“Hidden truths are unspoken lies.”
* * *
SATURDAY 3 DECEMBER, 2016.
PARENTS’ HOME, UYO. MID-AFTERNOON.
* * *
“No one gets a job offer out of the blue. It doesn’t feel right when things like this happen. I mean if you never applied with the company, how did they get your information, let alone offer you a job with them?”
Uduak Dikko-Jack, his sweet mother and an exasperating pain in his ass at the moment, had on her get-her-way sulky frown on and her mouth was puckered up in a displeased pout.
She didn’t want him moving, Stefan knew that and sighed. “I don’t know how they got my details, mum. The HR personnel said I came highly recommended and they want me starting immediately. I can’t turn down the offer, not when they’re paying more per trip.”
“You’re earning just fine per trip right here.” She countered, her sulky pout puckering even more. “In any case, I thought you were considering giving up driving and starting up your own company? We agreed on it.”
“I’m giving myself six months, a year at the most, and its goodbye to Long Haul and welcome to SDJ Logistics.”
“Is that what you’re going to call it?” Ken Dikko-Jack queried.
Stefan grinned at his amused gruff tone. His father was always a jolly fellow, no matter whatever was going on. His weathered dark face was creased with the crinkles of a smile around his bushy-browed eyes and his big-boned stout frame was relaxed in the wide cushioned sofa beside his wife.
“It could be. Not sure yet. Will start thinking company names after my six months, or more, stint at Long Haul.” He said, then coaxed. “Meanwhile, old man, how about you help me convince worry-wart mum here that I’ll be just fine. It’s Port Harcourt not Timbuktu, and only two and half hours drive from Uyo. So, give this big boy a break.”
“I know how many hours drive it is from here to Port Harcourt.” His mother snapped and scowled. “And this big boy is my baby, so I have every right to worry.”
And he is thirty years old now, Stefan silently quipped, knowing better than to go aloud with that reminder.
“Come on, mum.” He cajoled instead. “You know you have no need to worry. It’s same job, just from another end city. Besides, I’ll be coming home on the regular and in no time, I’d be fully back here, you’ll see.”
“I don’t know, Stefan.” The sulky look was ebbing off and a frown was coming up in its place. “It’s just that I woke up with a bad feeling about this. I had this confusing dream last night…” she broke to glare at him and his father. “Well, yes, I did have a dream about this and it’s one that’s left me unsettled.”
“Mum, you have many of such unsettling,” Stefan crooked his fingers, grinning at her glare, “dreams when I was leaving for OAU, remember? And did anything happen to me all through my four years there?” He gave his head a dramatic shake. “Uh-uh, nothing happened. And nothing will happen now. Just relax, mum.”
“Nothing happened to you, yes. But want to know all that happened to me?” Came her prim retort, and then she let out a sigh. “Fine, you’re going and there’s nothing I can do to stop it. But I’m just puzzled how you’d get called up for a job offer out of nowhere. We barely know anyone in Port Harcourt.”
“Maybe it’s one of the guys I worked with in the past.” Stefan shrugged. He didn’t see the big deal about that. “Anyhow, I will surely find out, if it’s really important, when I resume on Monday. Now, can we stop worrying about this and celebrate the fact that a bigger pay is coming my way, please?”
“I say a big yes to that question.” His father intoned and grabbed the bottle of champagne Stefan had bought for the occasion, working to uncork it.
“I still feel unsettled and somehow, I know that feeling won’t go away until you’re back home and permanently settled.” His mother grumbled, her sulky pout back.
MONDAY 5 DECEMBER, 2016.
LONG HAUL LOGISTICS OFFICES, PORT HARCOURT. MID-MORNING.
* * *
“Does it matter who recommended you for the job?” The HR Manager, Mrs Emmanuella Odiete teased. “The important thing is that you’re here and you’re going to enjoy driving for Long Haul. We’re not called the personnel-oriented logistics company for nothing, you’ll soon find out.”
“Well, I just wanted to know whom to offer my thanks. But like you said, what’s important is being here and all set to enjoy what the job has to offer.” Stefan smiled amicably and stood up. “I’ll be all set for my first trip on Wednesday.”
MONDAY 5 DECEMBER, 2016
LH LODGINGS, Port Harcourt. LATE EVENING.
* * *
—Hidden truths are unspoken lies—
Stefan stared at the cryptic message with a puzzled frown. He was in the self-contained apartment the company had provided and was getting ready to join a couple of the drivers for an evening out when the message beeped into his phone.
It was from an unknown number.
He dialled the number.
It rang out without anyone picking.
He tried again. Same thing—ringing with no one picking.
“Someone up to some prank, I see.” Stefan mused aloud and slid the phone into his pocket, grabbing his car key as he strode out.
TUESDAY 13 DECEMBER, 2016
LH LODGINGS, Port Harcourt. EVENING.
* * *
“This again?” Stefan stared at the text message with contemplative eyes.
It was the same as the first—‘hidden truths are unspoken lies’—and from same unknown GLO mobile number.
“This some kind of a game for you?”
He considered dialling the number. Then a new message beeped in.
—Best Bite Restaurant. 25/27 Elelenwo Street, GRA Phase 2.
“You’re requesting a meet-up? If I can call this ‘requesting’.” He muttered with a snort.
Not going to happen, he decided, closing the text and pushing his fingers towards his call history tab. Again, the phone rang and interrupted his course of action.
He smiled this time as he lifted the phone to his ear. “Hi, babe. Would you believe I was just about to call you when your call came through?”
“Well, I called first, so the accolades are all mine.” Kufre Edem, the woman he loved and his fiancée, retorted with her usual soft laughter.
“No arguments there. So, well-done to you.” He settled into the armchair that faced the television. “So, I’m cleared for the rest of the week. No trips until Monday. That gives me a good five days to play around with. How about you come over, say Thursday?”
“Thursday? I have work, Stefan.”
She ran her own beauty salon.
“Besides, I thought you’d be coming home on the regular. Wasn’t that your promise to mum?” She added with another soft laugh.
“Not so soon.” Stefan rolled his eyes. “Maybe after my next trip. But I do want to see you. You know I can’t do without you for long. Say you will come. Tonia can handle the salon in your absence, you know that. When last did you visit PH, huh?”
“Got to admit it’s been a long while. All right, I’ll come Thursday. But you’d better be prepared to paint the city red with me. I’m not staying locked up in the bedroom with you.”
“What, like I’d do something like that!” Stefan laughed, already anticipating her visit and planning on being locked in with her alone for at least some long hours upon her arrival. “We’ll visit all the new spots the guys have been regaling me with, promise. For starters, I’m told there’s a new posh ice cream place that just opened up in GRA Phase-1. That should be our first point of call.”
She was an ardent lover of ice cream, so her crow of ‘yippee!’ was expected before she added. “So, what are your plans for this evening? Dining out or eating in?”
“Out. Maybe this restaurant at GRA, Best Bite.” What the heck, he might as well know who the mysterious fellow with same line cryptic message was. “I’ll call you when I get back. Love you, Kufie.”
“Love you more. And bon appétit. ” She said and ended the call.
TUESDAY 13 DECEMBER, 2016
BEST BITE RESTAURANT, GRA, Port Harcourt. SAME EVENING.
* * *
“Oh my God! You two look totally alike.”
“Really? Me… and who?” Stefan stared with amused eyes at the uniformed cashier.
“You and your father, of course. Well, I’m guessing he must be your father.” Her certain smile wavered and she shrugged. “Or at least, a very close relative. The resemblance is just too keen to be anything else.”
“Uh-huh. Well, I can assure you that my father is presently at home in Uyo. And I, unfortunately, came into this world looking nothing at all like him.” Stefan decided if this was some kind of line, it was a brilliant one.
“Oh. Okay.” She stared at him a moment, looking doubtful. Then she shrugged again. “Anyway, here’s your food and hope you enjoy your meal.”
“Thank you.” Smiling, he picked his tray and chose a table by the window.
The service here wasn’t bad and the food tasted good. He’d probably bring Kufre over… that’s after they’d tried the rebranded Jevinik Place the guys had first taken him to.
“May I share your table?”
Stefan raised his head, prepped to acquiesce to the request. But the words died in his throat as he regarded the man standing in front of his table.
He was tall; would be an inch or two over six feet. Which would make them almost same height. Then he was lean; actually leaning towards lanky with the height and the lack of distinct muscle tone. His skin tone was light brown, his face narrow and oblong and he… he looked like an image of him. Only twenty-five or thirty years older.
“You sent the message. Messages.” Why did his hand suddenly feel cold against his cutlery?
“I did.” The man nodded and drew out a chair and sat… facing him.
Stefan set down the fork and picked the paper napkin to wipe his mouth. His hands weren’t trembling, thank God. But he was, for some reason, on the inside.
“Did you also recommend me for the job at Long Haul?”
The man’s response was a lift of his shoulders.
“Who are you?”
“I am Sixtus… Father Sixtus Ugochukwu, CSSP.”
His voice was deep, bass-like and low-pitched—like his own.
“You’re a Priest.” He shouldn’t feel cold, and fearful, inside. He had no reason to. “What do you want from me? Why did you send me the messages?”
“I’m not entirely sure why I sent them. Or what I want.” His eyes, darkish brown and thinly browed… like his own, would not leave his face. “About a month and half ago, I was surfing the internet and I came across these words—‘hidden truths are unspoken lies’. Thereafter, I couldn’t forget it, no matter how hard I tried.”
“What has that got to do with me?”
He was silent for a moment. Then he said. “I am dying. I have not long to live.”
“Again, what has that got to do with me?”
“I think we both know. It is plain to see.” Again, he paused. Then. “How is your mother?”
“What?” Stefan dropped the paper napkin and scraped back his chair. “I don’t know who you are, and I am sure I don’t want to know. Please do not send me messages again.”
He stalked out, without a backward glance.