Miss Sharon’s foster mother and biological father were about getting started on their sex act when a knock came on the door. They paused and fixed a quizzical look at the door.
“It’s the next door.” The old woman said to the man in whispers.
“I think it’s this door.” He replied. “The rest of the rooms on this floor has no occupant in it.”
She didn’t bother to ask how he knew. He had somehow become all knowing. There were many things off about him, so many things he was hiding from her. She didn’t care to know these things. All she wanted was to have him back in her life.
“Put on your clothes.” He said, his smiling face becoming stony.
She obeyed, and just as she was putting her feet into her slippers, the knock came again. This time, a little impatient.
“Shouldn’t we ask who it is?”
He spared her a single stare that was murderous in it’s intensity. He buckled his belt and fished a pistol beneath the pillow.
The old woman covered her mouth in shock. She’d taken some lives in her time, yes. But she’d never been at close range with a gun, neither have she used the instrument to bid people goodbye from the world.
“Come quickly. Stay behind me and don’t panic.”
She nodded and ran over to him. She tugged at his shirt, inhaling his perfume. He held the gun down and stood facing the door. They waited that way for the person behind the door to make his appearance.
He wasn’t going to verbally reply whoever was behind the door. She knew this by the tenseness of his back and his cold silence. It was the well composed, resolute kind of silence which was akin to those of suicide bombers. She wondered what would happen if the person behind the door was a staff of the hotel – a cleaner bringing in toiletries, a waiter coming to pick order, or even a repairman with the innocent aim of changing the spoilt bulb.
There was no more knock on the door, but her man didn’t dismiss that to mean the visitor had gone to check some other place. He stood there facing the door in grim silence. She was growing uneasy but she couldn’t muster the courage to tell him he was dragging his haunch too far.
Maybe all the while he’d been away from her, he’d been on the run. Maybe he hadn’t dealt with Rita as neatly as he had told. Maybe he had come to her for this purpose – to protect her from an unknown danger. Maybe… There were just too many maybes running in her mind. She was going insane with them.
“Maybe–” She began.
“Down, Maggie! Down!!”
The door came unhinged with a crash, sending splinters flying perilously in the air. A single shot fired into the night.
Being too close to the origin of the sound, there was an endless, unpleasant whine in her ear. It felt like being in a great black tunnel in outer space. In her fright, the old woman jammed her hands over her ears, shut her eyes and juddered on the ground like an abandoned vacuum cleaner.
After a blessed minute of utter silence (which she was unaware of), another gunshot rang into the night. She heard her man scream but didn’t hear the clatter of metal as his gun dropped from his hand to the ground. Another shot, another scream – still from her man. Then there were approaching feet. From the sound, they were clad it heavy boots. The footfalls shook the ground she was lying on. These seemed to yank her out of Space back to the world she knew.
Now, she could hear groans. It wasn’t loud but it was clear enough as the injured person was close to her. It was her man. She lifted her head and saw him lying beside her, hands spread apart on the floor. Two pools of blood were forming about the arms. She instantly understood what had happened. Her man had taken a bullet in each arm.
“Please God, no.” She said and one of the Heavy booted men lifted her from the ground.
He slipped a cuff over her wrists and dragged her away from the scene. Her man laid helpless on the floor; three men of the law – dressed like death – towered over him.
That was the last Margret – foster mother of Sharon, real mother of none – saw of him.
* * *
There were too many people in black with large riffles slung across their shoulders, holstered pistols on their waists, or batons in their hands hovering about. Margret knew instantly where she was and she acknowledged that it was a booming business night for the executioners of the law. On the bench she was sitting on with hands cuffed behind her back, a boy (probably in his early teens) sat holding up his head to prevent blood from pouring down his broken nose. He had a pen and paper in his hand.
“You never wan write your statement, abi?” A policeman strolling by asked. “You go bleed die for there.”
The boy sniffed once and closed his eyes.
Another policeman dragged in two boys through the door and another went to welcome them with cuffs.
“We no do anything na!” One cried.
He got no attention. The other was wise enough to maintain his silence and allowed himself to be led to a bench. Immediately they were seated, his friend, the protesting one, began screaming. It earned him a slap.
Two policemen were at the counter. One was leafing through a register and the other was looking glumly at the entryway. Once in a while, a door would fling open and one or two officers would emerge. When two emerged, they discussed loudly as if in a stage play.
Margret was tired of sitting on the hard bench. Her buttocks hurt in so many places. She estimated she’d sat for an hour. All the while, her mind tried to seek logical explanation for what happened in that room in Naid hotel. She was still struggling to accept that her man was injured. Somehow, she’d been expecting to see him dragged into this place, drawing his blood on the ground like white asphalt paint. Then after a very long time and nothing like that happened, she began to wonder if he was taken to the hospital or left to bleed to death.
So far, she hadn’t said a word or agitated. She knew she was innocent of any crime. Before dawn, they’d get the cuffs off her and give an explanation to what happened in that room. They’d tell the crime her man had committed and state their terms to her.
A door turned open slowly, the screech almost unending, and then a brawny officer appeared.
“Madam Margret.” He announced. His voice sounding as if magnified with public address system.
She turned to him and stared thoughtfully. She hadn’t told them her name, not a single word had she muttered to any of them since the incident.
His eyes, bright and alert, fixed on her and he smiled.
“There you are. Please come over.”
She stared after he had disappeared back into the office, then managed to lift herself off the bench. It was difficult walking with her hands cuffed behind her, so she walked slowly. She prodded the door with her foot when she got to it and the officer opened it for her.
The office was a large one. There were seats lined on the wall on one side, a big oak desk and a plush swivel chair behind it. A big officer was seated on this chair. There were files arranged on one side of the desk, newspapers on the other side, a small, Nigeria flag, and a plaque with the name DSP AGUNLEJIKA EMMANUEL carved into it.
“Help her to sit.” The man behind the desk said and the brawny officer stepped forward to hold the chair for her.
“Uncuff me first.” She said.
“Sorry ma, we can’t do that just yet.” The brawny officer said.
“For reasons that’d soon be made known to you.”
She sat on the edge of her chair because her hand would hurt badly if she went all the way in. She was glad to be sitting on a cushioned chair.
For two minutes, nothing was said. The big man behind the desk just stared at her unblinking as if to force a confession from her. She stared back at him confidently, knowing that she had nothing to be afraid of. Composure was a skill required in this game, she’s got that skill.
“Your man is a murderer.” Mr Agunkejika said at last, folding his arm over his paunch.
“He brought out a gun when your men broke into our room and I think he fired a shot. If it hit one of your men, shouldn’t that be self defence?”
“None of my men was hit and he knew what he had done that was why he didn’t open the door when we knocked and rather chose to fire as the door went open. That’s something a guilty man would do.”
“Who then did he kill?”
But she knew already. He had killed Rita, his wife. Smashed her brain till she was senselessly dead; pushed her down the stairs and cleaned up his act.
Mr Agunlejika motioned with his eyes to the brawny officer and he stepped forward with a remote.
“Play it for her to see.”
He powered the TV and a minute later, there was a mute video of poor quality playing on the screen. She watched her man creep up to the arthritic woman standing on the edge of the stairs. He stood looming behind her like death with a hammer in an upraised hand. The look on his face was not dread or repulsion, it was excitement. The kind of look on a kids face on the discovery that he’d be attending the birthday party of his best friend after bedtime. She watched as the hammer came down with dead accuracy on the back of the head. Watched as blood flew both ways and as the woman crumpled to the ground…
“Switch it off.” Mr Agunlejika commanded.
He waited for her to remove her hands from her eyes. She did after ten minutes and he saw what he’d been searching for lurking in her eyes. He saw uncertainty and fear.
“Months ago, Mrs Rita made a discovery. A midwife who had seen her through her second delivery called her on phone and arranged a meeting with her. They met in the midwife’s house and there the midwife disclosed to her that her children hadn’t died. It had been arranged by her husband, your man, to switch the babies to dead ones. She was paid hugely for this to be done. Rita had asked for evidence and this remorseful midwife had brought a descriptive acknowledgement signed by her after the accomplishment of the deed.
“She believed her sins were catching up on her that was why she made the confession. Her children, all grown, some with kids and all living in the northern part of the country, had met in Yola for a child dedication of one of her grandchild and unfortunately, the church they were in was bombed. None survived. She’d been having terrible nightmares after then and was assured that ghosts were after her life.
“The midwife who’d performed the first operation ended the same way – a single day of cataclysmic death to her whole family. She was sure she’d be dying soon, she only wanted to make right with those she’d wrong. Maybe by so doing, she’d make purgatory. Funny belief, right?” The big man huffed and the brawny officer smiled.
“Mrs Rita forgave her and asked if she knew the woman her children were handed to. The midwife didn’t have any idea about this. Mrs Rita came to us and we started our investigations. She reported recently that her husband was acting creepy, so we mounted security camera in strategic places in the house and have maintained close watch on your husband.”
Margret went pale. A question burned in her tongue. That murder was disturbing. She wanted to ask why they hadn’t stopped him before the grisly murder, since they kept close watch on him. And for good three days, the woman had been in coma in the hospital. Why hadn’t they arrested him then?
She didn’t ask this question because she knew that the tale pointed to her too. If these men had done their work well, they’d know she was the beneficiary of Rita’s children. She ran her hands over her face and prayed to whatever spirits she believed in to keep her calm and composed.
“We think you’re beginning to see a reason why you still have the cuffs on.” Mr Agunlejika continued.
She hadn’t expected it to come out as a scream but there it was. The man had gotten deep down her head and easily picked her thought.
“Maybe there’s something else you’d like to see.”
“I’m innocent!” She screamed. “Get these cuffs off me. I’m innocent.”
“We are not questioning that, ma.” Mr Agunlejika said. “We’re just making disclosures and we think you can help hasten the process.”
“What do you want me to disclose? You want to also charge me with murder?”
“It’s nothing we’ve stated expressly.”
“We think you’ve been in contact with Mrs Rita’s second child.”
Margret’s eyes went huge with fright but she concealed it with laughter. She laughed long and hard, to that stage where tears rolled, but there was no tears for her. She was scared inside. Terribly scared.
“You guys must be joking.”
“Well, since you say so…” He gestured to the brawny sergeant with his hands and he walked out of the door.
“Wait!” She looked behind her. “Where’s he going to? What’s he trying to do?”
“Relax, ma. You’ve done nothing wrong. At least, you said so yourself.”
The door opened, the instantaneity of it almost almost caused her to bolt from her chair. She threw a springy neck behind her again and almost had a heart attack.
Standing with the officer, also cuffed from behind, was Sharon. She had her hair tussled and her face dirty. There was a small protuberance on her forehead. She looked raddled and dispirited but the moment their eyes met, a wild spirit stole over her and a devilish grin crept up her lips.
“Mother.” She said.
Margret turned her head slowly to the big man behind the big desk, her neck suddenly rusty with age and disuse.
“Have things begun to get into perspective?”
Margret zonked out and fell backwards with her chair.