Good day people. Please I want to sincerely apologise for the long breaks between episodes. It has not been intentional at all. When I think I’m finally as free as a bird, I realize a tiny rope holding me down to the rod I’m tied to. These are contingencies I failed to plan for. I just wish you still catch along with the story. Enjoy this episode though…
* * *
Just beneath the mango tree that stood in front of the fence that shielded her house were two children arguing heatedly and loudly that she could make out some of the words they spoke from where she was, which was probably a yard away. The heat of the morning sun caused her to squint her eyes and added some urgency to her movement. She didn’t bother about her gait the way she would on an ordinary day. One of the children ran up to her as she got nearer and tugged at her jean trousers, she was on the verge of tears.
“Aunty Sharon, Tunde would not agree with me that minus five minus five is equal to minus ten. Instead he’s calling my Uncle an olodo when he’s the one that is an olodo.” Tracy the girl that ran up to her cried.
“Aunty but it is ten. We tried it out with rubber bands. See?” Tunde plucked bands one after the other from one hand to the other, counting as he did so. “See? I now have ten rubbers with me.” He said when he was done transferring the bands from his right wrist to the left one.
“Shut up!” Tracy screamed and the first set of sad tears fell down to her cheeks. “Aunty, the ten rubber bands are mine. I gave him five first, then gave him another five later. Does it not mean that he now owe me ten bands?”
“Did you tell me that you were borrowing me the rubbers?” Tunde asked. “How does that even concern minus. There’s no sign in the front of the rubbers.”
She stood there under the maddening heat of the sun giving listening ears to the children’s complaints. They looked like children having a fair debate only Tracy was in tears. She would have favoured Tracy here because she was trying to be a faithful disciple of mathematics, which was good but she liked the angle Tunde was coming from and it gave her some kind of secret pleasure seeing how he had managed to hurt Tracy. She wanted to see her sister’s child hurt this way and more than this. In no distant time, she thought as she smiled to Tunde and patted Tracy on the head.
“Don’t cry Tracy, I would get you twenty new bands.” Sharon turned and escaped through the gate. The children were exchanging words now, Tracy was calling Tunde a cheat amidst tears and Tunde was gleefully calling her a dull brain.
None of this mattered to Sharon anymore, she could see that all the security light of their house were on. It meant just one thing – Her mother was awake. She had been deep in sleep when she crept out of the house this morning, she was not expecting to find her awake on her return. Her mother was considerably aged, white streaks of hair now covered her head and she looked smaller – she was shrinking. She slept a lot these days and the snores were becoming unbearable.
She carefully pushed the entrance door, opening it just slightly as her eyes swept the whole sitting room in a quick glance. Her mother was not in the room but all evidences of her presence lingered – the T.V was on, it showed only gray and black matter and sputtered static; the four bulbs splashed dull orange light on the walls; the ceiling fan revolved slowly croaking endlessly as it did so… Sharon sighed as she walked deeper into the sitting room, past the dining area and into the kitchen, ignoring the strong urge to turn off the whole appliances. She was thirsty and her parched throat needed the fridge’s finest drink to refreshen her. She opened the fridge, selected the coldest can of fanta and uncorked it. Trapped gases escaped into the air with huge sighs of relief.
“Was not expecting you would be back so early.” The dead voice of her mother said.
Sharon jumped, spilling the cold orange drink on her blouse. She would have screamed if her eyes had not quickly made out her mother sitting on a chair, cross legged and peering at a phone. It was her phone. Deep regret filled her at having left the phone behind. There was more, her old mother was looking gorgeous this morning and wearing her brightest smiles. She hardly smiled unless there was something… some new assignment, Sharon’s heart sank.
The old woman was putting on a long brown linen gown generously embroidered at the neck and hems, gold chain watch – a gift given to her by her husband, the father Sharon never knew – adorned her left wrist and similar gold necklace did the same on her neck. She had even taken her time to apply some makeups, though not properly, but fine anyway. The last time her mother had appeared this way was the day she got a call from Blessing, her late sister who had disappeared for years. She had called to inform them that she was proud to have ran away from them because they were her bad luck and to prove the fact, she was now married to a handsome man and have a beautiful daughter. She asked that they allay their fears about her and feel happy instead because she was happy. Before then, her mother had been brooding a dead daughter, refusing to talk to Sharon, her remaining daughter whom she never liked. But after the call, she became happy indeed, happier than the father of the prodigal son, only it was dark happiness. And unlike the father of the same prodigal son, she killed the fattest cow for her true daughter, the one that had not run away.
The acceptance and love her mother showed her was nothing compared to any other. This was something she had fought for tirelessly without any reward; now it was finally here, she was determined to do anything to sustain it. Her mother had given her the first assignment then which she had failed to accomplish by herself but which nature had done. The second assignment was what she was on, the reason she had left home very early. And now… what? A third?
She gulped down the content of the can, squeezed it afterwards and threw it into the waste basket.
“So, what’s behind the light mood this morning? Going somewhere?” Sharon asked, taking off her blouse.
“The evil ones never live to see the light; the plans of the evil ones goes shattered–”
Sharon turned sharply and gave her mom an inquisitive stare, the woman cackled.
“– you should be very conversant with those kinds of talks.” Her mother said.
Sharon did not know whether it was a question or a statement. If it was a question, it would be best not supplying any answer. She turned away from her mother and examined the orange map on her blouse.
“Those talks are not for people who are carrying out justice. Enforcement and wickedness doesn’t sound alike to me.” Her mother coughed hard. Sharon quickly fetched her a glass of water.
“It becomes wickedness when the scales of justices after being balanced continues to be tilted.” She swallowed a mouthful. “Then and only then would the forces of nature become the enforcer. And woe betide him who nature–”
“Why all these strange talk this morning?” Sharon asked.
She was already growing uncomfortable. Her mind was also not helping matters, it had started performing quick self-assessments. It searched for anything she was doing contrary to the assignment at hand, any hidden motive that was not aligned with her mission. At first she uncovered nothing but after further probing aided by the familiar look and smile on her mother’s face, she saw it for what it was.
“I was sleeping soundly when I suddenly became uncomfortable. I woke up and realized that everywhere was dark and silent.” She threw a hard glance at Sharon. “How many times have I told you that leaving a house that way is inviting the spirit of death? You don’t learn Sharon.”
Sharon was silent. She prayed her mother discovers something different from what her mind had discovered.
“Anyway, before I began the normal routine of returning life to the dying world, your phone rang.” She paused to stare longer at Sharon and continued. “It was a message. A message–”
“What did the message say?” Sharon asked. She was not enjoying the suspense her mother was introducing to the short and simple narration. She was certain that her mother was trying to make her feel guilty for something she does not know about yet, and she was succeeding.
“The message drew me to the conclusion that the plans of the executioner are always plans of good and never of evil. And Mother Nature supports good all the way.”
“The executioner is very different from the evil doers.”
“Mama you’re just saying the same thing in different words. Maybe it’s old age. Just pass me my phone let me read the message for myself. It would save you the stress.”
“And the executioner gets more fortified by Mother Nature. You know that, don’t you?” Her mother asked as if she was never interrupted. She continued when Sharon wouldn’t answer. “You did not see the little girl at home.”
Sharon was on her way to return the cup when her mother made that statement. She stopped dead on her tracks. She was immediately filled with a mixed feeling of shame and hope. Shame at not accomplishing her assignment today and hope that her mother might really know something, something that could turn out very helpful.
“And you must have agreed to that talk of the wicked ones then. Right? But Mother Nature is telling you something different. Here.” She passed the phone to Sharon who snatched it with trembling hands.
She tapped the power button and the screen came on. It displayed a message from Ochuko. She gave her mother a cursory look before reading the message.
– Miss Sharon, pls would you mind me stealing some of your time this morning? There’s a tough situation here, Lucy got burnt from her head down. I can’t really explain in details but don’t start getting scared, it’s not as serious as i sound. In fact, she’s okay now, just that she’s been asking to see you. We’re at Amazing grace hospital, it’s not far at all. Reply back if you need directions. –
This was good news to her but the expressions on her face said differently. She was not happy that her mother had seen this message before her, especially as it came from Ochuko, her late sister’s husband. She looked at her mother again, she was grinning but her eyes were not smiling.
“I’m sure it can’t get easier than this. The bone has been brought to the nose of the dog while it lay in slumber. You know what happens next, don’t you?”
“Sure, I don’t need to be told.”
Sharon considered what best way to execute this task that would not leave evidences that could traced back to her. This is something she has always considered.
A week ago, she had carefully ground the black chalk contained in batteries and tied it away in a black nylon. She knew they were lethal from what she taught the children in school but the problem was how to get Lucy to ingest the powder, knowing what it was. Moreover adding it to her meal might change the appearance and one is apt to use an inadequate amount of the stuff in a bid to avoid messing up the meal’s appearance. The whole effort had just been a waste.
Then three days ago, she encountered a bartender in a bar who proposed to mix her a drink that would take away all her problems. A look at the stern-faced Lady in neatly tucked plain white shirt and black tie was enough to convince Sharon that the Lady might have a great deal of knowledge on things, especially things that troubled her. The bartender introduced herself as Sexy Vicky and went ahead to tell her that she stank of murder. She had grown dumb at that moment not because of the expression on Vicky’s face – which seemed to say that it was of no importance if she uttered a word in negation because it would not matter – but because she feared saying anything would ruin her chances of learning something she does not know.
Vicky who was as blunt as the edges of a metal spoon told about her hatred for men and how she easily got rid of them. She believed that all men are driven by two things: money and women and that these two things induced their love for other things: smoke, drink and fraternity. Her anger was that as much as they saw women as an end, they don’t give them (women) the much care and attention they give to the other end – money – once acquired. They in fact treat women as a means to the other end. So instead of being mistreated by a man, Vicky chose to maltreat men…
“Sharon, I know you must have come up with many ways to end the girl’s life but I suggest you forget every one of them right now.”
“What? Are you kidding me?” Sharon asked, fully perplexed.
“I am not trying to say that you should forget about killing Lucy. Come on, where then would our happiness lie?” Her mother said in a strained voice. “All I am talking about here is the means.”
“Okay. Fine, so what do you propose?”
…The way Vicky maltreated men was very simple. She killed them. Vicky counted herself as one of the lucky few God had blessed with a perfect job. Being a bartender had simplified her life’s mission; all she needed to do was just to poison their drinks. She took painstaking effort to opt for poisons that were very effective but killed slowly so as not to implicate herself. It would be a mess if a customer died in the bar, midway through a glass of drink. It would be obvious that something was wrong with the drink and her job would be at stake. That would be a foolish mistake, it would be like telling God that he’d been unwise to trust her with such extravagance. She explained to Sharon that the only men she spared were the ones with like mind – the ones that loved to kill. These ones cared little about money or women. These type were few, almost non existent. Al Mohammed, an Egyptian living in Victoria Island, and who preferred to be called Al, was one of these men. He dealt on harmful drugs and poisons. Vicky got expensive poisons from him at very cheap prices and these poisons always did the job. She hardly saw a male face older than a week in the bar, there were always new faces. Business was booming.
They had gone to Al’s place that night after Vicky’s shift was over in her green Kia Picanto. The night had been far spent, hence, the light traffic which hastened their arrival. On arrival, Al flashed them a momentary smile and disappeared with Vicky, leaving Sharon to sit alone in a well furnished room that was everything a reception room wasn’t. They came back minutes later with Al carrying a paper catalogue. He handed it to Sharon and disappeared back into the room he and Vicky had just come out from. The catalogue contained list of poisonous plants, pills and drugs with their description, pictures and dosage. Conium, Belladona, Cyanide pills and Strychnine had caught her attention. These poisons were very lethal and provided the murderer with some kind of cover. The death arising from intake of these poisons could be blamed on household accidents such as pesticides and even apple seeds. She finally decided that Belladona was all she needed. A leaf of the plant, as the catalogue explained, was capable of death and two or more of it’s berries – which are identical to blackcurrant – was capable of more danger. But she feared that Al might currently not have them in stock or that they might be very dear for her pocket. As luck had it, she was able to get both the leaves and the berries for no cost at all. Al had said she should try them out and come back to give testimonies. He had said it smiling and that was the only time he wore a real full toothed grin on his white face throughout their visit. The man was mortal.
“All you have to do is to suffocate her with a pillow. She wouldn’t have enough strength to put up much of a struggle. It just requires you have to pay attention to precision. Don’t give her space to scream.”
“But it would be obvious that she suffocated to death and that is no natural thing to happen in a hospital, unless it was done by someone. And you know who that last person to get a permit to see the girl would be.” Sharon gave her mother a stone look but she appeared to be unfazed.
“You have to try to enter without letting anyone know that you’re entering. Then show up later when the deed has been done and ask to see her.” A smile crept up her mother’s face. It was a smile of utter satisfaction.
“Come on, it’s not that easy. What if there are many people around and there’s strict security and–”
“And it’s the same Amazing Grace hospital which we are very familiar with.” She patted Sharon on the shoulder. “Time is of the essence, always is. Prepare to go now and not later, the tides are in our favour now.”
Sharon had many objections to make and some reasonable proposals to. She would like to tell her mother about the Belladona berries; she could find a way to smuggle it to the girl’s room while she was asleep, but she knew this idea would countered. If she could find a way to smuggle in unseen to drop some berries, why wouldn’t she be able to do likewise to use the pillow? There were still alternatives though, she could return back to Al’s place to get the Cyanide pills, the one he kept referring to as L-pills and mix some with the drugs Lucy would take. They always kept those prescriptions in a tray beside the bed, but what if there were no prescriptions in a tray? She gave up and prayed instead that the whole affair ended fast.
“And.” Her mother did a slow turn in front of the door of the dining to face her.
“Remember who it is you are interested in. If you wish me to remind you Sharon, it is your late sister’s daughter and not her husband. That what all those tongues about the executioner and the evil doer was about. So you know where you belong.” She fixed her a steady gaze that lasted for a minute before she continued to the dining.
That was it. That was what her heart sensed from the beginning of the whole morning drama. The old woman was just an evil crow, there was nothing she didn’t see, nothing passed under her radar undetected, no matter how hidden they are. She watched her – a shrinking figure – disappear into the dinning and for the first time in her life, all she felt for her mother was deep hatred. She let out a much needed sigh and retreated to her bedroom where she dumped herself on bed. She drew out the rumpled paper from the back pocket of her jean as well as the packaged poison leaves she’d intended to use this morning. She read the letter again and again until she felt her head throb. Many people would have to be taken out of the picture, she reminded herself and she knew how now. Killing had never been an easy task to her as it seemed now. She rose from the bed with her mind set to end the little girl’s story for real, so that others’ stories could be read and ended likewise. There were a lot of others now. She opened her drawer and put back the leaves, she paused for a moment before locking it, brought out the berries – which were exactly like blackcurrant – then locked the drawer. She placed them on the table and dressed up to kill. If she was lucky, her mother would also be dead when she returned. She suspected that the woman frequented her room, it would be fine if she did so today. Finer if she decided to taste the berries on the table.
Sharon picked up her phone to compose a reply message to Ochuko, hesitated for a moment to consider if it was wise, and then typed:
– You got me scared already. My sweetheart got burnt? blood of God! I can’t imagine that. This just have to be some sort of joke Sir. Let me quickly take care of my mother, she can’t do much these days. But i’d try not to exceed an hour. Would that be too late? –
Whatever his reply would be did not matter to her. It wouldn’t be required. She got out through the same gate that was the venue for debating children moments ago and headed straight to the bus stop. There was no more delaying. She agreed with her mother on that aspect, but disagreed with her on the other. Ochuko would be hers by the time the music stopped playing…
* * *
Bobo zoomed past his workplace. Uwem, the short man with taut muscles screaming to be let free, was the security man on duty at the factory Bobo worked. He had just helped the Agege bread woman set back the round wooden tray of bread back to her head when Bobo fled past. He began to shout after him to enquire why he was fleeing when he saw a pack of well built men rush along Bobo’s tail. He pushed his full loaf of bread under his arm without realizing he had done so and leaped in through the gate, rolling it close behind him with such quick reflexes he never knew he possessed. Something his grandfather used to say came to his mind then. It goes thus: Don’t watch trouble walk past you. Run away as fast as you can because it might turn back and decide it was you he sought. He was very convinced that these men were trouble and hanging around might might provoke one of them to ask him some questions, probably the where did that guy i was chasing head to? sort. He was not prepared for even that, for it might turn out to be that the guy had run into him, possessed him. It was a funny idea but Uwem was in no laughing mood. He went back to the small room that was his office, sat down to think about the risky nature of his job while his hot plate of beans steamed away to the point it decided it was tired. His bread lay forgotten.
Bobo’s heart sped faster than his legs and his sides hurt badly but he could still hear the footfalls of his pursuers, they fell as thuds and threatened to cause an earthquake. He willed himself to keep moving, the odds were high if he stood to fight back; it was visible to even a mad man. He took a turn and heard distant noise, a market was somewhere ahead. He took the risk to spare a glance behind him, one of the men – the hugest of them all – was fifty metres behind him. That was good but wouldn’t be for a long time, taking his burning lungs into consideration. The shiny headed man did not appear to be giving off any sweat. The market was his only hope of escape but he feared something might go wrong when the people saw him fleeing with people, hefty people, at his heels. He wished we was not the one being chased, wished he was the chaser. Supposing his chasers chose to shout OLE! the moment he stepped into the market, tires and fuel would be furnished, indubitably. Bobo took some seconds to beg God to help him, before he began to see the line of butchers that lined the market’s entrance sharpening knives with knives. The noise grew louder, laughter was the predominant sound he heard. It reverberated in his head. The whole world is laughing at me as I run into my waterloo, he thought.
Instinctively, Bobo slowed down. Stopped running in fact and started to walk. He heard those same descending heavy footfalls but very faintly. He was inside the market now and the noise seemed to swallow everything up, including his fears. He hastened up anyway as he entered deeper into the market. He heard passers-by curse and saw with his mind’s eyes how his pursuers were pushing people aside to make way for them to catch him. He sensed they were near and that meant he’d not be forever safe in the large stream of busy people. His eyes happened on a woman who had diverted her attention from the customer she was attending to, to her son. The small boy had dipped his hand into her Ewedu soup and rescued the big meat dying away there. The viscous liquid trickled down the length of his little hand and a drop of it landed on his cream coloured chinos short. Bobo saw the woman flare up with anger, it was all the opportunity he needed, he hurriedly walked into the shop.
Once inside the shop, he quickly went into the inner chamber, past the woman whose attention was on her stubborn son who had began to cry, took off his shirt and hung it to a nail in the door. He rushed back to meet the customer who was about to go check out the next shop.
“Mama! Come back abeg. Na me dey sell cheap pass for this line, all of dem sabi. Come try am!” Bobo cried out. From the corners of his eyes, he watched his pursuers halt and simultaneously stare around like bunch of lost children. His customer considered him for a while, he smiled to her, nodding his head to signal her to try him out. She took the cue.
“One paint of beans na how much?” The woman asked, packing a handful. “I mean this brown ones oh.”
“Six-fifty ma.” Bobo said. One of his pursuers has spotted somebody walking very fast ahead. He signaled the others and together they trotted past his new shop.
“The price cost oh. Bobo wetin be your last price?”
Bobo smiled broadly at hearing his name. He wished the woman knew she had just called him by his name. He looked at the owner of the shop, she was really pissed. She carried her crying son on one hand and took him to her neighbour’s shop to complain. The neighbour quickly joined in reprimanding the boy. She started by pinching his ears hard. Bobo turned back to his customer, she was smiling at him. This is your lucky day, he thought, our lucky day.
“Oya bring five hundred. Sharp sharp.” He began to measure out a paint of beans from the wide metal basin filled with beans while the woman fished out money from her purse. “Na because of say you fine oh, mommy. And I wan make you customer today.”
The woman blushed. She could scarcely hide it. She is not looking as bad as the owner of the shop, Bobo thought, some man can still have a nice time with her. Her husband definitely, Bobo corrected himself. The woman finally fished out a clean five hundred Naira note and handed it over. He handed her the commodity and said thank you. He quickly plucked his shirt out of the hook and walked out of the shop. The owner met him on his way out and fixed him a suspicious look.
“You get cowpea?” He asked with a straight face and the woman nodded her negation.
“Where I fit see am for around here?” He asked as he shifted himself totally away from the interior of the shop to the exterior, which was meant for customers.
“You say na cow beans?” The woman asked. A frown appeared on her face. “Na this one, this one abi this one?” She picked up handful of the three types of beans one by one and showed him.
He patiently examined them, taking a grain from each handful to properly scrutinize under the sun.
“No, no. Madam no worry. You no get am.” He flashed her a smile to ease the regrets she felt for losing a customer. “Sell well.”
Bobo pushed the five hundred Naira note into his pocket on his way out of the market. His fingers hit a hard paper midway. He brought it out when he was done putting away the note into the dark safety of his pocket. It was a complimentary card. He tried to remember receiving a complimentary card from anybody but none of such recollection came, not even taking one from his supervisor’s table this morning by mistake. Not like there are any on Baba’s table. He thought past today to yesterday and yes, he remembered. It was sitting next to Sandy on the couch. He had picked it up while she narrated her misfortune to him, he had told himself then that he would make her disclose who she had gotten the card from. He also remembered the jealousy that had filled him at the thought that it might belong to the man in fine suit who had carried her out of the bus, there was a twinge of regret also. Regret that he does not have a card to offer to a lady. He had no lucid future. On the head of the card was the inscription: Ocean View corporation. He turned it over and below was the name: Mr. Irobo Ochuko S. And below that: Manager. Still below that was his cell number.
Bobo drew out his phone and dialed the number. So many things ran through his mind as he placed the phone to his ear. He hoped that amongst all the things in his mind, the call grant him his one dear wish. That it brings him to Sandy.