“….mommy Rebecca’s number is still not going through.” Isabella called out to her mother who was busy in kitchen making lunch.
“Keep trying, it is probably the network.” She replied as she poured freshly cut onion rings in the simmering oil. Isabella was like her father, they both worried too much, even the littlest things unsettled them. Isabella was fourteen but already a first class worrier, when her dress did not match her shoes, she worried, when she wrote an exam, she worried.
Mrs. Eze poked her head out of the kitchen and found her youngest daughter pacing the floor and fretting with her phone; her age mates would be making the most of the Christmas holiday but not Isabella, instead of catching up with friends and favorite TV shows, she had been cooped up indoors worrying about her big sister.
A smile broke out across Mrs. Eze’s face, she wished her younger sister had looked at her with half the admiration Isabella did her big sister, instead they had been cat and dog, always at each other’s throat, her poor mother; God bless her soul, had had quite a tumultuous task separating them. It got so bad; they had to send her away to live with relatives. Despite how long ago that had been, her sister and her still did not get along well but they had learnt to manage their relationship. Catherine Eze figured it was probably because her sister and she had just a year between them unlike Rebecca and Isabella, who had twelve.
Isabella had been what she and her husband called a “mistake”, it had just happened after they had put paid on having more kids. The moment she had walked through the door Rebecca had taken an instant liking to baby Isabella and it seemed to be mutual, Isabella would be crying on top of her lungs and the instant twelve year old Becca picked her up, she would stop immediately.
When she was three, she would always insist on sleeping in same bed as her big sister, where there was Becca, there was always the pitter patter of Bella’s little feet. And Rebecca was always happy to play big sister and enjoyed doing it, it was she who taught her little sister to wear a makeup, she would play Barbie with her even till her teen ages, so it was no surprise that no one cried the hardest when Rebecca had to leave for boarding school and then the university. Their grandmother had always remarked that they were twins born several years apart; they did both bear a striking resemblance to each other, they truly would have passed for twins if their age difference wasn’t so different.
“Bia Isabella Chiamaka Eze, drop that phone and come help me in the kitchen.” Mrs Catherine Eze called out from the kitchen.
“But mom, I am trying to reach Becks all morning, why are you not worried?”
“Because I have your dad and you to do that for me,” She replied playful, “oya bia nyem aka osiso! (come and give a hand), your sister will call you when she is ready.”
“But she never misses a call!”
“Nne your sister is safe, I know it.”
“How do you know mommy?”
“A mother knows these things, put that phone aside and come help your mother.”
“Yes ma.” She said begrudgingly.
Breakfast was almost done when her husband burst into the kitchen, bearing his phone, his face a cascade of concern.
“Have you seen this?” He said, his voice trembling a bit.
“Seen what?” His wife asked, wiping her hand on the kitchen towel before taking the phone. She did a double take before handing the phone back to her husband. “Did you try the number?!” She whispered, her heart beating fast against her chest, causing her to lose her breath.
“Isa, go to your room.” Her father barked.
“What did I do now?” She grumbled under her voice as she left her parents.
“Have you called the number?!” Catherine asked apprehensive
“It is ringing but no one is picking up.” Catherine could not help but notice how calm her husband was.
She took the phone and read the text again;
“We have your daughter, we will contact you for further information. Call the police and she dies.” She felt faint all of a sudden and went to lean on the kitchen sink.
“Are you alright?!” Mr. Raymond Eze asked coming to stand by his wife.
“How can I be alright, my daughter has just kidnapped and you ask if I am alright?! I am not alright Raymond; I am going out of my mind!”
“Her number is switched off, tried it several times after I got the text.”
“I know, Isabella has been trying it all morning!” She instantly regretted scolding Isabella earlier.
“Jesus!! I swear I kept hoping this was some sort of joke, that I would wake up and find out it was a dream. I should never have allowed her go to that stupid carnival!”
“Do not blame yourself, it was always fated to happen.” Catherine said soothingly to her husband.
“I have called Emeka….”
“You did what?! The text clearly said not to call the police. I swear to God, if anything happens to my daughter….” She left the last part to his imagination.
“Nne, you know we have to involve the police, these people might not release our dear Rebecca even after we pay, so it is best we involve the law, so they can help find her even before we pay.” That seemed to pacify his wife a bit.
The carpet felt lush under her feet, she lifted herself off the edge of the bed and walked to the huge mirror on the nightstand, she cracked a smile and her naked reflection smiled back and all of a sudden she felt self conscious, she looked around the room for any form of clothing and grabbed her boyfriend’s shirt, the material felt smooth caressing her naked body. Her boyfriend was still in bed snoring softly, she smiled knowing she had worn him out; actually they had worn each other out but who was counting. She needed something to drink, eat and to call home as soon as possible, she had not called home since they landed and knowing her folks they would be worried sick, especially her cute faced little sister. She suddenly wished she was home.
She walked over to the bedside drawer where Lawrence’s phone was lying and picked it up, battery was dead! The silly boy had been playing games on it all day. Where was the damned charger? She thought to herself as she rummaged through his luggage, when she couldn’t find it, she went downstairs to get something to eat.
“Where the heck is Isaac by the way, it is already past noon and the phone isn’t here yet, my old phone is nowhere to be found, at least lemme try and see if my SIM still works!” She grumbled as she walked across the marbled floor to the oak door leading to the kitchen.
When she got back upstairs Lawrence was already up.
“There is indomie downstairs if you want to eat. By the way, where is Isaac, he promised he would have my new phone here by noon, but it is almost past noon and he is nowhere to be found!”
“You know how Isaac is, he is never one to seat still for more than a minute, he probably is somewhere doing God knows what.” Lawrence said with a stiff yawn. “On another note, the carnival does not start for a few days, I have arranged for us to visit the famous Obudu cattle ranch.” Her face lit up.
“I have booked us a room for two nights, we can go for a ride on the cable car, catch the sights before the main event. Pack a few things, we live in a few hours.”
“Babe, from where did you get the money for this?!” She asked her voice carrying a storm of concern.
“I have saved for this moment for a long time; I want to make it special for you.” He pulled her into his embrace.
“Babe, you do not need to spend a dime to impress me, I love you just the way you are. That money would have been best used for something important. All these are not important to me, just you.”
“You are important to me, so the money was put to good use.” He kissed her firmly. “Lemme go shower, I will eat when I come, then we move.”
The voice sounded strange, like the speaker was speaking into an empty cup, it was obvious he was trying to disguise their voice.
“….can you hear me?” It was asking.
“Yes I can.” Mr. Eze said, moving the phone to the other ear.
“If you ever want to see your daughter again, you would need ten million to secure her freedom.”
Mr. Eze hated not being able to gauge the emotion of the speaker; he or she appeared calm and confident.
“Ten million is a load of money sir,” For all he knew, the caller was fifteen and he had just called him sir.
Well to hell with that, he would beg and grovel, if he needed to just as long as he got his daughter back, unharmed,
“where am I to find ten million in the short time you have given me?”
“Stupidity does not suit you Engineer Ifeanyichukwu Anthony Eze, you are worth ten times that amount and even if you weren’t; your extended family is so rich that if they all pooled their pocket change together they would more than raise that money in twenty minutes.”
These people had done their research.
“How do I know my daughter is still alive? I need proof of life.”
“You will.” The line went dead immediately.
“What did he say nna?!” His teary eyed wife asked. All she had done all day long was cry her eyes out; the meal she had been making sat cold in the pot, untouched. Isabella had been sent to stay at a relative’s till everything was sorted out, she did not need to be privy to the gory details.
Her husband’s cousin; Emeka, who was a senior police officer had been contacted earlier and asked to be kept abreast of the situation, he had already sent plain police details to the area, to keep an eye on the Eze house and monitor it for suspicious behavior. He had had all their phones tapped, so he and his tech guys would be able to trace the caller. He was certain they would be able to capture the criminals in no time; they just had to act fast.
Mr. Eze’s phone rang again and this time it was his cousin at the other end.
“Any news?” He asked apprehensively.
“The call was traced to Amikwo, here in Awka, we have men combing the area now but the SIM was unregistered and thus we could not find the user. But I have my tech guys communicating with the network provider to know who sold that SIM, as a rule, all SIMs must be registered. So my brother wey tuo obi (calm down), we will get them. I promise you that.”
“Oh my brother, I have heard you.” When he hung up, he felt considerably calmer and more confident that they would catch the perpetrators of this heinous crime. As he relayed the contents of his conversation with Emeka, he could not help but notice how much lighter he felt relating his cousin’s progress to his wife. She swallowed every detail up, urging him to repeat when he was too fast and he obliged because that was her way of coping with what must be a traumatic experience for her, as it was for him.
The caller discarded the SIM, fixed a new one and punched the screen a couple of times and brought it to his ears.
“Hello, he wants a proof of life….yes….a video or picture would do. Make it believable.” He hung up, shoved the phone into his pocket and hailed a taxi.