Two Lives And A Soul #16 By Ojay Aito
I walked straight out of the gallery, suddenly realizing I was choking. The air felt lighter, as the walls seem to be closing in. I knew it was all in my head, but if I remained in there one more minute, I would go dramatic. No, I am not claustrophobic.
The weather was cool and airy outside, much to my thankfulness. I was already on my feet to do anything I could to stop the sale of the watch. My mind was racing, and as soon as I came up with some plan, I saw its fallibleness. I was walking on quicksand here.
I wished I had some other information about Sally apart from her name. No contact number, no address, nothing.
If I didn’t get to her as soon as possible, I would…
A light bulb came on my head, and caused be to go the way of the information room where the log books were kept. Obi was the guy in charge of the records room. He had a boss who was hardly around, so his Jack the Lad attitude, coupled with the mantle of power resting on his uneven shoulders meant I had to be either super humble, or super prayerful to get what I wanted from him.
His Ibo accent preceded him as I rapped on the door of his tiny office. “Yehs,” he asked me to come in.
I turned the nub gently and pushed lightly the door open. I stood before Obi and wanted to say the usual morning greetings. The stare from his face could have frozen an egg. “Yehs, isn’t it too early in the morning to be dumb?” he asked. I felt insulted. What was that for? I heard this guy had malicious lips, what I didn’t expect was that he had no respect for the time of day. I allowed the maligning words slowly roll off like water on a duck’s back.
Looking at the table in front of him which was full of receipts from betted games instead of his work files, I cleared my throat. “Good morning sir. Abeg, I need your help, Oga Obi.” I quickly added and rubbed his ego in the process. This was my first real conversation with him.
“From where?” He looked up at me, asking that very stupid question I so hated to hear. How does the help I need have anything to do with where I came from.
“I mean I’m trying to track down a visitor who came here the other day, and I will like to check through the register.”
“You want to track down someone?” He flared his nose slightly, echoing my words with an air of haughtiness.
“Yes sir, Oga mi.” I was sure if I stood more than a few more minutes with this guy, I would lose my cool, and swift mode to par his self-centeredness.
“That’s why I asked from where? From who? As in, who sent you?” He pronounced ‘sent’ as ‘saint’. Obi was definitely going to be a pain in the neck. I was in my security uniform alright, and stating the obvious would only create a laughing stock of me. That, I saw, was his intention.
“I was sent by your boss.” I stood before him legs apart beginning to prepare for a face-off he so apparently wanted.
“My boss.” This guy was a master derogator. “Who is my boss?” A side of his nose puffed up again.
“Well, I guess you know who gave you employment here, Obi.” I said this looking down at him, now accepting the fact that this was a dead end. I felt like pounding my fist into the wooden desk that stood flat between us, instead, I just perched on it with my ten fingers, painstakingly balancing my weight on them.
It was obvious this wasn’t my forte. On the other hand, Obi did this for a living. I was just a freelance, faffing around.
“I see.” Obi said. I expected him to stand up to match my gait, instead, he reclined his chair and smiled with one side of his mouth. “So, did my boss, the one I presume also gave you your employment here, give you any hand written request for me?” Obi took the words one after the other, enunciating his accent further.
This guy was insane, I concluded, but before I retreated, I had to allow myself have some fun. All I had to do was see this Obi guy as a Kobo Olanta reincarnate.
“Hmm, well.” It seemed I was searching for words, but I was only actually counting the minutes that was being wasted. Sally’s phone contact was surely somewhere in those log books up the shelf. “I promise you, Obi, or whatever your name is, that if I step out of here, the only note you will be getting is a sack letter.” I knew I was bluffing, but one could never say. People like this probably only yielded to threats.
“Really? Last time I checked, security men around here are way down the food chain. You will make a good brunch, brother.” He paused to let the information sink, then continued. “I thought you would have learnt a few lessons from your last job, but from what I see here, I don’t think you will be here more than a day or two more.”
We both remained quiet for a second. This guy just dealt me a double combo. Did he know about my last job as a sales man, or he was just ranting?
“I thought I was only going to do you a favour, and perhaps make an acquaintance. Apparently, you don’t seem to be that kind of guy. Sorry I bothered you.” I didn’t allow him make another come-back before I left his pitiable office. One thing I succeeded in doing was make him think. If he wasn’t as thick as he tried to sound, he would surely give a few minutes thought to what I just said.
I walked towards the gallery, sulking a little, and thinking if I could have used a better approach. I only had a few minutes to ‘faff’ around before I was conspicuously M.I.A. I kept thinking about the threat I had made about Obi losing his job. Where did that even come from?
A few more journalists had arrived, setting up their equipments around the entrance of the gallery. I moved towards one of them, cautioning myself not to transfer my frustrations on anyone.
“Good morning.” I sounded friendly as I stood before one of the camera men.
“Hey, officer, how work?” The man hardly looked up from his kit. He was strapping himself with what I felt was only necessary if he covering the war in Syria.
I gave him the usual, “We thank God,” and stretched my arms to shake him. “The name’s Eli.”
“Oh,” He tried balancing his weight and completed the strapping before he freed his right hand to take mine. “Great. Is it Elisha or Elijah?” he asked with a smile on his face.
“Neither. Just call me Eli.” I shook his hand twice more to make sure he got it.
“Oh okay Eli. My name is Felix and I’m with News Line.” He pointed at the logo monogrammed to the left chest of his camp jacket.
“Nice one.” I said. “So you must find your job interesting.” I made the statement and stepped back, taking a view of all the gadgets he had at his disposal.
“My brother, I wish o. My passion is to be in front of the camera, not behind it.” He spoke as a matter of fact. “You know I used to think I would work my way through to the other side, but my boss sees things differently.”
“Really, your face isn’t that scary.” I had a smile on my face.
“I wouldn’t have minded, but his real challenge with me was not having a foreign accent.”
“Really,” I must have used ‘really’ more than a few times this morning alone. “Any foreign accent would have done it?”
“No, I don’t mean a Zulu or Ashanti accent.” The way Felix made his face as he spoke, he could make anyone laugh easily. “I mean, the Britico-Americana srisrisrisri.”
“Oh, I see. So there’s no hope for you?”
“Well, there’s always hope. If there is life, there is hope. At least this,” Felix pulled the jacket tighter to his body. “pays the bills. With a wife and daughter at home, one will do anything to put food on the table.”
“I feel you, bro.” It was time to go. “So it was nice meeting you.” I shook his hand again.
“Same here, Elijah.”
“Keep it Eli.” I warned, not wanting to remember my secondary school days with friends. “And make sure you catch me on camera when the governor goes through the entrance.” I pointed to where I felt I should be standing when eventually the governor comes this morning.
“Ah, that would be a tall order, but I’ll be sure to do my best.”
“I’ll shoot you if you don’t.” I made the pistol sign with my first two fingers and thumb, as I backtracked away from him.
“I’m heavily vested. So what do you think?” Felix hit his padded chest in defiance.
I laughed as I walked back to my appointed post. He sure did make me feel better.
The crowd that had gathered here within the last hour wasn’t as much as one would find at a political rally, but this was too much for just a tour at a clock gallery. One would wonder if the clocks were made by the seraphs that patrolled the throne of heaven to attract these many people. But we all knew the real reason for the crowd was because of the governor’s presence.
I stood arms locked behind me before the erected barricade as the important figures were separated from the throng. Only the governor, a few important delegates and selected press members would be allowed into the main gallery. As the executive guests walked through the guardrail I was able to see them at proximity. Even the governor sweated on the scalp of his head. Beside him were a few political figures who had been popular during the election period.
A face stood out. And it popped an alarm in my head. I shifted my position to get a better look at who it was. Maybe if I saw his face again, I would be able to place it. It was as if time and chance had passed me by, as the delegates walked past me. I stretched; even began to move along on the side just so I saw that familiar face again.
I knew I was leaving my post, but I didn’t expect one more step away from standby to have a causative effect on the crowd control. I stepped forward, more determined to see the man’s face. From the back view it was clear he was putting on a pair of glasses, and the middle of his head was bald.
I pushed my way through the delegates I was supposed to be shielding, and I got the attention of a few security operatives. If Old Rhoda saw me now, she sure won’t be surprised by my action. To her, I was a restless, hyperactive, maybe ebullient young man. I didn’t think she was wrong. Not since I started working here though.
Just then the governor stopped to great someone in the crowd, and the whole train had to pause for a bit. The glass-faced man had no choice but to follow suit, and that was when I saw the face again. And this time, yes, it registered.
The alarm in my head rang a lot louder as recognition struck. This was the man I had seen earlier today talking with Mr. Sunday. He now had his chin clean shaved, although his eye brows were still as thick as a Persian carpet. What was his name? I remembered the feeling I had when I first heard him speak from behind the flowers this morning. Was it possible that this was the man in charge of this park? The most likely answer was yes. I watched him adjust his glasses as the train finally began to move again. He looked like he had no time to waste, but had to behave himself before the governor, hence the plastic smile.
My mind for the umpteenth time this morning drifted into the gallery where the delegates now were, and Sally’s time piece that sat beside a glass protection. It was Bose, one of my colleagues, who shook me out of my reverie. She just shouted at one indignant photographer who had wanted to push down the guardrail. She called for backup and I headed her way with good relief.
After we sorted the problem with the photo journalist, I didn’t want to go back to my post again. What was the point when the governor and his train had made it safely into the clock gallery?
From where we stood, I could feel the air conditioning seeping through an opening at the edge of the glass door.
“Nawa o, you dey groove here o.” I shared a joke with Bose.
“Which kind nonsense stupid groove be that one?” Bose didn’t have the luxury of time to be pranked.
“Na AC you dey seep here na.” I replied her.
“Shhoooo, na wa to you o. So wetin you go come talk of the people wey waka pass you go inside? Them get two heads?” Bose wasn’t interested in seeing the good in what I said. Although I knew she was right, I felt she was provoked about something.
“Mr. Cliff get two head?” She asked me again. I shook my head and added a smile.
“Although he get four eyes, but na still one head like you and me him get. So why we no fit achieve the kind things wey them they achieve?”
Bose was saying a lot, but she just said something that was news to me. I paused to regurgitate on what she just said. Four eyes but one head… Four eyes… the words didn’t fall from my mouth, but my lips moved. … Four eyes… Mr Cliff was the man with glasses.
That was it! Mr. Cliff was the so much spoken of horologist that had organized this clock exhibition. And… he was the man who spoke with Mr. Sunday earlier today.
I couldn’t help but begin to replay in my head all I heard him say this morning, while he spoke with Mr. Sunday. He had been forceful, with a bit of vengefulness exuding from his tone. His words this morning to Sunday were … Do whatever you need to do. Now I wished I hadn’t been seen eavesdropping, I would have been chanced to hear more.
And Mr. Sunday’s reply had been … I will keep an eye on him.
I stopped all other thoughts wandering in my head and silenced the noise from the crowd. I needed to focus on this one: I will keep an eye on him.
I made another quick permutation in my head: a silver chain wristwatch was found. And it went missing again. This morning, it appeared in the show glass , ready to be sold to perhaps the farthest place in the world.
It got missing from Sunday’s wooden box, and was found in Mr. Cliff’s glass box. If I would be the only one who could draw the line, then I might as well just be the one to me monitored.
I wanted to ease myself that very moment. I tapped Bose on the shoulder and whispered my excuse into her ear.
Now, my senses were more alert more than ever. I was in danger. And even though I tried to play down on the inference I had just drawn, I couldn’t help but think I was in great danger.
Was that the reason I was assigned outside? It was Andrew who assigned the duty post, but had he also been privy to this information?… Wait o… Obi had asked for a written note from my boss. Did he mean Mr. Sunday was my boss? Was he the one Obi needed an authorization from? Was Obi involved in this as well?
I will keep an eye on him…
My eyes darted everywhere. I spotted a few people looking my way, but I told myself they were just about their own business. If anything, this wasn’t a Hollywood movie. No advanced security cameras and no snipers. But wait, there could be kidnappers.
What could Mr. Sunday have meant when he said he would keep an eye on him?
I sat on one of those concrete slabs and tried to allay my fears. It probably wasn’t as bad as I had thought. That was even if that conversation was about me in the first place.
If the auction party was still going to happen tonight, it would mean that Sally’s granny’s watch which was already in the glass would be up for sale as well. How much could the silver time piece possibly cost? Had they recognized the watch was also capable of enabling time travel? Or was it just some rare expensive wristwatch to them?
If only I could get Sally’s phone number, or just find a way to get across to her. I was already a bundle of nerves, breaking out in a cold sweat.