“Malik is our host. We’ll be staying at his place in PH. One of his places actually. I served with him in the Army and we still work together now managing properties”
“PH?!!!!” You are kidding me. Zaneta screamed, as she sped past a tanker.
“Yes, Port Harcourt” Zach affirmed.
“I have never been to Port Harcourt”
“Exactly why we are going there”
“Are you kidding me? And we are going to drive out there?”
“Yup!” Zach said “It will be fun” he added with a wink.
“Lord! Zach, we are going to spend all day on the road and arrive exhausted. We should have flown!” she wailed.
“Live a little, darling” Zach said with a smile.
“Pull over at the first chance you get”
“Why?” she asked.
“We are not going fast enough”
“What? I’m doing 120!” She pointed out.
He only smiled and pointed at a place up ahead to stop.
Zaneta pulled over, scooted out of the driver’s seat and into the front passenger seat Zach had occupied as he walked around the SUV and got behind the wheel.
“Zach, do not kill me on this trip, eh-hen!”
He laughed as he set off.
“Nothing must happen to me o!”
“Yes, ma’am” Zach said as he floored the gas pedal, taking the speedometer past 120km/hr.
“See me just looking at you” she said after some silence.
He looked over at her and smiled, a knot was beginning to form around his chest as they made progress. It was the final phase of the mission and for the first time since his early days in Sudan, it was looking and feeling unreal. He clenched the steering wheel tighter and smiled at her as he sped up even more.
“It will end well. She will be fine. Moloku would do the smart thing” he assured himself.
Few times they were stopped by Highway patrol and Customs, there hadn’t been any problems with licence and registration and they had been let go. They stopped twice too. Once to eat and once for Zaneta to pee. It was a fun journey with lots of gists and laughs and she was really enjoying it.
“Welcome to Port Harcourt” Zach said at about 2:15pm.
“Yaaayyyy” Zaneta said in mild excitement.
“Did it take us the whole day now? And we would have been here earlier if we hadn’t made all those stops”
“Oga, don’t think I didn’t notice – you were flying!”
“Na you know that one” Zach replied laughing.
“Awwwww. Your pidgin is so cute. Where did you grow up?”
“Early childhood was in Agbor. We all moved to Ibadan later, pops got a job at a Bottling Company” Zach said navigating the busy streets, taking them to the house they were to stay for the weekend.
“Then you got your HND, then you joined the Army”
“You know you are telling me all about that this weekend. No more excuses!” she declared.
“Yes, ma’am” he simply said.
They arrived at a house and Zach got out to unlock the gates which were padlocked. As he threw the gates open, Zaneta got behind the wheel and drove in. She parked, turned off the engine and got out as Zach walked towards her after locking the gates.
“So, why are we in Malik’s house and not a hotel?” she asked looking around. They were alone, it was a quiet neighbourhood with really nice houses and this one they were in was just as nice.
“Because we can use our hotel money for more fun and stuff?”
“So, why is Malik not here or his family?”
Zach giggled, then said “Malik is in Lagos, he doesn’t have family in the sense you mean and this is one of his houses – I told you that earlier”
“So we are all alone here” she said walking to the pool side.
“More or less. Cleaning folks will come and go. Cook resumes tomorrow”
“Daddy Raiden the romantic. So, I’m supposed to just sit and be looking at you all weekend?”
“More or less” he said with a wink as he got their stuff out of the trunk.
“I have a question” she said as they entered the house.
“So this is your work anniversary weekend?”
“Yep” he said, leading the way to the masters’ bedroom.
“And you decided to go out of town and celebrate”
“That’s also correct”
“But why me?” she asked as she put her bag on the king sized bed.
“That’s not a difficult question” he said moving to stand before her.
“Then answer it” she said looking into his eyes.
“Because I chose you” he said then kissed her lips. She kissed him back.
“Why didn’t you tell me there was a pool? I didn’t bring my swimsuit” Zaneta said standing beside Zach by the pool later that evening. They had ordered in food earlier and were taking a walk around the grounds now.
“Use your birthday suit”
“Shut up! Ashewo!” she screamed punching his tommy, which she didn’t fail to notice was well toned.
“Watch me” he said, beginning to take his T-shirt off.
“No! He is joking!” Zaneta laughed as Zach stripped to his briefs and dove into the water.
“Come on in. The water is the perfect temperature, I promise”
She sat on the edge of the pool and put her feet in. She scowled at Zach playfully, “perfect temperature indeed”
She was about getting up and heading for a poolside cane chair when Zach broke the surface at her feet and pulled her into the water. Her scream was deafening.
She kicked and trashed and he let go and swam far from her.
“I will kill you Zach! I swear!”
Zach leaned against a wall across from her, laughing.
“No swimming in street clothes! Out! Out!!” Zach shouted at her.
“Ya sick!” she said, climbed out of the pool and walked away.
She stormed into the house and headed for the master bedroom where she grabbed her towel and got to taking off the wet clothes.
She didn’t know why but she wished he’d just ‘accidentally’ walk in on her in her semi-naked state. “Silly girl” she thought, laughing at herself as images of Zach’s well toned body in the pool flooded her mind. But she could hear him splashing around in the pool, she knew he wasn’t coming.
She checked her phone, neither Uncle Tunji nor her Dad had called back. Both men had been unreachable, assistants had picked up and told her she would get a call back when she had tried reaching them on her arrival here.
Alice had not picked up earlier either, but had apparently called back – there was one missed call from a number she recognised as one of the office lines. She called Alice again.
“Hey, dear. I called you earlier”
“Some of us have to work” Alice replied.
Zaneta laughed “Yeye. After the longest honeymoon ever, abi?”
“Una don land, shey?”
“Land sha! We didn’t fly. Crazy dude said he changed his mind at the last minute. We drove”
“Say what?” Alice screamed.
“I was exactly like you when he told me too. But in the end it was fun”
“So, it was a good decision? Where are you guys?”
“Yeah. PH o!”
“Nice. Which hotel?”
“Hotel ke? His friend’s house o. You know those kind of houses you’ll find on Naija music videos with big booty girls crawling all over the place and dudes with funny hairdos popping champagne? That’s the sort of place we are”
Alice laughed “So apt. You do have a big booty and Mr. Z’s got the cash for endless bottles”
“Behave!” Zaneta snapped, keeping from laughing herself.
“Pool, I guess?”
“Yup. Gym too. And a cook resumes tomorrow”
“Niiiiiceeeee! Where is he?”
“In the pool”
“And you are here? My friend report to the pool immediately!”
“I came to take my wet clothes off. He dunked me in the pool already. I’m going back to strangle him”
“Ose! Assassin Love” Alice said as they rung off.
For some reason Zaneta could not fathom, a cold shiver ran down her spine. She stood for a minute and looked around. When she couldn’t place a finger on why, she shook it off, wrapped her towel around her underwear-clad body and headed back out to the pool.
Zach looked up in time to see her take the towel off. Instinctively, he ran a palm over his wet face for a clearer view.
“She”s hot!” his mind screamed.
He smiled up at her.
“Don’t smile at me o! I hope you have written a will” she said and dove into the water.
The speed with which she crossed the pool to him amazed him. She was a good swimmer after all. She tried to garb him by the arm but he pulled away just in time to get away from her.
Later, they sat in the evening sun by the pool sipping iced drinks Zach had made them. They’d had fun chasing each other around the pool and racing across it. Now they were exhausted.
“You are a real strong swimmer. I’m impressed” he said,eyeing her as she sipped her drink.
“Thank you. What’s this? I like it” Zaneta asked after a few sips.
“Dates, Coconut and Tiger nuts” Zach said.
“Oh, wow! Where did you get it?”
“In the fridge. I made a request to have it stocked”
“I really like it”
“I know right. FitFam things” he said with a knowing smile.
“Are you calling me fat?”
Zach laughed, almost spilling his drink.
“Thank you” Zaneta said, got up and walked away, “I’m getting cold. Going inside” she threw over her shoulder at him. He was still laughing.
Once in the bedroom, she headed straight for the shower, achieved the perfect water temperature, then got in.
After a long shower, she exited the bath with her towel wrapped around her and checked her phone. This time she had two missed calls from Uncle Tunji. She called him back.
“Hello, Uncle Tunji” she said when he picked up.
“How are you, Zaneta?”
“I’m well, Sir. You?”
“I’m fine. Heading to another meeting. How was your flight?”
“Fine, Sir” she said not bothering to explain that she hadn’t flown down here.
“Where are you guys?”
“Ok. Good, good. I have to go now. Make sure you call your dad and wish him well in the debate tomorrow”
“Ok, Sir. Take care”
“Send me the address of your hotel. We all will feel more comfortable with that information” he chipped in.
“We are at a holiday home, Sir. But I will ask and send it”
“Ok. Have fun” he said and rung off.
Tunji placed a call as soon as Zaneta was off the line.
“Port Harcourt. I’ll send the address once I have it. Don’t lose them this time”
“Mr. Tunji. Casualties are climbing. This guy is a pro. We’d rather not kid with him any longer”
“And who’s to blame for the lack of depth on the part of your men? Anyway, do what you must, but get me the information I need first. And not a hair on her head should be hurt” he barked.
“My men do not lack depth, we have only been holding back” the other man explained.
“I have said my piece” Tunji said and rung off.
“Good night, Sir” Zach said.
It was the next day after their arrival in Port Harcourt. The cook had resumed and made them two meals as requested by Zaneta. They had spent the whole day indoors aside Zach’s visit to the gym where he could hardly concentrate on his counts.
They had watched the Vice Presidential debate together and Dr. Moloku had done an excellent job. If every voter had seen the debate and was to vote based on how it went, the incumbent would lose woefully. It was that clear. And through it all, Zaneta had not given away that she knew the man personally, that she lived with him, that he had been her father for the last 16 years.
Zach found a new level of awe of her. She had been so cool only nodding or clapping whenever Moloku made solid points. Of course her political leaning was clear but she had shown zero signs of personal pride.
“She’s playing you” his head concluded.
It had taken a lot of will-power on his part not to bring it up. His only hope was that this all ended squarely, for now he couldn’t deny he was deeply into her.
He’d come to the kitchen, thrown some fruits in the juicer and then placed a call to Retired General Aliu updating him on the mission while Zaneta was cuddled up under the covers in the master bedroom catching up on some series on her MacBook.
His boss was happy with the progress so far and had hinted at how much the whole party machinery depended on Zach’s mission, particularly in light of the woeful performance of the sitting VP last night.. Zach had assured him he would come through before bidding him a good night.
He poured the juice in a glass jug, emptied a tray of ice cubes into it, picked up two glasses along with the jug and went back to the room.
“s there alcohol in that?” Zaneta asked.
“What is happening? You quit drinking and did not tell me?” she teased.
“I apologise, madam” he said, placed the items on the side table and left. He returned a moment later with a bottle of vodka.
“Now, you are talking” she said with a grin, put aside her MacBook and got out of the covers.
He poured her an almost full glass of juice and topped it off with vodka. Then made another for himself with more vodka.
“What shall we drink to?” she asked, picking up her glass.
“Cheers to the freaking weekend” she said and they clinked glasses.
He got in bed beside her and they adjusted postures until both were comfortable, They ended up with her between his legs, head on his chest while her computer was back on her lap on top of the duvet that covered her to the chest.
“You know I like your hair?”
“Nope, I didn’t know that”
“Well, now I know” she said, turning her head to throw him a glance.
“You somehow choose styles that do it justice and I really like how it smells”
“My short hair”
“At least say thank you first” he said shaking his head.
“Thank you, Sir” she said sniggering.
He played with her hair for a bit while she tried to maintain focus on her series – it was hard.
He slipped his right hand into her top, running a finger over a nipple.
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you”
“Why?” he asked, now holding a nipple between his thumb and fore-finger while his left hand still played with her hair.
“You know why”
“Do you want a baby?”
He laughed a little, “Maybe”
“Well, I don’t. At least not yet” she managed, holding back from moaning.
“Ever heard of condoms?”
“I see you have this all planned out” she said, wriggling free of his touch and getting her computer out of the way.
“‘Be prepared’ – Boy scout motto. Only thing I learned from that period of my life” he said closing the distance she had placed between them and kissing her.
“Why do you want this now?”
“I have always wanted to, babe. And I know you do too. I see it in your eyes” he said kissing her some more. Her resistance was more than he’d bargained for.
“Yes, Zach. I do, but why today?”
“You never know what tomorrow holds” he said and his mind actually did go to tomorrow. It almost made him sick.
“I get. But this always changes things. I like what we have and I’d rather take things slow”
“I agree” he said desire ebbing out of him. Not because of what she had said but because of what his mind had gone to.
“Let‘s just talk”
“Sure. What would you like to talk about?” he said sitting up.
“Your time in the army” she said sitting next to him.
“Did you kill people?” she was grasping, anything to shatter the sexual tension
He laughed. “Are you funning me?”
“Ok, Ok, that’s a given” she said, glad that he had laughed. “What was the toughest part of it?”
“My Sudan tour” he answered immediately.
“Why?” she pressed watching his eyes.
“It was a messed up place. There was absolutely no reason why they could not live in peace. But all sorts of agendas kept them at each other’s throats. But that’s not even why it was annoying for me personally” he paused.
“Go on, please”
“After spending all day getting shot at, seeing your people back home complaining about the long fuel queues or stuff, the president or fast food workers on Facebook would just invoke a level of fury few other human beings will ever experience”
“Wow” she said. She tried to wrap her mind around it.
“In the end, I chose to join the Army yeah? So I was to live with it”
“I guess. When was this?”
“Five years ago. Well, we got back, lost a few friends out there. I find I am under-utilised. I tried commissioning elsewhere. It didn’t come through. I hear BH-posting rumours and decided I wasn’t going to be in that – I’d had enough. I was then referred to some ex-military types who were now in business and might need men with an education that they could trust. That’s how I ended up with my job”
“Wow! But how exactly did you leave?” she pressed.
“Dishonourably” he said with a grin
“Details?” she wasn’t about to let go.
“That stuff is sealed military records, you know. But lets say I’m a free man today cos some folks pulled strings on my behalf” he said. In truth, it had been Retired General Aliu who had saved him from jail time.
“Were you ever shot?”
“Luckily every bullet, but one, that came in my direction missed me. But I had a hundred different injuries from a dozen different other things. Lots of things kill soldiers, not just bullets”
“Where did that one hit you?”
“My God!” she screamed.
He smiled, reached for his drink and drank some.
“Isn’t that supposed to kill you? A head shot?” Zaneta asked wide-eyed.
“Yes, in most cases”
“So….?” she asked, eyes roaming all over his head.
“My helmet stopped it. It was likely a ricochet. But it stopped me dead in my tracks. We had been in an ambush but were successfully fighting our way out of it when I suddenly heard and felt it. It took everything in me not to freak out” he said laughing.
“Shit! Your life must have flashed before your eyes”
“Many times” he said pulling up a picture of his bullet-dented helmet on his phone. “I kept this over the years”
She took the phone from him and examined the image. It wasn’t of great quality but it was enough to tell the story “Oh, Lord!” she said, her hand shaking slightly as she handed the phone back.
He scrolled to another picture of 5 men. “This guy” he said, pointing at someone who stood beside a younger and less buff Zach, “died that day. The next day was his birthday”
“Oh, my God! That’s so sad”
“I learnt everyday is a gift. I promised myself to do all I could to maximise my days and stay alive against all odds”
She reached out and held his hand. She couldn’t fathom why anyone would chose that life, but at the same time, she had more respect for him and his kind everywhere. Her eyes were moist as she tried not to look at him, she might just cry.
“I’m hungry. You?”
“Ok, let me get the food” he said getting up.
“Thanks boo” she said, as he got off the bed and left the room.
“War is so not how it looks in most movies. All the glamour and glory and heroism” he said as he walked back in the room carrying a tray laden with their dinner.
She didn’t respond, but he could see her there, beneath the duvet.
“Hey are you ok?” he said sitting on the bed and holding her shoulder.
“Yes, I’m alright” she said with a smile, “come here” she pulled him in for kiss.
“The food will get cold” he said in weak protest.
“I know how to work a microwave” she said as they kissed some more.
“That among other things” he said, running his hand over her back and realising then that her top was gone.
“Where’s that condom you spoke about, soldier?” she managed as his lips found her left nipple.
“Is this for my exceptional service or for bravery under fire?” he teased.
“Shut up, Zach” she whispered.
He threw a salute and did as he was told.
“Hi, Dad” Zaneta said when Dr, Moloku picked up.
She was alone in the room, with Zach out in the gym. She had woken up to the sounds of his workout.
“How’s your holiday going?” Dr. Moloku asked.
“Fine, Dad. You were on fire yesterday o! Ah!” she said, steering the convo where she wanted it.
“Thank you, Ogechi. The polls have swung seriously in our favour. Danbazau and the whole party are beside themselves in glee” he said laughing. He was on a high.
Zaneta could sense the man was tired beyond his excitement and joy. “Are you eating and sleeping enough, though? Campaign trails are usually gruelling” she said, truly worried.
“You sound just like your mother” he said, calming down some.
“When are you back?”
“Later today, Sir”
“Okay. I have to go now. A fine gentleman is here from CNN”
“Oh, great!” Zaneta said, truly excited for him.
“Goodbye, be safe”
“Yes, Sir. All the best. I love you dad”
“I love you too, little girl” he said and hung up. She could hear greetings in the background as the line went dead.
“Little girl” she murmured. It had been ages since he called her that. She thought back to the period when the moniker was born. A time when she never wanted to leave her uncle or his house. Today, things were different. Anytime she was away from home, she felt somewhat better, she had failed at getting him to agree to getting her own place, but she wasn’t about to give up on that yet.
She hoped he’d win, move to Abuja and the Villa then she would insist on keeping her job and staying in Lagos. Simple.
She was getting lazily out of bed when Zach walked in.
“Good morning, gorgeous” Zach said.
She turned to face him “Good morning, dear. It seems you need the shower more than I do right now” she said noting the sweat all over him.
“Let’s save the planet. Share a shower”
“Na so” she said, laughing but didn’t resist as he led her into the bath.
“AlphaTrag’s crawling all over the place” Malik said.
“She must have sent the address” Zach surmised.
“Let’s blame that on the guy who told her, shall we?”
“No way I can drive out to you?” Zach asked, ignoring Malik’s jab while looking to make sure Zaneta was busy with the cook.
“No. Plan B is active”
“Where is the helipad?”
“I’ll have the pilot push the location to you now over secure IM”
“Do that. After breakfast, we move”
“We expect you. Make sure nothing goes wrong. Kill if you have to, but get her here” Malik said and rung off.
Zach walked back to the master bedroom, locked the door and pulled out his travel bag. Quickly he inspected his pistols and ammo. Then he checked in a hidden compartment in the wardrobe for an assault rifle that he had been told was there; it was. Content, he went back to the kitchen where breakfast was being served.
His phone vibrated as he perched on a kitchen stool. He looked at the message that had just come in. It was the location of the helipad he was to use.
“Ever been on a chopper, babe?” he asked as he looked up to find her smiling at him.
“A helicopter?” Zaneta asked surprised.
“No, I haven’t” she replied.
“Then today is your lucky day”
“Are you serious? A helicopter ride back to Lagos?” she screamed.
He laughed. “No. A short trip to a friend’s within the state, come back and then we drive to the airport and catch the last flight to Lagos”
“This trip is sudden nah. And I have nothing to wear. Why do you keep springing stuff up on someone?” she complained bringing him his breakfast of toast, baked beans, sausages and cheese.
“I’m sorry. Was not planning to see him, his place is quite far, but he insisted and offered the chopper, I knew you’d be mad at me if I turned that down. He wants to meet you” he lied as he began to eat.
“I see your point sha” she said, sitting across from him with her own plate, “so, you’ll leave your car at the airport?”
“Arranged for someone to bring that to Lag tomorrow” he lied again.
“Okay. Now I’m really excited” she said clapping like a kid.
It was not yet an hour since his call with Malik, Zach was set and at the car loading the weapons on in discrete cases. Zaneta was inside getting dressed.
“On our way in 5“
he sent to Malik.
In another minute, Zaneta stepped out into the morning sun looking dashing in a green flowery gown that hugged every curve of her body. She was smiling at him as she approached.
Zaneta couldn’t see the look in Zach’s eyes through the sunglasses he had on. There was no way for her to see the deep sadness they held as they set upon her.