A heavy blanket of confusion settled over Victor’s mind as he drove out of Chief’s compound. Traffic on Barracks Road was uncharacteristically sparse. Normally, Victor would wind down his window and wave to the traffic warden whose skelewu dance steps usually entertained motorists, but he was so irritated he couldn’t see the feisty official. Why did Chief have to be so selfish? Had whatever was ailing the man taken hold of his brain and squashed it to mush? Who arranged marriages in 2016? He knew that saying no would be the right thing. Marriage to a woman he barely knew was not in his plans for the future. His life was already too complicated for that sort of thing. He would walk away from the hard work he had put into the company over the years, and it would hurt like he’d been stabbed in the heart, but he was sure he’d survive. He always did. It would have been a different case if Chief had just died and left the company to someone else and freed Victor to find his own mark in the world, but to dangle the Chairmanship position before him, along with a ridiculous condition to be met, was pure cruelty.
Adele’s Hello came on the radio, but the sonorous notes did nothing for Victor’s acidic mood, so he turned it off and stewed in the quiet interior of the car. It would be so easy to get greedy and say yes to the arranged marriage business, but then he would be playing another innocent human being, and of course himself too. One of Chief’s stipulations had been that Amah could never find out that her own father had orchestrated the whole thing. “This plan is strictly between the both of us,” Chief had said. Poor Amah.
Victor had heard that Amah had been born mute, and she had grown into adulthood with the condition. It was said that Chief’s wife Maria had been involved in an auto crash when she had been pregnant with Amah, and the hospitalisation of the expectant mother had left the baby with the defect. In the decade that Victor worked for Chief, Victor seldom saw the girl even when she was home from wherever it was she usually disappeared to. It was common knowledge that she was a coder or a techie or something like that. She usually kept to her room, or slithered through the mansion when she was certain there were very few people to run into. Why should he bring that heavy weight of silence into his own life?
Chief’s other daughter, Vicky, was both outgoing and outspoken. At nineteen, Vicky was eight years younger than Amah. Vicky had only been a prepubescent girl when Victor had gone to work for Chief, but the young girl had grown up alongside the hormones surging furiously in her body. Vicky had developed a mad crush on Victor when she was just thirteen years old, making Victor dread walking into her and having to endure her adoration. He remembered the day the then preteen had run up to his car as he pulled out of Chief’s garage. She was panting and breathless, but her eyes sparkled with mania. She leaned through the open window of Victor’s car and said, “You probably don’t know this now Mr Victor, but I will marry you, and I will give you six strong children.” Victor had zoomed off from the crazy girl, but the next day he had returned to the mansion to find her waiting on the verandah, wearing a white nightdress and clutching a bouquet of red roses she must have picked from the garden.
“Welcome my love,” Vicky had said when she saw him approach. “Your princess awaits you my prince.” She had thankfully outgrown the Disney princess phase. She grew up and became an international recording artist with a debut album that enjoyed radio play from Lagos to L.A. Nowadays Vicky would just roll her eyes whenever Victor said Hello, or she would shudder if he tried to start a conversation with her. He ran into her in Chief’s study once, but she’d gagged when he said, “Hey sweetheart.”
“Perv,” she returned under her breath as she pushed past him and exited. He liked the disgusted reactions he got from teasing her, and that was that. There was no space in his heart for Chief’s girls.
Victor drove into his compound and parked the car. The day’s surreal events cemented his legs to the car carpet, so he sat in the driver’s seat without the will to get out. His dog ran out and butted his head against the car when he noticed his owner sitting inside, forcing Victor to step out the car. He patted the dog’s head, and the Rottweiler barked gaily in recognition. Who let the dog out? He remembered locking Brut in when he had rushed off to answer Chief’s summons that morning. The unlocked front door gave way when Victor turned the brass handle. He was certain he had locked it that morning, as he wasn’t one to make that kind of mistake especially with the knowledge that houses in the estate were routinely burgled. He pulled off his jacket and left it on the sofa in the sitting room. He stretched his hands out front so he wouldn’t bump into furniture in the pitch-black room and unwittingly alert the intruder. He tiptoed into his bedroom, emboldened by the surge of adrenaline roaring in his ears. Was the intruder still inside the house? He kept his back close to the wall to take the element of surprise from the person he was sure was still inside. He groped the wall and found the light switch, and then he silently counted to three before flooding the bedroom with light. There was someone lying in his bed.
“Hey, baby,” Gloria, his girlfriend, said in a voice textured husky by sleep.
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