On Trial – Episode 23
© Onyinyechukwu Mbeledogu
‘Your reply on points of law fully addressed the issues of law arising from the prosecution’s lengthy final address,’ Rashidat told Kaira, referring to the five page docvment in her hand. ‘Tell me, how difficult was it analysing and dissecting evidence as a defence counsel this time?’
‘My sister, the shift from wanting to prove the defendant’s guilt to needing to prove his innocence was a great learning experience. It’s nothing like what occurs in civil litigations.’
‘So you owe the learned Silk a bottle of champagne for giving you that experience.’
‘ Abi o. We can’t let an innocent man lose his life irrespective of the offence for which he is facing trial.’
‘Aha!’ Rashidat exclaimed. ‘Someone finally admits that she was wrong.’
‘ Na you get your mouth,’ Kaira laughed, yawning slightly. ‘He’s obviously innocent.’
‘Yes he is, boss lady, and I’m glad you finally admit that. Lawrence has corrected the typographical errors on the reply so we are good to go with the filing tomorrow,’ Rashidat said. ‘I’ll need one of your seals for the last page of the docvment. Ruhuoma will run the copies and bring them over for your signature.’
Kaira pulled open her top drawer and took out the envelope with her NBA seal. She handed the envelop over to Rashidat. As the door closed, Kaira slouched in her chair and closed her eyes, her breathing slowing down.
She jerked slightly and reached for her phone as Styl-plus ‘Olufunmi’ shattered the silence in the room.
‘Someone finally decided to call his counsel.’
‘Hello to you too,’ said the husky voice. ‘I’d like to invite you to the house for my birthday on Saturday.’
‘Time?’ she asked, her heart fluttering.
‘Thanks for the invite. I’ll be there.’
‘I’ll see you then.’
She dropped the phone on the desk. She leaned into the chair, her eyes closing once more. Taking a deep breath and slowly exhaling, she opened her eyes once more as there was a knock on the door. The door was opened by Rashidat who dropped the docvments in her hand on the desk.
‘I need you to sign the last pages, boss lady,’ Rashidat told Kaira.
‘I thought Ruhuoma was to bring the copies to me.’
‘That was the initial intention but she wouldn’t have been bold enough to tell you that you need to head home right away.’
‘Why would I do that?’ Kaira asked, her eyes riveting to the clock. ‘It’s only a few minutes past three.’
‘Yes and you are very tired. You’ve been working late for days now. You need to rest.’
‘I’m okay,’ Kaira assured Rashidat.
‘No, you’re not. You dozed off earlier. You didn’t even notice when I returned your pack of seals.’
And indeed, there it was on her desk.
‘Go home boss lady. Tomorrow is another day.’
‘You’re right, Rashidat. I need to get home and sleep.’
Kaira rose to her feet and stretched herself out. She retrieved the jacket she had taken off earlier and slung it over her right arm, pushing her feet into her shoes.
The partly open door opened further and Sopuru stuck his head into the office.
‘Are you ready to leave, Ma?’
Kaira arched an eyebrow.
‘Sopuru volunteered to drop you at home and take a cab back here,’ Rashidat explained.
‘Oh. Thanks. Give me a few minutes. I’ll meet you outside once I’m done signing the copies of the reply on points of law.’
* * * * *
‘I’m so sorry I’m late,’ Kaira apologised as Koje let her into his home. ‘A keke driver brushed my car. Fortunately the scratch was easily wiped off with hydraulic fluid.’
‘ Ẹ ku abọ .’
‘You’re the only one I invited,’ Koje replied leading the way into the sitting room.
‘Oh,’ her jaw dropped open and she shut it back up.
‘Don’t worry, you’re safe with me,’ he assured her.
He turned back to look at her. She smiled and thrust her gift at him. Her smile faltered as she took in the dark shadows beneath his eyes and the beard.
‘You got me a gift!’ Koje’s eyes widened.
‘It’s your birthday, isn’t it?’ Kaira returned.
‘ Ese gan,’ his lips spoilt in a grin. He immediately unwrapped the gift as she walked past him to sit on the couch.
‘I love it.’ He sat beside her, holding the black and red Ralph Lauren T-shirt out in front of him.
‘I’m glad you do. I was wondering what to get you and Erhus came up with this.’
‘You shouldn’t have bothered, but I appreciate the gift.’
As he folded the T-shirt back into its wrap, she asked: ‘Are you all right? You also seem to be missing some muscles since we last saw in court. And that beard is so not you.’
‘I feel like I look.’
‘Talk to me, Quadri. What’s the problem?’
‘Lately, I have been thinking a lot about the case,’ he admitted. ‘You told me that you couldn’t give me 100% assurance that the judgment would go in my favour, that there was a 50-50 percent chance of securing an acquittal. Well, it’s the other 50% chance of a conviction that has me really worried. I have been tempted so many times to reach out to Laide to end this…’
‘Please don’t,’ Kaira immediately cut him short.
‘I know. I’m not stupid. It’s just that I am tired of this trial. I wouldn’t feel this bad if I had done it, but I’m innocent. I can’t contemplate having to spend the rest of my life in prison because a woman claims I forcefully had s£x with her!’
Kaira had been in constant touch with Tega who assured her that there were findings he had made which would bring a twist to the trial but needed a little more time to conclude it. In his words ‘It would be worth your while.’
‘Hopefully, we should be able to convince the court of your innocence. I wouldn’t want an innocent man to lose his personal liberty for good.’
‘What convinced you of my innocence?’ Koje asked, his dark eyebrows arched.
‘You did,’ Kaira replied. ‘Remember I have worked closely with you in the last few months.’
He looked ahead, his silence eloquent.
‘You should try to be optimistic Quadri.’
‘Once you’ve adopted your final addresses, the next stage is judgment right?’
‘Yes it is.’
He ran his palm over his face. ‘Lord help me. I haven’t felt like this since I lost my sister years ago.’
‘What happened to her?’
‘She was gang-raped and her assailants tied me up and made me watch them violate her.’
‘Oh my God,’ Kaira gasped, covering her open mouth with both palms, her dark eyes bulging.
‘We were alone at home in Ibadan when we were attacked by armed robbers. They took away money and electronics. They were about to leave when one of them suddenly looked at Funke and insisted that he couldn’t leave without having her. The reward for my protests was the slamming of the butt of a gun on the side of my head and getting tied up. I was given a front row view of her violation. Her screams remained with me for a long time. And there is no day that goes by that I don’t ask myself if there wasn’t something I could have done to prevent what happened to her that night. That’s why I can’t understand why anyone would believe that after what I had seen happen to my own sister, I would do the same to someone else’s daughter or sister.’
She reached for the hand close to her and placed her palm on it, entwining their fingers.
‘I’m so sorry.’
He turned to look at her. ‘That’s why I can easily relate with what happened to you and how it shaped your career path.’
She pulled back her hand and stuttered, ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about.’
‘Yes, you do,’ he countered. ‘I’m talking about the rape incident that occurred after your boyfriend broke your heart. The day your innocence was stolen.’
Her eyes widened. How could he know?
‘A man broke your heart but you could have easily forgiven him a long time ago and gotten on with your life but you cannot forgive him because of what happened to you afterwards.’
‘Was I expected to?’ Kaira snapped. ‘Look, I don’t want to talk about it. I’m sure you didn’t invite me over to share rape stories!’
His gaze held hers for some time and then he rose to his feet.
‘You’re right I didn’t. I have cake, food and a collection of wine you can choose from.’
‘Great,’ she sighed.
He left the sitting room returning with a large cake and with an Arsenal FC logo on it.
‘It is a lie!’ she exclaimed.
‘What? I’m a proud Gunner for life.’
‘Of course. Your car is a mobile Arsenal Shrine.’
‘Jealousy jollof rice.’
‘I would have to be a soccer fan in order to be jealous, you know. I’m more of an athletics fan. It beats my imagination why eleven adults would be running around the field for ninety minutes chasing after one small ball.’
‘I can think of a lot of reasons. Like making up to £26,000,000.’
‘Whole lot of money for a career that has a short life span.’
‘Don’t be such a hater.’
She stuck out her tongue at him and he laughed. She suddenly recalled a funny picture a friend had sent to her on Whatsapp and immediately picked up her phone and went into her gallery.
‘Hey, today is meant to be all about me,’ Koje complained.
‘Don’t worry, you’re not competing with this old phone. I have this picture I think you should see.’
She scrolled through the pictures and found what she was looking for. It was the picture of an elephant on the branch of a tree branch that was bent almost to the ground. It also had a caption attached to it. She handed the phone over to him and he looked at it.
‘Go on, read out the caption.’
‘Arsenal is like an elephant on a tree. You don’t know how it got up there but you know that it will surely fall.’
He laughed. ‘Stupid people. They are always so jealous of my club.’
‘ Na una know una sef ,’ she told him. ‘You and Erhus should get together some time during an Arsenal match. That’s another die-hard fan. In fact his own sef reach for them to give him free tickets to the Emirates stadium.’
‘I can’t wait to meet him. I hope he’s not a contender?’
‘ Bẹẹ ni. A contender in the race to win your heart.’
‘Erhus? You want us to kill ourselves?’ she smiled. ‘Erhus is the kind of friend you can count on whenever you need a friend. You don’t mess up such friendship with romantic ideas. Besides, we have known each other for so long that getting into a relationship would almost be like incest.’
‘Good. So I have one less rival to deal with.’
She arched back her head and looked at him.
‘Surely, you didn’t think the race was over just because you were rude to me?’
His gaze was intense and her heart skipped a beat. Her lips parted and she closed them once more. She returned her attention to the cake and said: ‘It’s time for you to cut the cake Koje Quadri.’
‘You would have to sing to me the popular birthday song.’
‘With which voice? The one that almost gave my secondary school music teacher a seizure when I decided to join the school choir.’
Koje laughed. ‘Don’t worry. I’m not going to judge you, even if you croak like a fat, constipated throat.’
‘A fat, constipated toad.’
‘You have a bad mouth,’ she said, punching his left arm. ‘And for your information, I don’t croak.’
‘I’ll be the judge of that. Oya start singing.’
He wrapped his fingers around the knife on top of the cake.
‘Here we go. Happy birthday to you. Happy birthday to you. Happy birthday, dear Koje. Happy birthday to you.’
‘Well that wasn’t too bad.’
‘You think you can do better? Let me hear you sing it.’
‘Just invite me to your 37 birthday and I’ll thrill your audience with my sonorous voice.’
‘Don’t you mean that they’ll ban music because of you? Besides, weren’t you taught that you should never talk about a woman’s age in public?’
‘Actually I was taught that it’s only women who feel they have not achieved anything or that they have not achieved enough that hide their age. And you, my dearest Kairaluchukwu Madukaife, do not fall under that category.’
‘See the way you are just pronouncing my full name,’ she teased. ‘In your mind now you’re good with names.’
‘I make the effort to learn how to pronounce the names I hear because I do not like my name being pronounced wrongly. Nigerian names have deep meanings and a wrong pronunciation could give a name a different meaning.’
Kaira could come up a few Igbo names on the spot, which if wrongly pronounced could turn into insults that could bless the caller with very hot slaps.
Koje cut the cake and she put them in saucers, giving the first one to him.
‘Where’s Raphael?’ Kaira asked.
‘Visiting his family, but we have a pot of coconut rice with salad, chicken and peppered snails in the kitchen courtesy of him.’
‘Peppered snails. My kind of guy.’
‘And is that supposed to make me jealous?’
‘ Na you sabi ,’ she laughed, rising to her feet and walking in the direction of the kitchen.
‘Don’t do that. You’re my guest.’
‘And you’re the birthday boy. You may never get another opportunity to have me at your beck and call so you better take advantage of this opportunity.’
Moments later, Kaira breathed in, her shoulders rising slightly even as her tongue ran over her lips. She reached for another spoon of coconut rice, and paused with Koje’s eyes on her.
‘What? I love good food. And thanks for telling Raphael how much I love snails. I’ll have to take some home with me.’
‘Also extend my thanks to him. Can I steal him for a week?’
‘Not unless you plan on having me for a flatmate.’
‘In your dreams.’
‘Believe me, you don’t want to know what goes on in there,’ he smiled.
She swallowed hard and shoved the spoon into her mouth. A beep had her lifting her head once more even as Koje dropped his cutlery and reached for his phone. His eyes widened as he took in the identity of the sender and then narrowed. Her interest peeked, she watched the display of emotions on his face as he read the message and then pushed the phone away from him and reached for a glass of wine.
‘That wasn’t a birthday message, was it?’ she asked.
‘It was, but one intended to remind me that this might be my last birthday outside prison.’
‘Why would someone do something like that?’ Kaira asked, her eyes wide.
‘I don’t find it surprising at all, ife mi . I haven’t even bothered going on any of the social media platforms. I’ve received calls and messages from my employees, a few relatives including my parents, and a handful of friends. Situations like this reveal to you those who are truly your friends.’
He looked down at the soft hand placed on the fingers he had clenched into a fist.
‘It’s ironic that I get to spend my birthday with my lawyer.’
‘Usually, the lawyer is seen as the one you contact only when you’re in trouble and not exactly as a friend.’
‘Is that we are? Friends?’
‘For now, yes. The ball is in your court. It’s up to you to determine what I can be to you. You already know how I feel about you.’
‘Let’s be done with your case first and then we’ll see about that.’
‘That’s a better answer than what I got from you the last time. Means I’m beginning to grow on you.’
‘I’m not making any promises.’
‘No, you’re not. You’re not yet sure if you should trust yourself and your feelings with another man. And I know for a fact that this is not just about me.’
‘You can’t blame me, Quadri. Love makes you weak. When you love a man, your world revolves around him and when he takes that love for granted, it breaks you. It weakens everything about you.’
He reached out a hand and took hers in his.
‘I took self-defence classes while I was in school, grading up to a brown belt,’ she continued. ‘I was taught to be alert to my surroundings. But seeing Ekene with Dilinna and hearing him justify why he’d not only slept with my friend, but had already gotten her pregnant, blaming me for denying him the rights to my body on the guise of wanting to save myself for our wedding, made me snap. I left his apartment with no idea where I was headed, just needing to be far away from them. I didn’t know I was on a lonely route until someone grabbed me from behind under the rays of the full moon and knocked me around.
‘The physical pains didn’t penetrate my subconscious mind which was already occupied with the emotional pain I was dealing with. I couldn’t fight back. I didn’t fight back. I lay there surrounded by the stench of strong body odour, cigarette smoke and alcohol as that man took by force the gift I had been saving for the man I loved, the gift I had finally made up my mind to break my own principles to give to him as proof of my love. That man took my body apart, grunting and groaning and enjoying himself at my expense. And then he spilled his foul seed into me, adjusted his trousers, took my phone, emptied my purse and walked away like that was payment for services rendered to me.
Koje stroked her fingers, silent but his gaze was neither judgmental nor full of pity.
‘I went to the police station to make a report and they made fun of me, calling me an
ashawo who’d had a bad day. They taunted me and one of them even had the guts to ask me for s£x. Thank God for the female police officer who called her colleagues to order and took my statement, including a description of the man. She took me to the hospital where I was admitted and samples taken to aid the investigation. My parents thought I was spending the weekend with Dilinna and so the only person I could call to pay for the tests was Erhus who was in Lagos at the time.
‘As an adult the hospital wasn’t under the obligation to divulge to my parents the real details of what had brought me to the hospital. And my official story was that I had been attacked and beaten because I hadn’t released my phone and purse in time. Erhus didn’t buy that story at all. I don’t know if my parents did but they never mentioned it. They paid for the rest of my treatment and I was discharged from the hospital a few days later. I kept in touch with the police and soon found out that the man I had identified as my attacker was dead. He was run over by a bus while trying to flee from the arresting officers.
‘Was that justice? No. He had died on the spot and without pain. His family probably eulogised him thinking he was some innocent man the police had been after. Once I had recovered enough to travel, I returned to Ilorin where I was serving with a private firm and that was where the decision to prosecute rape cases was born. The man who raped me may be gone but the man who set off the chain of reaction still exists and I cannot be expected to forgive him so easily.’
Koje curled his fingers around hers.
‘He’s not worth it. You have helped a lot of other women get justice and you are still doing that. It isn’t right that you should let your ex continue to occupy a rent free accommodation in your heart.’
‘You think I’m weak?’
‘No. You’re a very strong woman. A lot of women who have gone through what you did er£ct a wall about them and suffer in silence; take their lives, or take their revenge on men. You did none of these things. You chose to speak up for those who had gone through the same pain, even when everyone felt it was impossible to get justice like you did for Esther Anderson.’
‘I’m glad we were able to put him away for good.’
‘You took up my case despite your reservation and you have given me the best representation. It doesn’t matter which way it goes. Yes, I get scared that I might lose and have to spend years on appeals without any certainty of success but I know one thing, I can’t fault you for what you’ve done for me and it isn’t about the money I paid. Coming from the background you’ve given, you could easily and justifiably told me to go to hell with my money.’
‘Aunty Wunmi asked me to…’
‘Your strong personality would have resisted if that was really you. She wouldn’t have put you under pressure. She told me she would talk to you but she wouldn’t pressure you to accept. It had to be your decision. Forgiveness doesn’t come easy, Kaira, but when you hold on to hatred for so long it makes you bitter not just towards the person responsible but towards others and you also miss out on the good things that would have happened to you. Your ex is the reason you don’t want to date any man. Besides family, your best friend is the only man you allow come close to you and until you let go, you are going to unconsciously continue sending away every good man that comes your way. It’s great that you’re fighting for women but you also need to take complete control of your life. No man is worth it.
‘For years after I lost my sister, I blamed myself. But I had to make a conscious decision never to be like those hooded men; never to hurt a woman like that. By making that decision I had defeated them, taking control of my life. By making me watch, their intention was to damage me for life but I didn’t give them that pleasure. Your Ekene has moved on with his life, irrespective of what’s presently happening in it and you need to move on with yours. It won’t be easy but the first step is to tell yourself that is what you need to do.’
Kaira met his gaze for a long time and nodded. They both returned their attention to their food. There was eloquence in the welcome silence that came over the room. When they were done with the meal, she helped clear and wash the dishes and then sat with him in the sitting room watching an action movie. Her hand slid into the crook of his arm and her head rested partially against his shoulder.
Ẹ ku abọ . – welcome
To be continued