‘Dubem froze at the sound of the door opening; her hand hovering over the telephone. A myriad of options ran through her brain. What would be the best thing to do now? The most natural?
Without turning to see who opened the door, she picked up the telephone handset as if it just rang, held it upside-down and shouted,
” ‘allo! ‘allo! Speaking! Talking to!”
Nnenna narrowed her eyes; eyes that had been boring into ‘Dubem’s back minutes ago. She might be only nine years old but she knew something was off here; something wasn’t quite right.
For starters, no-one, apart from her mum and her dad’s goons were allowed into his study. (She learnt the word ‘goons’ from one of her older sister’s novels; books she wasn’t allowed to read even though everyone knew she had outgrown those silly, babyish books her dad insisted on buying for her.) So what was ‘Dubem doing here and why was she pretending?
Nnenna was sure she was pretending even if she didn’t know exactly what it was she was pretending about.
” ‘Dubem, her voice sharper than she intended, “What are doing in dad’s study? You know we’re not allowed in here.”
“Is dirty and madam say make I cleans everywhere. She say ‘spick and span’ so I am speaking in the phone after I will span the whole place.’
” ‘Dubem, what are you talking about?, Nnenna rolled her eyes, “Why don’t you just speak Igbo or Pidgin English, I’ll still understand.”
“Madam is said I should not…”
Dubem didn’t finish her sentence. There was the sound of angry raised voices coming towards them; there was no time for a quick retreat. She clamped a work-toughened hand across Nnenna’s mouth and dragged her behind the enormous grandfather clock sandwiched between two overpowering brown leather sofas. For once she thanked God for her employer’s taste in oversize, overpriced, excess furniture.
“Shh…not a sound”, she whispered into Nnenna’s ear whose eyes widened with the shock of hearing their apparently semi-illiterate, uninformed, unexposed house-girl speak so clearly and articulately. She sounded like she could have stepped out of Voice of Nigeria Radio station into her father’s study.
The raised voices continued. One definitely belonged to her employer, the other sounded like Justice Ukata’s unmistakeable gravelly tones but she couldn’t be a hundred percent sure. Suddenly, there was a muffled bang, like a gunshot, a sharp intake of breath from the young girl whose mouth was still covered with her hand, then silence.
The girl tried to wriggle out, rush to the sound but ‘Dubem held her fast, murmuring soothing sounds into her ear.
Then footsteps, a door closing, silence.
‘Dubem spoke quietly into Nnenna’s ear.
“I’m going to take my hand away from your mouth but you must be silent, completely silent. Then you must wait here while I go and check. I will come for you; do not follow me. Do you understand?”
Nnenna turned slowly and lifted her face to their house-girl, ‘Dubem, the shock of it all rendering her mute. Eyes wider still.
“Under no circumstances should you come out from behind this clock.”
Dubem crept out from behind the grandfather clock slowly, eyes scanning the room non-stop. Satisfied there was no threat, she approached the body and felt for a pulse; there was none. She turned the body over slightly, it was indeed Justice Ukata. The bullet hole had given him a third eye. A suppressed scream made her turn around sharply, eyes scanning the room for a weapon but it was only Nnenna. ‘Dubem was so intent on checking the body for clues, she didn’t hear her.
“So then it was my dad…”, eyes huge, voice a crack in the solid silence of the room. “And you’re not a bush, village girl either” The huge eyes back on ‘Dubem.
The heavy tread of sure footsteps prevented ‘Dubem for having to reply. She hustled the little girl back to the back of the grandfather clock and with a hand to the lips and a ‘don’t-move’ sign, she crept along the back of the giant sofa to get a better look.
It was ‘Dagger’, one of her many employer’s ‘cleaners’. Biceps the size of tipper tyres, he rolled the corpse round the rug where it fell and hoisted it effortlessly unto his monolithic shoulder. She could see him sweeping the room with those mamba-like eyes of his. Satisfied that the study was ‘clear’, he left with another of her employer’s casualties but this time with a witness; no, two witnesses – an undercover police officer and a nine-year old girl – his boss’s daughter.