Ndubisi flinched on reaching the bedroom door. Guilt was about to burst his mind. If anything happened to his son, she would never forgive him.

He reached for the knob but withdrew his hand halfway before touching it again. Just then he realised he had not exhaled. His heart raced beyond control. 

As the door dragged inward, he breathed his relief.

Thank Goodness, his son was there, safe.

Uche was whimpering  and Chinedu sat by her side calming her down.  The girls peered at her face wearing horrific expression on their faces. Their lips were already coiled downward as he strode to the bed where they all flocked together, side by side.

Ndubisi knew where he had failed and accepted her condemnation before she could utter a word. But she got up and trotted to him instead.

He allowed her to wrap her arms around him. Her fresh tears damped the sleeve of his white T-shirt.

That wasn’t what he expected.

She was supposed to shoot her verbal bullets at him for leaving her baby to come home all by himself, from school. For exposing him to danger.

He looked over her head to glance at his son who wore a cocky smile that gave his brows a subtle raise. He shouldn’t do that, Chinedu read his mind and braced up for what would come next.  He stood up as her mother detangled herself from his father.

“I told mother not to worry. I didn’t do it. They came here with the police and searched everywhere and found nothing”

” My only son? A thief? Not you my son! Not Chindu my son!!” She sonbed, then stiffened as she remembered something. She moved back to her husband and gave him a chiding stare. Ndubisi knew what next and averted his eyes emmidiatly. He strolled closer to his son.

“Uche stop crying!” No one noticed mama before he spoke. She hands trembled. ‘Chinedu is not guilty of this. Why are you crying? Who else is seeing what I’m seeing? This man, Eke wants to make trouble. I told you he will be back.”

“Mama please. It’s okay. Let’s hear Chinedu.” She kept quiet and moaned at interval even though she kept telling her daughter-in-law to stay calm.

“What happened Chinedu? Please don’t tell me that you accepted a lift from a total stranger.” Chinese looked at the wall fan sweeping from side to side. His father narrowed his eyes.

“I’m sorry daddy.” He said and took a quick gaze at his grandmother whose lips pouted and resisted the urge chuckle.

“What happened?” He returned his gaze to his father.

“We…My friends and I waited for a taxi but it was taking too long. So..”

“So, what happened?”

“He looked responsible at first – when he offered to give us a lift. My friends got down and picked a man who looked like a bad guy. When I perceived a familiar odour when he sat beside me. That was when became nervous.”

“Oh my God!” Uche and mama muttered in unison. Ndubisi’s mind had wandered off to Eke. Could he be the one behind this?

“I asked to be stopped.” Chinese continued, “He stopped me. I didn’t set my eyes on the gold wristwatch he came looking for.” Daddy.”

Ndubisi head dropped. It was all his fault. If he had gone to pick him up and brought him home, this story shouldn’t have come up.

“You are sure you didn’t pick anything from that car?”

“Yes, daddy. I’m sure. I don’t know how they came here looking for something I didn’t take.”

Ndubisi was deep in thought. The incident looked like a scheme. Something was cooking and the earlier he got to work the better.

“What did they say before leaving? He turned to his wife but Chinedu answered.

“They policemen they came with said they were giving me a few hours to return the writstwatch.”

“God!” Uche muttered.

“I need to brief His Royal Highness at once.” he said as he hurried past his questioning mother and condemning wife to the telephone stand. He knew Igwe Okelue would be too committed to answering his call. When he picked his call, he quickly briefed him.

“Let’s see in the morning. I’m still with my guests., ” 

“Okay sir. I’ll see you in the morning.” He was still talking when the phone the line cut. He stared at the ear piece for some time before dropping it. When he turned, his mother was gaping at him. He needed to let her know that he was.coming from the Palace

———-

Earlier that evening, Eket had gone to Chinedu’s room and had picked his school bag for washing. Madam had instructed her to wash it three days after use. As she was emptying the bag she saw a wristwatch in the side pocket.

She was not happy with Chinedu for taking his father’s wristwatch to school.

“Chinedu you are now growing wings.” She soliloquized. “You now wear your father’s  watch to school, to show girls that you are rich. Is it not?” She said as she went towards the balcony where Madam and her friend were laughing their hearts out but changed her mind.

If I report this to madam, she will only nurse his head and pat him on the back.

“Chinedu, don’t do this again, okay? Okay, my son?” She gave her madam’s voice a perfect mimic.

The boy needs to be cautioned firmly so he would have a little fear whenever he sees his father’s personal belonging.

“I will report this to Oga himself, ” She shuffled to her room and hid it inside her pillowcase.

As she walked with the bag into the hallway, madam called her to run an important errand.  When she came back and saw the whole house upside down and  madam in misery, she was sure the thieves came around.

“What happened?” She asked since no one was ready to tell her anything. She deserved to know.

“Eket please go to the kitchen prepare and serve dinner before everyone goes to bed hingry .” Was that the answer to her question?

Even though she was used to being kept in the dark whenever there were serious incidents  in the family she took care of, she needed to know why the house that was shipshape while she was leaving, now looking like a mad house.

“Are you still there? What are you waiting for? Carry out my instructions at once!” Eket’s shoulders dropped as she sauntered to the door. It was unfair. All she did was clean, cook and run errands. Nothing else. She haboured grudge as she went into the hallway and to the kitchen.

© Ifeoma Ezekafor