Some words of wisdom have been used so often that they’ve lost their ability to impart their wisdom. They’ve become so clichéd that by the time they apply to you, and someone who cares about you says them to you, their strength is lost in the million times you’ve heard them told before, sometimes even by you.
As John junior sat he casually asked me if I knew that guy. I looked at the London boy and he was still looking at me, snarling, daring me to cause a scene. Or was he goading me on? At that very moment he looked to me like a kidnapper.
On her old Blackberry pearl that she had given me, I texted Mama to tell her exactly what I was about to do. She replied by calling, almost instantly, and she told me what I needed to hear.
“Don’t do something you will later regret,” she said.
But I’d heard it so often and the words had lost their potency over me. Between my consuming desire to get even and the evil smirk on his face there was no stopping me now. He was the one who kidnapped Johnny.
“He looks very familiar,” I whispered to John junior, “I’ve seen him around but I can’t place it right now. I think I saw him at…”
I glanced at the bastard and he smiled an evil toothy smile at me.
“Where?” John junior asked.
“I can’t be sure, but I’m almost certain he was at the hotel when Johnny got kidnapped.”
“Yes. He was sitting next to Johnny and his friends. He was with some other men.”
“On the same table?”
“No, on the table next to him.”
“Really? Did you guys talk? He really seems to know you.”
“No! No. I remember him because I thought it was strange to see him there.”
“Strange? How so?”
“I think I’ve seen him before then. I was with Johnny that time as well. We were at a place, Marocaine.”
“Where dad gets his Shawarma.”
“Yes! Yes. I saw him there. I recognized him from Marocaine so I thought it was strange when I saw him again at Raddison.”
“I’m not really that hungry but I can do with some dodo, I haven’t had dodo in a long time. What about you?”
“Would you like to make an order now?”
“Why? Are you ok, Amaka? You don’t look too, ok. Do you want us to go back home?”
“O.K. Do you want to eat something?”
“What’s on your mind? Are you alright?”
“I’m alright. I’m ok. Let’s eat.”
“Here, look at the menu.”
He handed me the menu and straightened his jacket as he looked around.
Had he not heard me? Did I not make it clear enough?
“John, I remember why I thought it was strange to see him at the hotel.”
“Yes. Because you had seen him before.”
“No, no. Not that. When I saw him sitting next to Johnny he was with other men and they weren’t drinking.”
“Yes. Maybe they were following Johnny and his friends.”
I’d said enough for him to make the mental leap. I waited. He looked at me with what can only be described as a poker face. He put his hands in his pockets and brought out a pack of cigarettes and a golden lighter. I thought he was ignoring me until pulled out a stick and placed it between his lips then as he lit it he took a good look at the London boy.
“I’ll go finish this outside, will you excuse me?” he said.
Where the hell was he going?
“I have a phone call to make,” he added, and I felt like jumping for joy.
John junior had hardly walked out the door when the London boy leaned over.
“Baby, as we dey bump into each other, we suppose be friends o.” he said.
“Listen, baby, I’ve been hoping to bump into you again. I know I’ve done you wrong but I swear, I can explain.”
I just wanted him to leave me alone. I didn’t want John junior to come back inside and see him talking to me. I also wanted to tell him I wasn’t his baby. At the end I just chose to ignore him. At least he was talking low and nobody could hear what he was saying to me.
“I know you won’t believe me, and even if you did it’s still not a good excuse, but that night, on the bridge, I mistook you for someone else.”
Where was he going with this? I continued to look straight ahead and I let him continue.
“A girl, she looks like you, duped me a few nights before then. I thought it was you. I took her to the hotel and she stole everything. My watch, my money, even my Naija passport. I thought it was you, that’s why I took you to my hotel and did what I did. I met her at News Café, that’s why I was there, looking for her. And when I saw you and your friend by the gate I thought she was you. I thought you were pretending not to recognize me.”
I looked at him from the corner of my eye. He looked coy, boyish, honest. I carried my face.
“Listen, I now know it wasn’t you and I owe you an apology. That’s why I’ve been looking for you. To apologize and try to make things right. Please, I beg you in the name of God, let me make it up to you, any how you want.”
“How do you now know it wasn’t me?”
“I found her.”
He picked his phone from his table and clicked through its menu.
He held his phone under my face. I saw the picture of a girl from her waist up, naked. Her hair was in a mess and from her face it was obvious she didn’t want her picture taken.
“The police have arrested her,” he said. Then he looked up and retracted to his table taking his phone with him.
I looked where he had looked and I saw John junior walking towards us.
“Sorry ‘bout that,” said John junior. “Do you smoke?”
“Have you ordered?”
“Were you waiting for me? You shouldn’t have.”
He smiled and buried his face in the menu. I wondered if he could tell how hard my heart was beating. Had he seen the London boy talking to me?
“Where are the toilets?” he asked.
“I’m sorry but you’ll have to excuse me again.”
He got up to go. “Please, go ahead and order something. And get me some dodo and some goat meat for me. See you in a bit.”
It was a trap! He had seen me talking to the London boy and now he thought I planned with him to kidnap his father! He was going to return immediately to see if he would catch us talking again. No! He was going to call his Lebanese friends, or the police. He was going to tell them to come and arrest me. Why couldn’t I just leave it?
I still hadn’t ordered when he returned. He sat next to me as calmly as before and simply waved for a waiter.
The London boy was counting out money for a waiter standing next to his table. He got up and his girls got up as well. They were leaving, thank God. He ushered the girls towards the door and gave one of them his keys then he stopped at our table.
“Hi, I’m sorry I was disturbing your friend,” he said to Johnny. “I thought I knew her but she turned out to be someone else. My apologies to her and to you.”
“It’s not a problem,” John junior said with a smile. “If I saw her alone at a table, I’d also be tempted to recognize her,” he added.
I sat mortified. He should just go jor! He hadn’t seen the other side of my face till then. He was waving in front of my face to catch my attention when he saw the swollen lips and the swollen eye lid. He gasped.
“What they fuck happened to you? Who did this?”
“It’s nothing,” Johnny said.
“Nothing? Look at her face. Did you do this?”
I had to stop it. “No. It wasn’t him. Just go!”
“I should go?”
He stood to his full height and puffed out his chest. He wasn’t going.
“You can’t let these people be treating you like this,” he said, and he didn’t bother to keep his voice low. In fact, it seemed intentional.
“You’re making a mistake, bro,” John junior said.
“I am not your brother! What did she do to deserve this? You think you can just come to our country and be beating up our girls anyhow?”
By now we had attracted more than careful glances. We had become the entertainment and no one was ashamed to be listening and watching. John junior was amazingly calm.
“Ok, you are not my brother. But listen to me, I did not do this to her. And it is not any of your business.”
The London boy ignored him and spoke to me. “Baby, look at me. Baby, why are you letting him treat you like this?”
My head was buried in my palms.
The manager, or someone with the authority of the manager, had arrived on the scene and was asking the London boy to calm down. He wasn’t listening, and when the lady placed her hand on his he flung so hard that he caught her in the face. At this, John junior got up and squared up to him.
“Look, bro. I didn’t hit her. She told you, I told you, now I think it’s time you left.”
A few waiters had gathered beside their madam, and even though the London boy dwarfed them all by a few feet, they looked like they were ready to go all area-boy on him. A few male customers also joined in. The London boy was standing alone.
“I am not going anywhere until he tells me how she got those bruises!”
The men hesitated, perhaps they also wanted to know, out of sheer amebo, or he had planted suspicion towards John junior in their hearts as well.
“Darling,” said a female guest, “What happened to you?”
I don’t know why I started crying. John junior was quickly by my side cradling me in his arms. He brought out his handkerchief and gave it to me. I curled into his embrace and wailed away.
“It’s the fucking police!” He shouted. It was the first time I’d heard him raise his voice.
“Now, leave us the fuck alone!”
The crowd slowly, reluctantly dispersed, but not the London boy. “What happened?” he asked.
“I told you, it’s none of your business.”
“My brother is the commissioner of police. I can help.”