Read an Excerpt
Awake now, Emma listened to Courage’s slow, rhythmic breathing beside her. It was five in the morning, her normal waking time, but she stayed in his bed awhile smiling as she thought about last night and how much fun she had had with Courage. It had been quite unlike her proverbial “first time” many months ago when Courage had repeatedly asked her before, during, and after the act if she was okay. Emma had said yes, which was true, but she had wished it could have been more than just okay. Now that she had gotten to that point, she was happy with it.
Was she the new Emma? Well, in this regard, yes. She had long carried something of an obsession with remaining a virgin until marriage, but lately, things had changed. Emma and Courage had grown much closer to each other on an emotional level during the coronavirus pandemic. Thereafter, Emma had become more comfortable with Courage physically.
Then, one Sunday morning in church as she listened to a priest’s sermon declaring what was godly and what was sinful, a lightbulb went off in her brain, and she realized something: first, she had been unconsciously absorbing this virginity rule without ever questioning it. And second, as the priest continued in his mellifluous baritone, it struck her that virginity was a male fetish wrapped tightly around another male fetish called “purity.” Emma was certain that whoever originated the concept of virginity was a man.
Now she was looking for a new, more modern and openminded church she could join. That would represent another change for her as she drifted away from the Catholic church. Its luster had faded for her, dovetailing with a slowly evolving view of sex and the freedom to have it.
She rose to shower. When she emerged from the bathroom, Courage was awake but still in bed scrolling through his phone. He looked at her and smiled. “You okay?”
She nodded. “Yes, I’m good, and you?”
“Yeah. Slept very well.”
“I wonder why,” Emma commented.
Courage laughed, got out of bed, and began dressing for work. “They want me in at eight this morning.”
“Okay,” Emma said, digging in her overnight bag to find her favorite blouse with blue and white geometric patterns. She wriggled into a matching blue skirt.
Courage made a face. “Don’t you want me to iron your clothes? They’re a bit wrinkled.”
Emma looked down, assessing the degree of wrinkledness for barely a second. “It’s not that bad,” she declared.
He grunted. “You know what our new chief would do if I showed up to work like that?”
“I don’t know—court-martial you?”
“Close enough,” Courage said wryly.
He worked in the Panther SWAT division of the Ghana Police Service, and like most police or military organizations, they demanded spotless, wrinkle-free uniforms with sharp creases in all the right places.
Courage didn’t have his car, which had been in the repair shop for a while, so he couldn’t give Emma a ride. At the tro-tro park, they said goodbye before going their separate ways. Courage was set to go out of town on an assignment, so he wouldn’t see Emma for a couple of days or more. His schedule was always subject to change, sometimes with little or no notice.
Emma arrived at the Sowah Private Investigators Agency at seven-forty, twenty minutes before morning briefing. Predictably, she was the first one in. Next would be Beverly, the administrative assistant. The most senior investigator, Walter Manu, would be last because he was always between three and ten minutes late, and the remaining two detectives, Jojo and Gideon, landed somewhere in between Beverly and Manu.
Emma switched on the lights. The air conditioner would come on by ten, when the heat of the day would begin to seep into the pores of the building and turn it into a kiln. The meeting room doubled as the working space with their desks in roughly an open-sided square arrangement. Over the last year, the boss, Yemo Sowah, had renovated and streamlined the space, brightening it with new, efficient LED bulbs and a redesigned window that admitted more natural light. They had more electrical outlets to accommodate their laptops (the old desktops were all gone except one) and phone chargers. Sowah had also had a wall knocked out so Beverly could spread out a little more in the vestibule waiting area.
Emma and her colleagues appreciated that their boss had invested practically all the allotted funds into his employees’ amenities while spending almost nothing on his own office down the hall. Most bosses, especially in Ghana’s top-down society, would have done the opposite, attending to themselves before anyone else. Emma never forgot that Sowah was the rare species of Ghanaian who wasn’t out just for himself, and she would always be grateful for that.
She used the few minutes she had before the meeting to call her mother at home. Akosua was already up and about, cleaning Emma’s place.
“What would you like for dinner tonight?” Akosua asked.
“Anything you make is good, Mama,” Emma said.
“Thank you, dear. How is Courage this morning?”
Could she be thawing out toward him, or was that a pointed question about what he and his daughter had been up to the night before?
“He’s fine,” Emma said. “He’ll be on a job out of town for a couple of days.”
“Oh, great! So, I’ll get to see you a little bit, then.”
She acted as if Emma had been staying at Courage’s house for weeks.
“I hope you’re not thinking about some kind of cohabitation with him,” Akosua said.
Cohabitation? “No, Mama. Nothing of the kind.” She was going to ask what was so bad about cohabitation, but now was no time to have an argument. “I have to get going because we’ll be starting our meeting soon.”
Beverly had just walked in. She was slim and impeccably turned out—hair, skin, nails, everything. Emma always marveled at the magnificent clothes Beverly wore. She wasn’t rich by any means; she just looked it. Somehow, she never repeated an outfit.
“Morning!” Beverly called out, walking up in heels Emma would never have been able to survive. “How was your weekend?”
“Very nice, thanks,” Emma said.
Gideon arrived a few minutes later. He was stout and solid; bearded one week, clean-shaven the next, he could seem like more than one person, an asset in the private investigator world. Jojo followed shortly after. Unlike Gideon, his “brother from another mother,” he was slight in stature and boyish. At thirty-two, he could pass for a twenty-year-old.
At eight o’clock sharp, Sowah came out of his office for the morning briefing. He was a compact man who kept in shape by playing tennis at the Ghana Police Sports Complex off Ring Road. Up till now, he had managed to avoid the belly bulge that plagued men of his age.
“Morning, all,” he said. “I hope you had a good weekend and you’re ready for the work week.”
“More than ready, boss,” Jojo said with confidence and a sparkle in his voice. Emma smiled at him. Always jaunty, he was the kind of person who could pull you out of the worst mood with a well-placed joke.
In turn, starting with Manu, each of the four investigators rendered their updates. Emma’s two jobs were a background check on a potential Ecobank employee and an infidelity case that was straightforward and about to conclude. Jojo had three similarly easy assignments.
But while Emma and Jojo had unexacting workloads, Manu and Gideon were bearing the weight of several complex cases that were moving at the speed of a tortoise. Therefore, with little or nothing new to report, they quickly rehashed what was already present knowledge. As far as briefings went, this one was quite succinct and Emma and the other three investigators got to work as Sowah returned to his office.
After lunch, a tall man with a slight stoop, a thin face, and a trimmed salt-and-pepper beard entered the anteroom where Beverly sat. Emma had a good view of the lobby and was usually within earshot of anything said there. The man announced his name, but Emma didn’t quite catch it.
“Please, do you have an appointment?” Beverly asked him.
“Not at all. I’m an old friend.”
“No problem, sir,” Beverly said, reaching for her phone.
“Oh, wait,” the man said, quickly. “Could you not tell him I’m here? I wanted to surprise him.”
Beverly, not one to break protocol, hesitated, and Emma took that as her cue to jump in. She rose and went to Beverly’s aid.
“Good morning, sir,” she said. “I’m Emma Djan, one of the investigators here. How can we help?”
He looked down at Emma, who was quite tall herself but nowhere near his height. Dressed in an expensive-looking dark gray suit, the man was in his early sixties and had the air of one accustomed to giving orders, not carrying them out.
“Nnamdi Ojukwu,” he said to Emma, his voice a rich bass. “I’m a good friend of Mr. Sowah’s from a long time back. We haven’t seen each other for several years and he’s not expecting me. I want to surprise him.”
Ojukwu’s name was recognizably Nigerian, and even his refined intonation couldn’t conceal the accent from a trained ear.
“Yes, of course, Mr. Ojukwu. Please come with me.”
Sowah wasn’t with a client right now and Emma saw no reason not to take Mr. Ojukwu straight back without a “pre-clearance.” She led him down the short hallway to the boss’s open office door. Yemo Sowah, buried in work at his desk, looked up over the rim of his glasses as Emma appeared in the doorway. Ojukwu stayed behind her deliberately out of sight until his signal came.
“Someone here to see you, sir,” Emma said. “A big surprise.”
“Who is it?”
Emma stepped to the side, and her lean—some would say skinny—body gave way to Mr. Ojukwu’s.
Sowah’s expression morphed from momentary puzzlement to astonishment. “Nnamdi!” he exclaimed, leaping up and coming around his desk. “What are you doing here?”
Mr. Ojukwu’s exuberant laugh echoed around the room. With Sowah’s head barely reaching Nnamdi’s shoulder, the men embraced awkwardly. Since the advent of Covid, handshakes and embraces were all awkward and no one knew quite what to do. “Good to see you, Yemo,” the man said, clapping him on the back.
“And you as well.” Sowah turned to Emma. “This is my dear friend and former college mate, Nnamdi Ojukwu.”
“Welcome, sir,” Emma said, smiling. “Can I get you anything? Some water?”
“I’m good, thank you.”
“Come in, Nnamdi,” Sowah said. “Thank you, Emma.”
He shut the door and Emma returned to her desk wondering about the arrival of this longtime friend of Sowah’s. Was Ojukwu bringing a case to the agency, or was this just a social call? If it were the latter, wouldn’t he have called on Sowah at home? Or perhaps it was a combination of personal and business. One way or the other, Emma and her colleagues would soon know. She realized how eager she was for a new case. Frankly, she was bored.
Nnamdi sat down heavily on the scarlet sofa, which protested with a tiny squeak.
“My goodness,” Sowah said as he pulled up a chair to sit near his friend. “This is wonderful. Let’s see—is it about two years since you left Ghana to go back home?”
“A little over three, now. Hard to believe, right? After I returned to Lagos, I decided to retire early from the diplomatic corps and now I’m a consultant for a think tank.”
“Congrats,” Sowah said with admiration. “How are Ijeoma and your daughter, Ngozi? She must be what, sixteen, seventeen?”
“Ijeoma’s doing well—she seems to work on a thousand different projects at a time. And Ngozi has just turned eighteen.”
Sowah gave a short groan. “What has happened to time?”
“It seems to have gotten away from us,” Nnamdi said wryly.
He and Sowah had attended the University of Ghana together. They had parted once Nnamdi returned to Nigeria, but decades later, having joined the diplomatic service, he had returned to Ghana with his wife, Ijeoma, and only daughter, Ngozi, to fill the post of Nigerian high commissioner.
“So, what brings you back to our neck of the woods?” Sowah asked. “Everything okay?”
“I wish I could say so, but things are not good at all.”
“Oh,” Sowah said. Nnamdi’s tone and demeanor were laden with disquiet—very unlike him. “What’s going on?”
Sowah held his breath, preparing for the worst.
“She’s run away from home,” Nnamdi said, “and she could be here in Accra.”