Posts tagged “travel

Sanctuary, Chapter 32

Posted on 17/08/2017

Clement rolled his eyes as Bart’s laugh carried on longer than appropriate. He cast him a quelling glare that had his older brother finally ease off the laughter. “You done?” he drawled, not the least bit amused.

Bart dropped a hand on Clement’s shoulder and flashed a cavalier smile. “Not even close.”

Clement tossed an exasperated glance to the flight listings. “I don’t even know why I invited you here.”

“I just think it’s funny how you gave me such a hard time about Geri and you think I’m gonna let you off the hook now.” He nudged his younger brother. “Besides who else would keep you company on this drive?”

“I’ve driven to the airport by myself many times.” He glanced at Bart askance. “Can’t I greet my woman alone? Is that too much to ask?”

“Not at all… but then I distinctly recall saying the same thing and everyone ignoring me to go escort my woman from the airport while I was forced to stay at home.”

“To prepare for your proposal. And it was only a few months. I haven’t seen Karen in six months.”

“I could argue that’s your fault for sending her away.”

Clement sighed deeply, acknowledging his part to play in the prolonged separation. Bart patted his brother’s shoulder. “Your waiting is over. Does she have any idea what you’re planning?”

He didn’t answer, focused on the group of passengers exiting the arrival gates. Spotting Karen right away, a grin formed and he waved, moving toward her. She looked like sunshine in her yellow sundress and braids swinging as she rushed to meet him.

Catching her by the waist, Clement lifted her in his arms. A smiling Bart hung back, watching his brother and his girlfriend openly express how much they’d missed each other. Karen showered Clement’s face with kisses and Bart chuckled, marveling that this brother had once professed to remain a bachelor for life.

Love certainly had a way of changing a man’s plans. A good thing, in his opinion. His gaze shifted to the couple standing behind Karen and he smiled, stepping forward with a hand out. “You must be Mr. Wells. I’m Bart, Clement’s older brother.”

The man dragged his stare from his daughter to the man standing before him. A wistful smile twitched his lips as he returned the handshake. “Nice to meet you. Call me Gabriel. And this is my wife, Deidre.”

“Good to meet you both,” Bart said, giving Karen’s mother a smile. “I assure you, he’s not always this rude.” He cleared his throat and patted Clement’s back. “Junior, ease up.”

Clement lowered Karen to her feet and glanced over, realizing belatedly that her parents accompanied her. Releasing Karen’s waist, he moved to her parents. “I’m sorry about…that.”

Deidre looked more amused than her husband and tugged Clement into a hug. “Any man that greets his woman like that’s a winner in my eyes. Maybe Gabriel can learn a thing or two.”

“Dee…” Gabriel tossed his wife a warning look she ignored.

Bart gave Karen a hug. “Welcome back to Ethiopia.”

Karen acknowledged Clement’s older brother with a beaming smile. “Thanks Bart. You weren’t jetlagged?”

“Not really. We’ve been busy getting acquainted with everyone at the church.” He turned back to Karen’s parents. “I can assure you Karen’s in good hands. Junior and the guys have prepared a nice suite for you.”

Gabriel and Deidre smiled, albeit strained. They still battled over their second daughter being so far away from home. Gabriel draped an arm around his wife’s shoulders.

“I can’t wait!” Karen exclaimed, tucking an arm under Clement’s. Her parents glanced once at each other. It was plain to see what made their daughter overjoyed and excited for the first time in a long time. This man and this place were the source of her joyful smiles and longing sighs.

“Also, Karen, allow me this opportunity to thank you for saving my bro from bachelor—” Bart grunted when Clement ribbed him in the side. “Okay, yeah… l’ll go get your bags.”

Gabriel exchanged a look with Clement before steering his wife in the same direction as Bart’s, leaving the couple alone. Karen giggled as Bart gave Clement a thumbs-up before he ushered her parents toward the baggage claim. “I forgot how funny he was.” She gazed up at Clement. “I’m excited to see everyone. Not more than you, of course.” She lifted a hand to his cheek. “I missed you like crazy, you have no idea.”

“I think I do,” Clement brushed a kiss on her palm. “Only Abe, Geri and Bart are here. The children stayed behind with the rest.” Clement steered her toward the baggage claim. “How are your siblings?”

“Bummed they couldn’t come. Sammy kept whining about it until we had to board the flight.”

He smirked. “Same with Darah. She made us swear to let her visit once she weans Anwar.”

“We’ll have a vacation for everyone once we’re settled…” She paused, sneaking a look at him. Her boyfriend’s expression was distant as if his attention was on anything but what she just said. Karen didn’t complain, content to finally be with him again. Six months was too long a separation, even if it was necessary.

After the first few calls from Clement and some groundwork on her part, her parents grew supportive about her move to Ethiopia. The months flew by, and her time with family and friends seemed too short. Clement was supportive and understanding, allowing her to cry and whine throughout the grueling process of breaking her lease and moving her things back up. Tying up loose ends would’ve been more painful than it was, and having Clement in her ear and on her mind made it easier. Their prayers late at night and early in the mornings were something she looked forward to. His love and respect for God strengthened hers also.

Overcome with love for her man, Karen squeezed his hand. “You shaved again. Did you miss me?”

Clement glanced down with a smile, showing he was listening after all. “That’s not even a question.” His gaze shifted and Karen turned to see Bart dragging two suitcases. Her parents trailed behind with theirs.

“Is this all you’ve got?” Bart asked, a furrow in his brow. “Your entire life fit in two bags?”

“Mom’s got one of my bags. Besides, a missionary doesn’t need much. Right Babe?”

“Right,” Clement echoed, a proud smile on his face.

Bart snorted. “Alright, Mrs. Missionary. Let’s get going. Everyone’s waiting to see you.”

She watched as Clement relieved her parents of their luggage and followed his brother outside. Giving her parents an assured smile, Karen tucked her arms under theirs and walked with them outside. She was happy.

Thanks to both Darah and Samina, she had imagined Clement waiting for her at the arrivals gate on bended knee, holding a diamond ring. Seeing him with Bart was not exactly how she’d envisioned their reunion after six months but just the sight and the feel of him was enough to dispel the initial disappointment.

A day later, Karen stared gobsmacked at Clement kneeling before her. She barely register the ring box. Tears pooled in her eyes and her tongue was stuck to the roof of her mouth.

Clement took her shocked silence in stride and reached for her hand. “I love you, Karen, and I don’t want to be parted again. Be my partner in life and service. Marry me?”

“Say yes!” Geri and Wubit called out, and laughed together. The Bichena orphans chanted the same words.

Karen laughed shakily as she looked with blurry eyes at her parents, Clement’s brothers and sister-in-law, and even the Bichena church community. Abe and Bart waved their phones, revealing that the proposal was livestreaming to the rest of the family overseas. She squinted at one screen, spotting a beaming Samina. The other was of Darah and Phoebe, cheering silently.

Clement tugged on her hand to get her attention. “So will you?”

“Of course,” Karen said easily and watched as he stood. She let him embrace her and the tears fell.

He leaned back and wiped her tears. “Today?”

Karen paused. “What?”

“Will you marry me today?”

Her mouth dropped open and she really looked at him, realizing only now that he was wearing a navy suit and she a white floral tea-length dress. She gasped and smacked a hand to her mouth. Everyone cheered.

Karen sought her parents, gaze settling on her teary-eyed mother and smiling father. “Guys…”

Gabriel stepped forward, looking dashing in his formal attire. “Ready to get married, my Princess?”

“Daddy…” Karen burst into tears, realizing that it’d all been planned. Her heart soared with joy amid the cheering and jubilating. She was getting married today!

Clement encircled her waist. “Ready?”

“Been ready six months ago,” Karen said, earning laughs and giggles from their family and friends. She only had eyes for Clement. “I can’t believe you planned this behind my back. I love you.”

“I love you too.”

“Let the festivities begin!” Bart called out and everyone cheered as the couple embraced once again.

Dula presided over the ceremony, giving a brief message on the blessed gift of marriage from God to man. She felt the gentle squeeze of Clement’s hand around hers and marveled at how blessed she was to have met and fallen in love with such a man.

“If there be any among us who doesn’t think these two be wed, speak now or forever hold your peace…” Dula smiled at the worried look on Karen’s face. “Priscilla sends her congratulations.”

Karen let out an audible sigh of relief and could’ve sworn Clement choked on a laugh. She pinched his hand but kept her face forward.

“Keep going, Pastor!” Geri called behind them and both Clement and Karen chuckled along with their guests.

Dula nodded. “By the power vested in me by the constitution of the Federal Democratic Repub…” He paused when Clement cleared his throat and smirked. “Under God our Father and Creator, I now pronounce you man and wife. Mr. Clement Teka, you may now kiss your bride.”

Their family and friends, both present and via Wi-Fi, cheered as Clement gathered Karen in his arms.

Five months later.

Eleazar set his bags on the stone floor and scanned the humble furnishings of his older brother’s living room. Noticing the wedding frame propped on the cabinet, he studied it closely.

Half the family attended the impromptu wedding ceremony. He couldn’t since his passport hadn’t processed by then. Eleazar suspected Abe purposefully delayed finding his birth certificate in time.

The door opened and a bearded stranger stepped inside with a welcoming smile. “You must be Eli, the little brother.”

Travel-worn and hungry, Eleazar merely arched a brow.

“I’m Dula,” the man continued. “A good friend of Brother Clement. Did you enjoy the ride over here?”

“It was decent,” Eleazar answered, looking past him at the open doorway. “Where is my brother?”

“He’s… out.”

Eleazar arched a brow at the slight hesitation. “When is he coming back?”

It was already suspicious that Clement had sent another bearded stranger to meet him at the airport, and even that one named Ejigu, gave him a roundabout answer of his brother’s absence.

He squinted when Dula silently shrugged in response. “And you don’t know when he’s coming back?”

“It’s… hard to say. It’s been two days, but that’s normal.”

“Okay…” Eleazar frowned. “What about my sister-in-law?”

“She’s… out also.”

Just then, a girl stepped around Dula, carrying a bottle of cold water and a bowl of popcorn.

“This is Eddie,” Dula gestured to the girl. “She lives and works with us here at the church.”

She flashed Eleazar a welcoming smile and approached the table in front of him. Eleazar watched as she set down the refreshments, flashed him another smile and retreated from the room. Dula eyed him openly.

Face burning, Eleazar feigned nonchalance. “So are they together at least?”

“Your brother and sister-in-law? Oh yes, they’re always together when they go out.”

His brow furrowed. “And you don’t know where they are or when they’ll be back?”

“Nope.” Dula gestured to the snacks. “Why don’t you refresh yourself while my wife makes your dinner? Hopefully they will be home this evening.”

Eleazar warily eyed the man before lowering to his seat and reaching for the bottle of water. Gulping down the refreshing liquid, he continued his open perusal of the bungalow.

“We expanded the living quarters before your brother got married,” Dula said as Eleazar attempted to read the Amharic print on one of the snack bags. “Then we built this left wing for him and Sister Karen just a few months ago. And then he told us you were coming to visit for a month or so.”

Eleazar paused at opening the snacks. Although he’d agreed to stay just a month, he hoped Clement would let him stay longer. He couldn’t go back home now, not when—

A door slammed outside and Dula smirked wryly. “That must be your brother now.”

Eleazar shot to his feet as his brother and wife stepped inside and beside Dula, both covered in dirt and grass with their clothes disheveled and frayed. He gaped openly at them, not knowing what to say first.

Unfazed, Clement smiled in welcome. “You’re here.”

“Hi Eli.” Karen grinned through the grime on her face. “Welcome to our humble abode. Salam, Dula.”

Salam,” Dula answered, amusement clear in his tone. “Although I think you scared the boy to silence.”

“Oh right. Eli, we’ll chat later. Uh, Dula, could you help me and Ejigu with something outside…”

“How many do you bring this time?” Dula asked, following her out through the door.

Once the two exited the room, Eleazar turned to Clement with a frown. “Did you go mud sliding?”

Clement chuckled. “You don’t know the half of it.” He gestured for his brother to sit. “How was your flight?”

“Decent,” Eleazar sat down and noticed the glint of Clement’s wedding ring. “Congratulations again.”

“Thanks,” Clement perched on a chair, regarding Eleazar openly. “What’s the plan for your month here?”

Eleazar shrugged, reluctant to divulge his plans just yet. “Not much. Maybe chill and relax. See the sights.”

“Sights? Chill?” Clement smirked, not buying it one bit. “Hate to break it to you but Bichena is not a chill-and-relax type of place. And you forget I know you better than anyone else. What’s really going on?”

“I’m serious. It’s just for a break.” Eleazar shoved popcorn into his mouth.

Deciding he had time to figure out why his youngest brother sought refuge a thousand miles from home, Clement nodded. “Fine.” He smacked his palms on his thighs and stood. “Let’s get you settled in first.”

“Aren’t you gonna take a shower first? You smell horrible.”

“After we eat. I’m starved.” He slung an arm around his brother’s neck and tugged him toward the exit.

Eleazar wrinkled his nose but let his big brother lead him out to the adjoined living area where Karen, Dula and the tour guide Ejigu awaited them. They turned toward him and Clement froze. Eleazar stopped also, noting of their worried expressions. Karen looked especially conflicted as her eyes darted between Clement to Eleazar. Taking a hint, Eleazar turned to Dula. “Mind showing me the kitchen? I’m starved.”

“Okay!” Dula said with a bright smile. His gaze flitted over the couple and back at Eleazar. “Let’s go eat.”

They waited until both exited the room. Then Ejigu turned to Clement. “Ashon just called, he needs backup.”

Clement’s stomach flipped. They just came back. “Where?”

“East of Debre,” Karen replied. “He sighted someone resembling Petra at another auction. But Eli just got here. How do we explain leaving again?”

He frowned down at her flat stomach. “We are not leaving. You’re staying and I’m—”

“You got to be kidding me.” She scowled. “I already told you I’m not leaving you—”

“I’ll go,” Ejigu smiled when they looked at him. “Sister can’t go in her condition—”

“So I’m the last one to know my wife is pregnant?” Clement frowned at Ejigu. “What were you thinking not telling me about this? You knew and kept quiet, knowing it was dangerous.”

Ejigu held up both hands. “I was sworn to secrecy.”

“Way to go throwing me under the bus, Ejigu.” Karen rolled her eyes. “Relax. I was careful.”

“Careful is staying home and taking care of yourself and our baby.”

Ejigu cleared his throat, uncomfortable as always when they argued in front of him. “I’ll tell Brother Ashon that I am coming. We will take care of it. You two stay low and spend time with your brother.”

Karen placed a hand on Clement’s arm, silencing his protest. “Let them do it this time. They can handle it.”

“And you’ll be careful,” Clement said firmly to Ejigu. “Don’t do anything stupid this time.”

Something akin to regret flashed in Ejigu’s eyes and he nodded solemnly. Clement warily eyed his friend’s barely-healed arm from the gunshot and nodded. “When will you leave?”

“As soon as I get two servings of Wubit’s porridge,” Ejigu grinned and walked out to join the others.

Karen turned Clement to face her and framed his face between her hands. “Don’t worry. They’ll be fine.”

“I know.” His eyes moved over her face, his expression remorseful. “Sorry for freaking out earlier.”

She smiled, love shining in her eyes. “It’s my fault. I should’ve told you even if you’d make me stay behind.”

“At least you know.” He brushed a thumb over her mouth, silencing her protest. “You’ve made me a happy man, Karen.” He pulled her into his arms. “Happy and blessed.”

“You and me both, Babe,” Karen said as she leaned into him, content in his embrace.

– The End –

<<Chapter 31 || Story Page>>

Sanctuary, Chapter 29

Posted on 10/08/2017

Dula refused to sit with the traitor and opted to drive while Ashon and Clement debated who would watch Ejigu. In the end, Ashon volunteered for the task and Clement quietly took the seat beside his friend Dula. Saying their goodbyes to a mournful Wubit and a worried Priscilla, the men began the long drive to Djibouti.

Baba, do you know how to shoot a rifle?” Dula asked after a few moments of tense silence.

“We’re shooting guns?” Ashon asked from behind. Ejigu remained mournfully silent, eyes downcast as he sat in one corner of the jeep.

Clement didn’t answer, his mind on Karen. No matter what Ashon said, it was his fault she was in this dangerous situation. He should’ve never invited her to visit him, never gotten her involved. He wouldn’t forgive himself if anything happened to her.

“Traitor,” Dula finally called out to Ejigu. “Make yourself useful and tell us what to expect.”

With a nudge of Ashon’s elbow to his side, Ejigu grimaced and jerked to an upright sitting position. “It’s as you imagine… the Kutfi are dangerously strong and Mrs. Badri’s fortress is almost impenetrable.”

Ashon shook his head. “Then how do you suppose we get inside?”

“I’m turning myself in,” Clement answered.

Dula jerked his stare to Clement. “Are you mad? Why would you willingly walk into the lion’s den?”

“He’s right,” Ejigu agreed, panic in his eyes. “They won’t have mercy on you.”

“And you expect me to let Karen take the fall for me?” Clement snapped, rendering Ejigu speechless. In fact, all three men sat dumbfounded. He sighed. “I can’t do that. I can’t leave her there.”

“You love her, don’t you?”

Clement glared at his friend beside him. “Is that relevant right now?”

“It is, Brother.” Dula’s smile was weak. “It’ll make this mission all the more significant.”

“Even if I didn’t love her, I’d still do this.”

“I know.” Dula patted his friend’s arm and then placed it back on the steering wheel. “Then let’s do this.”

“Wait a minute,” Ejigu protested, eyes wild with alarm. “Are you really letting him turn himself in?”

Ashon clapped a hand on Ejigu’s injured shoulder. “Yes, and you’re gonna help us. Start talking.”

Ejigu felt the weight of Dula’s glare and heaved a deep sigh. “What do you want to know?”

“Everything,” Clement instructed. “From how many soldiers guard her fortress, their weaponry, where the…” he drew in a breath and released it slowly. “Where the prisons are. I want to know everything.”

Ejigu stared at the back of Clement’s head before nodding. “Fine…”

The three men sat in silence, hanging onto every word Ejigu spoke as he detailed the impenetrable fortress of Mrs. Zeinab Badri and her host of Kutfi soldiers. They’d need all the information they could get out of him if they were going to rescue Karen and leave unscathed.

A few hours into their trip, the four men stepped out of the jeep for a rest break. Dula and Ashon walked a few feet away to relieve themselves first while Clement and Ejigu stretched stiff limbs on the side of the road. Stretching his left leg, Clement snuck a look at Ejigu who grimaced in pain. No doubt the Kutfi had been merciless in their assault, but thinking about Ejigu’s attack made him more worried for Karen’s wellbeing.

He turned away and stretched his other leg, intent on ignoring Ejigu. Except the niggling he’d had after a fight with any of his siblings now plagued him. Clement tossed an exasperated glance at the sky and sighed. “Why’d you do it?”

Ejigu averted his gaze to the grassy floor and Clement nodded. “It doesn’t matter. I’m sure you don’t even know how you got this far and so low… In any case, I forgive you.” When Ejigu looked up with surprise in his eyes, Clement arched a brow. “I may not be a saint by any stretch of the imagination, but I am called to a higher standard of Christ. If I can’t forgive my brother, how can I preach on God’s forgiveness?”

Tears brimmed Ejigu’s eyes and Clement sighed. “But if you were in such a bind, you should’ve come to us. We would’ve helped you. Why become a double agent? Weren’t you tired of pretending?”

Ejigu’s lips trembled and he looked down. “I couldn’t tell anyone. No one would understand.”

“I still don’t but that’s not important. Christ expects me to forgive as He forgave me. Revenge is His, so I should let Him deal with you as I’m sure he’s doing now. You feel terrible, don’t you?”

The young man sniffled noisily, dragging a hand under his runny nose.

Although he’d knew forgiveness to a guilty man was like heaping coals over his head, Clement marveled at how it broke Ejigu to receive grace from one he’d betrayed. Narrowing the distance between him and his young friend, Clement placed a hand on his quivering shoulder. “So you’ve got to help us get rid of them for good. Maybe we could probably do without you, but I have a feeling your help will make the difference. Will you help me… Brother?”

The younger man began weeping bitterly. By the time Dula and Ashon returned from the rest stop, they found Clement holding a crying Ejigu.

Dula paused. “Did you hit him again?”

Clement merely gave his friend a wan smile and patted Ejigu’s back. “He’s alright.”

Ashon and Dula exchanged wary glances, and Clement held Ejigu at arms’ length. “I’m giving you one more chance. Don’t let me down.”

Ejigu nodded quickly, wiping the tears from his face. “I promise.”

Dula arched a brow as Clement slung an arm around Ejigu and led him to the rest stop. “We’re making up now?” he drawled to no one in particular, then shook his head. “He’s too kind for his own good.”

“Just like Missy… they would make a fine pair,” Ashon remarked, a slight smile on his face. He turned to his son-in-law. “Do you think he will really turn himself in?”

“He means what he says,” Dula muttered, stretching his arms over his head. “But it’s our duty to keep him from getting himself killed.” He glanced at his father-in-law. “You think Karen’ll be able to hold on till then?”

“She’s a brave one,” Ashon responded and then heaved a sigh. “But she’s been through a lot. I don’t know.”

“Then we better pray she can hold on just a little bit longer…”

By the time Clement and Ejigu trudged out of the bushes, Dula and Ashon waited in the front of the jeep. Clement gestured for Ejigu to enter first, patting his shoulder in silent encouragement and then climbed in after him. Dula started the engine and maneuvered the Jeep onto the road.

“So what’s the plan?” Dula asked, glancing once at Clement from the rearview mirror.

“Ejigu will lead me inside while you two wait it out.”

“No way—” Dula paused when Ashon placed a hand over his shoulder, silently willing him to silence.

Clement pulled out his phone, dialed a number and held it to his ear. He then sat up. “Priscilla, I need you to do me a favor. Give me your father’s private number.”

Dula and Ejigu stared at him, both dumbfounded for they knew Clement had been adamant about leaving the government out of their covert missions; rejecting Priscilla’s offered assistance… until now.

“Yes I did say it wouldn’t work before but now I do,” Clement calmly answered Priscilla’s protests and his friends’ unanswered questions. “It’s time we work together, don’t you think?”

“I wish I could understand but I can’t make sense of this,” Karen said between bites. “You left your job and sold your apartment so you could find your birth mother? Did you really think she’d jump for joy to see you?”

Jennifer sat cross-legged, watching Karen devour the food on the tray, and smiled wryly. “It’s a wonder that you even have an appetite right now.”

Karen slowed chewing and looked at Jennifer. She felt sorry for the young woman who didn’t look that overjoyed about reuniting with her mother. If anything, she looked like she would rather be somewhere else than here. She lowered the smoked chicken sandwich onto the metal plate and placed her hands on her folded legs. “Were you expecting me to starve myself or keep crying?”

“Or at least look worried.”

“I am worried,” Karen countered gently. “I’m deathly afraid I might not get to go home. I’m scared that she’ll sell me to some brothel or ask her evil guards to choke the life out of me…” She exhaled a shaky breath. “I’m even more afraid for Clement and what she’ll do to him if he comes here.”

“You think he’ll show?” Jennifer nudged the metal cup of cool milk toward Karen.

Karen merely stared at the cup. “I hope not. There’s nothing for him here.” Even still, Mrs. Badri’s ominous words from earlier knotted her insides.

“Then what will you do? How could you eat knowing he may not come for you?”

“I’m gonna find a way out.” Karen put a hand over her tray when Jennifer attempted to steal a potato wedge. “Girl, I know you can easily get food for yourself. Why steal a prisoner’s food?”

Jennifer scoffed and refolded her arms. “You’re something else.”

“That’s what they tell me,” Karen said, tossing a wedge into her mouth. “Wanna help me sneak out?”

Jennifer paused, looking at Karen as if she’d grown another head. “And why would I do that?”

“Because I don’t believe for a second you’re here to reunite with that monster, no offense.” Her eyes moved over the young woman’s face. “I think you’re up to something.”

“You’re delusional from being locked up too long. I’m not up to anything but feeding my mother’s prisoner.” She grabbed the tray and started to stand when Karen grabbed her wrist. “What are you doing?”

“Look me in the eye and tell me the truth.”

“Are you insane? Do you have any idea what could happen to you if you don’t cooperate? If you even attempt to escape, she won’t hesitate to kill you.”

“And you’re okay with that? Do you want to be like her that badly?” When something flickered in Jennifer’s eyes, Karen continued. “Be honest with yourself, Jen. You resent her for abandoning you. You’re angry at her for giving you up so she could make a living out of selling innocent children—”

Jennifer yanked her hand free and stumbled backward, wide eyes unfocused. “You don’t know anything.”

“I know this isn’t you,” Karen answered, unfazed. She stood and walked up to the bars that separated her from Jennifer. “The girl I shared a room with wouldn’t be party to this. The girl who stayed up all night to make cards for the Kibera children or washed their hair until her fingers were wrinkled wouldn’t be okay with this.” She shook her head. “Not that Jen, not my friend.”

Tears glistened in Jennifer’s eyes and she bit against her quivering bottom lip. Her brow wrinkled, a sign of her inner conflict and Karen felt only sympathy for the girl who probably wanted to believe that her birth mother was good in spite of all the evil she saw before and around her.

“Whether you want to believe me or not, Mrs. Badri is not your mother,” Karen said gently, wrapping her hands around the bars. She noticed the flicker in Jennifer’s eyes and felt encouraged to continue. “You were raised by good parents, you told me so, parents who gave up everything for you to have a great life. Mrs. Badri gave you up to have a great life. She’s an evil and selfish woman; something you’ll never be.”

Jennifer sniffled noisily and a lone tear slid down her cheeks.

Karen’s heart ached for her young friend but couldn’t stop now. “Your curiosity about the woman that bore you isn’t wrong, but this woman isn’t your mother. Mrs. Badri doesn’t deserve the right or honor to be called your Mom so don’t give her that right.”

“I’m sorry, I—” Jennifer paused, glanced over her shoulder and then back at Karen with fear spread across her features. “I have to go.”

Karen watched helplessly as Jennifer hurried down the shadowed corridor and winced as the metal door slammed in place. She dropped to her haunches and leaned her forehead against the metal bars. “What now?” she whispered. “What do I do now?”

The metal door opened and Karen quickly scooted back to the wall. Relief loosened her shoulders at the sight of Jennifer and she crawled back to the front of the cell. “What happened?”

“Your guy is here.”

The slight smile slipped and alarm gripped her by the neck. “What?” she eked out.

Jennifer looked grave. “The preacher guy my moth—she’s looking for, he’s here.”

Astounded, Karen dropped on her backside. Clement was here?

“Where is she?” Clement demanded, not even attempting to struggle against the rock-hard grips of the Kutfi soldiers flanking him on every side. He glared at the woman standing a few feet away with Mahmoud and her stern-faced bodyguard. “Where is she, you demo—” his head jerked back as one of the men struck him on the face.

Being held back by soldiers a foot away, Ejigu winced.

“You’re in no position to make demands, Mr. Legesse,” Mrs. Badri drawled. “Or is it Reverend Teka?”

Clement’s jaw tightened as he straightened from the blow and glared openly at her. “I won’t answer anything until you tell me where she is…” he trailed off when Mrs. Badri burst into an evil cackle that sent shivers up his spine. He bunched his fists, angry yet helpless to do anything. “If you hurt her, I swear I’ll kill you—” he received another blow to his face but recovered quicker this time, fixing his glare on her face.

Her laugh halted and she arched one brow. “Should a pastor be threatening murder? But then again, a pastor wouldn’t pretend to buy children or trick people. Tell me, Mr. Teka, which is your real identity?”

“God will understand if the world was rid of you,” he sneered from a bleeding mouth.

Mrs. Badri held up a hand before the soldier could strike Clement one more time. Her expression darkened. “You didn’t do your proper research before you thinking you could trick me. Or else you would have realized my spy in your camp.” Her gaze swung to Ejigu who lowered his head.

Clement’s facial features twitched as she chuckled wickedly. “You must really think you’ve won, huh?”

Her smile froze but she raised her shapely brow. “You’ve been captured. What else could it be?”

“In case you didn’t know already, good always overcomes evil.”

Mrs. Badri scoffed derisively. “How convenient for you to spout your Bible here.” Her expression hardened as her gaze shifted to one of the soldiers. “Lock ‘em up.”

As the Kutfi soldiers shoved Clement and Ejigu towards the double doors, it swung open and a woman stepped inside, gasping for air. She glanced once at Clement and then rushed past him toward Mrs. Badri.

“What’s the matter?” Mrs. Badri asked.

“She’s gone.”

Clement whipped around, predicting the ‘she’ was Karen.

“What do you mean she’s gone?” Mrs. Badri demanded, anger contorting her features.

“I tried to bring her food,” the woman paused, gulping air. “A-and she knocked me down before… before grabbing the keys.”

Clement and Ejigu exchanged surprised looks, and Clement returned his attention to the woman who looked like she’d barely survived a brawl. He stared in awe at the woman’s disheveled appearance. Karen had escaped from her prison cell?

“We will find her,” Mahmoud promised, gesturing for the Kutfi soldiers that guarded the back doors. He led the way out of the double doors, the soldiers hurrying after him.

“I’m sorry—”

Mrs. Badri swung her hand at the woman’s face. “Who told you to go there? Who gave you permission?”

Stricken, the young woman held a hand to her injured cheek and gaped at Mrs. Badri.

Livid, Mrs. Badri turned to her bodyguard. “Lock her up and keep her out of trouble.”

The bodyguard grabbed the young woman who attempted to struggle in his unrelenting hold. She whimpered when she could struggle no longer. Mrs. Badri then pinned Clement with her murderous glare. “I won’t rest until I’m finished with the lot of you. Take them to their cells. No one sleeps until we find that pesky woman.” Turning on her heel, she sauntered in the other direction toward another set of double doors.

Clement watched as the bodyguard dragged the sobbing young woman after Mrs. Badri, and the doors shut behind them. He noticed that there were only four men in the room with them; the guards assigned to lock them up. His eyes sought Ejigu’s and though fear flitted in his friend’s eyes, Ejigu gave him an imperceptible nod.

The guards roughly pulled at their arms, turning them toward the open double doors. Clement mentally counted to four and extended a foot in front of a guard holding Ejigu. The man stumbled forward, his hold loosening on Ejigu’s arm. The young veteran didn’t waste a beat and swung his elbow into the other guard’s face and kicked his chest, sending the soldier staggering backwards.

As predicted, one of Clement’s guards released his arm to reach for Ejigu. Shoving his elbow into the other guard’s gut, Clement spun around and slammed a fist in the man’s face. Fighting as though they’d trained together for years instead of hours, Ejigu and Clement successfully disarmed the guards until they were the only two standing. The disabled soldiers rolled on the floor, groaning in pain.

Pocketing their newly-acquired weapons, the two friends shared a look of understanding and then parted ways; Clement headed out the door Mrs. Badri had exited while Ejigu hurried toward the prison cells.

As he hurried down the shadowed hallway, Clement prayed he would find Karen before anyone else.

Suddenly, a piercing sound cut through the silence. He halted, recognizing the sound as a gunshot. Clement’s eyes widened in realization and he started running toward the sound, fear nipping at his heels.

Then what sounded like a fire alarm blared through the silence following the gunshot. The wall and ceiling lights flashed on and off; alarm warning that danger was up ahead. He picked up his pace, his racing heart lodged in his throat. Black smoke slithered like a python from the end of the hall toward him, but Clement didn’t stop, running as fast as he could.

Holding one hand over his mouth and nose, Clement rushed into the blinding smoke.

<<Chapter 28 || Chapter 30>>

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