Nigeria's leading fictional story blog - as realization dawned on her, looked on in confusion, constantly blackmailed her, phone, got in her car, all three suitcases, chief.
For a split second, she wondered if he had followed her there. And then she knew. She stopped dead in her tracks as realization dawned on her, but he simply walked past her into the living room. When she regained herself, she turned toward the living room and saw Ijeoma's expression; it was laden with guilt. Initially, she'd hoped that by some unprecedented and highly unlikely coincidence, Ijeoma had contracted the same guy who constantly blackmailed her to deal with Chinwe. But the guilt that had suddenly settled on Ijeoma's face told her there was more to it.
Again, she felt dazed. She picked her way back to the living room, found her purse and headed back out without saying a word. Thelma looked on in confusion.
"What is it?" she asked before Uju got to the door. She was talking to no one in particular and looked from one person to the other.
Ijeoma didn't speak. She turned her face away and became quite fidgety and readjusted again and again in her seat.
"Uju, what is it?" Thelma asked before Uju could open the door to storm out. And when Uju stomped out without saying a word to her, she stood up, snatched her phone off the center table and hurried after her.
She met Uju in her car just as she inserted the key in the ignition. She pulled open the door and, with her left hand, pinned Uju's struggling hand atop the ignition.
"Uju, what is it, eh? What?"
Uju stopped resisting now and rested her head on the steering. Thelma put her right hand on Uju's back and patted it soothingly.
"Uju, talk to me."
Slowly, she raised her head now to look at Thelma. Then she opened her mouth to speak, but it took several failed attempts before the words finally rolled off her lips.
"Ijeoma betrayed me."
"What do you mean?"
"Ijeoma sold me out. The whole blackmail thing, it was Ijeoma behind it all along."
Thelma's eyes widened with shock. "Are you saying... Wait! How do you know this?"
"That man... That man who just walked in there, he's the one I've been making all the drops to."
Thelma sighed heavily and her shoulders slouched with the weight of what Uju had just told her.
"Are you sure that there's no other explanation for this? Just... Just come down let's talk about it."
Uju could see that Thelma was grasping at nonexistent things to save their dying friendship. It was futile. She came down anyway and stood by the open door.
"Thelma, do you honestly believe this is a coincidence? Eh? It's not. I know what I'm saying." Uju spoke a little faster than she normally did. She did that when she was overcome with anger.
"Oh God!" Thelma said and exhaled loudly. She put her iPhone down on the seat from which Uju had just alighted. "Oh God," she said again and rubbed her hands over her face. "I can't believe what I'm hearing."
The two of them stood quiet for about a minute before any of them spoke.
"But what does she even need the money for?" It was Thelma. "I just can't wrap my head around it. Her husband has good money. Why on earth would she do that?"
Uju had no answer. Then doubts began to creep up on her now. Perhaps she was wrong. Maybe she had misconstrued Ijeoma's woe as guilt. She tried to think of the tiniest reason why Ijeoma would resort to blackmail but none availed itself. Maybe Thelma was right. Maybe she had to go back inside and get things straightened out properly. Thelma's phone rang now and Uju took it from the seat to pass it to her. But something caught her attention on the screen. It was the number; and the name with which it had been saved.
Although, she hadn't propelled herself to learn it, she knew that number very well. She knew it by no conscious effort of hers. She just knew it from seeing it on a daily basis, and from sharing a house with its owner, which also meant she'd seen it scribbled away on dozens of materials which included calendars and complimentary cards. It was her husband's number.
She stared from Thelma to the phone, and back again, repeatedly. Gradually, her face contorted with confusion.
"Give me the phone na!" Thelma said impatiently, but the words floated around Uju's head and did not go in her ears. She was staring blindly at the phone now, at the name with which Thelma had saved her husband's number - sweetheart.
Many thoughts danced around in her head. She'd been hanging out with wolves disguised as sheep. But how did a wolf manage to stay a sheep this long? Their friendship was just over nine years; ever since their university days. First, it was Ijeoma with the betrayal, and now, Thelma too. She remembered something she had read recently about betrayal - that it never comes from your enemies, but from your friends. Her anger intensified. She thrust Thelma's phone at her and a baffled Thelma struggled to hold it in place before it hit the ground.
"You too?" she said, pointing accusingly at Thelma before she climbed back into her seat. Thelma glanced at the phone, put it aside and hurriedly stood between Uju and the door to prevent her from slamming it shut and driving off.
"What did I do?" she asked.
Uju was livid but for some reason, her voice was disconcertingly calm when she spoke. "Thelma move away."
"What is it, Uju? Who called?" She checked the phone frantically now to see what had set Uju off.
Uju started the car and the low rumble from the engine made Thelma's voice a little inaudible when she turned back to her and said: "Wait o... This is not my phone."
Uju did not hear her. She screamed now: "Move away! I will drive this thing if you don't move."
"Uju, this is not my phone," Thelma shouted so that her voice drowned out the noise from the engine.
Uju heard her now and turned the key in the ignition so that all was quiet again.
"It's not mine," Thelma continued. "I must have picked up Ijeoma's phone when I came hurrying out after you. Who called? Do you know who it is?"
"Thelma," Uju said. Her voice was shaky. She was close to tears. "Ijeoma has been sleeping with my husband."
"No!" Thelma screamed. "No way! Ijeoma cannot do that. She is not capable of such treachery. I don't believe it."
"You saw it yourself, Thelma. You saw my husband's number saved to her phone as 'sweetheart'.
"My God! Is Ijeoma really this stupid?"
Uju did not answer. They stayed quiet for a few minutes, the silence only punctuated by their loud exhales, like those of someone in deep thought and then Thelma excused herself and went back inside to retrieve her phone. Uju did not wait for her. She drove off, her mind foggy and unclear.
Uju did not drive home. She drove straight to chief's office and banged the door loudly behind her when she entered his office. But the door did not stay shut. It creaked open a little bit so that the people outside heard it when she said: "Useless man."
Chief was astounded and his expression clearly showed this. He hurried over to the door and slammed it shut. Then he turned back to face her.
"What do you mean by that, Uju?"
"You thought I wouldn't find out? Well, I have. I know about you and Ijeoma."
Chief felt weak now. He traced his steps back to the chair behind his desk and dropped slowly on it. Uju continued speaking.
"You know how they say a leopard never changes its spots, this is a typical case. I should have known better. I mean, after you and Chinwe's botched attempt at having an affair, I should have known you would still give it another go. I should have expected it. But the thing is, even if I had, I would never have expected it to be with my friend."
Chief opened his mouth to say something but she put an arm out and hushed him.
"Save it. I didn't come here for explanations. I came here because I was so sick of you that I couldn't wait until you got home to give you your stupid ring."
She pulled it off now and threw it at his desk and it skidded off and landed on the tiles and chinked for a while before it went still.
Chief removed his red cap and stood up. "Uju, it hasn't come to this biko (please)."
Uju did not wait to hear him say anymore. She strode out of the office and drove home, and when she met Thelma at the house, she said with a straight face: "Come and help me pack my things."
Thelma did not try to dissuade her. She followed her in and together they got her things ready in three large suitcases. It was Thelma who spoke first when they had gotten all three suitcases in the car.
"Don't you think Ijeoma will just move in with him? Especially since her own marriage has just failed."
Uju stared at her briefly. "I don't care. They can have themselves. In truth, I never did care. I still call him chief, you know. I guess I never really felt like we were soulmates. Endearments roll of my tongue pretty easily when I'm with Chima. And I'm not even married to him."
"So, what are you saying?"
"I'm not saying anything. I'm not moving in with him. I'm going back to Badagry to spend some time with my mum. I need to clear my head. Things will work themselves out from there, I hope."
Thelma knew what that last statement meant. She knew that things represented Chima. Uju wanted a relationship with Chima but she wasn't going to come out and say it just yet. They stood beside Uju's car for a bit and then they locked themselves in an emotional embrace. Uju wanted to cry. As she hugged Thelma tightly, she thought to herself that this was a sister and not a friend. And when they let go of each other, both their eyes were already glazed with tears.
"I'll call you," she said with an unsteady voice and got in her car.
Thelma nodded and turned to go to her own car and soon they drove out of the compound and left the gateman by himself.
* * *
Thelma wasn't surprised when Uju called her three weeks later to say that she had moved in with Chima and she could come see her there now. Then Uju asked about Chinwe's health and she told her news had come that she was fine now. And when Uju stylishly inquired about Ijeoma, meaning to know whether she had moved in with chief after all, she answered in the negative.
"Seems your husband never really liked her o. I heard he called her a flirt. It's the same reason her own husband claims to have slept with her maid."
"Flirt?" Uju asked. Then she cleared her throat and let off a false cough. A moment passed and then they burst out laughing. Thelma understood the message. Uju was telling her to be careful before she got caught too.
"I've changed," she said, before the call ended.
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