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By Lucy Chiamaka Okwuma

‘You were making plans to start up your firm when things went south with Dubem, so don’t you dare insinuate that I made you leave your job!’ 

‘Yes. You did Richard! You did! Your jealousy over Dubem was unending, the only way I could bring back peace was by staying away from him.’

‘But it was your choice! I stayed away from Dubem because he betrayed me, but I never forced you to cut him off.’

‘I guess I will just give Dubem a call right now and tell him I want to amend our broken friendship.’ ‘Now you’re just being silly. Stop it, Rachel!’

‘Oh! You don’t want me to contact him?’

‘You can do whatever you want, but don’t taunt me with it.’ Richard sighed. ‘Can you please put on clothes if we are going to continue with this argument?’ 

Rachel laughed, as she tugged on the towel that did very little to hide her nakedness.

‘I can’t win this argument with you like that, and you know it.’

‘If I wanted to disarm you, honey, I would have just strolled into the bathroom naked. Not pull out a fresh towel.’

‘Let’s kiss and make up, please. I hate fighting with you.’

‘I hate it too. But I can’t.’ 

‘How about I put more barriers with Nora? I can make sure don’t work directly with her. Nora is family honey; you know how trustworthy she is. Please, let’s just leave it at that. I swear, you never have to worry about my faithfulness to you. I love you and as the years go by, my love for you becomes even stronger.’

‘Alright. I can accept that you work, only at distance away from Nora. No more hugs like I saw today. Promise me, Richard?’

‘Not until you say, you love me.’

‘You silly man. You know I love you more. You and our children are the only reason I live.’ They kissed deeply, reaching each other’s souls with love and unappeasable passion.

‘Richard.’ Rachel sighed when they drew apart. ‘I found out today that Stephanie may be in a relationship with Joshua Benson.’ 

She hates to give him bad news because he never handles his emotions well, especially when it was news that made him angry.

Richard flamed up immediately as Rachel feared.

She decides to start dating and then she goes for a psychopath! She is a very stupid girl. She went to court with you during his trial, doesn’t she remember him?’

I don’t know Richard. I was in total shock when I saw the pictures online. My little girl with the very boy I know is a killer! I rushed down to your office because I honestly didn’t know what to do, but to confide in you.’

‘Oh, I know what to do honey. I’m going to beat the scrap out of her! Firstly, she’s not allowed to date, let alone a psychotic murderer! She’s going to get it from me.’ Richard turned to leave.

“Wait Richard, it’s midnight. She’s already asleep. Let’s not be so irrational. First thing tomorrow, even before breakfast, we will sit down and talk to her, calmly.Rachel intercepted.

‘I was gonna round up work for the year next week. The firm’s end of the year party is next week Friday. But I’m taking an early break. I signed off work today. I went back to the firm after I left Star Jets, tied up some loose ends, then called my siblings and my father and arranged the meeting. They all could sense the fear and urgency in my voice. So, they didn’t hesitate to show up at Papa’s house. Then, we came up with the conclusion of serious prayers. I contacted the pastors and they agreed to counsel Stephanie. On Sunday evening, they agreed to have a home session here with us, with all the family members. So, we have tomorrow to talk to Stephanie and anyone else we want present, Daniel definitely has to be around. I only wish Jo and David could be around.’

‘I can’t believe this is happening. Everything with Stephanie.’ 

They sat on their king-sized bed, resting by the upholstered headboard, and glanced through their daughter’s social media accounts with their computer devices. They never use to monitor her so closely. When she first opened her Facebook account, they had been cautiously vigilant. A year went by and the internet and social media became even more porous, and they lost interest.

‘I should have checked her page earlier. I have been having some online seminars all week. I should have taken time off to browse through Stephanie’s accounts. I would have seen these posts from the concert a week ago’. Richard berated himself.

Excerpted from Lucy Chiamaka Okwuma’s NEGLECTED, one of the 11 novels shortlisted for the Nigerian Prize for Literature 2021.

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