The Beach House



I heard a shout coming from my daughter’s bedroom; it was a shrill and bone-chilling cry of terror, which made me to spring up immediately from my four-poster bed. I wore only boxers, but I didn’t give it a second thought as I dashed across the house towards her room. I ran up the staircase, and rammed her door open. What I saw froze me in my tracks.

Her room was ablaze, and so was she! Everything, from the curtains to the bed, to the furniture, and to her wallpapers was on fire. Except her face. She was crying as she came closer to me. Then she said, “You killed her, Dad. You killed mom!” And as I looked, her face was also engulfed by the inferno ravaging her room.

I howled in pain and anger, and the next thing I knew, I woke up. It was another nightmare. I was drenched in cold sweat, and was hyperventilating. This was the second time this month that the nightmare had come. It was either Cheryl, my daughter, or Anna, my wife, but the events were always the same—I was blamed for the death of my wife, which happened ten years ago.

I stood up, went to bathroom and splashed water on my face. I looked at the mirror and couldn’t recognize the person staring back at me; my eyes were bloodshot and hollow, and my face was harried, with my cheeks sunken. I was also sporting a three-day old stubble which added to the look of anguish I had. After that, I went back to the room, opened the mini refrigerator and took out my best friend, a bottle of whiskey. I fetched a glass, poured out a copious amount, and downed it in a single motion. As it went down my body, its warm glow revived me and added small comfort to my world of little comforts.

I looked at the alarm clock by the side stool and sighed. 5.36am; there was no need going back to sleep. I would not sleep again this morning. Moreover, I had some documents I had to go through. It was for an expansion bid by a rival agro tech company. I brought out the files and placed them on the desk, and went to work.

But instead of focusing on the job I had to do, my mind kept on wandering towards my dream, and the events that precipitated it. It was something I’d rather not think about, especially with the precarious nature of this deal. But try as much as I could, my mind remained fixated on that particular day, the day I went to hell and back. Without much fortitude, I let myself relive the horrors of that day.

*******************************************************

Ten years ago, I was the happiest man alive; I had a beautiful and an adorable wife, and together, we had a wonderful teenage daughter we doted on. Then, I was a police inspector who was revered because of my uncanny ability in putting felons away. With my track record, it wasn’t surprising that I soon made enemies; many of whom threatened me and my family.

While working on a particular homicide case, I had an affair with a criminal journalist by name Ifeoma. It was a six-month whirlwind romance that ended with her falling helplessly in love with me. I had told her initially that I was married, but in the latter days, it didn’t seem to matter to her; all she wanted was to have me to her alone. Which wasn’t possible since I still cherished Anna and what we’ve built over the years.

On the day things spiraled out of control, I was to give a press release on a just-solved drug-related suicide when I got the news that my beach house was on fire. I promptly asked my subordinate to take over the conference as I jumped into my Ford Explorer and drove home. When I arrived, I couldn’t recognized the house; huge red balls of flame were eating up everything in it—my wife included. I ran up the porch but couldn’t open the metals doors I had installed for security reasons.

I called out to Anna, and when she came to the front window, her clothes were on fire as she begged me to rescue her. But I couldn’t, the window was also reinforced Plexiglas. It was as if all the things I had intended for keeping bad people out were now aiding the death of my wife. As I looked, my precious wife went up in flames; her last words being: “Take care of Cheryl, I love you both.”

When Cheryl learnt about what had happened, she ran back home, but met her house in a pile of ashes, her mother gone. She bawled her eyes out, but when I reached out to comfort her, she flinched, as though I was a repulsive insect. She stood up, and with a look of murderous rage, hit me in the chest as she said, “She died because of you, Dad! The woman you cheated with killed her!” There were onlookers around, so took her to a corner and said,

“What do you mean, honey?”

“She—this woman called Ifeoma—she sent me photos of you and her, and promised that since she couldn’t have you, my mom wouldn’t either. She’s the cause of this, Dad!”

What she said hit me with the force of a speed train. Ifeoma killing Anna? It was impo—no, it was actually possible. I’d known that Ifeoma possessed a cold rage which was terrifying, but to commit murder? Wasn’t that a little bit over the top?

I calmed my daughter down, telling her that it wasn’t Ifeoma that was responsible for the calamity. She looked at me as if I was an imbecile, and then coldly replied,

“She sent me an email saying that my mother wouldn’t have you, since she couldn’t have you. And you’re here defending her? What’s wrong with you, Dad?”

“Nothing! Look sweetie, let’s go get a cup of coffee, and let’s find a way to get answers to why your mom was killed.” We were all sure Anna couldn’t have mistakenly started the fire, she was pyrophobic.

Instead she replied, “It’s either you’re too blind to see what has happened, or you’re just covering her up. Nevertheless, I’m going after her myself.” And she turned on her heels, and walked off. It was the last time I saw my only daughter, the only legacy of my marriage to Anna. After the routine police investigation, her death was ruled off as arson without a clue as to the identity of the arsonist.

I then threw all my energy into finding out who killed her and why. I worked blindly, rage and sorrow working in tandem to keep me from breaking down. Three months after my wife’s awful death, I had the killers behind bars, awaiting trial. They were all gang members of a drug trade cartel I had busted a long time ago. It took the intervention of my fellow officers to keep me from killing them myself; why should they undergo a proper trial when they had incinerated my wife?

As I went home that day, I received a call from Ifeoma. She had wanted me to meet with her at the hotel we frequented then. When I got there, she was standing on the window sill of the room she booked, her eyes, sorrowful and crazy at the same time. I made a move to stop her from killing herself but she pointed at me and said, almost in a whisper,

“Chike, my romance with you was the best thing that happened to me; it made me feel wanted, made me feel cherished. But you had to end it! All because of that bitch of a wife!”

“Ifeoma, please calm down. Get down from there, let’s talk normally. Please, just get—”

“You never understood my need for you, right? You were everything to me!” she screamed, then, she started laughing hysterically. I went closer to her, and she stepped gingerly to the edge of the window. Her eyes threatened me to come closer, I didn’t.

“I just couldn’t bear the thought of you with her, so I had to do something. You see, I was the one that told those gang members where you lived; I planned the fire, and her death,” she said, as she leapt from the window unto the tarmac. There was no sound from her as she went down, only the thud of her body meeting the ground.

So, Cheryl was right then? I didn’t know what to do. I had lost everything—my wife, my house, and also, my daughter. I became empty and shattered. Soon after, I resigned from police work, and using the millions of dollars my father had left me in his will, I opened my agro tech company. I also searched for Cheryl, but she seemed to have vanished from the face of the earth.

*******************************************************

By the time, I was done with walking down the memory lane, it was already quarter to seven, and I hadn’t done a single thing on those documents. I took my bath, and trudged on to work. At work, I worked my head off, focusing all my energy on the tasks I had in front of me. By 3.30pm, I was done for the day, and decided to go to the site of the new building I was working on. It was the beach house, I had decided to build it again. Perhaps, I would be closer to Anna and Cheryl. It took me forty-five minutes to get there, and the sight that greeted me as I switched off the engine of my car was something that was a mixture of comedy and outright irritation. It was those environmental activist groups; they were surrounding my property and preventing work from continuing.

I went over to them, and raising my hands in a conciliatory gesture, I implored them to calm down. Then a strikingly dark and beautiful woman came forward, and when she raised her hands, the noise ebbed away. She then introduced herself as Florence, describing why her group was protesting. My workers were dumping the refuse from their work into the sea. As she talked, I was more mesmerized by her graceful movement rather than what she said. But in the end, I promised them that such acts would cease.

She then instructed her members to disperse. As she was about to walk off, I held her wrist and said to her, “Have dinner with me, please.” She looked at me, but her eyes were dancing with mirth.

“You’re joking, right?” she said, removing my fingers from her wrist.

“No. Where would you prefer?” I replied, maintaining my gaze on her face. She had the most perfect round face, with a smallish nose that added to her allure, instead of reducing it. Her eyes were honey brown, and they seemed to be full of laughter.

“My place then.” She removed a card from her purse and slotted it inside my breast pocket. Then she waltzed off, with her small hips dancing to the rhythm of her legs. What a woman, I thought, as I brought out the card and read it. ‘Florence Mba. Head of Nature’s Gift.’ I guess that was the name of her activist group. I flipped the card and saw her address. That was my destination tonight.

*******************************************************

She smiled and pecked my cheek when she opened the door. I gave her the bottle of wine I had brought. She thanked me and led me into the house. It was modestly furnished with everything in sparkling white.

“Why the obsession with white?” I queried.

“Ah… Let’s just say that I love purity, and white is the best representation of that,” she answered. She went into the kitchen and beckoned on ne to follow. I did, and she waved me to her dining table. Then she served the meal she prepared—fried rice with fish, no meat. I stared at the food, then raised my head to her. She seemed to read my mind.

“Don’t mind me. I’m a vegetarian. The fish was the best I could do.” Well, that explained it. We ate in companionable silence for some time before I fired the question that was prominent in my mind.

“Why did you chose your place? I mean, it’s I like you know me.”

She said, “Well, I wouldn’t say that. Part of the reason I led the protest today was that I was hoping to meet you. I know all about you—at least the stuffs that are public.”

“OK. And why this interest in me?”

“I had come across a news article mentioning the death of your wife; the house was razed to the ground. You see, I had wanted to buy the land in order to move my headquarters there. But I learnt that you still owned it and was building it all over again.”

I didn’t talk. I was too angry to say anything. She had played me, and so perfectly. I stood up to leave, but she held me. I looked at her, and she said, “One other thing, I can help you find Cheryl.”

That got me. “Cheryl? How do you mean?”

“I know where she is and where she works.”

“Tell me everything you know,” I ordered.

She took the next one hour to tell me all about Cheryl and her relationship with her. After she was done, we came up with a plan on how to get her to see me again.

*******************************************************

Four months later, and my house was ready. Today I would be doing something that I had wanted to do for the past ten years—see my daughter. Florence had helped me out with everything aspect of the plan.

The sound of the car engine brought me back from my reverie. They were here. Florence came out, and helped a blindfolded Cheryl out of her car. She brought her to the front of the house, and I gasped in shock. She was the splitting image of her mother. My heart got stuck in my throat as tears streamed down my face. Then Florence removed the blindfold.


Cheryl squinted from the sunlight, and as she saw me, her eyes went from confusion, to shock, to anger. She turned and jumped into the car, wanting to drive away. I covered the distance between us in a flash and held the door open before she could close it.

“Che-Cheryl, listen to me. I’m sorry for everything. I should have listened to you. Please baby, forgive me.”

She wanted to reply me, but she couldn’t find the words. Instead she started crying. I just held her, consoling and comforting her. We stayed like that for a while, before she got herself and looked up to me.”

“It’s alright, Dad. I’m glad to be home.”

My joy at her words were incomparable. We hugged, and I held her hand as we went up the stairs towards the door of our new house.

When I opened the door, I felt Anna whisper to my ear, “Thank you.”

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