Tunji said, then smiled softly. “I can see you are already in your nightie, so I would make this as brief as possible” he said and Lara nodded stiffly. “You see, Lara, you are my daughter, my only daughter, I would not see evil and watch you walk into it”

Oh no! I am not going to like this! Lara thought to herself. “You have gone through a lot in life, especially in the arms of men; you don’t deserve to go through hardship. You deserve to be pampered and taken care of by a man.”

Where are you going with this dad?” Lara queried as her anxiety reached the peak.

Mr Banks looked around the room simultaneously before looking back at Lara. “Jack Andrews came to see me” he declared and Lara froze. Oh no! “He is asking for your hand in marriage”

For some seconds, Lara stared speechlessly at her father. Her mind literarily went blank and all her thoughts were eradicated. Jack! Getting him out of her mind ever since he left the house had been an effort. Now, even the mention of his name was enough to make her remember his perfume. And he wants to marry her? Marry her? “Just like that?” She asked as anger started setting in. “You would hurl me into the arms of a complete stranger just because he has impressed you financially?” Lara said on raised voice as she rose to her feet.

“How dare you insinuate that I am only after financial benefits” Tunji roared.

“Aren’t you?” Lara returned. “Listen to me dad, I don’t care about whatever it is you discussed with your potential ‘son in law’, but one thing is certain” she said dramatically. “I am NOT marrying him. Never!” She deadpanned.

“You would marry him”

“What in the world is wrong with everyone? Do you all think I am an object to be pawned?” She raised her hands in the air, totally bewildered. “I have always told you dad, I am not a kid to be told what to do every now and then, I am an adult; you hear me dad? An adult” she emphasized. She closed her eyes and tried hard to regulate her breathing. “I am tired, it has been a dramatic day. Excuse me dad” she turned and walked towards the door.

“Come back here Lara” Tunji boomed but Lara had never been an obedient child; she walked out and closed the door firmly behind her.

*****
*****

“Are you not going to tell us what happened?” Bola yelled in frustration at Lara who was busy pacing the length of the sitting room.

Teresa hissed as she grabbed the glass of juice on the side table and tasted the liquid within. “If I had known that she would be pacing in front of me instead of telling me what the matter is, I would never have left my comfortable bed when she called.” She said to Bola

Lara kept on pacing. She hadn’t been able to sleep last night. Her father’s words kept ringing in her head. “What gives him the right to think he can map my life out for me uhn?” She yelled.

“How would we know when we don’t even know who you are talking about” Bola returned.

“Whoelse? My father of course”

Teresa rolled her eyes. “What did he do this time?”

“Can you imagine? He wants me to get married to Jack” Lara yelled.

Bola and Teresa stared at each other. “Jack? The supermarket guy? Your rescuer? That Jack?” Bola asked.

Lara hissed. “Yes, that Jack”

“Wow. That is the most sensible thing your father has ever initiated” Teresa muttered with eyes wide with interest.

Lara opened her stunned mouth and was about to say something really nasty to Teresa when the door opened. They all turned simultaneously towards the door. Lara’s mouth went dry as she stared at the reason for her turmoil.

Jack stood at the entrance, grinning from ear to ear like someone who had just won a Grammy award. He held a small rose flower in one hand and kept the other hand in the pocket of his trouser. “Hello dear” he said.

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