There were certain mornings, Julia Onyema thought as she blinked her way into wakefulness, when the world at first light seemed as fresh and as new as creation.
This Saturday morning seemed like one such day.
Lying still on the bed, amidst the downy coverlets, she could perceive the scent of the neighbour’s flowers and well-tended lawn. The neighbour had a beautiful garden, unusual for a Nigerian, and right now, Julia could imagine its riotous glory spread out under the unsullied blue sky, the petals and leafy blades glistening wet from the morning dew, with the stiff breezes that wafted about seeming to purify nature. The breeze drifted into the bedroom through the open window, lifting the curtains in a tandem dance with the crashing waves from the waters of the beach which wasn’t very far.
Julia gave a soft sigh. In the nine years that had passed, she’d almost forgotten how blissful the life of a civilian could be. She lay in bed, not moving, feeling deliciously tired and content. There was a warm, wonderful glow inside her, and she didn’t want to move in case it went away. She lifted a languid hand to her face, and the band on her ring finger glinted dully in the morning light.
That was new, she thought, admiring the simple ornament that carried with it not-so-simple connotations. A mark of a fresh commitment.The start of a nascent chapter in her life. Staring at her finger, she felt the beginnings of a smile flicker across her face.
“Hello, wife,” a male voice rumbled from the bedroom door.
That was another thing new. At twenty-nine years of age, Julia Onyema was a wife, and the man who made her his stood by the door, watching her with an admiring smile. Akeem Onyango, the Kenyan operative who had quickly become – and she winced at the cliché – the love of her life.
“Hello, husband,” she murmured, her smile widening.
He moved toward the bed, with slow, sure strides, his crooked smile sending desire fluttering in her heart and heat pooling between her thighs. Her first impression of Akeem, when she met him nearly a year ago, was of raw sex appeal. He exuded it, ripe and physical. He was in his early thirties and extremely good looking. Dark-skinned, with a whipcord build, and though he wasn’t very tall, he had a blatant virility that drew women to him like bees to honey. His sensuality was what made him lethal as a man, and one of the qualities that made him valuable as an agent.
“How did you sleep?” he said, his distinctive Kenyan accent colouring his words. The bed beside Julia folded inward as he sat down and placed a hand on the part of her torso that was not covered by the duvet.
Her nipples instantly prickled at his touch.
Akeem noticed and arched a brow. “You can’t be serious.”
She flashed him a devilish grin. “Hey, you’re a drink of water, and I’m thirsty as hell. My body’s just reminding me that it’s time for a drink.”
He laughed. “After all the many, many times you drank all through the night? Have some mercy, woman.” He put on a mock-pleading expression. “This fountain is on its reserve now.”
She laughed softly as she pulled his head down to hers for a kiss. Their lips met and slid against each other, tugging and yawning open for their tongues to reach in, one for the other, stroking and fanning the embers of the passion they thought they’d exhausted the night before. Moments later, they broke apart with quickened breaths; while Akeem sat back up, Julia flopped back on the bed, a trembly sigh susurrating through her lips.
This moment – this time they had together – had had not been part of the plan. But it didn’t surprise her. There had been signals – furtive glances, comments made only half in jest, fleeting touches that were electrifying. The tension had built for the better part of the year they worked together. Each of them silently wondering, neither knew for sure if it would ever go to that next level.
And then, during the mission to Sierra Leone, to secure the defection of an al-Qaeda agent, everything changed. Right there in the private villa overlooking the tranquil beach of Sulima. The warm, humid air, the crashing surf, the shots of tequila – all coalesced to create a situation of overwhelming sexual tension. And they gave in, making love with a fierce hunger that betrayed their need to do this concurrently and exclusively.
But it was not an easy decision to make, them being together. It was a dangerous world – their world – and any romantic relationship was inherently a taboo, something their individual agencies would act swiftly and decisively to extinguish.
Following the expanding threat of the Muslim jihadists in Africa, especially after it became a recognized fact that these virulent sects were funded by the internationally-renowned and feared al-Qaeda, the United States brought its expertise to West Africa, to those countries that were troubled by frequent bursts of jihadist movements, chief among them Nigeria, Kenya and Somalia. The collaboration happened ten years ago, and the result was the constitution of spy agencies and the recruitment of men and women with enough love for their countries and enough viciousness to drive the determination to hunt – and often times, assassinate – members of the Islamic sects that were stirring trouble for the African nations. The Nigerian Intelligence Agency (NIA) was to Nigeria what the Kenyan Task Force (KTF) was to Kenya, and sometimes, these agencies joined forces to exterminate a common enemy. That didn’t translate to a kinship; they were spy agencies for a reason, and each organization watched over its secrets and operatives with hawkish doggedness and characteristic distrust. They didn’t have to trust one another, they just had to tolerate themselves well enough to work together. Do not fraternize with the other team was an unspoken rule.
Julia flushed nine years of well-honed training and service down the drain when she slept with Akeem. And continued sleeping with him. And eventually fell in love with him.
She patted the bed and said, “Lie with me.”
“Ah, Jules, you know we have a lot to get to today –”
“Yes I do –”
“–see the realtor about a house in the mainland, fly to Abuja to see your director, make arrangements–”
“Akeem Onyango, just shut up a minute and lie with your wife.”
He flashed her a smile and within moments, he was stretched out behind her, her body cradled in his, his arm crossed over her body to clasp her hand, his fingers idly caressing hers. She moved her hips and felt his tumescent member jutting against her buttocks. She moved her hips again.
“Stop that,” he groaned.
“I’m just making myself comfortable.”
“Well, your body doesn’t have any objections.”
“My spirit may be willing, but my flesh is weak.”
“Are you sure? Because this flesh I can feel on my behind is anything but weak.”
His quiet laughter rumbled through his chest and fired up that warm glow she was feeling. By God! She really loved this man.
His fingers were still stroking hers, moving lazily from one digit to the other. When they rested on her wedding ring, they stopped moving.
“Are you okay with this?” he asked.
She knew what he was asking. Before their quickie wedding yesterday, witnessed by two random strangers they cajoled off the street into the registry, they’d tentatively come to a decision to quit their jobs. To start a new life together, they had to put the ugliness of what they did behind them. It was a tentative decision, because Julia wasn’t sure she knew how to do anything else but hunt and kill bad guys, and because Akeem had one last contact to meet before wrapping up his business with his agency. Still, they both knew it was time. They’d wedded – that was a first step.
“Yes, I’m sure,” she finally said, “even though it scares me.”
“It scares me too, so it’s okay for us to be scared together, as long as we are facing our new life together, for better or for worse.”
“You’ll have to be patient with me while I’m adjusting. It might take me awhile. I’ve been doing this much longer than you. I virtually grew up in this job. And it has made me fiercely independent and slow to trust. I worry about losing myself or giving any man too much power over me.”
“I don’t want that. Or need it.”
Julia clasped his hand. “I think I know that about you.”
“Then you should also know that the day I decided I wanted to marry you, to be with you for the rest of my life, was the day I realized that you were the first woman since Galilee who could make me forget her.” Galilee was his fiancée, whose death during a hostage incident gone wrong in Nairobi five years ago was his reason for joining KTF. “When I’m with you, I’m with you. I don’t ever want to lose that. It’s a bigger gift to me than you can ever imagine.”
She turned around on the bed to face him, lifting a hand to frame his unshaven cheek. “I don’t ever want to be without you too.” She inhaled deeply, completely intoxicated by his smell and touch.
And she moaned as his lips sought hers again.He pulled her deeper into his embrace. His breath – and her breath too – was heavy, abrupt, as if they’d both been caught off guard by the power of their attraction. The power of their need. Their lips slid against each other and their tongues stroked. The kiss, which began as a leisurely reaction of joy and excitement, quickly became a sensuous feast of desperation and desire.
The passion-laden moment was splintered by the intrusive sound of Akeem’s mobile phone ringing on the bedside table. Their bodies stiffened in silent protest, and Julia groaned as Akeem arched his body away from hers to reach for the phone.
“Do you have to answer that?” she said with a moue of mock-displeasure.
Her husband chuckled, and without answering her, put the phone against his ear and said ‘Hello?’ When the caller responded, his expression instantly changed, it flattened. She recognized the look. It meant whoever was on the line was business. She knew she must look the same way when she dealt with such phone calls. “In the next thirty minutes? That’s not what we agreed on,” Akeem snapped into the phone. He listened some more and then said in a placating tone, “Okay, okay, I’ll meet you. The same meeting point, right? . . . I’ll make sure of that, don’t worry . . . Thirty minutes, got it. I’m on my way out now.” He ended the call.
“Was that your contact?” Julia asked as he rose from the bed.
“What are you two meeting for?”
He gave her a look. Another one she understood. They may be a couple, but questions about their individual missions were not allowed. It was this secrecy shrouding them as a couple that irked her. She hadn’t liked it when they were sleeping together, and she liked it even less now they were married. She would have loved nothing more than to have returned from that trip to Cameroun where she went to eliminate the man – a Nigerian – who was using his job as an imports/exports dealer as a cover to channel state secrets from a contact in Kano to the Cameroonian rebels – she would have loved to get back from that mission, and be asked: “Honey, how was your day?” And to answer, “Oh, you know, I killed a man. Nasty business.Yours?” And not feel like she was compromising the national security.
In record time, Akeem had bathed and was dressed. He donned a simple black T-shirt over a snug fit of Denim trousers. He took her breath away as she watched him get dressed in those clothes. He took her breath away, whether he was in clothes. Or out of them.
She followed behind him, clutching only the duvet around her naked form. She’d always wanted to do that, after seeing it in a Hollywood movie once – the contented wife, traipsing the house after her man, clad in nothing but a bed sheet, the evidence of the torrid night they shared and had just awakened from.
“What? No kiss for the missis?” she pouted as he unlocked the door that opened out into the breathtaking view of the beach.
He chuckled and returned back to her, pulling her into his arms and kissing her. “I love you, wife,” he murmured against her lips.
“I love you too, husband.”
She was at the doorway as he circled to his car, a Honda. The day was just as she’d thought it would be. The sky stretched, an endless blanket of blue and cottony clouds, and beneath it was the sea, lifting and ebbing in waves that flowed into the horizon. It was a perfect day to love, and be loved.
Akeem opened the car and slid inside, slamming the door behind him.
Just then, her languorous feeling of happiness was punctured. It deflated, leaving her feeling suddenly numb, tense and inexplicably afraid. She could feel that she was missing something important. Something she urgently needed to find an answer to.
“Akeem…” she began in a halting voice.
And an explosion shattered the tranquil Lagos Island neighbourhood. The force of it lifted Julia clean off her feet and hurled her backward into the living room, and propelled the Honda several inches into the air, above a ball of roaring orange flames. The car hung up there, buoyed by the flames, for a moment, before thudding back to the ground. The fire spat and bellowed. Startled people around were shouting and running about, panicked. And the waters of the beach splashed on. But none of these sounds could mask the keening sound of a woman’s agonized cry as she looked on, painfully aware that her husband of less than a full day had just been killed.