Click here to read the previous chapter; Behind Her Smile – Chapter One, Behind Her Smile – Chapter Two, Behind Her Smile-Chapter Three, Behind Her Smile – Chapter Four, Behind Her Smile – Chapter Five, Behind Her Smile – Chapter Six, Behind Her Smile – Chapter Seven, Behind Her Smile-Chapter Eight, Behind Her Smile – Chapter Nine, Behind Her Smile-Chapter Ten, Behind Her Smile-Chapter Eleven, Behind Her Smile-Chapter Twelve
As soon as I submitted my script for the CHM101 exam, I felt such a great sense of relief. Now, of course, the real happiness would depend on whether or not I passed.
“I still find it strange though,” Nafisa said as we left the hall together. She’d also written an exam that morning along with Kolade who walked beside us.
“What do you find strange?” I asked.
“Have you been listening to anything I’ve been saying at all?” She frowned.
I shrugged apologetically.
“Anyway, I said I think it’s strange that a student would mysteriously go missing right in the middle of exams.”
“You’re still stuck on what happened in the exam hall?” I asked.
“Why wouldn’t I be? How can someone be absent for an exam and no one has any idea where he is?”
“Maybe he’s sick,” I suggested.
“Does he not have a roommate who can vouch for him?” She asked. “I think it’s suspicious. You know I read about something like this that happened in a university sometimes ago, a girl went missing and no one thought much about it until they found her dead a week later. Then they began to panic but it was too late.”
“So, you’re saying this Yusuf guy might be hurt or at worse, dead?” I asked in disbelief. “This isn’t a thriller movie Nafisa, this is just regular university life we’re talking about here.”
“I’m not saying anything, I’m just concerned.” She shrugged. “Or, Kolade what do you think? You’ve been strangely quiet.”
Kolade jerked his attention towards us, looking like he’d been lost in thought.
“Huh? Oh, well I don’t know.”
“What do you mean you don’t know? You usually have a theory for almost everything.”
“Not this time. I don’t.” He shrugged and walked away.
We stood and watched his retreating frame.
“I don’t know about you, but Kolade isn’t behaving like his usual self.”
“I noticed too.” I nodded.
“What do you think could be wrong with him?” Nafisa asked.
“I have no idea, we aren’t that close.” I said.
“Oh well, I have to go to the library. I’ve still got an exam by 3 pm today and I don’t feel as if I’ve read anything.”
“Alright, I’ll see you later. Good luck!”
She waved as she walked away. So I guess it was just me now. I sighed and made my way to the cafeteria. I’d skipped breakfast in order to get to the hall at least 30 minutes earlier than required and I was drained and starving. Halfway through with my meal, my phone rang.
“Hey, honey.” It was my mom’s voice and it felt like a soothing balm.
“Mom, I’ve missed you and dad so much.”
“We missed you more, your dad’s here now, he’s greeting you.”
True enough, I heard my dad’s deep baritone voice calling out in the background.
“He’s busy fixing the car. It’s been leaking engine oil. I told him to take it to the mechanic but he feels he should do it himself, he’s so stubborn.” I heard the soft, teasing tone in my mother’s voice and smiled. “Anyway, how are you and how are your exams going?”
“I’m alright and exams are going well,” I replied.
“Cynthia advised us not to call you too much, she said we have to let you grow and take care of yourself. I mean it’s my baby girl we’re talking about here.”
“Mom, I’m not a baby anymore.”
“Okay, fine.” She sighed. “But I worry about you often.”
I’d decided not to tell anyone but Cynthia that Leo was on the same campus as I was. If I told my parents, they might order for a transfer to another university and I was starting to like it here. Besides, I was done running from Leo.
“I’m fine mom. I’ll be home after my exams.”
“Okay, shall we come and pick you up?” She asked. “I’m sure your father and I should be able to navigate the roads better this time around.”
“There’s no need, I’ve got a friend who lives nearby in Lagos. Her name is Anna, we’ll come home together.”
“You’re sure it’s safe?” She asked. Concern was evident in her voice.
“Yes, I’m sure.”
“Okay then, that’s fine. I’ll call you later alright? Take good care of yourself. You better not have lost weight before I see you.”
“Bye, mom.” I chuckled as the call disconnected.
I smiled as I finished up the rest of my meal. I’d spent a whole semester at Victoria University and I’d survived it. I was glad at the prospect of going home soon though. All I had to do was to get through these exams. I quickly glanced at the picture of the timetable I’d taken earlier, nearly everything was soft copy these days, and I was pleased to see that I had no exam the following day. Maybe I would finally get a good night’s rest. My phone rang as soon as I entered the hostel.
“Hello?” I answered without bothering to check the caller ID.
“My Precious,” A male voice said.
I gasped in shock and quickly checked the phone screen. It was an unknown number but I’d know that voice anywhere.
“Leo, what do you want?”
“I see you haven’t forgotten the sound of my voice.”
“Why would I?” I snapped. “It’s the most irritating sound I’ve ever had the misfortune of hearing.”
“You’re growing some backbone, huh?” He mocked. “Does this have anything to do with the company you’ve been keeping lately?”
I froze and held my breath.
“What do you mean?”
“You have an affinity for danger, don’t you, Precious?” He chuckled. “Maybe that’s why I like you. But why go for an ex-cultist when you can have the real deal?”
“What I do with my life is none of your business Leo, you lost that right a long time ago. Besides, Isaac isn’t like you. He’s completely different and actually has a conscience.”
“But you see that’s where you’re wrong. I heard the rumors that Isaac was back in town but I never expected that he would find his way directly to you. Have you thought about why he chose you? Why he is around you?”
He nearly threw me off my train of thought. I stalled for a second but quickly regained myself.
“What does it matter to you? You’re in charge of Orion now. Or are you just plain greedy?” I’d thrown caution into the wind by now. “What you did in secondary school wasn’t enough? You got the power you were looking for and nearly ruined my life in the process. Just let me be, pretend I don’t exist.”
He was silent for a moment.
“Why?” I nearly sobbed. I was so tired of all this.
When there was no reply, I looked at the phone screen only to realize he’d ended the call. I threw the phone on my bed and soon followed behind it. I tried not to let his words bother me but could it be true that Isaac and I hadn’t met by coincidence? Could his interest in me be as a result of something other than what he told me? I shook my head and slapped myself lightly on the cheek. Why would I believe a word that Leo says? Isaac is a changed person now and if I were to compare and contrast between him and Leo, he would win hands down in every category. But how well do I know Isaac? I groaned in frustration. I couldn’t afford to go down the same path I went years ago. I grabbed my phone and searched through my contacts for Isaac’s number. I hesitated for only a second before I called him.
“Hey, this is a surprise.” His voice sounded pleasant enough despite how our previous meeting ended.
“I hope I’m not bothering you?” I asked nervously.
“Not at all, are you alright though? You sound a bit worried.”
This was my chance, a perfect opening.
“Can we talk?” I blurted the words out before I could chicken out.
“Wow, those are some heavy words, usually a cause for worry. Is anything the matter?”
“No, I just need to discuss something with you and I don’t think I can do it over the phone.”
“Alright, how about I come over to your campus tomorrow? Are you free then? Anna told me you guys are writing exams.”
“I don’t have any paper tomorrow,” I confirmed.
“It’s a date then.”
There was an awkward silence that lasted for several seconds.
“I mean,” He cleared his throat. “I shall see you then.”
“Right of course,” I mumbled and ended the call before either of us could embarrass ourselves any further.
We’d chosen a different place to meet this time around. It was a suya spot that wasn’t crowded during the day but was usually filled to the brim at night with students who were eager for the delicacy. It was rumored that darkness was one of the main ingredients.
“So, what do you want to talk to me about?” Isaac raised an eyebrow.
Well, he liked to jump straight to the point. I noted.
“I’ve been thinking about a lot of things lately and I wanted to clarify a few things.” I began.
“Sure, go ahead.”
“Why are you interested in me?” I blurted out. Suddenly I wished I could have added a bit more finesse to my words.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, why are you hanging around, why do you talk to me, basically why did you choose me?” I found myself repeating Leo’s words and wanted to smack myself for that.
“Where is all of this coming from?” His eyebrows lowered and a dark expression came over his face.
I opened my mouth to speak but it wasn’t the sound of my voice that I heard.
“Is there trouble in paradise?”
No, no please, he wouldn’t-
“Why are you here?” I snapped.
“I’m sorry to crash in uninvited like this but I need to catch up for old times’ sake.”
“Leo,” Isaac said. The single word held a lot of meaning.
“Manuel,” Leo grinned without humor.
I shifted uncomfortably in my seat. It felt like the temperature just dropped a few degrees. What did Leo just call Isaac?
“I heard you were back in town. You didn’t bother to get in touch so I decided to reach out to you instead. After all, we were as close as brothers once.” Leo glanced over at me and winked. “I see you’ve been very busy.”
Isaac’s hand gripped the tabletop tightly and I saw his knuckles strain against his skin. I felt stupid as I realized that Leo must have put all that nonsense in my head just to lure me to meet up with Isaac so that he could create a spectacle like this. His fingers trailed lightly over my neck and I sucked in a deep breath before batting his hand aside. Isaac looked like he was ready to pop a vein.
“No words?” Leo directed the question to Isaac who still hadn’t said anything. “You know, I never thought I’d see the day where the great Manuel, dreaded Capon would turn weak… for a woman, especially one who has quite the history, if you know what I mean.”
My heart threatened to crumble at what Leo was implying and I shut my eyes feeling drained. I nearly missed out on something important he just mentioned. Wait… it was just outside of my grasp.
“If not for the sake of the pact I once had with the brotherhood, I would kill you right now,” Isaac said through gritted teeth.
“For this…whore?” Leo chuckled.
“Don’t tempt me, Leonard,” Isaac said in a low voice.
“Don’t call me that, Manuel.” Leo snapped.
“Why are you here? I see you’re doing just fine now that you’re in charge of Orion.” Isaac said as he watched him carefully.
“It’s no secret that Orion would thrive under my lead,” Leo said. “But you were a coward Manuel, you ran in the face of battle.”
“I gave enough years of my life to the brotherhood, longer than you have. Yet you dare accuse me of cowardice?” Isaac’s expression grew grim. “I put your life as well as that of others before mine that day and faced the enemy. What would you have had me do?”
“I expected you to return to Orion. Not to drop off the face of the planet only to resurface months after without a word and what do I learn? I learn that you’re chasing after her.” Leo pointed an accusing finger in my direction.
“Leave Precious out of this,” Isaac growled.
“What do you know about her anyway?”
I shot Leo a pleading look.
“Did she tell you that she’s been with me? That we knew each other a couple of years ago or that-”
The sound of a chair violently scraping the cement floor made me look up. Isaac had jumped off his seat and was headed straight at Leo, fist first. I winced at the sound of impact when his fist connected three times in rapid succession with the side of Leo’s face, underneath his left eye. Blood streamed from a nasty-looking cut and before I knew it, three guys seemed to show up from nowhere. Leo raised a hand to dismiss them.
“I told you so Precious,” He grinned wickedly at me. “You can take a man out of the cult but you can’t take the cult out of him. He never truly changes. Let’s go.” He signaled to the three guys and they all left.
There was a deafening silence between Isaac and me, even in Leo’s absence.
“Are you okay?” He asked after several seconds.
“Sure I am, and you?”
I realized that I couldn’t stay there for a minute longer.
“I need to go,” I whispered.
He stared at me without a word but slowly nodded and made no signs of getting up to follow me. I was secretly relieved. I had a lot to think about. I walked as quickly as my legs could carry me and was glad to find the room empty. The girls hadn’t been spending much time in the room instead they would sleep over in their study partner’s rooms. The quiet room helped me think as I sat Indian-style on the bare floor. Leo had once again succeeded in making a mess of things. However, what he said jogged my memory and I quickly got out my phone and scrolled through the pictures. It was right there, M. Capon. The initials I found in the library. Could the M stand for Manuel? Shouldn’t it have been the other way round? Capon. M? I shook my head. If my suspicion was correct, then it could mean that Isaac was Manuel and he’d been the one to write in that journal I found in the library. But he didn’t seem to know anything about it when I showed it to him earlier. Was he lying and if he was then why on earth would he do that?
“Well, you look like you’re having a rough day. What’s wrong? Are exams giving you a tough time?”
I looked up startled. I hadn’t realized Anna entered the room.
“Okay, you really don’t look well. Are you alright?” She placed a hand on my shoulder and squinted to look directly into my eyes.
“Remember what I told you about Leo?” I began.
“Yes, what about it?” She sat on the floor cross-legged and faced me.
“Leo is bent on making my life a living hell. He tricked me into meeting up with Isaac only to show up and cause a scene.”
“What?” She gasped. “I really hoped those two would never meet again but I guess it was inevitable with how often Isaac started visiting. Listen, it’s not your fault, it was bound to happen eventually.”
“Oh, that’s not even the worst part.” I sighed. “Leo dropped very obvious hints about my past with him.”
“Oh no, that’s bad, really bad.” Anna shook her head. “I know my cousin and he doesn’t like to share, especially not with someone who used to be his subordinate. Leo and Isaac had their differences even when they were in Orion but now, for Leo to go around parading his bragging rights over you, it’s bound to get to Isaac.”
“But I find something strange Anna,” I frowned. “It seems like an open secret. Some people know who is in charge of Orion and who was behind the raid so why doesn’t anyone do anything about it? Not even the school authorities.”
“Shh,” She raised a finger to her lips. “Only a few people know about this and some of us wish we could erase it from our memory. Look what happened to Ada when she got involved with Zach. He might love her but that love was toxic. The only reason I’m backing down about you and Isaac is that he left Orion long ago and he’s not going back. There are some things you just can’t do anything about. Now, about Isaac, I could talk to him for you.”
“No, don’t worry about it. It’s my problem. I’ll sort it out.”
“You don’t have to deal with everything by yourself, Precious. Let people help.” She rolled her eyes.
“Okay, fine.” I raised my hands in surrender. ”I’d appreciate it.”
“That’s what I want to hear.” She smacked me on the arm playfully. “Have you eaten yet? I’m starving.”
“I’m not hungry, you go ahead.”
“Alright then, see you later.”
When she shut the door behind her, I thought about what she said. It was evident that Leo had a talent for riling people up but surely, someone knew something about Leo that could be used to his disadvantage. I knew it was dangerous but I had to try something. I was tired of being on the receiving end of all his mischief. Why couldn’t I give back a little of my own?
To Be Continued…