* * *
You think I’d leave your side baby
You know me better than that
You think i’d leave you down when
You down on your knees
I wouldn’t do that
I’ll do you your right
When you’re wrong
Ah oh oh oh oh oh oh oh oh
If only you could see into me
Oh when you’re cold
I’ll be there to hold you tight
It went on and on, each line a poisonous arrow, killing her slowly. She hated how she wept but she couldn’t bring herself to press stop on the CD player, she loved the way it tormented her. She needed to weep for her loss, for her faults, for everything. The walls of her life which used to hold strong in hope were broken and tumbling down in a messy mass like Humpty Dumpty and right now, she’s certain that the one causing the destruction was the only one who could gather up her broken pieces and fix her back whole.
Wunmi’s throat felt sore from so much crying but she sang along with Sade Adu in hoarse voice. The song explained exactly what was wrong with her – she was down – and how much she needed someone to be by her side, not any someone but Ochuko. She had bought Sade’s album – Lover’s Rock – from a record store moments after her mind was made on where to go from church. She had chosen her house. Though quite far, it was the best place she could think of. She needed solitude and Modupe’s place, where she had been headed to yesterday after work, before that spectacular encounter in the BRT bus that changed her life, was the worst option now. The fact was, Modupe her sister has seen so much of her tearful moments to last a lifetime, adding this to the pile was way too despairing.
It was totally crazy how she felt this much sadness and grief. She was deeply sorry for the little girl, realizing what pain she would go through before she finally got her healing. But were this the sole source of her troubled heart, there would have been no problem at all. She would have seen some appetite to make the remaining half of the pack of pizza from last two nights disappear, even support it with some chilled yogurt or milk, without a slight thought of how much fat she was taking in. That however, was not the sole source of her grief. The hard reality of losing a kind of man she was not sure would ever come by her way again was the heart-rendering thing. Yes, she had met him just the evening of the past day and she was yet to spend some quality time with him but she loved him. With all of her heart. She felt like she had been with him a lifetime, like it was just the beginning of creation, he was the only man and she was the only woman and it was their fisrt day on earth. All the amazing things they would discover about each other, all the adventures they would have together, all the beautiful children there would eventually be to love…
It was beginning to dawn on her that she could die being a single and lonely woman. It has not gotten to that extent, she told herself but she was aware of the power of solitude, suicide’s hatchet man was what it was. She realized also how suicide could just be the true solution to her life’s problem. Of what use was life to someone living her dreams but without even a hint of happiness?
Nothing would make Wunmi more happier than being with the man she loves and bearing as much children as would fill up a big mansion, making it look like a three- bedroom bungalow. A picture frame sat squat on dining table, facing Wunmi. It was a picture of her family, all seven of them – she, her three sisters, her only brother, mother and father – dressed in traditional attire and smiling a commercial artiste’s smile. She remembered telling Modupe that she’d beat their family to the count. Hers would be a family of seventeen, she had said. Modupe had rolled over in laughter and told her that she was old school, that hers would just be a family of four. She needed just two children. She already has her boy, her girl would be next (she was already kicking in the womb) and after that, she’d be the happiest woman on earth. Wunmi turned the picture away from her face, upside down and left the dining area to continue her weeping in the bedroom with her big white teddy as her sole comforter. Maybe with enough of it’s help, she would come out of her present state of mind and think of the way forward, who knows. Better than that, she could even get so huge a comfort from Jude her teddy. She could use the help of his presence to draft out another plan of getting her man back, a better and more realizable plan than the first which was not totally a failure.
Bright rays of hope were beginning to stream into the windows of her heart and it felt good. She began to cherish the few moments she had spent in church this morning, that too was not entirely futile, maybe God still hears his own. On her way to the room, her stomach grumbled. She branched back to the kitchen and drew out the half pack of pizza from the microwave, and surprisingly began to hum a tune. It was a track she didn’t even know the title, from that Sade’s album she had bought. A funny thought crossed her mind: what if she goes back to him next tomorrow in his home, when he must have calmed considerably, and sing him that song by Sade he had hummed to on that their bumpy keke ride to his home. He had told her that the song was his pacifier, always calming him in his most depressing moments. His wife’s favourite, he had also announced. She could learn the song, replace ‘he’ where Sade had said ‘she’, the same way his wife used to do and maybe do something else, strip for him… that was crazy, but it was not an entirely bad idea. But she had a bad voice.
Her hand turned bottles and cans in the small fridge in room, she looked at their labels without really knowing what drink she was looking for. She did not even know how she had gotten out of the kitchen to her room. It was like sleepwalking during the day. She thought of sleepwalking this same way back into love and smiled. She was already doing just that because the plan, a fruit of this sleepwalk, would get her back to her man. It was a crazy plan but who cares? Love itself is an entirely crazy affair. The CD player in the dining had stopped playing and she was tired of humming. She set the tray containing the pizza and a can of malt (which she had finally ended up selecting, thinking it was ginger beer) on a small stool and sat Jude beside her. He did feel warm, she thought as she ruffled the white cotton of his furs. She picked up the decoder remote.
“What do you say we watch right now Jude?”
She scrolled stations slowly, to enable her get a glimpse of what the stations were offering at the moment, but hurriedly scrolled past the football stations.
“Better say something Jude. You brought me out of my bad mood today so I’m hosting you. And after watching T.V, we would settle down to work.”
She stared intently at him for some time and realized that the big black button which was his nose was the shape of love and it was shiny, Jude was also smiling in a way she had never seen him smile.
“Oh! I see you want us to watch telemundi. That’s why you’re smiling right?” She playfully pushed Jude to bed and ruffled his belly. “You’re such a bad boy, Jude. Na only love shows you dey watch. God help you.”
A bite of the pizza confirmed that it had not lost much of its lusciousness yet, it was still very tasty. On the T.V, a nicely shaped blonde came into the room to catch her boyfriend kissing a slim brunette. She got pissed and ran out of the door, the way she had come. The click sound manufactured by the heels of her shoes as she ran disturbed the kissing pair and the man turned in time to recognize that the lady running out through the door was his girlfriend. He exhaled and mussed his hair while the brunette smiled and affectionately touched her lips.
“Jude, tell me about your girlfriend.” Wunmi said through a mouthful of pizza. “Hope you never cheated on her? And you’d also tell me the best way to get my man back. So start preparing.”
She turned off the T.V moments later and swallowed the last of her malt. It all tasted good and she also felt good. With Jude her Teddy companion enwrapped in an embrace with one hand, she tore out a sheet from her notepad and began to map out a plan. She reminded herself that she would never run from her man the way the blonde had done, she would fight with the last of her for her man.
* * *
After ringing the number on the card for the third time, Bobo finally agreed to rest it for the day. But the clear picture in his mind of the man in fine suit jumping bones with Sandy while his phone rang off the hook on a small drawer adjoining the bed (good riddance of pesky devices before it spoilt his fun) made Bobo persist some more. He was sure that that image was exactly the truth of the moment and it made him grow terribly uneasy. If the bastard would just pick up the phone, he muttered under his breath as he punched the green button for the fifth time. When he still would not pick, Bobo gave up hope and decided to head for home.
Getting the evil thought off his head was no small deal, it was one thought that could not be exorcised by just that conscious mental shove, this needed some spiritual intervention and to him, there was no better spiritual intervention than some sticks of cigarette. If the evil thought proved to be a high ranking one, then a chilled bottle of Pepsi would be a sure assistant to the sticks. Damn! He hungered for this delicacy more than any other thing at the moment, now that he had thought of it. Adding the fact that he had just escaped Earth’s most minatory villains with a small act of craftiness, it was very clear (even to an onlooker) that he needed some sort of reward. A pack of St Morritz would do for reward, thank you Sir. He remembered that he should have two surviving sticks in the pack he bought the night before. He dipped his hand into his pocket and it came out with nothing. The pack of cigarettes was gone. He then realized that he had lit up a stick before the hot chase. But that was just a stick, what then happened to the other stick?
His anger was heightening, it was one thing to bear the indisputable thought of some guy enjoying the moment with a girl you have come to love with the whole of your heart, and clearly another to have your pack of cigar disappear with no definite explanation.
“Everybody knows I don’t joke with my Cigar,” he said aloud, “who then would play this trick on me?”
Just then, it occurred to him that the pack must have jumped out of his pocket while fleeing. If it were so, he wished he had noticed that golden moment the pack was peeping out through his pocket and anticipating to make its safe jump. He would’ve stopped then and pushed it back in – or better still, held it in his palm to be sure of its safety – no matter the devil behind his heels. Even the devil knows when his prey has switched to seriousness, and stops the rough play then.
The comforting thing was that he had earned five hundred naira the same way he had lost his precious pack. Without much of a thought, he branched off to the nearest zinc kiosk, it was just a stone throw from the house he lived in with Benji his friend, and purchased a fresh pack. He opened it to confirm that the Mallam had not played some tricks with his cigarettes – many of them did that, they steal one or two sticks intentionally, knowing that most of their customers were ignorant. The sticks were complete and intact, twenty white sticks with brown ends. This mallam was a saint. Bobo also purchased a cold, fifty centilitre Pepsi.
He could hardly wait to begin the feast. He was not yet started and all his worries were already being relegated. What miracles would happen once the feast began. He warmed up his heart with thoughts of how he would puff and gulp, puff and gulp till nothing was left in both the bottle and pack. It would be risky to his health ending a pack in just what looks to him to be noon, but that was not what he really worried himself about. He worried about afternoon, evening, and night. If he ended the whole pack now, there might be nothing left to smoke during these periods. He wasn’t entirely a fool, not a fool at all, he understood and appreciated the doctrine of being thrift in one’s spending. He would smoke some and prevent endangering his remaining change.
The thought of the style with which he would smoke occupied him now, he smiled broadly at the thought. This was a very interesting thought. A scene he had been a part of came then in clear, high quality picture to his mind. This happened months ago in a park. He had seen a mad man parked by a corner in a closed shop that looked more like it had experienced more closed periods that bubbling ones. The mad man was smoking, which was very typical of mad men in the area. But what was particularly distinctive and captivating about this mad man was that he smoked two sticks at a time. The two sticks were trapped in the crooks of the index and middle fingers of each hand, both sticks were burnt down to roughly the same height. He would put stick one in his mouth, take a long draw, remove it and replace with stick two; the trapped smoke from stick one escaping through the nostrils. Then altogether, after taking the same long draw from stick two, he would puff out the remnants of stick one’s smoke (those which had not escaped through his nostrils) mixed with stick two’s freshly accumulated smoke in a looming white cloud with his eyes closed. That explains relishing the moment.
Today was the day Bobo chose to try it out, and he would also relish the moment for that was exactly what having a good smoke was all about. The venue for this spectacular experiment was their one bedroom flat, to be precise, on top of that mighty bed. He wasn’t expecting to find Benji at home but when he found the door locked from inside and heard the squawky laughter of a female, he understood. This was a happy understanding. Benji always shared his women with him as long as he was around and indicated some interest. Sure, he was interested. The whole delicacy has been placed on a golden saucer now and served by a hotshot chick. He began to create a routine in his mind which would blend the smoking with the other fun which would happen in a few moment before he rapped on the door with his fist.
He got silence instead of the cheery inquiry from Benji he was expecting to hear. The sudden silence made him wonder for a second if he had hallucinated that female laughter. He rapped his knuckles on the door again, harder this time.
“Who be that one?” Benji asked in a coarse voice.
“Guy open joor. Beta dey.” Bobo announced in a cheery voice, the same kind he had expected his friend to use earlier.
“Can’t you see that the door is closed?”
What was this?
Two things were wrong with Benji’s question. First, he was speaking English to him. Bobo chose not to let this anger him, Benji might have done that to please the girl, to prove to her that he was also a champ in use of English aside giving her pleasures. Second, Benji was not the type to ask one if he had not observed the obvious. In fact, it was something he complained so bitterly about the majority of Nigerians. Normal Benji would have said : The door is closed. My guy, find your way.
“How far na Benji? Na your number one guy you keep for outside here with yeye questions oh.”
“Bobo? Are you not the one knocking on the door?”
“I know. That’s why I’m asking if you’ve not noticed the closed door.”
“So wetin you dey try wan mean?” Bobo asked. He did well to hide the tremor in his voice.
There was no reply for a long time. He heard the Lady whisper and then cackle. JESUS! Bobo exclaimed in his heart, what was happening? Had Baba Agba already reported him to Benji? Probably told him that he had sacked him today. That did not look like enough reason to justify the way his friend was acting. They were both bad boys who have done terrible things in their lifetime. Handing such a guy a pink slip was not defacing enough, not even at all. It did not mean shit to him. What then? It must be the lady he was inside the room with. Bobo was beginning to get worried about his friend flirting with a witch when he finally replied.
“Bobo, get away from here.” Benji said with a cold voice.
“Meaning?” Bobo’s heart began to beat fast and not even the thought of his precious delicacy could prevent it, not even with the perspiration dropping from the body of the bottle unto his boot as a reminder.
“Oh God!” Benji sounded exasperated. “Has going to work today made you dumb?”
That statement was the straw that broke the camel’s back for Bobo, only for him, it was the final probe that drove the sane man insane.
“Benji that girl wey you carry for inside don dey mess up with your head oh.” He dropped the drink and the pack of cigar on the bench resting on the wall and banged the door with both fists. “You’ve brought a witch into our house.”
“Jeez! Guy don’t blaspheme me. What do you mean by our house?”
There was anger in Benji’s voice. It should be enough warning to Bobo to quit pushing but he took no notice.
“Wait oh Benji! You sure say you realize say na me Bobo you dey do this thing to?”
“Whatever.” Benji replied and the lady let out a shrill laughter.
All the strength to argue further was drained from him. This was so unreal. That was another word Benji would never use on anyone, not even under the umbrellas of social media. The message was clear, Benji was done with him. It didn’t matter what influence he was under at the moment, the message would still remain unchanged. His fun has been ruined. He sat down on the bench and lit up a stick of cigarette, it was not tasting fine. Smoke entered restricted chambers and he coughed. He continued to smoke anyway and let his thought wander to the future, taking this moment as its starting point, afraid that if he still dwelt on the present, he might be forced to place his ear to the door to know what sounds he would hear; or even peep through the keyhole. He’s never felt this bad and helpless in his life. Never. He had some money in the bank but it was not sufficient to rent him a room. It occurred to him then that he had been living his life without any purpose all these while. There could be a change, he told himself. His thoughts branched to Sandy and there, he let it dwell. She was hope. He could start life all over again with her; with her by his side, he just might find that sense of purpose.
The stick of cigarette burnt away, forgotten in Bobo’s lips. It burnt up the filter while Bobo was still deep in his thoughts and advanced to claim the territory of his lips. He screamed and spat out the almost nonexistent remains of the cigarette. That’s my last, he thought as he shot up from the bench and turned the hands of his mental compass to face Sandy’s house. Reflexively, he pushed the pack of the cigarettes into his pocket while the bottle of Pepsi stood on the bench untouched, it was no longer cold.
* * *
Mr Agunlejika made slapping sounds with his mouth as he ate his brunch. He ate in a disgustful way: his mouth was open as he mashed the meal, you could see the mushy mess the meal had been reduced to as his tongue rolled them continuously until they were fine enough to move down the dark corridor of his throat.
What a big passage way it would be, Casmir wondered as his eyes strolled up to other aspects of the man’s face. The burly police inspector sitting opposite him and manducating a plate of rice with meats was Mrs Osifo’s younger brother. Were it not for the long tribal marks on his face and the outstanding fact that he was a male, Cas would have concluded that this man was a complete replica of Sandy’s neighbour.
“You still would not tell me what I have done wrong?” Cas asked, almost in a whisper.
After getting so much silence for answers to the questions he’d been screaming out to nobody in particular since his revival from his conked out state and subsequent discovery that he was locked up in cell, Casmir had learnt to ask his questions calmly.
“I think your little experience here should have told you enough.” The inspector said.
With one end of a big meat held firmly in both hands and the other end clamped between his teeth, he drew a band of meat out of elastic limit to divorce. Particles of rice and droplets of stew sprayed everywhere. The inspector continued eating in that spectacular way of his.
“The terrible mosquito bites, the loud and crazy jokes you guys tell, the thick stench of piss and shit, and all the silence to my questions. What does it explains? Nothing.” Casmir swiped a small colony of rice from his brow.
“Very well then. I’m convinced it’s no experience you would ever desire for again, not even in a dream. So–“
Mr Agunlejika fixed Cas a stare that seemed to search his spirit.
“Stay away from my sister’s neighbour. She sees that pretty lady as the daughter she lost years ago and already you have caused enough harm to her. You are lucky that this meal with all these meats came at the time it came.”
“You all are getting this wrong. I never hurt Sandy, not at all. I love her with every ounce of my heart and I promised–“
“You promise to stay away from her, then you’re very certain that you’ve made the right choice in your life, for your life. You’ve chosen to stay out of trouble.”
“No not that.” Cas cried. “Get me right for once for God’s sake. Sandy is my fiancée.”
The police inspector was on the last meat, this one was not as tough as the others so he threw it whole into his mouth. His eyes kept scanning Cas as he chewed and his face wore an expressionless look.
“Sometimes, voilence is the only answer.” Mr Agunlejika said, more to himself than to Cas.
He was finally done with his meal. He emptied a bottle of water and let out a satisfactory belch.
“Usman, Lawal, Chikadibia!” He called out loud.
Three policemen suddenly crowded the entrance of the office. Cas could recognize two from early this morning. The name on the tag of the one that had taken out his lights with the baton was Usman. Cas looked at him with unconcealed distaste, the man noticed but showed no sign that he was troubled by the look, he was totally unfazed. The new member was Chikadibia, he was a terrifyingly ugly and brawny man. Cas instinctively looked at his hands the moment their eyes met, he knew this man was no man to mess around with.
“These boys have been assigned to watch you from today henceforth. I promise you, since you’ve refused to promise me, that these boys would make your life miserable if by chance they happen to see you around that Lady. What’s that a name again, you care to remind me?”
“Jesus!” Cas screamed. “Are you trying to bully me or something? I know my right and I know what you are doing is not right. This is not the way you should treat a citizen. You should protect them rather than lay threats–“
Chikadibia moved away from the entranceway and came to stand close beside Cas, forcing him to cut his speech in mid sentence.
“Very well then young man, you have just attested to the fact that we are doing our job. Protecting vulnerable ladies from miscreants like you is part of it.” The police inspector said.
“Then let me exercise my rights. Especially my right of –“
“Why not?” The police inspector smiled. “Lawal, Get the young man all his items and let him go. I think we are done with him.”
Cas’ head hammered more badly than before, forcing him to wear a grimace on his face, a painful one. The bandage that went round the diameter of his head was no longer white, it was now the colour of earth; his clothes were completely rumpled and patches of dirt stained his face, he was officially a mess. None of these were his worry as he stood along the road, in front of the police station with the gust of breeze from rushing vehicles washing over him. What was his worry was the forceful death of part of him. Yes, that was what the men of force were trying to do. Sandy was a part of his life that he couldn’t do without just like oxygen. But there had been times he had mistreated her, times he had cheated oh her and times he had lied to her. He was deeply sorry for all these times, he wished he had married her long ago.
Down the road somewhere was Amazing Grace hospital. He was unsure whether it was to the left of the road or to the right. Whichever way, the thought of the hospital was a creepy one, knowing what would become of him should he make his way there. Cas had faced terrible moments in his life but this was the most devastating. Once again, he was that adolescent who had returned back from school to find his family house burnt to the ground and his parents no more. So, in the midst of a world of honking automobiles and cussing humans, Cas began to cry like a small boy…