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Literature Mystery & Suspense

Dumebi, The African Empress – O. S. Jessica

  • November 21, 2023
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Dumebi, The African Empress – O. S. Jessica

PROLOGUE

The people loved her. She was one of the most beautiful African women they had seen. Chocolate skin as smooth as silk, her hair long and full was as soft as baby wool and was parked in a style that suited her oblong face. She had eyes like sapphires that glowed when she smiled. Her nose was broad but perfect for her face. Her heart-shaped lips were full, and always wore a smile.

She was a demi goddess of creation; the only woman who had made beat all men in the entertainment industry and made it to the top of the world richest businesspeople.

Tonight, all of her efforts were going to be acknowledged. She was called up to the stage to be given her award of excellence. Everyone cheered for her. Everyone watched her. A lot of females seated among the large crowd wished to be her, even the jealous ones. She had had it easy—at least everyone thought so because she had married a rich man who had pushed her to the limelight.

Her smile was that of elegance, of a woman who lacked nothing in her life, her face showed nothing resembling worry. She stood with the same smile on her face and walked to the stage. The bright lights had been one she had been under a number of times. This would not be her first award, but it was the first of its category.

She had prepared a short speech for the moment. So, after she had received her award, she stood, smiling in gratitude, while she waited till the applause died down. She thanked the people, thanked her God, and thanked her husband. She told them how grateful she was to be standing on that podium and being acknowledged for her good work.

People saw a woman who had reached a height of success most women only dream about. People saw a woman who sacrificed a lot for the sake of charity, people saw a kind-hearted personality as subtle as an angel so many didn’t quite understand what happened in the minutes that followed her speech.

She had waved, still smiling, and started to leave the stage. No one had heard the sound of the gun, but they saw her fall. At first, they thought she had fainted until the hostess of the day let out a scream that caused a commotion.

Dumebi Onyekachi was lying in a pool of her own blood.

CHAPTER ONE

The smoke from the fire caused her eyes to water as she fanned it constantly for it to pick. She had been at the fire for the past twenty minutes ad still hadn’t been able to get anything cooking. She envied the people in the village who had forsaken firewood for gas or even a stove. Since her birth, she had known how to cook with nothing but firewood and charcoal. 

Usually, it was her mother that assumed the duty of lighting the fire saving her the constant inhalation of smoke that could damage her lungs but her mother had been bedridden for the past two days and she had no choice.

“Dumebi!” It was the voice of Chika, her long time friend and classmate.

“I’m at the back.” Dumebi yelled and fell into coughing feet.

Chika went past the mud hut to the back where Dumebi was coughing hard with tears running down her eyes. The whole place was filled with smoke.

“Hey, Dumebi! What are you doing? That is no way to light firewood.” Chika said after she had seen the mess Dumebi was making of the little wood that remained in the house. She picked a stick and poked the fire. After turning and fanning, the fire began to burn brightly. Dumebi picked the pot and placed it on the cooking boulder where the fire burned its middle.

Dumebi wiped the tears that had been caused by the smoke and thanked her friend. Chika, unlike her rather slender self, was shorter and very curvy. Even at fifteen, she attracted the eyes of so many young bachelors in the village. Men had started to seek her hand in marriage but her father had asked them to wait till she finished secondary school.

“How is mama?” Chika asked as she sat on one of the two stools in front of the fire.

Dumebi lowered herself onto the second stool and picked the yam she had been peeling before she decided to light the fire.

“Nne mma said she would be fine in a few days.” Nne mma was the herbalist that all of the villagers called on when anyone was sick. They had a hospital in the village but many of the villagers were still glued to their old ways just like Dumebi’s mother.

“I have news for you. Our WAEC result is out.” Chika said with a small smile.

Dumebi saw no reason for her smile. The examination had been tough and all the students could attest to it. Even Dumebi, who was the most brilliant in Form 6, was sure she was going to fail the examination. The examination which they had written just a few months back was the first WAEC ever written in their village.

“Have you seen yours?” Dumebi asked.

“I was thinking we would check it together. You know, if I pass, Nonso would finally be able to marry me.” Chika was referring to the palm wine tapper’s son she had had a crush on since they were seven. Dumebi then understood the smile.

“The teachers told us that if you pass, you’re supposed to further your education in one of those big cities.” Dumebi stood with the yam and went to where the pot sat.

Chika dismissed her words with a wave. “And what will I do after that? I just want to marry Nonso and rest. What of you? Don’t you want to marry Dubem?”

Dubem, a fair and handsome young man was the eye catcher of a lot of maidens. At eighteen, he was only three years older than Dumebi but he was already considered a man. The previous month, he had been sworn into the hunter’s circle. This made him more appealing to young maidens but Dubem didn’t care for the attention of any female but Dumebi. He had shown his interest publicly but Dumebi had not been interested and was still not interested. She had other plans for herself and that was to get out of the village, further her education, get a good paying job, probably in a bank where she would make a lot of money and be able to get her mother to leave the village as well. Her mother had suffered enough humiliation in the village. Since her father died ten years ago, they had been abandoned by the other family members leaving her mother to struggle alone. They were part of the few that still lived in a mud house. Others lived in houses made of bricks.

“I’m not interested in marrying Dubem or anybody for now. I want to be a banker.”

Chika laughed hysterically. “You cannot be serious.”

Dumebi was busy putting the rest of her ingredient so Chika did not see the frown on her face.

“I am serious.” Dumebi told her but Chika only laughed harder.

When the food was done and she had served her mother, she and Chika walked to the only school in their village. The school had vacated for the term so all of the students were on holiday but some of their classmates had also come to check their result. They made their way to the large notice board where the results were posted. Chika took her hand in excitement and led her closer. 

“How do I find my name?” Chika looked confused at the results of eighty students staring back at them.

“I think it’s according to your name. your surname starts with O…” Dumebi led her past the first and second row of names. She found Chika’s result. “There it is, Obiora Chikamso.”

Chika moved closer. “I had D in Literature, C5 in Government…” She peered closer, “C6 in Mathematics, D in English, A1 in Food and nut, C4 in History,B3 in Biology, F9 in Economics, A1 Igbo Language.” She looked at Dumebi, “I passed.” Her smile was broad. “I failed Economics but I won’t be needing it anyway. Nonso would be happy.”

Dumebi went through the names. Her surname, Nnamdi was nowhere to be found. She looked through the names again but still saw nothing. A frown formed on her forehead. “I don’t understand. My result is not there.”

Mr. Amadi, the school’s principal called out to her. “Dumebi, I want to see you in my office.”

Dumebi glanced at Chika before she followed the middle aged man to his office. She took a seat on the squeaky wooden chair opposite his and waited for him to speak.

“Your WAEC result has been with held.”

The frown on Dumebi’s face deepened. “With held? Why?”

The man sighed. “You had straight A’s and the board are suspicious about your result.”

“Are they saying I cheated?” Dumebi asked with a trace of annoyance in her voice.

“I know you didn’t cheat. They would soon be cleared of their suspicions. They just cannot believe that a person from such a rural area could get straight A’s”

When Dumebi left the office, she didn’t know if she should be excited or dejected. The fact tta she had gotten A’s excited her but the fact that the result was being held didn’t mean good. She had heard that if such a thing happened, the result might be cancelled and the person had to wait for the following year to rewrite the exam and that was the last thing she wanted to do. Her mother had already paid so much for her to be able to complete secondary school and write the external examination with the rest of her classmates. She couldn’t give her mother such news. She would have to wait and hope they released the result.

Chika, after assuring Dumebi that the result will be released, chatted about Nonso all the way back home. They parted ways and Dumebi returned home.

She went into the hut and found her mother sleeping on the mat. her wrapper was drawn up to her neck. Dumebi was relieved to see the plate of food empty beside her mother. It was the first time in two days since her mother could keep something in her stomach. She went and sat beside her mother. In sleep, she looked peaceful, the way Dumebi wanted her to look always. She ddint want the woman to worry about anything anymore. It was the reason she had to put in so much effort to better their lives.

She touched her mother’s forehead and was surprised to find it cold. She thought her mother was suffering from a fever but fever was supposed to makt the body hot, not cold. She pulled back the wrapper and shook her mother.

“Mama.” She called out but there was no response. She didn’t even move. Dumebishook her mother over and over again but she made no move. Her eyes remained closed, her expression, peaceful.

Dumebi, alarmed, ran out of the house and ran barefoot to Nne mma’s house. The older woman, sensing the danger, returned with her almost immediately. The moment Nne mmasaw the woman on the mat, she knew she was dead.

CHAPTER TWO

Dumebi was still in her mourning clothes when her distant aunt walked into the hut with three visitors behind her. Aunty Nneka was a clean fair skinned beefy woman who Dumebihad only heard about but never seen until the silent funeral at the back of her mother’s hut. Aunty Nneka had been part of the few that had been there to see her mother buried. She was the one, apart from Chika who served as comfort to Dumebi. She had received little education but she seemed to be doing well. She was the only relation that remembered Adaobi, Dumebi’s mother for who she had been. 

“Nne, how are you?” she asked in a comforting voice. 

“I’m fine.” Dumebi was far from fine but it was the most suitable answer for the moment. Her eyes, however, were trained on the two visitors-two older men and one woman who looked around the hut disapproving. 

“We should stay outside and conduct our business.” The woman who looked like she might throw up any second turned and went outside. The men followed suite. 

“Who are they?” Dumebi’s face was framed with curiosity. 

Aunty Nneka gave her a wide indulging smile. “They are good news.” She said. “Come, let us go and attend to them.”

When the benches were set, Dumebi sat beside her aunt. Opposite, the woman and the men sat looking quite uncomfortable. Between them was a stool on which a gourd of palm wine sat beside three cups. 

“I’m sorry for this condition.” Her aunt apologized. “My house would have been a better place but the girl is still mourning her mother and I cannot drag her away like that.”

The woman, average height, fair skinned, who looked polished, unlike the village women, nodded more in acceptance of their situation than understanding. 

“So this is the girl she told me about.” Her English was smooth like those of the white teachers that had once visited Dumebi’sschool. Her eyes appraised Dumebi like commodity to be bought. 

Her aunt’s smile didn’t falter. “Yes. This is Dumebi. She’s the one.” She placed both hands on Dumebi’s shoulders and turned her slightly to the left and then to the right. This gesture was to show the people just what fine specimen Dumebi was. “Isn’t she so pretty? And she’s even brilliant.” Her aunt could not hide her desperation to please these people such that it irritated Dumebi and at the same time, made her wonder who they were. 

“I admit she’s pretty. She’ll make a fine wife. Don’t you think so?”

Dumebi’s body quivered as she sat up straighter. The men were nodding in agreement. Aunty Nneka looked so pleased to have won their approval. 

“Aunty Nneka, what did she say?”

Aunty Nneka whose teeth were still visible didn’t notice the shocked expression on Dumebi’s face. Instead, she said with pride, “See me, I forgot to introduce you too. Dumebi, this is madam gold. You’ll be getting married to her son.”

Dumebi stared at the aunt she had never known with disbelief. Her aunt taking the expression for shyness, broadened her smile. 

Dumebi stood, put on her slippers and ran back into the hut where she wished she could disappear into. Just as she expected, Aunty Nneka followed behind her. 

“Dumebi! Dumebi! What is it?”

Dumebi crossed both arms. “I am getting married.” Dumebi told her with a note of finality. 

Aunty Nneka placed a placating hand on Dumebi’s stiff shoulders. 

“Why?”

Dumebi shrugged her hand off. “I’m not getting married to someone I don’t know.”

“That is not a problem. You’ll get to know him and you’ll love him…”

Dumebi whirled to face her. “Aunty, I’m fifteen. I want to go to school, become a banker, I want to be like ladies on the screen…”

Her wet eyes did nothing to shake Aunty Nneka’s resolve. 

“Dumebi, a girl doesn’t need to go to any school. You should only know how to satisfy a man.”

“Aunty…” the protest died on her lips. 

“Who do you think will be willing to waste all of his money on a girl just to have her end up in a man’s kitchen.”

“Aunty, that’s not what I’m saying…”

. “Dumebi, your mother is dead. Who will take care of you?”

Dumebi’s shoulders fell. How would she watch her dreams wither? 

“Besides, madam Gold is a wealthy woman. Her son studied in those obodo Oyinbocountries. He is also very rich. Who knows? He might even send you to those schools.”

A ray of hope blossomed in her heart but she tried not to allow herself be swayed instantly. 

But, it was her will against circumstances. Nobody would be willing to take her in. She was fifteen, beautiful and ripe to belong to a man. She was a burden. Worse, she had no chance of surviving on her own. Without her mother, she was like a palm leaf that had no choice but to bend to the wind.. Eventually, after two weeks of proving stubborn, she was traditionally married to Luke Emeto, the son of Madam Gold who lived in the big city, a man she had never set her eyes on.

CHAPTER THREE

Perhaps, there was hope. This was the thought of Dumebi as she stood in the verandah, the big city spread out like a map beneath her. Here, everything was much bigger, the houses, the cars, even the people. Nothing could have prepared her for the sound and view when Madam Gold’s car had crossed the border. She saw a lot of thongs at once. The roads were crowded, the noise unlike any she had seen before. Why dropped her jaw was the size of Luke Emeto’s house. Built on a slightly elevated ground, the two-storey glass house rose like a castle looking intimidating and yet inviting. The driver had dropped her and turned back. Madam Gold hadn’t accompanied her. She had only told Dumebithe basic-Take care of my son and had taken the next flight to the United States. Dumebicouldn’t help but feel like a business deal the woman had just sealed. 

The house was occupied by a cook, a maid, a driver and a gateman. All four, polished and well catered for had welcomed her. The maid led her to the master bedroom where a person could get lost in. 

When Dumebi dropped her tattered Ghana-must-go bag, she realized just how much money she had dropped into. The size of the house, the servants, even the smell all spoke of wealth beyond comparison. For the first time since being married, she allowed herself a smile. She married a rich man, an opportunity most of her peers would never find. For the first time, she was curious to meet the man she was married to. 

For three days, Dumebi waited, expectant like a new bride would be. Luke Emeto was a no-show. He returned on the fourth day. Tall, fair, finely built, and as good looking as his mother, he looked the befitting king of the castle. The problem was this king didn’t look at her like she was a befitting queen. 

Dumebi, heart thumping in her chest ran to take his bag like the village girls do. He brushed past her ignoring her gesture. She turned and ran after him. For some reason, she was desperate to please him. 

“I’ve prepared food for you.” She told him in a light voice referring to the Rice and stew she had insisted on cooking herself. 

Luke’s eyes were like stone as they ran through her body length, expressionless. Perhaps, it was the old gown she put on. It was one of the best she had. 

This cold treatment was what she received for a while week. By the seventh day, Dumebiwas convinced he hated her. He didn’t give her a smile, a comment or even a grunt. She watched him laugh during phone calls, heard him leave before dawn and watched him when he returned, all he did treating her like she wasn’t there. So it was surprising when he returned one evening and told her dress up. He was taking her out. 

Still surprised but excited, she ran to the closet, undressed and put on her favoriteflowered gown. When she emerged, Luke, magnificent in a three piece suite froze and stared at her. 

“What are you wearing?”

Dumebi looked down at her dress. It wasn’t like what she had seen the city girls wear but it was the best gown she had, one her mother had gotten for her during Olu market day. 

“Isn’t it okay?”

Luke looked to the ceiling with an expression that showed he could barely contain the disgust he felt. 

“Don’t they teach you to dress in that your village?” he disappeared out of the room and the maid returned a few minutes later with a sparkly dress. In a few minutes, Dumebi was transformed into someone she barely knew. When she walked down the stairs, Luke, for a brief moment was taken aback by her changed appearance and for moment, it made her feel powerful. 

The party was held at a mansion just like Luke’s. The hostess was an elegant woman in her thirties who had a ready smile for all of her guests. 

Luke gave her one instruction, whispered into her ear as they made their way into the venue-Don’t talk, just smile. And that was exactly what she did while he exchanged most of the pleasantries. Even comments on how beautiful she looked was replied with a simple ‘Thank you’. Pretending was why she had never thought she would do especially in an even where a persona as supposed to have fin. She had never been to events where so many rich people were gathered in their sparkly clothes and billion dollar suits but she had been to enough village festivals and had learnt the meaning of fun. A hour later, she was standing beside her husband who was talking to the beautiful hostess. Her feet hurt and she needed to use the ladies room urgently. 

She said, “Excuse me ma. Where can I ease myself?”

Luke grew stiff beside her. The hostess’ smile faltered as she looked at Dumebi. 

“What do you want darling?” she asked. 

“I want to wee wee.” Dumebi moved her leg to the side to emphasize her statement. 

Luke coughed. 

The hostess suddenly understood. “Oh. You need to use the ladies room. It just by the corner in the left.”

Dumebi took off. Her steps were awkward because of the heels were uncomfortable. She ran to where the hostess had directed her and entered into the first door. She ran into the first cubicle she saw and gasped when she hit a man. The man turned in surprise while pulling his trousers up at the same time. 

“Jesus lady! The ladies room is the next door.” He buckled his belt and looked at her. 

She apologized for running into him and rushed out the way she had come. She found the next door and went in where she finally relieved herself. 

Throughout the ride home, Luke sat stiff beside her. She wanted to chat about the party, tell him what her thought was, tell him that she thought most of the women hypocrites who only cared about their skin care and dresses but he was giving her the silent treatment again. 

When they reached home, he waited till they got into the master bedroom and then in a voice that would forever haunt Dumebi, he said, “Strip”

At first, she didn’t understand. Was her telling her to change? He took of his jacket and unbuckled his belt. He pulled it off. Slowly, she took off her clothes till she was in her underwear only. No man had ever seen her in her underwear and she felt shy to be standing there. 

“Take them off.” His voice was ice and she obeyed without a thought. 

The first belt stroke landed squarely on her back. Dumebi cried out in pain. The second hit her on her bottom eliciting a scream from her. He pushed her to the bed and multiple strokes followed. As a child, Dumebi was spanked but never had she been beaten like an animal. 

When he was satisfied with beating her, he took of his trousers. That night, Luke Emetoraped Dumebi.

CHAPTER FOUR

Scars were memories she wished she could forget. Staring at the mirror, she saw the welts all over her body-her stomach, her breasts, her face. No part of her had been spared from his brutality. Even though she saw the marks, felt the pain between her legs, Dumebi could not quite believe what had happened the night before. What had she done wrong? Had he been drunk?

He had disappeared before she had woken and moments after she woken, the maid came in bearing gifts, told her that it was from her loving husband. If the beating never occurred again, probably, she would have come to the conclusion that he hadn’t meant to beat her but that night was the first of so many torturous nights. Dumebi would later find out t hat Luke emeto was a Bi-polar patient who derived pleasure in bringing pain to women. Outside, he was the composed good-looking, sweet man that everyone wanted him to be but inside, he was not short of a monster. He always found fault in everything she did. She played the role of the wife he wanted her to be to his friends and colleagues. She smiled and laughed, learned comportment and dress sense. She looked like a new bride, so happy to be loved by her groom but inside, she bled. 

Almost every night, he beat her and almost every morning after that, he bought gifts, expensive, valuable gifts that sealed her mouth shut. Even if she had wanted to cry out, there would have been no one to listen to her. 

To ensure her part was better played, Luke made her enroll in a private university. Luck being on her side, her result was finally released and just as the principal had said, she had straight A’s. Dumebi, believing that Luke had decided to further her education so she could probably start working was shattered when Luke told her his intentions of keeping her as a housewife. To him, women were like furniture, to be kept and polished, to be used however its owner pleases. 

University was not exactly an escape but it was where she found the solace she sought. It was on her third day in when she was taking the short walk to the school gate where a car waited at her disposal. She had only taken a few steps from class when a car pulled to a stop in front of her. The glasses came down and a head poked out from the driver’s side. 

“Hello.”

Dumebi at first, did not turn her head to give heed to the stranger. Her thoughts were on the night before her. The stranger called out to her again, this time louder. Dumebi stopped and turned. There was slight annoyance in her features as she stared at his face. He looked younger than his age, an effect that his dreaded hair had on him. He was dark skinned and very handsome. His play boy features were more than appealing. The trace of annoyance vanished. He was looking at her with curiosity. 

“You’re the one at Efik’s party. The one I saw in the bathroom.” His certainty made Dumebiremember the man she had run into in the bathroom. How he had recognized her intrigued her. 

Dolapo, as she would later find out his name offered her a ride. He was funny and easy to be with. And that was why she agreed to see him some other time. She had no phone at the moment so exchange of numbers was skipped.

In the next twelve months, their relationship developed from friendship to something more. This happened so slowly that neither of them knew the exact moment when things had changed between them. Dolapo knew she was married and despite what they felt for each other, they had nothing sexual between them. For Dumebi, it was a relief because despite the feelings she had for him, she didn’t think she would be able to bear being touched by another man. Luke was her living nightmare and Dolapo was her living daydream. While she bore wounds at night, she was healed at morning. It was easier with Dolapo especially because he was an Economics major like she was. 

Many a time, Dolapo inquired about her marriage. She was only sixteen and her slender stature didn’t make her look any older but she averted his questions preferring not to talk about it. Luke was her secret problem and though she couldn’t accept it, she had to live with it. She might have probably been content with her life if Amaka Ochan did not happen. 

Dumebi rushed from classes earlier than expected one Tuesday afternoon to pick an important handout she had forgotten. She headed to her room when the maid stopped her and asked something concerning the kitchen. That was the first of three attempts to delay Dumebi downstairs. When at last, she ran out of what to say, Dumebi rushed upstairs. It was supposed to be brief. She was supposed to picks the handout and rush back out but when she opened her bedroom door, she saw her husband beneath the covers, Amaka Ochan on top of him, riding like a wild horse. 

Amaka Ochan was a much older woman whom Dumebi had been introduced to at a party as a major investor in Luke’s company. She was supposed to be his mentor, not his mistress. Dumebi was shocked but that shock turned to rage when both looked at her like she was an intruder. 

“What on earth are you doing here? Get out and close the door!” Luke’s voice thundered across the room. 

“I told you we should have gone to a hotel.” Amaka’s voice was a whisper but audible enough for Dumebi to hear. She acted without thinking. Spewing insults at the lecherous woman, Dumebi walked to her, dragged her golden weave and pulled. The wig was taken off but Dumebi disposed of it and her eyes scratched the woman’s face. Amaka screamed and moved to another part of the bed. Luke was screaming something but Dumebi was too angry to listen. All she could think of was the nights she spent miserable beneath the same man who allowed Amaka atop him. Amaka stared at Dumebi like Dumebi was crazy. 

“Get out of here!” she finally heard Luke. 

With her chest heaving, she turned and left. 

That action, she paid dearly for that night. She knew he was going to be angry but never thought he would be angry to the point of beating her till she was almost dead. Afterwards, he had taken her to the hospital and the story he told the doctor was that she had fallen from the stairs. 

An hour later, when Dumebi could open her swollen eyes, the doctor told them she had been pregnant and she had lost the baby during the fall.

CHAPTER FIVE

She ran, a woman in distress torn by her pain. She had lost a child and she hadn’t even known she was pregnant. The innocent soul had suffered because of her lack of control. 

Dolapo was waiting at the gate. His shocked expression bellied the fact that he couldn’t quite believe she was approaching him. She fell into his arms and sobbed. She cried for her child, cried for herself and cried for her future. 

“I can’t take it anymore.” She said between sobs. “I can’t take it anymore.”

It took so many minutes to stop her tears from running. 

That night, she allowed herself be comforted by Dolapo even though it want sleeping in his bed. He was the first man to make her feel like a woman. For a blissful moment, her pain was forgotten. 

She awoke to his calm eyes watching her. They were red and puffy like he had been crying. 

“Did he do this to you?” his fingers trailed the center of her stomach where Luke’s belt had left a mark. All of her scars had been inflicted where no one could see them when she was fully dressed. But now she was bare and them all on her glowing ebony skin. 

Dumebi told Dolapo everything and he listened, his eyes the only indication tat he could feel her pain; otherwise, he didn’t move. He told her to get away, to report to women affairs and escape Luke’s cruel fingers but Dumebi knew better than to report him. He had sworn to tear her apart if she ever said a word and she had a feeling he meant what he said. 

The week that followed the incident, Luke was sweet to her. He bought gifts, spoke softly to her and wasn’t cold towards her. This façade lasted for a few days until she forgot to iron his shirt. Luke turned back his old leaf. 

A month later, Debit found out she was pregnant. Unsure of who the father was, she kept the news from Luke but told Dolapo. They were seated in the cafeteria when she told him the news. He looked at her and calmly said, “You’ll leave him.” 

“It’s not easy, Dapo. Who do I go to? Where do I start from?”

Dolapo reached over and placed a hand on hers. “you have me.”

And in that instant, Dumebi saw hope. Maybe she could rum from the tyrant she had married. Dolapo was the only person she knew that believed her. He could help her start a new life. She started to imagine a world without Luke. She would quit the pretense and be really happy. She could chase her dreams again. Added to that, he gave her good news. 

“The Vice Chancellor loved your pitch. He invited you for the conference.” Dolapo was referring to the project they had been assigned, stating how life could be improved and how to do it. 

That one conference led to so many other meetings with political officials. Luke despised the fact that she was slowly being pushed to the limelight but he appeared beside her all the time playing the role of a very supporting husband. 

By the third month of her pregnancy, Dumebieloped with Dolapo. They ran to his mother town, a small underdeveloped area where the people spoke a language she could not understand. For three days, Dumebi was really happy. Despite the fact that they lived in a room and shared a toilet with neighbors, Dumebi was relieved. She felt alive again and she could smile and laugh as much as she wanted to but that relief did not last long. 

Her worst fear became reality. Luke found her exactly three days after she ran. Dumebi was cooking in the general kitchen when Iyabo, her fat neighbor with seven children ran in. Dumebi could tell the woman was up for gossip the moment she saw her face but Iyabo hadn’t come to gossip. She came to tell her that some men were rummaging their house. 

Dumebi left the rice on fire and ran into the hallway. She heard the sound of glass shattering before she walked into her room. A horrid sight greeted her. The room looked like a war house. Everything was upturned but the mess did not scare her the way the sight of Dolapo bleeding did. He was limp, held by his arms by two men each at his side. She screamed and ran towards him but one of the men roughly pushed her to the side. Both men carried Dolapo out of the room. Dumebi, panic stricken, stood and ran after them. The other occupants of the house had gathered outside their room to watch the spectacle. 

The men carried Dolapo and threw into the booth of a black car waiting outside. Dumebiwas confused and terrified. She couldn’t help but wonder who she had offended or who Dolapo had wronged. She was begging the men who ignored her, closed the booth and stood like soldiers waiting orders. 

The tinted glass of the back side rolled down and Dumebi saw his face. Bile rose in her throat, fear gripped her heart. His eyes of stone though concealed by sun shades bore through her making her wish she was dead. 

“Get in.”

it was an order, one that her limbs refused to obey. One of the men that stood grabbed her arm, gently but firmly and dragged her to the other side of the car and pushed her in. His presence suddenly engulfed her making her shrink. 

The men got in and as though preplanned, they were taken to an undeveloped area. The car stopped and the men got out. Luke got out, walked to the other side, opened the door and pulled Dumebi out. 

“I want you to watch this.” Luke whispered harshly into her ears. Her skin crawled. 

The men pulled a struggling Dolapo from the booth of the car. His mouth was gagged so he could say nothing. His wide eyes betrayed fear but only for a moment. Dumebi realized what was about to happen a little to late. 

Luke, was standing right behind her so she did not see the gum until he stretched forth his hand and pulled the trigger. The lone bullet left a gaping hole in the head of the man she loved. 

Dolapo was dead. 

In that instant, something snapped within Dumebi, something that could never be repaired.

CHAPTER SIX

Dumebi smiled politely at her guest. She was elegant and beautiful, a far cry from the girl she had once been. Congratulations rang out from every angle and she responded with a sweet smile. Luke was with the guests. She saw him speaking to the governor. In his left hand, he held a wine glass. The other was tucked into his pocket. He looked his role-the perfect husband supporting his wife. 

They both knew that he wasn’t happy with her little success. The vice chancellor had led her to the local chairman and from there, the governor had picked interest in her. To contribute to that, she was married to Luke Emeto Onyekachi, the top businessman in the country. His name was respected and automatically, she was respected. So it wasn’t difficult for her to start up a small empowerment community she called LAPO, a non governmental organization concerned with assisting the less privileged. Her NGO made her known among the locals and though Luke hated this fame, he loved his reputation, therefore, he had to act. Her growing fame did not stop his brutality but she was a patient woman. 

The governor complimented her when she walked and stood beside her husband. 

“I must say, you married an amazing woman.” He said to Luke. Dumebi smiled shyly. 

“You flatter me.” Dumebi said. 

“If you ask me, I think your wife is the best person to manage the secretarial affairs of the company. Why search for more CVs? Its just a suggestion” he was referring to the vacant secretary post in Emeto holdings. Luke stiffened. They all knew that the governor’s suggestion was not just a suggestion. As a major investor in Emeto, he had a say in the affairs and he had a way with the other investors. 

This suggestion became a reality two days later when Dumebi was appointed the secretary of Emeto holdings. 

The night of her appointment, Dumebi went home with resignation. She knew what would happen between her and Luke and she had accepted it. First, she went up to her child’s room. He was watching a cartoon on his PC. He smiled at her when she walked in and she returned the smile. She loved Tochi, her son more than every other thing in the world. From the day he had been born, Dumebi had known that he was Dolapo’s child. Behind his ear was the same birthmark Dolapo had had. Knowing this, she had the DNA result manipulated saving them both whatever would have be fallen them. After a brief moment she climbed to her room. 

The eight years that had passed since Dolapo’s death, Dumebi spent enduring. Just like she endured him when he hit her and forced himself on her. There had been other miscarriages since her first one caused by his beatings. Dumebi mostly kept to herself. She had lots of acquaintances but no friends, not that she didn’t want friends but she was scared of what could befall them. It was better to remain on her own. 

Being made secretary gave her a better insight into Luke’s business. They were a multipurpose company that covered basis of electronics, software, investments and so many other things. She also saw the competition among board members. Luke was young but smart which was how he remained the CEO after his father died. Other than that, there were so many others vying for his position and Luke was bent on keeping it. For this, his hands were soiled. 

Luke hated her being on board. He hated her suggestions, hated her presence, hated the fact that she contributed even a little to the company’s decisions. Always, when they were in the privacy of the master bedroom, he would hold on to her neck and threaten her to keep her mouth shut. She was a nonentity, he told her. She should stick to her NGO and not poke nose into his affairs. She was a village girl he had married and despite the fact she was now twenty five and polished, he would always see her as a village girl. 

One night, Dumebi took his customary tea to the room and placed it on the table in front of him. He sipped. 

“You should close the deal with NPZ. They have potential.” She was standing a few feet from him still dressed in her suit skirt and white silk shirt. Her hair made into braids was still packed in a bun. Her light make up was still intact. There was no line of tiredness on her face. Her expression was business like. She looked the part of a secretary. 

Luke nearly choked. He coughed then looked up at her with eyes that could melt iron. The glass in his hands shook showing how annoyed he was at her statement. He was seated at the edge of the large bed, the short table in front of him. It was where he preferred to read when he didn’t want to go to his home office. 

“How many times have I told you to never talk about my business. I decide what and what goes on.” 

“Actually, the board of shareholders have decided to. You don’t have a choice. You own just forty percent.”

She had gone past her limit and she knew. He slammed the cup down. 

“How dare you…” he coughed. He raised his hand to his neck. He was choking. 

“You were saying?” she asked with sarcasm. 

He looked up at her then back to the tea. Reality dawned on him. 

Dumebi walked to the chair opposite him and sat, he back ramrod straight. She stared at him with indifference to the choking sounds he was making. 

“They’ll… get you…” he was choking on his words. 

“I have doctor’s report to prove you’ve suffered from a heart condition for a long time. A heart attack would not be a surprise. Don’t worry. I’ll take care of your company very well. It’d be as though you never left.”

Dumebi crossed her legs and watched as Luke Emeto Onyekachi choke to death.

CHAPTER SEVEN

He was buried four days later. Just as she had said, there were reports that proved he had been suffering from a heart condition. What people didn’t know was that the reports were fake. 

The burial was a small ceremony of close family members and friends all of whom disappeared after the burial. Madam Gold treated Dumebi coldly through out her stay. She said nothing to Dumebi concerning Luke’s properties and his father’s company. The woman obviously had so many avenues through which she made her money. 

She kept the promise she ha made to Luke -his company would be well taken care of. It took the board members by surprise when Dumebitook over Luke’s position. 

Dumebi kept a cheerful outlook but she had grown cold within. She was overtaken by her desire to be the best, by the pain of being subdued by a man for so long that she was ready to do whatever it took to remain at the top. She fired at will, people she thought unnecessary, still, she extended a hand of kindness to those in need. 

In die course, she had friends and enemies. Among her enemies was her aunty Nneka whom she had cut off from several years back and three board members that she had kicked out after buying their shares. With time, she had the upper hand in the company and her decisions became unquestionable. Beautiful, witty with brains that was rarely out smarted, Dumebi made herself untouchable. She was the dream of men and the pride of women. 

She found out she was pregnant three months after Luke was buried. Abortion was the first thing to cross her mind. She didn’t want Luke’s baby. It would be a constant reminder of the man she had forced out of her life.

But the child was also innocent and Luke was no more. The child would be hers and she could train and make it nothing like it’s father. Besides, Tochi needed a sibling. 

Months later, after a day spent in labor, dumebi was delivered of a bouncing baby girl. She called her Nduomma. 

Twelve years later

The people loved her. She was one of the most beautiful African women they had seen. Chocolate skin as smooth as silk, her hair long and full was as soft as baby wool and was parked in a style that suited her oblong face. She had eyes like sapphires that glowed when she smiled. Her nose was broad but perfect for her face. Her heart shaped lips were full and always wore a smile.

She was a demi goddess of creation; the only woman who had made beat all men in the entertainment industry and made it to the top of the world richest business people.

Tonight, all of her efforts were going to be acknowledged. She was called up to the stage to be given her award of excellence. Everyone cheered for her. Everyone watched her. A lot of females seated among the large crowd wished to be her, even the jealous ones. She had had it easy; at least everyone thought so because she had married a rich man who had pushed her to the limelight. 

Her smile was that of elegance, of a woman who lacked nothing in her life, her face showed nothing resembling worry. She stood the same smile on her face and walked to the stage. The bright lights had been one she had been under a number of times. This would not be her first award but it was the first of its category.

She had prepared a short speech for the moment. So after she had received her award, she stood, smiling in gratitude while she waited till the applause died down. She thanked the people, thanked her God, and thanked her husband. She told them how grateful she was to be standing on that podium and be acknowledged for her good works.

People saw a woman who had reached a height of success most women only dreamt about. People saw a woman who sacrificed a lot for the sake of charity, people saw a kind-hearted personality as subtle as an angel so many didn’t quite understand what happened in the minutes that followed after her speech.

She had waved, still smiling and started to leave the stage. No one had heard the sound of the gun but they saw her fall. At first, they thought she had fainted until the hostess of the day let out a scream that caused a commotion.

Dumebi Onyekachi was lying in a pool of her own blood.

CHAPTER EIGHT

Dumebi was announced as critical the night of the shooting. The news threw people into a frenzy. No one understood what had happened. The doctors told the media that she was in ICU. The bullet was said to have punctured her lung and the fall left a dent in her skull. They added that it would be a miracle if she lived. 

The doctors of New Hope hospital told no lie. There was a patient in the ICU that had just been brought out of surgery. Three bullets had been taken out from her body, one from her skull. She was in critical condition. She was a thirty five year old woman, dark skinned and beautiful but her bullets had not been gotten from the middle of an event but a robbery. This woman was said to be Dumebi. Only one doctor doctor and a nurse knew that this lady was not Dumebi. In fact, Dumebi was perfectly alright. 

She was seated in the plush room of the five star hotel where Madam Gold had lodged. The woman, unaware of who waited for her walked into the room, turned on the light and jumped in surprise. Dumebi was perched at the edge of the bed, a blank expression on her face.

Shock was written all over Madam Gold’s face. 

“You’re critical. You should be dead.”

Dumebi laughed sarcastically. “Unfortunately, I’m not. I know you tried to kill me. I’ve always known. I’ve read your file Elizabeth Miles. I know that you are an ex prisoner of London. I know you married Luke’s father for monetary gain. I also know that you faked his death to inherit his wealth. You married me for him so that you would have no threat as a daughter in law. You we’re shocked to find out I was smarter. I know that you know that I killed Luke. If its any consolation, I want you to know I didn’t kill him for monetary gain. I did it because he was a monster.”

The expression on Madam Gold’s face morphed to hate. “You were supposed to be his toy. The uneducated black girl that would never go against her husband, a formality. His biggest mistake was to send you to school, you ungrateful wench.”

Dumebi’s icy expression did not melt. “Well, I am grateful to him. Too bad you couldn’t end me the way you wanted to.”

“I might as well end you now.”

Dumebi had been too distracted that she hadn’t seen Madam Gold reach into her purse and pull out a pistol. The first shot missed Dumebi’s head by inches. Dumebi dived and encircled Madam Gold’s legs. Both went down.

They rolled continuously on the floor, struggling for the pistol. Another shot rang out and both women went still. They were lying side by side staring into each other’s eyes, each wondering who had been shot. Madam Gold’s eyes suddenly widened and she coughed up blood. Dumebi sat up and stared at the growing patch of red on Madam Gold’s fitted white gown. Her eyes we’re surprised like she couldn’t believe she had been shot. 

Everything had worked as Dumebi had planned. For twelve years, Dumebi had watched Madam Gold. She knew everywhere the woman went, everyone the woman met and everything she did. That was how she found out that Madam Gold was plotting to kill her. Though she had said nothing to Dumebi, she had been secretly planning. The assassin Madam Gold hired had been first hired by Dumebi to act. The gunshot had been real but Dumebi had been wearing a blood padded vest that prevented the bullet from hitting her and also puncture the vest so that blood leaked out. All dumebi had to do was to act. Even her children hadn’t known about the plot. 

Madam Gold went still. Even in death, she had a certain elegance to her. Despite being in her sixties, she maintained a youthful body. 

Dumebi stood and looked down at the body. That was when she noticed that despite the elegance, the woman seemed lonely and pathetic. Dumebi swallowed a lump in her throat when she realized that she too could die a lonely woman. 

Dumebi left that hotel room secretly with a resolution to get back to her life. She was thirty eight, still young enough to have a life, maybe not completely normal buy at least one that wouldn’t leave her a poor lonely woman someday and one that would not make her a scared punching bag. She was a grown woman now, an empress of her own. She was a woman, one to never be suppressed.

THE END.

About Author

Okpala Michael

"Behold He Whom You Shall Call King..." WRITER| MODEL | POET | AUTHOR | NOVELIST | THESPIAN At Your Service. Follow and Link Up!

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