Friday, 19 November 2010

He who findeth a wi...wild cat?

He who findeth a wife, the bible says, findeth a good thing. I found her on the streets of Manchester peddling her ‘crown jewels.’ She was a prostitute and I was a bible tottering born again Christian. It was the perfect match. Okay, so I was love struck after giving in to temptation twice but Christ’s most ardent disciple was Mary Magdalene. Guess what her profession was. So if Christ never judged her, or the other one who he saved from being stoned to death by pricking the conscience of her prosecutors, then who was I to judge Sheila? Not to mention she was the prettiest being I ever set eyes on and I blindly refused to believe her docile demeanour had anything to do with merely wanting to please a customer. She was not cut out for this. This girl was meant to be someone’s wife. My wife?
‘Why are you doing this?’ From the moment I negotiated a price in the streets, before we made it to the hotel room, that question played around in my mind. I finally let it out after the urge that harassed me for weeks had been killed in a climax. She was already standing by the mirror, putting back on the skimpy, tell tale, clothes of her trade. It was still early evening. Prowlers would still be about and she could definitely bag a couple before the morning came.
She froze in mid action, her fingers stuck to her chin where she had been dousing talcum powder. Through the mirror it was her reflection that stared back at me in a puppy dog look which made her more endearing.
‘You haven’t told me your name.’ I added. She relaxed into a smile and carried on applying her make up like I had just pressed ‘play’ after ‘pause.’
‘Didn’t yo mama tell you never to ask a lady her age and a whore her name?’
‘I like you and God loves you as well. We don’t see you as a whore.’
She turned round to look at me, with a smile of mischief playing around her lips.
‘I am sure you mistook me for a sex education teacher that needed payment for her sessions.’
‘Hey, its okay. For what its worth, thanks.’ Her expression went sullen. She grabbed her bag and was out of the door before I could shout her to wait. She had vanished from the face of the earth by the time I threw some clothes on and ran outside.
It was for the best I decided, to keep me away from the devil’s path. But thoughts of her would not vacate my mind. She needed to be brought into the light I decided, I would just go there and preach to her, nothing more.
I found her after three days of searching; in the same spot I had first met her. She showed no sign of recognition, beckoning in the very same way she had the first time.
God she was fine, but, strictly business this time around. I whipped out my bible and encouragingly she gave me an ear until a car pulled up. The driver leaned out, leering at her. I wanted to break his neck.
‘You working honey?’
‘No she is not!’
‘What, yes I am!’ I had managed to make her eyes blaze. What right do you have to interfere in my affairs? She began to walk round the car to the passenger side.
‘But I was here first!’ That stopped her. She looked at me, I looked at her.
‘Do you want me tonight sweetheart?’
‘Yes.’ The driver had forced my hand. I planned then to pay for her time then preach instead of what she would have expected.
‘Are you getting in the car or what?’ The driver revved his engines impatiently.
‘No darling, I am with him.’ She had chosen me. He screeched off.
‘So why have you been wasting precious time with all this God talk. Come along love.’ She trotted away. I was going to call her back, that I was going to pay her to listen and we would not be needing a room, when my gaze fell on her well rounded buttocks, accentuated by the mini skirt, rising and falling with every step. I followed. No harm in spreading the gospel in a hotel room. She gave me no chance to catch my breath as soon as I had secured the door behind me. Save for her G-strings, every other clothing and jewellery she had had on formed a pile at her feet in a flash. I wanted to tell her to put her clothes back on, that this was not why I had come to seek her. Then she climbed on the bed, walking on fours like a cat stalking prey and looking at me all the while in the most sensual manner. Dear God I just had to get my money’s worth.
‘Right, so what is your name?’ I had only just climbed down her body, still very much covered in the sweat of copulation. I panted out the question, wondering how she could still look as fresh as morning roses.
‘Sheila.’ She answered curtly, gazing at the ceiling.
‘Is that your real name?’ She looked askance at me. Take it or leave it. I took it.
‘Why are you doing this?’
‘What do you care? You just want to fuck me like every other man.’
‘I really care, believe me. And God cares as well...’
‘Oh shut up about God.’ It was the only other time I ever saw her angry. She jumped out of bed and slipped into her clothes like she had slept through the chiming of her alarm clock.
‘Sheila...’ I sat up, a tad confused. She had listened to me out on the street.
‘My money.’ She was not in the mood for any speeches. She was not in the mood for me.
Deflated, I picked my trousers from the ground, took out some notes and pressed them in her outstretched hands. She headed for the door, not bothering with make up this time. The very next few seconds would determine my future. For if she had not stopped at the door to look at me in the manner of a homeless child robbed of her last coin before she sauntered out of sight, I would not have risen from the bed to the balcony to watch her walk away and I would not have seen her knocked down by a van screeching too late to avoid a collision. The driver did not stop.
For shock, I honestly cannot remember running down to the stairs to her side. I do remember feeling awash with gratitude for whoever had called the ambulance that zoomed into view just as I reached her unconscious body.
‘You know her?’ In the heat of the emergency the medics had allowed me into the ambulance with her. Now one of them looked up from resuscitating her. I had a feeling I was not going to be allowed far if I could not give a good enough reply.
‘I am her fiancĂ©e.’ I do not know why that popped out of my mouth but it seemed natural at the time. That confession affected my actions for the next three days. Maybe I was trying to affirm to the hospital staff that I was who I claimed to be or maybe I really felt overwhelming love for this call girl that hovered between life and death. Whatever it was I played the part, spending every free second at her bedside. And getting whatever she needed. The moment she woke I was there.
It took two more weeks before she was ready to leave. In that time I bathed in the praises of the nurses, telling her just how lucky she was to have someone like me. She smiled weakly in response every time, and, as soon as she could, petered me with kisses at every opportunity. Bliss.
She invaded my home and inevitably invaded my life. I nursed her in my bed, cooking what she wanted. The highlight of my day at work was when I closed to run home to her. Soon she could move around the house without aid. We celebrated with a bottle of wine. There was to be no sex, not anytime soon. The doctor had warned her to give it a break for at least a month.
What struck me as odd was that no one had come to visit her in hospital and no one anywhere was looking for her. Neither was she bothered about some relative somewhere agonizing about where she had vanished to. The girl was alone in the world. I had her to myself and now she had me. Perfect.
The healthier she got, however, the less hold I felt I had. She stopped paying attention to my stories; I was now the only one laughing at my jokes and too often she replied with a nod or an uninterested grunt when I asked how she felt.
‘Is there a problem darling?’ She had been quiet, looking out of the window as I had been trying to engage her in a conversation. She did not turn around to acknowledge my question.
‘What do you really want from me?’
‘Tell me what you want from me. Why are you doing all this?’ Then she turned around. She had just taken a shower and looked casual in one of my big sweat shirts that stopped at her thighs, showing off her smooth long legs. I learnt she was particular about how she looked most times, using her spare time to do her manicure and her toes. She had left out make up and her frazzled hair fell over her shoulders giving her a look that stopped my heart beating.
‘What do you mean?’
‘Why am I in your house? Why are you looking after me? Why do you care?’
‘Isn’s it obvious?’ I could feel she was overwhelmed with all I had done for her. I was about to do even more. ‘I love you Sheila.’ I did not know what I expected of her reaction. She turned to the window again, as cool as if I had just told her the sky was actually blue.
‘Okay.’ It was hardly the right response to a declaration of love and I might have taken a hint from that at the time. But I did not care. It would do for the time being.
She recovered, being her old jovial self again and I thought nothing more of it. I thought nothing of taking her along to a get-together party I was invited to by an old friend and goodness, was I proud of her. She dazzled everyone and made me the envy of nearly every guy around. That is until Goni grabbed my hand, whisking me off to a corner of the room to talk in private.
‘My God, Thomas, I know that girl. You say she is your girlfriend? She comes to my hotel you know.’
My friend managed a highbrow hotel in town. Sheila might have gone to meet some of her customers there. All that was yesterday. Not worth mentioning.
‘Goni, before you say another word. I know she used to be a prostitute and I am not going to hold it against her. We did not all have the privilege of been raised properly. It does not make anyone better than her. Look at her, does she look like a prostitute?’
She was intently listening to some guy telling a story across the room but as we turned to her she caught my eyes and gave a cheery wave.
‘For my sake, Goni, keep that information to yourself.’ I patted him on the back, leaving him still gaping, stupefied speechless, to join her.
After a week of living the perfect life, I felt it was time to make things permanent. I had saved a bit for this very day and on my way back from work I stopped by H.Samuel’s to get a ring. The moment I touched the door knob to enter the house, however, I knew something was wrong. The eerie silence confirmed it.
‘Sheila!’ No answer. Her things were still there, giving me some sense of hope. So I sat down to wait. I jumped at every sound, expectant. By the time I heard a loud knock on the door it was well into the night. I rose slowly, my legs heavy. That had better be her.
‘Hello.’ She casually pushed past me to the chair I had been seating in for nearly five hours. ‘What have you been up to? And why do you have that look on your face?’ She asked. I was very angry but awash with relief. She had just taken me through five hours of how empty my life would be without her.
‘Where have you been? I have been waiting for you since I got back.’
‘Just out to see friends love. Got tired of staying in. Did you miss me?’
‘You could have left me a note.’
‘Yes daddy...what’s that in your hand?’
I looked at my hand. It was the little H.Samuel bag that housed the ring. I had held it all that time. I should have waited, given her some story or simply said it was nothing, at least until I had probed her enough. But I fell on my knees, just as I rehearsed in my mind a million times.
‘Sweetheart you have come to mean so much to me.’ I pulled out the ring from the bag and stretched it in her direction. I could have just offered her a deadly spider for the way she shrank back.
‘Tom, what is this?’
‘I want you to be with me forever.’
She got up and walked around me, keeping a distance. I stayed on my knees twisting my neck to hold her gaze as she arched her way to my left. This was not going to plan.
‘Are you sure about this?’ Her voice had gone hoarse. She regarded me like one in the presence of an alien, not knowing if the strange being was friendly or hostile.
‘I have never been more sure of anything in my life.’
‘Okay,’ She whispered, tiptoeing forward to make me the happiest man in the world at that hour. The ring slipped seamlessly into her finger. I rose and squeezed her in a hug, not caring that her grip was less enthusiastic.
One month. It was a month that night, since her accident. That meant she was free to ply her ‘trade’ again with me (if you know what I mean).
We had just clambered into bed when she turned to me with that puppy dog look.
‘I have something to tell you.’ Her voice was sad. I sat up to listen, not fearing anything major. She looked at me and the light came into her eyes. I think she changed her mind, leaning over to kiss me instead. Now how do I describe the sex we had that night? She gave and gave and gave, bringing all the skills of her erstwhile trade to play, taking me to places I never imagined existed. I don’t know why, but the whole session felt like she was repaying me for all I had done in the one way she knew how. What I did not know was that she was planting a yearning which no one would be able to fill. I slept off with the widest smile on my face. Life could not have been better.
The next morning I woke up alone in bed. The session had gone on well into the morning so the sun was well up by the time I managed to open my eyes. I was very late for work so I focused on cooking up an excuse for the boss. Sheila might have gone to the shops or something. Her absence was not something to worry about. I freshened up, left her a note and dashed out.
For being late I was forced to stay back at work two extra hours. I bided my time knowing what awaited me at home. If every night was going to be like last night then my life had just been transformed into heaven. I felt pity for everyman on earth. Sheila was exclusively mine now.
The door keys were still in the flowerpot where I had left them for her. Could it be possible? It was. The house was exactly as I had left it in the morning. Sheila had not returned.
I sat in the same chair I had waited for her last time and I sat there until the first light of dawn broke through the curtains. Something was terribly wrong. Something bad had happened to my baby. With that thought I sprang into action. I called work to let them know I was dying of leukaemia that might vanish in a few days, put on the news in case there was any breaking story that Sheila might be in, then called every hospital and police station within the locality. Nothing. she was not at her usual spot where I had picked her up the first time and no other call girl would give me information about her or they did not know. I remembered my prayers then, imploring God to keep Sheila safe wherever she was and bring her back to me.
He answered my prayers two days later. Sometimes I really wish he hadn’t.
I jumped at the ringing phone as I had been doing since Sheila disappeared. And as the other phone calls, it was someone else, killing my spirit instantly. But it was Goni and he was frantic.
‘Thomas, Thomas, I have seen Sheila.’
‘What? Where? Where Goni?’
‘Quick, you have to come now. Meet me outside saint Christopher now now.’ He hung up.
My hands shook as I replaced the mouthpiece in its cradle. Goosebumps broke all over my skin. Saint Christopher was a hospital two blocks from the hotel where Goni worked. What had happened to my girl? How bad was it? And God why? Why was she so accident prone?
I paid the taxi driver as he pulled alongside the hospital. As soon as he stopped I was going to sprint inside.
‘Thomas.’ Goni was there he promised. He spotted me as I got out of the car.
‘Where is she?’ I asked, trotting through the automatic sliding doors.
‘Wait, where are you going? She is not in there.’
‘What?’ I allowed a little hope nudge my confusion.
‘She is back at my hotel. Come with me.’ I could not read his expression, and I could not come up with any reason why Sheila might have gone to Goni for refuge if she wanted to leave me. And why had she been hiding? She had a lot of explaining to do.
We walked through the plush lobby, Goni nodded at the overly friendly receptionist while I looked in all directions for signs of Sheila. He reached his office and turned the keys in the lock. Had he locked her inside?
‘Is she in there?’
He raised a hand to indicate I be patient. There was no one in his office. He closed the door, then picked up the remote control to a large screen telly at one corner of the room. Just what was he playing at?
‘Goni, where is Sheila?’
‘Shhh, now listen, you must not tell anyone what I am about to show you now. It is top secret and the hotel might be closed down if it ever gets out. I will certainly go to jail. I just could not hide this from you.’
‘I am no snitch Goni. Now please don’t make me ask you again. Where is Sheila?’ I was going to throttle him if he made me utter one more word.
‘Right, brace yourself.’ He pointed the remote at the telly and it clicked to life. It was some kind of CCTV unit with goings on within a dozen mini screens. It was all in black and white.
‘Every screen is for a room. From here we secretly monitor what is happening all around the hotel.’ He explained. I looked from the screen to his face. He caught my eye. ‘Room 231.’
Every mini screen had a digital number tag. I searched for the one with “231” and gasped. My legs wobbled and I fell to my knees. It just was not possible.
‘Is that Sheila?’ The question raised doubts in my head and I suddenly got the urge to find out for myself. I picked myself up and dashed out of the office.
‘Thomas...’ Goni must have sensed what I was up to. ‘No, come back here man.’ I raced up the stairs to the second floor. I could hear his chasing after me but a bulldozer would be hard pressed to stop me now. Room 231 was easy to find. I was expecting the door was locked but it opened when I turned the knob.
‘Thomas, no!’ He probably had the same expectations as well and, I am sure, was horrified when he saw me disappearing into the room.
There are defining moments in the life of a person, an occurrence or experience that completely transforms ones character. One of such moments was seeing Sheila in bed with three men. They were all stark naked and drugged stupid, barely conscious. The ground was littered with used condoms, dispersed clothes, cigarette and whisky. The strong smell of weed hung over the room like a cloud. Two of the men were on either side of her while the third was curled up between her wide open legs, using her thigh as a pillow. He reacted to the noise of my entry, stirring and repositioning himself closer to her private part.
‘Thomas, lets go man.’ Goni grabbed my hand. I vaguely heard him saying something about keeping it to myself, as he let me out into the night wind. I don’t remember crying but there would be dried tears on my cheeks in the mirror. I left town two months later. There would be subsequent call girls, even prettier ones, but I went to them, did the business and left, not bothering with converting them. I guess some things are the way they are for a reason.
I never saw Sheila again.

Saturday, 26 June 2010

To sow with pain

‘Please help me sir’
She stretched her hand towards the stranger. He stopped and frowned at her. Hoping, she gently rocked the baby in her other arm, possibly to draw the man’s attention to the little one and evoke pity enough to make him generous. It did not work. He scowled even deeper to remove any doubts she may have had that he was mad at her for daring to stop him and ask for aid.
At any other time before Lami was born she might have been deeply embarrassed. Her daughter’s survival however depended on her boldness.
‘Please sir, one pound or two and God will bless you.’
‘Well, go to your bloody god and leave me alone!’ He walked off.
She looked around for another target, and her heart sank as passersby avoided her eyes and slunk away as she approached. Being avoided was sometimes worse than being insulted – at least one was acknowledged if spoken to. She wished there was some way to let them know she was more than what they saw of her, that she had lived a good life, complete with her own house and cars back in Zimbabwe. Before her husband had dabbled in politics and she has been made a young widow and had to flee to the Europe in search of refuge. She wished she could tell them that their system had failed her and refused her asylum, setting a date for her deportation and likely to her death. She wished she could tell them she had escaped to the streets solely for the sake of little Lami.
But no one would give her a chance. She did not need their pity, but how she needed their money. Lami had not had a proper meal for two days. She looked around for a potential target that would give her something to buy baby food. The baby wailed in her arms. Dear God there had to be someone.

With guilt gnawing gently on her insides, Anita stood in turn at the cash machine, watching the beggar woman in the distance as a means of distraction. It was easy to decipher what was happening. She zigzagged from side to side towards people that sauntered away as soon as they sniffed that she was about to approach them. Sad. It was easy to see she was unkempt, with a jacket too big for her lithe body and jeans trousers most likely gotten from charity, to fight the summer winds with. Her baby was wrapped in a large roll of old cloth. Something about the woman did not quite fit with regular women beggars that used their babies as leverage when trying to extort money from people. Her carriage suggested she had seen better times.
Havent we all.
Anita thought back to how long it had been since she stood in front of a cash machine. Her bank account had been near red for the better part of a year and she had exhausted every source of aid and lost a few friends in the process.
There, but for the grace of God, go I.
The woman was determined, taking more insults from more passersby. With the queue moving Anita took her eyes off her to move a place closer to the machine.
After John Kinky (why did she still think of him with that nickname?) died in the car crash that nearly killed her as well, she had not quite been ready to face the world. It had been his fault. An engineer with an oil company did not need his wife to work, he insisted, and so she stayed home and made herself beautiful, churning out short stories in her spare time and indulging Mika, the little whining angel they had both created, now cuddle up in the buggy.
She had had to move from their lovely apartment into her sister’s, then into a council home. She sold their car and now had to search for a job that would let her look after Mika properly. There was so much to learn again and life did not give her time.
Soon enough the squeeze came and the bills overtook her. Friends she once gave money to for fun became benefactors. They probably saw her as pesky now. But most times she had no choice. It was simply unfair. Mika depended on her and she was going to be strong for her little girl. She fought.
The light at the end of the tunnel came last week – someone from the Cosmo magazine had called. They liked her portfolio and would she come for a job interview? It was the best piece of news since John’s death. But she had run out of resources to hang in. There were no supplies for the week. Mentally she had done a check on who among her friends had not yet contributed to her welfare.
Tunde! One of the many guys that had lost out to John. He had called her to say he was in town and could they meet up? She rang him back and agreed. It went well enough. He was on holidays, was married now and had his family holed up in Switzerland. She did not mince words. She needed money for her daughter. If he had anything untoward planned, that request killed it. It would take a man without conscience to demand sex in return from a close friend that needed his help.
‘I don’t travel with cash Nita, but I do have about eighty pounds on me.’
‘That will do just fine.’
He settled for a kiss on the cheek. And she rushed to put the money in the bank.

Finally it was her turn. Card in. Please enter your pin number. Dah dah dah and dah. Mika’s birthday so she would never forget it. Show balance. 80.58. She smiled. She had had just fifty eight pence in there before Tunde. Withdraw cash please. Other. Eight and zero. She pulled out the notes and planted them in her back pocket along with the card.
‘Oh Mika.’ Her daughter had kicked off her shoes and one sock. She bent over, put them back on and was straightening back up when she saw the bus pulling in. She would have to run to catch it.
‘Mika, our bus!’ She ran, pushing the buggy. The baby screeched with delight. It was a rare treat to move at that speed with the wind in her face. They whizzed past the beggar lady and both ladies shared a brief moment when their eyes locked. There was no time though. Those waiting at the bus stop had all gotten in and Anita had only seconds.
‘Wait, wait!’ She reached the bus just as the driver shut the doors. Nine times out of ten the driver, in that situation, would ignore her calls and keep going. This, luckily, was one of the rare ones. He opened the doors again. She heaved the buggy in, panting.
‘Day ticket please.’
‘Three pounds love.’ He even had a smile for her.
There had been a tenner among her bank notes. She reached into her back pocket and felt a sickening chill. The money was not there. She rummaged all her pockets, checked the buggy, searched Mika. No money. No, no, no, no, no.
‘Listen love, just take a seat.’ Most drivers would kick her out.
‘I will walk, I will walk.’ She whimpered, shaking all over and still batting her pockets in disbelief. How? She had come straight to the bus from the cash point. She watched the bus that was to take her home, drive away. Mika was laughing, craning her neck to catch her attention. People moved about their business. She was alone.
She retraced her steps, looking this way then that like a hawk searching for prey. She was soon standing in front of the cash machine having covered all the ground she had passed before. No money idly lying about. There were more than a handful of people milling around though. The money could now be resting safe in any one of their pockets. No familiar face. The beggar woman had left. What use was that anyways?

Eighty pounds! It was unbelievable. An answer to her prayers. it had been lying idly on the ground, looking like a plant in the low grass when she spotted it. Now Lami would have good food for a long time and she would not subject herself to humiliation for some time. She held the money to her breast and as the tears rolled down her eyes, she prayed for who had brought her a bit of good fortune. It was someone’s loss but she prayed for abundance, for happiness for the person. As she walked towards the nearest shops to silence her crying baby with food, she was still praying.

Anita gave it up. She did not know how she lost the money, would never know how. She was in for a long walk having turned down the good driver’s offer. She did not know where the next meal would come from or what she had to do next. She made her way home, pushing the buggy slowly in the windy evening. Cars zoomed past, shopkeepers hung up CLOSED signs, walking out of their shops in their large coats. She walked.
Half way there, while Mika laughed, she began whistling.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Another day at the 'office’ in Naija.

It was the night before the wedding of Chief Odigie Oyegun’s (Edo state’s ex-governor) daughter. I know because her wedding cake, which was magnificent by the way, was the cause of the horror that befell the house that night. We had since put the dog to rest since it got a bit wacko and attacked my youngest brother and there were no more guards after my father left office or we might have gotten a warning of what was happening outside the house – the harmless gateman (a boy really) and the corper that was in the middle of her service at my mother’s primary school had been taken hostage and were being paraded round the compound while two men with sawed off shotguns men sought an entrance into the house, skipping around the hedges and hiding behind trees, being careful not to alert anyone inside.
Inside we were in a jolly mood as we always are at a ‘cake gathering.’
One of our many traditions is my mother calling everyone into the living room to assess her latest creation when she finishes a wedding cake for a customer. She is quite the genius at what she does and we expect her to outdo herself every time. We gather round to wow if it meets with expectations or shrug if it is like anything she had done before. This was a definite wow – I am sure the Oyeguns still see that cake in their dreams.
My mother cakes are never ordinary and this one had a fountain running under for special effects. There was no water in the fountain at the time and though we had seen the cake in its glory we wanted to see how it would look like with the fountain on. The taps were dry – of all the times in the world that was the most wrong moment. There is a borehole in the middle of the field that feeds water into a well; the water gets pumped up a mini reservoir that sends the water into the house.
It meant that the reservoir was dry. Someone had to go outside and switch the pump on. Just how were we to know that the one thing we were not suppose to do then was open one of the steel doors which would have been near impossible for the vagrants to better if they had decided to force their way in. Nevertheless...
‘Endurance! Go and pump water in the borehole.’ My mother commanded my distant relative who helped with the chores. The very next scene will forever remain surreal in my memory. I can still see where everyone was positioned and see their reactions to what happened next.
There was a mini explosion but we were to learn later that it was the door being kicked in after Endurance had opened it and tried closing it back on seeing what was waiting behind it.
‘Everybody lie down, I say lie down!’
The chair I had been in had its back to the kitchen (through which they gained access) so I had to turn round to see what was going on. The man that ran in was not the kind who would stand out anywhere. Everything about him was average, height, build, clothes, looks. He was about my age I would say, or slightly older – the type I would shake hands with on the street or stop to have a chat with. Beside the wicked looking shotgun that he waved about, creating a sickening chill in me, he did not have that sinister look that one associates with armed robbers. My brothers and I would have been more than adequate to make him regret his sojourn with a few broken bones. The weapon in his hand banished that thought though. It was one of those moments you refuse to accept because this sort of thing only happens to other people; the sort of thing close friends tell you that happened to someone they remotely knew. I was half expecting him to laugh and say he was a relative that had thought it all up as some kind of prank.
‘You are still looking at me? I say lie down!’
No prank.
I would like to say that I jumped him right there, that I seized the gun and knocked him senseless, saving my family the agony of the experience. But I did not. I meekly obeyed, falling to my face quick as I could, hoping he had not noticed anything in my countenance that would rub him the wrong way.
‘We are seven of us and we have surrounded the house. If you misbehave we fire you! Put your face down, you want to look at my face abi?’
To my knowledge everyone had complied with his instruction the first time so I did not know who he referred to. I tried digging a hole in the rug with my face – just in case that had been for me. He had boasted about their number to deter us putting up a fight. They were just two but I sincerely doubt that made any difference. Not with the thought of fatally stopping fast travelling lead with our bodies, running through our minds. I did not see the other man – though he made himself heard a bit later.
He had stealthily moved through the house to see if people were in the rooms and, thinking of it now, that was a wise move (on their part). My cousin had been slow to heed to my mother’s call, taking time to groom himself just after a bath, instead. We learnt that he had just bent down to rub cream on his calves when the barrel of a gun was calmly pushed against his ears. He assumed it was my younger brother up to one of his jokes and without looking back, tried pushing the gun away.
‘Just maintain yourself and behave.’
‘Oh my God.’ My cousin muttered, bending down even lower than he had and raised his hands above his head. He was led into the living room.
‘Oya join them there!’ That was when I heard the second man. ‘Yes Mr man, we have come for you.’
I knew he referred to my father gauging from the distance my old man and the voice talking were. My heart sank. Were they assassins? Memories of Greg’s father filled my head then. Two men had invaded his house and shot the man at point blank range, killing him.
‘If you cooperate with us you will be fine. Where the money dey?’ Okay, some relief there, they wanted money. I prayed we had enough in the house to placate them. That was when my mother sprang into action. This was a bad time for robbers. She had lots of money in the house which was not hers and she was determined they were not getting their hands on it.
‘My sons, why are you doing this?’ She had been the only one not to lie down at their command and now I heard her imploring and hoped they were sane enough not to take offence.
‘Madam, na government force us do this work, oya where your money?’
Surprisingly they indulged her but not without some gruffness, making sure they kept the advantage.
‘The only money I have is from my shop. That is all the money we have.’ She lied. I thought she was mighty brave.
‘Okay wey the money?’
‘Endurance!’ My mother called out. Endurance looked after the shop and she kept the proceeds as well.
‘Endurance!’ The thief echoed. ‘Who be Endurance?’
‘Me.’ I heard Endurance answer, rising to her feet. She sounded calm as well. Strong girl.
‘Wey the money? Wey the money?’ He asked with more force than was necessary really. There was a lull – she was getting it. ‘Wetin be this? Madam you think say we come here come joke?’ They had not been satisfied with what Endurance had to offer. Now what?
‘My sons, that is all I have in house, honestly.’
‘Madam you think say we come play for here? Till we begin dey shoot your children one by one before you go take us serious abi?’
Besides being told about the death of someone dear, I believe those words made up the worst sentence I had ever heard. My stomach churned. That was the point my mother broke. She opened the bedroom door without another moment’s hesitation and gave them free reign to rummage. Only one went with her, the other stayed with us in the living room, keeping us in check. I heard my youngest brother cry out in sudden pain. He had been stepped on where he lay.
‘Sorry small boy, you dey behave well, na only your mama wan misbehave today.’ A polite thief as well.
I began to believe we might just come out of this alive after all. ‘Thief go come una house una go dey panic instead of make una cooperate, give them wetin them want make them commot.’ He said over our heads. It was the most superfluous sermon and if the situation was not so dire I would have laughed out loud. At the time I agreed with him.
‘Hey, see akara, see akara. Wey the gun?’ The man in the room had found the box of bullets to my father’s pump action rifle and he shouted the question at the living room. With hindsight I think they might not have had ammunition in their weapons and were thus eager to really arm themselves soon as they found the bullets. But we would never know – not that I would have been eager to test that theory had it occurred to me at the time. In their hurry they missed the gun as well, finding a harmless air rifle which was promptly discarded. We all kept mum. They found the money though and all of my mother’s jewellery to go with it. Job done.
‘Oya, everybody stand up, straight line!’ I did not know which of them gave the order. We rose to our feet and line up in a file. ‘Move!’ We were marched into one of the rooms in the house.
‘Wey the car key, the car outside, wey the key? My father handed that to them. ‘No worry, we no wan thief the car. We go leave am somewhere for una.’ Just what difference did it make? Strange that they should reassure us of getting the car back though. Turns out they were true to their word. The car was abandoned and found the next day. They locked us in the room and zoomed off. We gave it an hour before shouting to the neighbours for help through the windows.
All this happened about past nine since Kalu Otisi, not minding what was going on in our house, had been reading the headlines on NTA news. It was not that late and given the popularity of our house it was a wonder that no one from the neighbourhood stopped by to visit during the raid. Nepa that had been at their most erractic behaved that night. Maybe it was all for the best. Who knows what would have happened had all those factors not played nicely into their hands.
They visited the neighbours days later and though I called the police (no gsm then) no one came to their rescue. We waited till we were sure it was safe to venture out and I followed my father to see how much they had lost to the thieves. Those were fearful times. I hear it has gotten worse.

Madam na government force us do this work.

Work he had called it. My mother went to her own work the next day to present the cake at the wedding without jewellery and a despondent mien. Heaven only knows how victims cope afterwards, especially when all they have built up in a life time is taken in one night of ‘work.’
We only had words of consolation for the neighbours that had been robbed, just as they had had for us. Not much more one can do to help. I sometimes imagine the words thrown about by these men of the night after a day at the ‘office.’
‘O boy how business now?’
‘Very fine, very fine, thank you. I plan to expand sef and cover more areas.’

God help us all.