Professor Ilonna took another sip of his tea and returned the cup back to the saucer.
He pushed his chair back a little and stood.
As soon as the last of him disappeared through the staircase, Nnanna appeared from the adjacent door and ran to the table.
He looked round and then removed the small bottle from his pocket.
He added a few drops of the brown content into the tea, shook the cup a little and ran away.
Upstairs, in his room, Prof turned his eyes away from the CCTV monitor and walked into his study to pick what he’d come to find.
He returned to the dining table with the book and then called out to Ese to come and dispose of the tea.
He picked his case of glasses on the table and walked outside to the back of the building where two folding chairs stood under a grove of citrus trees.
He sat down on one of the chairs, wore his glasses and opened his book.
He found comfort in the cool shade the trees provided and particularly enjoyed the tangy smell of the fruits and flowers.
When it was night and he was sure the boy who had earlier tried to poison him would be sleeping, he rose from his bed and walked to his room.
Nnanna lay sprawled on his bed, snoring away in deep sleep.
Prof stared at him for a while before he put one hand in one of the pockets of his long sleeping garment and brought out a small vial.
It contained a kind of alcohol.
He bent to the sleeping boy and let a drop of the liquid fall on each of his eyes.
He’d left the room when Nnanna felt a tingling and sleepily rubbed his eyes over.
And in the process he rubbed in the substance fully into his eyes.
And they began to burn.
Adaeze got up from her bed when she heard his scream. She tied the ropes of her night dress together, slipped her feet into the rubber flip-flops at the foot of the bed and scuttled out of the room.
She got to Nnanna’s room almost at the same time as Prof.
They both asked the same questions, but the boy was too hurt to utter something comprehensible.
He only kept on crying and rubbing his eyes.
‘Let’s take him to the hospital,’ Adaeze said.
‘Adaeze, it is past midnight already,’ Prof said. ‘Take him to the bathroom and have his face thoroughly washed. I’m sure it must be some insect that entered his eyes.’
Adaeze nodded and quickly obeyed.
But by morning, Nnanna’s eyes had reddened over.
By the time they got to the hospital, the boy was seeing nothing again.
When John knocked, his wife did not get up to open the door for him, as normally was the case.
He had to open the door himself.
And then he saw her and the look on her face.
His eyes darted across to the other person sitting in his living room and he understood.
Ekene stood on seeing him and said, ‘Good evening, sir.’
‘Evening, Ekene, sit down,’ he said.
He sat back down.
John looked at his wife again. She blinked hard in discontent and turned her face away.
He ignored her and walked past and sat. ‘Doris, have you offered him anything?’ he asked.
Nothing came from Doris.
‘I didn’t offer him anything,’ Doris flung out.
John turned to Ekene, but before he could say something, Ekene responded: ‘No, I’m fine.’
Doris looked at him and looked away again as his eyes were turning to her.
She appeared restless—the way she wriggled on the seat— but she only was just bitter.
‘Get me water to drink,’ John said to his wife.
She didn’t stand up immediately.
And then she stood, but she walked past the tall fridge standing opposite the dining table where she could have gotten water.
She entered the bedroom.
John stood and walked to the fridge himself and poured himself a glass of cold water.
He drank another glass before returning to join Ekene in the living room.
‘How is your mother?’ he asked.
‘She is fine,’ Ekene said.
‘Did she send you?’
John left his eyes on him.
‘I came to ask you about something.’
‘Do you know who my real father is?’
The few folds of skin on John’s face appeared to stretch out. He stared at Ekene for quite some time, and then he hung his head, his legs joggling slightly.
Ekene watched him.
‘How did you find out?’ the man finally raised his head and asked.
‘It is a long story,’ Ekene said.
John nodded. ‘Well, I don’t. Your mother never told me.’
‘You asked her?’
‘More than twice.’
‘Was that why the fight?’
John stared at him in his manner again, and then he nodded, ever so weakly.
‘What about my sisters?’
‘What about them?’
‘You are neither their father too?’
Ekene nodded. He stood. ‘I will be leaving now.’
John stood. ‘Look, you may not be my blood but are free to come to me anytime for anything. I will always be here for you.’
Ekene stared at him and then nodded.
When the door closed behind him, Doris turned her ear away from the door and walked to the bed.
She sat down with her legs spread apart and joggling, but she was no longer as furious as she previously was.
The next day was his first paper, but he didn’t read a thing.
He didn’t think anything about school at all.
He sat on his bed, face buried in his palms, hating life.
Adaeze called and called, but he did not answer.
The evening of that day they slept together—the evil day he lay with his own sister—flashed through his mind every now and again. Hurtful images darting all across his head and back, nearly driving him to shriek.
But he didn’t shriek.
He only started to cry.
Adaeze pounded the door some more, called his name again and then went away to call some boys.
They finally were able to force the door open and found him dangling from the ceiling.
He’d tied a laundry rope to the fan.
As the boys carried down his limp body, Adaeze dropped to the carpet and wriggled in her tears.
But then something came on her and she rose at once, wiped her eyes and begged the boys to help carry him to her car.
She drove like never before, obeying neither the signs on the road nor angry yells of other road users.
Finally she was at the clinic.
She screamed at the nurses driving him in on a stretcher to hasten up, even though they were running already.
The silver door of the ward flew open and the doctor, a dark slim man in his thirties or thereabouts, rushed through, his long white coat flying behind him.
His stethoscope was already plugged to his ears before he got to Ekene on the bed.
He jerked the buttons of his shirt apart and placed the chest-piece of the device on him.
Adaeze stared as he waited, rubbing her fingers together and tapping her feet.
It could only have just been seconds that the man was with Ekene, but it felt like hours to her.
Finally he turned to her and all her cavities fell open and eager. Her heart was thumping away.
But the doctor did not say what she wanted to hear.
He turned to the nurse with him instead and said, ‘Nurse, please see her to outside, I’ll need all the concentration I can get.’
The plump nurse in a blue uniform obeyed immediately. ‘Lady, please,’ she said, showing Adaeze the way out.
Adaeze did not budge.
The nurse made to touch her and she shrugged off her hands.
‘Lady, please the doctor will require that you stay outside while he does his job or else you have the option of taking the patient to another hospital!’
Now Adaeze nodded and allowed the nurse to lead her out.
Outside, she sat on the bench in the hallway and tried to be calm.
But she couldn’t.
She stood and walked out of the clinic, into the street.
She crossed her arms on her chest as she strolled down the road.
‘Madam!’ she heard someone whisper.
‘Madam!!’ the sound came again.
She turned back and saw the person calling and hurrying toward her.
She recognized her, vaguely so, and also realized that she had in fact not been whispering but been screaming.
She waited till she got close.
‘Madam, it’s me,’ the woman said.
‘I know you,’ Adaeze said to her. Her eyes were narrowed, as though trying to fully recall.
‘It’s me, Madam,’ the woman said again. ‘Loretta.’
‘Yes, yes,’ Adaeze said. ‘You used to work as a maid in our house.’
The woman nodded. ‘Yes, ma.’
‘So what can I do for you?’
‘I have something to tell you, ma.’
‘What is that?’
‘I know everything, ma.’