There were six empty bottles of Harp on the table now. I’d drunk only one bottle and was halfway through the second. My drinking glass was half full and had remained untouched for the better part of one hour but I had continued to smoke and my pack of Dunhill was almost empty. A stubborn fly buzzed persistently around my exposed glass cup and finally perched. More flies reported for duty as if summoned by some invisible trumpet that the beer was good. I watched absent minded as two to three more flies joined their pioneering compatriot. William on the other hand, had a very healthy appetite for alcohol. He had concluded his drinking for the day though. He declined my offer when I told the bar man to keep the drinks coming. He laughed, pointing out to me that he was doing all the drinking.

I had been transported to another man’s world. His vantage point made me see him in a new light; my respect had grown immensely as did my sympathy. Its been over two hours since he’d made a phone call with my mobile phone when we first met, giving our current location to someone who, at first, thought it was a prank call. He left a very stern warning that his call must remain a secret. I could almost visualize the man at the end of the phone call kneeling in deference as he continually said, “Yes sir! Yes sir!!” as his voice boomed out of the phone.

I had been in a very remote location in Ibadan for a project and had been shocked when I saw him for the first time. He had stumbled out of one of the bushes nearby. It was 11am and I’d just finished stowing away my surveying equipment in the boot of my car. Naturally, I panicked at first but he walked calmly towards me, dusting his body as he did. His clothes were dirty and tattered. He spoke English in a clear voice. The people around here always assumed everyone spoke Yoruba.

“Excuse me sir. Please can you tell me where we are right now?” He looked around, unsure of what looked like an unfamiliar territory to him. The dirt road was empty except for a few passersby who ignored us. It was a bushy street with various abandoned or uncompleted buildings and houses at different stages of completion.

“I can’t properly pronounce the name of this place but we are very close to Ibadan town.” I replied, noting he was out of place in this developing area.

“Ibadan?!” His shock reflected in his eyes and his hands trembled.

“What is today’s date?” He asked again after a brief pause.

“Its February 5th, sir.” He looked at me in shock. Suddenly, his gaze weakened and so did his gait. He crumbled to a heap on the floor, helplessly.

“Sir, sir!” I panicked as I rushed over to him. “Are you alright?!” I turned him around and felt his pulse. They do that in movies a lot. I felt a pulse; it was steady. He looked emaciated. I looked around but there was no one in sight now. It was when I tried to lift him up, planning to take him to the nearest hospital, that I perceived the stench.

“Good Lord!” I exclaimed and backed away hastily. The stench was evil and it emanated from him. My hand flew to protect my nostrils. My exclamation seemed to have jolted him back to some form of consciousness.

“I need food and water.” He had said weakly.

I looked at my car; It was a black Volkswagen Gulf 3 with leather interior. I called her Samantha. She’s my first car and I love her dearly. After a long debate with myself about how this man would pollute the car, my more humane side won and I had helped him into the car, mentally promising Sam I’d give her a thorough wash afterwards.

Back to the present, he was silent and had a countenance that supposed he was lost in thought and reflecting on his personal misery. My mind was cast back to the heart rending break-up I went through a year ago. I thought I was hard hit but William’s story so far told me how much of a beginner I was.

“I think I sort of lost it after that call,” he continued suddenly, breaking off my thoughts.

“There was no way I could guess who the anonymous caller was so I retrieved the sim from my damaged phone and took it over to the mobile network operator I used. They refused to help me find the anonymous caller citing confidentiality agreement which could not be broken except the caller used it to further a crime or a life was at risk.

I dropped my business card stating off handedly that anyone who could help me would be handsomely rewarded before I took my leave. I received a call two hours later from a staff who chose to remain anonymous, giving me the details of the sim owner. She didn’t have the access to provide me with the triangulated location of the call. The name meant nothing to me and I decided the user probably registered with false information.

I was troubled and my mind roved all over, imagining the worst scenarios. Could it be true? No, it couldn’t be. She’d never do that. She’d never cheat on me, I reasoned within myself. I became so paranoid. I wondered what reason a person could hope to gain by telling such lies. If he was so sure, why remain anonymous? Why not come straight up? I began to rationalize on Veronica’s behalf. Probably, someone was trying to wreck our marriage. An envious friend perhaps? I stuck with that line of reasoning and found a little peace at last. However, the peace was short-lived. It was replaced with the nagging reality that it was a possibility. Could that be the reason we’d sort of drifted apart? Was that the reason she wouldn’t let me touch her?

My flaming jealousy made me drive down to Sidwell’s. I didn’t want to be seen so I peeked through the glass and I saw her laughing heartily with a female customer. She had stopped laughing at my jokes, I suddenly recalled. I drank myself to a stupor when I got home and slept off on the couch waiting for her to come home. It was almost 11pm when she came back in. I awoke with a start and wanted so much to tell her about the anonymous phone call but I couldn’t bring myself to. Doubt had crept in and I knew what I had to do to get to the bottom of this.

The next day, I called a business associate who had of a friend who was into private investigation; the types that keep tabs on cheating spouses of the rich and famous. I told him a friend was having problems and suspected his wife was cheating so I remembered that he had once said something about knowing a guy who was a private investigator.

I got the number of a Mr Tomlin, a British national and a retired officer of the London Metropolitan Police. He had a quiet and successful practice and could only be reached through referrals. I called him and we arranged a meeting. When we met, I explained my situation to him demanding utmost confidentiality which he assured me was his modus operandi. His rates where not cheap but I was given assurances about the good quality of his work so I didn’t mind. I also wanted to know the anonymous person who called me and he said he would handle it.

I had to travel again to one of my branches in the north. We had to shut down operations because of frequent terrorists attacks which had turned the place to a ghost town. I also had about three outlets which had been vandalized. On a whim, I invited Joe to accompany me and he didn’t seem happy about that. He seemed to have a lot on his mind and wasn’t his usual chatty and boisterous self on the chartered flight; I was grateful for that. I needed to think. It was barely two days after my meeting with Mr Tomlin and I kept expecting my phone to ring every moment with news that he’d found something. He had advised me to leave town on my regular business trip so he could operate freely. If Veronica was really cheating on me, she’d do it when I was away. I was terrified at the prospect of what I was going to discover but I just had to know. I almost dialed his number once or twice but after exercising due restraint, I let it be.

Joe and I spent three days in Kaduna before I sent him back to Lagos while I went on to Abuja. I was in Abuja for over a week. A big deal was in the making and I wanted to make sure I tidied all lose ends before returning to Lagos. I forgot all about Mr Tomlin.

When I returned to Lagos, I came home and was shocked to find a candle lit dinner awaiting me. I blinked to see if I was hallucinating. I wasn’t! She welcomed me with a long kiss; something we hadn’t shared in a while. She ran my bath water and told me to take a bath before we had dinner. I was still shocked and surprised that I couldn’t say a word but I obeyed. I had a quick bath wondering what was going on. When I came back down to the dining room, she was dishing out my meal. She served me herself! I wondered where Edet was because it was he who usually served my meals. Well, I relaxed and decided to enjoy myself.

We talked. Something we hadn’t done in a long time. She asked me how my trip went and I told her everything I’d done in the past three months…well, not exactly everything. It was like her old self had come back. This was what I had been hoping for. She told me about business at Sidwell’s; her customers and general happenings. I felt so much at peace once again. We had suddenly rediscovered the chemistry we once had. I wanted to ask what came over her but I held myself. I didn’t want to ruin it. After dinner, we danced and headed back up to the bedroom where we made love like it was our first time. I watched her nestle against my chest and slept off as I considered bringing up the topic of adoption.

My dream world continued for two weeks. We were nearly inseparable now. I put off a number of less important trips to stay back with her. She’d just hired a manager to handle Sidwell’s so we had more time. We went clubbing, we went to the beach, we laughed our hearts out at comedy shows…it was just like we were newly weds on our honey moon. All was going fine and well until Mr Tomlin showed up at my office. I had forgotten all about him. He was dressed in the same suit he wore the day I first met him and carried a black briefcase. I offered him a seat. He regarded me with smiling eyes for a brief while before he began.

“I see you and your wife are back on good terms.” He said in his deeply accented voice.

“Yes…as a matter of fact, I don’t think I’ll be requiring your services anymore.” I stuttered hurriedly. He must have been watching me too, I thought.

“Well. I’m glad it all worked out but I did my job and still expect to be paid the balance owed.”

“Of course, of course!” I said. I brought out my cheque book and wrote him a cheque for N200,000.

“Thank you.” He said, as he collected the cheque. Without looking at it, he put it in his pocket. He opened the brief case and brought a large manila file. He dropped it on the table.

“Here’s what I’ve been able to gather. I kept no copies as per our agreement and…”

“Could you just take the file away…I don’t think I’ll be needing it any longer.” I cut in, my palms suddenly becoming moist.

“I’m sorry sir,” he said quietly. “That wasn’t part of the deal. It would be in your best interests to read it anyway.” With that, he rose up and was gone.

The manila folder was made of fine black leather. I stared at it, like it was an evil, sabre-toothed animal that would bite if I touched it. Did I really want to know what it contained? I didn’t care what Veronica had done anymore. I loved her. I just wanted to be past it and live like whatever was inside that file never happened. However, I couldn’t help myself. I didn’t want to know but I had to know. With shaky hands, I reached for the file…

Malcolm.

Follow on twitter @saymalcolm

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