“It is easier to fool people than to convince them that they have been fooled.”

-Mark Twain

The air was still. The usual awareness of external noises ceased as his ears temporarily lost their function. The heat was particularly unbearable this afternoon but he didn’t notice…not after he received the call. He stared in space numbly as sweat trickled down from his neck down to his bare chest.

Chidi wasn’t sure how long he sat there but suddenly, his brain came alive and he jumped up like a man who just realised he had something urgent to do. His brain was working over time now. He needed to confirm at all costs that he heard right a few minutes ago.

He picked up his mobile phone and dialed the only number he’d known from heart for years besides his own.

“Your account balance is low. Please recharge as soon as possible.” The automated female voice said to him.

He swore angrily. The last call he made had swallowed up what was left of his units. The time displayed on the phone was 6:36pm. By this time, he should have been resting after a hectic day at work. He had managed to leave early from work in order to avoid the traffic but in Lagos, that is mostly a pipe dream.

He still had on the trouser he had worn to work. He had only managed to take off his shirt and the inner tees when the call came in and it replayed in his mind with frightening clarity.

Veronica was robbed last night…or so she told him. She was supposed to spend the night at his place last night and he had stayed up late expecting her but she never showed up. He had reservations about her nocturnal habits but he was too in love care, too gullible that he believed her lies and consequently, blind to see.

He had been in love for nearly 8 years. Since the first day he met her as an undergrad in his Sophomore year and she, a Jambite, he fell for her and he fell hard. They were well known on Campus then as an almost inseparable duo. As he edged towards graduation, they moved in together on campus and most of those years where the best of his life.

But today, the mist fell from his eyes and finally, he could see.

His mind went back to the call he had just received. When Veronica had called him last night with an unknown number, he was surprised.

“What happened to your phone?” He had asked.

“I was attacked by robbers oh. I had to run away and even dropped my phone in the process. They even beat me up…”

That was all it took to rile him up. He had wanted to leave the house in the dead of the night to go and find her, wherever she was but she managed to calm him down by saying she was ok now and at home.

She promised to come over later today and he had been expecting her. She had called again while he was at the office and told him she was going to pick up her phone. Someone had picked it up and had kept it for her, she said. She was the reason he left the office early today.

He had called her number when he got home hoping she had retrieved her phone but he got the shock of his life.

First, it was a guy who answered the phone.

“Oh, I thought Veronica had picked up her phone.” He said, wondering why she still hadn’t gone to pick up the phone.

“Who is this?” The voice asked with an authority that alerted him.

“It’s Veronica’s fiance.” He had said.

“I AM Veronica’s fiance.” The voice replied assertively.

Chidi was taken aback. He didn’t believe he heard right.

“Say that again please?” He asked politely, wondering if his ears were playing tricks.

“I am Veronica’s fiance.” The voice repeated.

Chidi was a thinking man and could define Eureka moments. This was one of them. There were several times he suspected and even had outright proof that Veronica was a two-timing slut who wore a deeply religious garb but somehow, he made excuses for her and continued to love her. This time, he’d had it!

“I see.” He said. “How long have you been dating her?”

“How long have you been dating her?” The voice said, repeating his question.

“I asked you first.” He said.

He heard a deep sigh through the static. “I have been dating her since 2008.”

Good Lord! This girl has been fooling me for 3 years…if not even more. The realization hit him like a sledge hammer to his gut.

The voice nudged him back to consciousness. “How about you? How long have you been dating her?”

“For over seven years…since August 7th, 2003.” Chidi responded numbly, automatically. He remembered the day just like it was yesterday. He had met her through a mutual friend and they had taken an instant liking to each other…or so he thought.

He heard the voice catch his breath sharply. The information must have shocked him as well.

“Are you…” And the line went dead.

That was the reason he was going to get more calling credit.

He threw on a t-shirt and stepped out of the house. The scathing sun was setting and there was some semblance of coolness which contrasted greatly with the severe humidity that pervaded the day.

As he got close to the gate, he saw Mohammed, the cheerful mayguard walking towards him.

“I dey come find you Oga.” He said with his characteristic cheerfulness.

“Ok. I be want make you help me buy recharge card sef.” Chidi responded as he brought out his wallet.

“Person dey find you.” He said as he led Chidi to his little shed at the gate entrance which housed his mini kiosk and sleeping quarters. There was a well dressed young man standing there with an iPhone in his hand.

“Thank you Maigida.” The man said in heavily accented English.

“Hello,” Chidi said, extending his hand for a handshake which the man took. “I understand you are looking for me.”

“Not really. My name is Emeka. I’m looking for the cousin of one of my friends who stays here.” He said.

He leaned forward and unlocked his iPhone to show the picture. A familiar picture stared at Chidi in the face.

“Veronica?” He asked surprised. Emeka nodded vigorously with a smile.

“She usually comes here to visit her cousin here.” He continued innocently.

Chidi’s misery knew no bounds. So she went as far as telling people he was a cousin? A girl he dated for almost 8 years and was planning to get married to?! For some strange reason, he burst into laughter.

Emeka looked at him with a puzzled expression on his face. Why the hell is this guy laughing?

“Are you the one looking for her?” Chidi finally asked when the laughter subsided.

“No. I’m asking on behalf of my friend.” He said, still confused.

“Where is your friend?” Chidi asked, determined that nothing about Veronica would surprise him ever again.

“He’s in the car outside.” Emeka led him outside of the compound to the beat-up Cherokee that was parked outside.

Chidi saw the head of someone seated in the driver’s seat. The guy had apparently been watching the rear mirror and stepped out of the car immediately.

When Chidi swore he would never be surprised again, he never knew how wrong he could be. The man was about 5’8 in height, dark in complexion and wore a face cap.

When all three men got close to each other, he saw the man blink in surprise.

“I know you!” Chidi exclaimed. “Your name is Wale!!”

“I know you too. Your name is Maxwell!”

***

Follow the writer on twitter @saymalcolm

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