Deadly Shadows by Stella Oni

 

 

Stella Oni works as a librarian in London and is a budding entrepreneur with interests in childcare, cake design, business and IT. She has published many articles in magazines and newspapers. Her short stories and writing have also been published in several anthologies, including SojournersBurning WordsFlaming Images and IC3 :The Penguin Book of New Black Writing in Britain. She is an avid reader with a particular interest in crime fiction and business writing. Stella is currently writing Fertility another Toks Ade mystery and Lara’s Security Agency – a crime detective series based in Nigeria that explores the lower and upper echelons of the society. The title of the first of these series is The Mortician.

 

In Stella Oni’s crime novel, she introduces us to Toks Ade, a black female metropolitan police detective. She is a single parent with a 15 year old son and a weight issue. Toks worked as a uniformed officer for many years and is proud of her achievement as both a single parent and a good officer. She was pleased to be seconded into the East London crime squad under detective sergeant Philip Dean, a colleague she respects, but is puzzled by, as he does not fit into any stereotype. Toks‘ best friend is Coretta, a happily married investigative journalist who is always trying to match-make her friend. Toks‘ role model is her father who instilled discipline and hard work in her but could not understand why she became a police officer.

 

 

 

‘Brief Encounter’ from Deadly Shadows

 

In the 2nd week of her secondment to a crime squad unit, Toks Ade is partnered with seasoned detective Sergeant Philip Dean to find a missing 9 year old girl, Venus. Venus and her twin brother Joseph live with their grandmother and carer, Mrs Bello. On their way from interviewing Mrs Bello, on a rundown East London council estate, they see a group of terrified children in a playground whose dog had just brought them a severed human hand. At the crime scene, the medical examiner confirms that the hand does not belong to Venus but another child.

 

Meanwhile, Coretta, Toks’ best friend a prize winning investigative crime writer embarks on a project to find out about human smuggling rings in the UK and whether the group she is after will shed some light on the unsolved case of Alpha, the torso of a boy found in the River Thames. As well as the urgent need to locate Venus and to solve the mystery surrounding the body of the unknown child, Philip is trying his best to cope with visits to his twin sister who has severe mental illness and lives in sheltered accommodation. Toks on the other hand is preparing to introduce her 15 year old son, Bode, to a father he has never met.
The investigation focuses on known paedophile Brian Cody who is seen near the estate around the time of Venus’s disappearance. They let Cody go as they could find no evidence linking him to her disappearance. She visits her social worker who tells them that Venus has been abused by her mentally ill mother’s male friends before being rescued by the social services. She informs them that she suspects Venus ran away because they were at the point of fostering her elsewhere because of the grandmother’s claim that Venus had began to abuse her brother, Joseph. Toks decides to try and track down Venus by visiting friends and other family members.
This is just the start of an action packed story which takes which takes Toks Ade to Nigeria to try and solve the crime and one in which she comes face to face with someone determined to complete a sacrifice and take her life, too.

 

 

ONE

 

The chilly October wind chopped at my neck like an icy razor and I felt like running back into the warmth of the car. I shivered and pulled in my jacket collar wishing I had remembered to bring my woollen scarf.

 

“Let’s hope we’re not chasing shadows,” said DS Philip Dean.

 

“What do you mean?” I said looking sideways at him. He was a tall man with brown hair, pale skin and a jagged scar that ran from the top of his right ear to the side of his mouth. That side of his face was paralysed and gave him a spooky air. It was hard to be completely comfortable in his company. I had never seen him smile. I was currently under his traineeship as the newest detective on the East London crime squad.

 

“Nothing. Don’t worry about it,” he muttered

 

We were at Cedar Estate, a sprawling, human cauldron of a place, to visit a Mrs Bello whose granddaughter had gone missing the day before.

 

I was here to act as a Yoruba interpreter. The team that came to interview her had complained they could not understand her. This would be my first proper case on the squad.

 

“I’m trying to learn Yoruba. We must try and practise together. It’s one of the main languages in Nigeria isn’t it.”

 

I did not let my surprise show. I guess he was not known as The Razor for nothing. It was said he spoke at least eight languages.

 

“It is. In the West. Along with Ibo in the east and Hausa in the north,” I said.

 

I continued to look around as I spoke to him. Mrs Bello’s flat was housed in one of the many tower blocks with windows like hundreds of spectacled eyes that peppered the estate. In the distance I could see a huge skip overflowing with discarded furniture – mattresses with foamy entrails, chairs with missing arms, gas cookers with blackened hearts.

 

I heard laughter and saw that on the other side of the path were low walls surrounding a wide, raised concrete platform that acted as a bridge and entry to the four surrounding blocks. A few boys were joyfully kicking a football in puddles of dirty water from yesterday’s rain. As we reached them I realised that they were no longer playing but were crouched over something on the ground. I felt a tingling in my belly.

 

“You okay there, boys?” I called out.

 

They all jumped back except for a little boy with spiky blonde hair. He turned terrified eyes to us.

 

“We used Tommy’s mobile. We called the police….they’re coming! A hand! Whisky find a hand!” he shouted.

 

All the boys tried to talk at once. A boy of about 14, tall with pimply skin, held a shaggy little dog by the leash.

 

“It’s…. a black hand. Whisky brang it to me. He dropped it at me feet. I thought it was a stick…I…” His voice broke and he started to cry.

 

Philip lifted his hand. “Boys, move back and let’s see.”

 

They slowly moved away and we tried to make out the object on the ground.

 

Philip took one long look and turned to me.

 

“Welcome to your first crime scene, detective Toks Ade.”

 

He put his right hand inside of the left side of his shabby blue suit jacket to take out his mobile phone.

 

 

 

 

TWO

 

I decided to take a closer look. The hand laid palm down with split swollen fingers like a bunch of small rotten, blackened bananas. It released a stench of rotten meat that made me gag. Could it be the missing girl? I dismissed it. That was yesterday.

 

“Cedar Estate,” Philip said into his phone, his eyes on our find. “Looks like a child’s. A dog found it.” He gave a brief description of our location. Once he’d finished the call, he turned to the boys. “Boys, we’re the police. DC Ade will take your names and addresses and ask you some questions and then you can go.” He turned to me. “I’m going to get some tape to cordon off this area. SOCO will be be doing a proper scouring . It’s not the missing girl’s. This is at least few days old.”

 

With the image of the hand still imprinted on my mind, I moved the children to the side.

 

There were six boys jostling altogether. They looked dirty and unkempt in their clothing except for the blonde spiky haired boy. He was smart in his designer trainers and designer jogging suit. It was hard to imagine that any of these boys had been playing and jumping less than 5 minutes ago. I picked the 14 year old who seemed to be the oldest of the group.

 

“What’s your name?”

 

“Billy….Billy Allen.”

 

“Tell me about Whisky.”

 

“She ain’t me dog. She’s Miss Dart’s dog. That’s our neighbour.” He shuffled from one foot to the other.

 

“That’s right, Miss.” One of the other boys said.

 

The little boy with spiky hair started crying. “Are you going to arrest us, Miss. I got to go, Miss.”

 

“What’s your name?” I asked.

 

“Andrew Jones, Miss. 36 Forest House.” He pointed to the block on our right.

 

They looked alike to me. Conscious of their widened eyes on Philip who was cordoning off the area and and their restlessness I quickly took their details.

 

“Right, you can all go. We’ll come round to see you later.”

 

As if by silent signal they turned and ran. They seemed to scatter then each disappeared into a block. The surrounding area now only held the phantom of their previous laughter. It did not take too long for the crime scene team to arrive along with the home office pathologist, Dr Olive Rothman. I knew her by sight as she had attended a few of our crime scenes when I was a uniformed officer. I doubt she would even recognise me.

 

“Hello, what have we got here?” She said in a deep melodious voice hard to equate with this small delicate woman. She had a smooth oval face, glossy dark hair pulled back in a chignon and was dressed in a well-cut black dress. I immediately felt like an elephant beside a ballerina. She put down a large black bag. “It had better be good, Philip. That was a great concert you pulled me out of.” She gave Philip a tight smile before walking straight to the cordoned off area. He followed.

 

“The dog was digging the grass in that corner,” I followed his finger pointing to a smally grassy area clinging to the wall of the plateau. “We saw the hole dug by the dog…and brought what it’s carer thought was a stick…”

 

The area was now swarming with curious occupants of the blocks and uniforms were trying to push them back. Detective Chief Inspector Jackson arrived just as Olive Rothman fluidly bent down and used a gloved hand to carefully turn the hand palm up. I heard her swift intake of breath. She rummaged in her bag till I saw her bring out a magnifying glass.

 

Philip had also crouched down beside her. They began a muttered conversation. DCI Jackson looked at them with an irritated expression. He always reminded me of a big gruff bear but shaggier.

 

“Anything we need to know?”

 

She looked up and Philip stood up, his face impassive.

 

“Something is scratched onto the palm.”

 

“What is it, Olive?” asked Jackson, impatiently.

 

She pressed her lips together and I tensed.

 

“I can’t really say till I get back to the lab but it seems to read 1/4. Does that mean anything to you?”

 

Jackson frowned and puffed out his jowly red-veined cheeks.

 

“No idea. Philip?’

 

“1 of 4?” said Philip.

 

“Are you telling me there will be more like this?’ Asked Jackson.

 

“I don’t know, David,” she said “When I get it to the lab I will have more answers.”

 

I tried to see what she had seen but could not make out anything. She took several photographs from a camera she had produced from her black bag.

 

“Looks about a week old. I think you should start looking for a body.’” She straightened and gestured to Sandy, the forensic photographer. “It’s yours till I get it in the lab. I wish you luck with this one, Philip. I hope you haven’t got another Alpha on your hands.”

 

I felt a tremor go through my body. Alpha. The torso. Not again.

 

 

 

THREE

 

The crowd around the crime scene had increased with people pushing forward to see what was happening within the yellow taped area. The uniformed officers pushed them far back and there was a bit more space around us. Suddenly, there was a commotion and an elderly woman burst through the tape before two of the officers leapt forward to hold her back. Short, round and wearing a headscarf, she struggled against the officer as her eyes rolled back. I tried to listen to her ranting and I realised I could hear what she was saying. “Venus o. You have found my child – o. Venus…”

 

It was the grandmother. Philip went to her. I moved closer.

 

“Mrs Bello, it’s not Venus. You need to allow the officers to take you home.”

 

She stopped and seemed to slump into the arms of John, one of the officers who was. He laid her on the floor and listened to her breathing. He looked up.

 

“She’s fine. I think she just fainted. We should call the ambulance all the same.”

 

“I’ve done that,” said Philip. “Toks, I’d like you to follow her and do the questions as soon as she wakes up.”

 

I nodded. It was easier than watching SOCO trying to search the area for a dead child. The ambulance arrived and Mrs Bello who had by now woken up started protesting loudly as the paramedics checked her pulse and blood pressure.

 

“There’s nothing wrong-o. Leave me-o. My grandson is at home. You have said this is not my granddaughter.” She struggled to sit up and after a few attempts succeeded. She waved the paramedic’s away. I looked at Philip. He nodded. I knew what he wanted.

 

“Ma,” I said, addressing her as a Yoruba would address an elderly woman. “I will escort you back home.”

 

She walked to me and peered. “My daughter, thank you, o. You speak our language. Good..very good. You will explain to me what they are doing about finding my granddaughter.”

 

“Yes, ma. Let me take you back home and I will tell you.”

 

I held out my arm. She took it.

 

 

 

FOUR

 

At the huge steel door that barred our entry to the building Mrs Bello put her fob key below a numbered key pad and reached to pull it open. Before her hand touched the handle the door opened from the inside and an elderly Chinese man came out with a shaggy terrier, which went to squat in a miserable tuft of grass near the bins and started ejecting brown stringy turds. He ignored the dog and peered at us with rheumy eyes.

 

“Ah Mrs Bello,” he had a surprisingly deep voice. “Have you seen the child? I see lot police people?”

 

“Mr Chan. Thank you. I don’t know what they have found but it is not my Venus.”

 

“Ah…good…good,” his eyes moved to me. “You will find her. Be faithful. You will find her.”

 

“Thank you, Mr Chan.”

 

He moved aside and we entered a lobby with walls covered in large illegible grafitti and waited for the lift. I shuffled from one boot clad foot to the other and felt the crunch of dirt under my feet. I grimaced as I felt a pull on the sole – chewing gum.

 

The lift came and pinged open.

 

“Come -o, my daughter.” Mrs Bello said as she briskly entered the urine-sodden lift. The ascent was slow and in the end I decided to breath through my mouth just as the lift suddently jerked to a stop. As a former uniformed officer, I had seen much worse than this but it still all takes getting used to.

 

Mrs Bello’s floor had four flats, two to the left and right of the lift and two opposite. An old woman with thin, sparse hair mopped the floor and muttered under her breath as she moved a bent back slowly across. When we stepped out of the lift she stopped and glared at us with protruding red-rimmed eyes before continuing her task. I gingerly stepped across a wet area and watched Mrs Bello as she pulled a bunch of keys from an ancient black handbag. We faced the door marked 61 in large brass-plated lettering. It was framed by a tall steel gate that looked effective enough for keeping burglars out. I wondered if the woman had ever been burgled. The crime statistics for the estate was quite high. She turned the key, pulled a bolt at the top and bottom of the gate and it creaked opened. She looked over her shoulder and addressed her old neigbhour .

 

“See you later, Maisie.”

 

The old woman looked up and glared before returning to her task. Mrs Bello shrugged.

 

“Come in, please,” She shut the door. “She has her good and bad days. I think she should be in a home and I told those people that come to look after her but nobody will listen to someone like me.”

 

My first impression of the flat was obscured by the smell that hit my nostrils. I started to cough. Mrs Bello was cooking pepper soup and I knew it had more than enough of the generous tiny red bonnet peppers that was well loved by Nigerians. The peppers were said to be rich in Vitamin C and famed for being able to cure every ailment. I followed her down a short hallway into a small bright blue room crammed with three overstuffed brown 2-seaters. The only other piece of furniture was a heavy brown cabinet set against the wall. It had a dirty, dusty look. Two large windows provided a view from a sheer 21 floors drop. Family pictures covered a section of another wall. Mrs Bello seemed to suddenly notice my discomfort and clasped her hands to her chest.

 

“Aah! The pepper soup. I’m sorry o. It’s for my grandson. He has a bad cold.” She moved to the windows and pushed them open. “Sorry, sorry. Let me switch the cooker off.”

 

 

 

FIVE

 

I snuffled silently. Even though I love peppersoup I avoid too much pepper in it. My stomach is delicate. I walked to the wall with the photographs. There was a striking picture of two children in school uniform – a girl of about 9, hair in pigtails, small oval face, large dark eyes, full lips, and skin light enough to possibly be mixed-race. I could see it was one of those standard photographs taken in schools. I had had enough of those with Bode. The little girl’s eyes were quite compelling. They held a maturity and knowing look beyond her years. The boy was the image of the girl except the fact that he had short curly hair, twinkling dark eyes, and full lips deliberately pinched together as if he was bursting to play some mischief. The dark blue pullover that both of them wore had a logo and the school’s name – Tallis Primary School. I was turning to check the other pictures when I heard a door slam and took a seat.

 

“Sorry to keep you waiting. Have you more questions? I have told them everything about her. These people. They look at me as if I’m speaking Japanese or Chinese. Is it not this English language that we all speak? I beg-o, my daughter. Find my small girl. She is just a baby. You have to find her.” She brought out a handkerchief and used it to wipe her swimming eyes. “Sorry o. I have told the police everything. I have told the social people everything eh? What more?”

 

I brought out a note book and started jotting into it.

 

“Ma, Sorry that it looks like we ask the same questions but sometimes we catch small details in your answers. That is why I’m here today.”

 

I smelt the food on her as she moved closer to me. My nose starting tingling again at the sharp spicy smell.

 

“What is going on downstairs, my daughter. What did they find?”

 

I looked her straight in the eyes.

 

“Ma, not much. Let us talk some more about Venus.”

 

“You said she was going out to play… “

 

She took a step back from me.

 

“My granddaughter is out there in danger and you are coming here again to question me. I have answered all your questions!”

 

I decided to speak to her in Yoruba and was again satisfied with her surprised expression.

 

“My daughter. I was surprised to hear you speak earlier. You have the look of the east. Are you sure you’re full Yoruba?”

 

She shook her head and frowned a little.

 

“Not at all. She came back from school, had her lunch and said she was going out to play with her friend, Teresa.”

 

“What time did she leave?”

 

“About 4 pm. When I call Teresa’s house at six her mum said they never see Venus. That get me very worried. I call round her other friends in the area and they say they did not see her.” Tears trickled slowly down her cheeks.

 

I assured her that we were doing everything possible.

 

“Where’s your grandson?”

 

“He’s resting,” she said, quickly, her eyes sliding away from me as she spoke.

 

“Can I speak to him briefly?”

 

“What do you want to speak to him for?” She threw her hands up in the air. “He’s not the one that is missing. He’s not the one youshould be looking for. Please go and find my granddaughter who is missing!”

 

I became more polite. (If my friend Coretta had been here she would have told Mrs Bello to beware of my outwardly calm attitude.)

 

“Ma, I really need to speak to him because whatever information he will give us will help. They are twins?”

 

She looked resigned. “Yes. I will call him. His name is Joseph.” She left the room again.

 

 

 

SIX

 

I thought about all the gaps that Philip Dean would need to fill in for me to understand this case properly. My anxiety racheted up as I realised that this girl had been missing since yesterday. The trail was growing cold. I looked at the picture and said a quiet prayer for her.

 

I knew that he mentioned that the children were under the care of social services. I needed to know why. Mrs Bello appeared with a little figure trailing behind her.

 

“Greet our visitor, Joseph. This nice woman is Police. Her name is Aunty Toks.”

 

“Hello, Joseph,” I said to the boy, with a smile.

 

“Hello, he replied. I saw the cheeky face in the picture come to life. “Are you going to find Venus?”

 

“We hope to find her but I need to ask you some questions. Do you know where your sister went to from here?”

 

“She said she was going to see Teresa. Don’t like Triz. Yeuurk!”

 

“Did she say she will be going anywhere else from Triz’s?”

 

“No. She wanted to play with Triz’s karaoke and said I was not invited. I don’t like boy bands anyway. I like wrestling and games. Grandma is going to buy me X-Box for Christmas.”

 

“X-box is expensive, you boy. Come. You need to eat my peppersoup.”

 

Before I could ask him another question she pulled his hand.

 

“He has to eat and he has bad cold. Go and find Venus, my daughter.”

 

The boy scowled.

 

“Grandma! Triz and Venus like Harry. I heard them. They never tell me anything! Harry can help us find Venus.” Mrs Bello pushed him out of the room.

 

I went back to my study of the pictures on the wall. There was one of Mrs Bello looking very young and elegant in expensive ‘lace’ sewn into a blouse and long skirt. I ran my eyes over the wall to see if I could see a picture of anyone that looked like the children’s parents but realised it either Mrs Bello or the children.

 

“I like to put our pictures on the wall.” I hadn’t noticed when she came back in.

 

“They’re nice. Ma, I will need you to help me to prepare a list of people that Venus knows – friends and family and I will come back to get it – why is she coming back? Why doesn’t she wait for it? I walked to the door and she jumped in front of me and I had to follow her round, curved back. The pepper soup odour had grown faint. She again turned several locks before the door swung open. I was just over the threshold when I felt her hands grabbing at me.

 

“My dear, please find my child, please find her!” She said in Yoruba. “I will prepare that list.” She shut the door and I heard the locks and bolts turning. There was no sign of Maisie. I got back to see that SOCO had dug several small holes around the area of the find and were bent over the grounds, searching.

 

Philip Dean watched my approach with an inscrutable expression.

 

“Any progress?” I asked.

 

“Not really. It may take a while to scour the area. How did it go? Sorry. Left you to it.”

 

“No bother,” I said, ”although, I think she’s a bit strange.”

 

“Yes. She was a bit agitated with the uniforms. Suppose that’s where you come in. Speaking her language might calm her down a bit. Did you get anything?”

 

“Her grandson, Joseph mentioned a boy called Harry in connection with Venus and her friend Teresa. I think we should dig a litte bit. Where are their parents? I didn’t see any sign of them in the flat.”

 

“Oh yes.’ I watched him stroke his scar. “She was a druggie and mental health nut. Got sent to sheltered housing. Seems they’ve been continually molested by some of the mother’s boyfriends. Social services felt it best to let the children live with their grandmother. But The girl was said to be difficult with her grandmother. Lots of challenging behaviour reported by the school. Social were arranging removal from her grandmother when this happened. It’s possible the girl has just run away.”

 

“Are we going to talk to Teresa?”

 

“She’s in that block.” He pointed to the building identical to Mrs Bello’s. ‘The uniforms went there yesterday and got a bad reception. DC Foster said the mother wouldn’t allow them to meet the girl.”

 

“I’ll go and try ,” I said, determined. “She might prefer to talk to a woman.”

 

He gave me that look again. “Why not? I’ll still be here.”

 

I squared my shoulders and made my way to the block.I pressed 36 on the key pad and waited in anticipation to be let in.

 

“Who is it?” asked a young woman’s voice.

 

“My name is Toks Ade. I’m with the police,” I said.

 

“Oh!” The entry buzzer sounded. I pulled the heavy door and entered the lobby. It was similar to Mrs Bello’s with the same air of neglect. At the floor a tiny, bony woman holding the hand of a young girl was shutting the door to a flat behind her. She eyed me as I approached.

 

“Mrs Jones?”

 

“Haven’t seen the gel. Don’t want to have nothing to do with you. Don’t kno nothing about her.”

 

“I am DC Ade.” I showed her my badge. “You look as though you are about to go out, but can I have a few minutes?”

 

Her thin lips seemed to turn thinner on a prematurely wrinkled face that had a history of chain smoking written all over it. The darkening roots of her blonde dyed hair was highlighted in a severe pony tail that further sharpened her features. The girl with straight white-blonde hair and flawless skin, whom I took to be Teresa, stood quietly beside her haggard looking mum. I noted the way she steadily stared at me. Her mother turned her back to me, opened the door of the flat, and shoved the girl in.

 

“Go back inside, Triz,” she said harshly and shut the door.

 

“The’gel did not come ‘ere. And I don’t want her comin near my Triz no more. She’s no good for my girl. Her so young and messing with dem druggie boys round the estate. I don’t want my girl anywhere round ‘er and I told ‘er so.”

 

“When was the last time you saw Venus?”

 

“In school. When ‘er gran came to collect er. Dat was yesterday. Awright? Got to go. Triz ‘n me’s got an appointment at the doctors. Triz? You can come out now.”

 

She opened the door and then walked round me to press the button to the lift. Teresa came out and walked to her mother’s side. Mrs Jones tapped her foot impatiently as she turned her back to me.

 

“We were told that Venus came to play with Teresa yesterday. But you say she never came here. Do you know of any other friends she would have gone to visit?”

 

“Tina and Joe.” We both turned in surprise. Teresa looked at her mother defiantly. The woman’s face reddened.

 

“Stagg House. Flat 20. Ta.” She said as her mother dragged her into the open maws of the lift.

 

I stared sightlessly at the lift door forgetting my surroundings, deciding on my next step.

 

 

SEVEN

 

I turned my green Toyota into the dark street of my house in Dagenham and imagined I was already in the bath having a long soak. It had been a hard, long day. I had gone from routine work to a possible case of murder. I remembered Alpha. That unknown boy. His killers never satisfactorily apprehended anyone nor was the rest of his body found. Now we have this. Someone had spoken to the media and it was now all over the news. Their vans had jammed the area as we were leaving. They would be proclaiming another Alpha. I parked in front of my semi-detached house and gazed at it proudly. I looked around he street. Some of the windows shone with muted light. Here and there I glimpsed the flickering light of a TV set. The windows of the Patels, across the street, was dark. The old couple usually turned in early. Mr Patel, a retired accountant, had told me he might be putting his house on the market and move back to India. His 3 children were grown and married with their own children. I stood amazed that this house that I had bought in auction for £50,000 years ago was now worth twenty times the price. I thanked my dad, a retired architect, who had spotted it’s potential on a visit from Nigeria. He had been one of the best architects in his day. Our house, where I grew up, had been so aesthetically beautiful that people had come from all over the country just to look at it. Once inside, I exhaled in relief and took off my shoes near the entrance. I closed my eyes as my feet sank into the soft cream carpet. I loved the feeling of softness under my feet and had refused the more fashionable wooden flooring.

 

“Hiya, I’m home,” I called out.

 

Bode came out of the sitting room where I could hear the blair of loud music. He had lately taken to listening to rap music and as discordant as the notes sounded in my ears I tolerated it.

 

“Hello, mum.”

 

I was tall, but at 15, Bode was already looking down on me. It amazed me how much he looked like his dad. He was quite lanky now but I knew he would fill out because Femi had been like that. He had light, faintly freckled skin of which he was quite conscious although I have always told him that was part of who he was. I remembered how Femi had come back a few years ago to try and see his son and begged for forgiveness. Although I had been unbending in my feelings towards him Bode was becoming a man and presently I had no substitute dad for him.

 

“How is school?”

 

“Same old, same old.”

 

“You sure things are ok?” I gave him a quick hug.

 

“Yessss, mum,” he rolled his eyes then met mine. I held his gaze for a moment till he dropped it. That was our game. He found it hard to look me in the eyes and lie.

 

“Oooookay. I still have a bit of bother but I’m dealing with it.”

 

He was an intelligent boy and getting into grammar school had proved that. But I had had to visit his school once or twice this year because he had gotten into fights. That had made me anxious and I sat down and given him the lowdown of black boys who start to get into trouble. It had emerged that even though he was quite popular certain boys in the school had started to make racial comments which annoyed him. This part of it was starting to bother me.

 

“I hope you can do a spot of mowing tomorrow, young man. That grass will soon be taller than both of us.”

 

“Mum?” I turned as I had been making my way up the stairs and that glorious bath. “Did you have anything to do with that discovery today. You know… the hand… they were talking about on TV.’

 

I tried not to bring work home but sometimes I gave him as much as he needed to know.

 

“Kind of. We don’t know what to make of it.”

 

“Do you think it’s going to be like that Alpha boy? Why are people doing this?” He looked angry.

 

“Is there something I should know, Bode?” I asked quietly. I was very tired and aching for my bath. I watched him as he shuffled from one foot to the other.

 

“I can’t stand being teased by some poxy stupid boys that Nigerians are devil worshippers and scammers. I mean I don’t understand it. I really like Nigeria but why do they have to do all this?”

 

I felt weary.

 

“We don’t know whether this has any connection with the torso and musn’t jump to conclusions.”

 

“Alright, mum.”

 

We both slowly climbed the stairs. Bode to his music, me to a relaxing bath. Wishful thinking.

 

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