Victim of Greed
By Tony Chuks Modungwo (Nigeria)
Click here to send comments
Click here if you'd like to exchange critiques
Surprisingly, the next day I received a letter from the Federal Civil Service Commission inviting me for an interview regarding the post of industrial officer. To be invited for an interview by the commission this way was no mean feat because many applicants apply. Usually such a letter of interview was only obtained by connections to powerful people in government, or politicians.
On the day of the interview, I wore my only suit; I was told appearance mattered in interviews. It had its own mark. Unfortunately the interview was postponed to the next day, due to logistics problems.
“This is not surprising with what I have heard about the civil service in this country,” one of the applicants said on our way home. “They’re very inefficient.”
I went back the following day and luckily the interview held.
“Check for your results in two weeks time,” the Chairman for the interview, an official from Federal Civil Service Commission, told us after the interview.
Two weeks later, I went to check the result of my performance in the interview. When I got to the office, I was directed to a place where I could check the result. I met the secretary, who was to help me check the result, retouching her face with cosmetics, displayed on her table as if she was in a beauty salon.
“Good morning,” I said. “Please, I’ve come to check the result of the interview held two weeks ago.”
She pretended she didn’t hear me.
“Please, I’m talking to you,” I said.
“The messenger who can help you check the result is not in. Come back tomorrow,” She said with a note of finality in her voice.
“Please help me check it. I live very far from this place,” I pleaded.
“Are you blind? Can’t you see I’m busy?” she retorted.
“You can continue after, it can’t take you a long time to look it up,” I insisted.
“I’ve a lunch date. I don’t want to keep the man waiting.”
“Why are you so excited about this job? Even if you’re successful, the salary is irregular and all benefits and allowances have been suspended,” She said, as she returned the cosmetics to her drawer. “Please go away, I have no time to check anything.”
When I returned the following day, I met the messenger.
“Please, I’ve come to check the result of the interview held two weeks ago. I was here yesterday, but the secretary told me to come back today because you had gone out,” I explained.
“Why didn’t she check the result for you? That woman is useless. She would have done better in a brothel. She has numerous boyfriends and always abandons her job to attend to them. She’s just being paid for doing nothing,” the messenger complained.
“But why has her boss not queried her?” I asked.
“Her boss can’t try that. The Permanent Secretary is one of her lovers; that is why. She doesn’t have respect for anybody in this office. She does whatever she likes.”
“That is unfortunate. Please help me check the result.”
“Our boss hasn’t come to the office yet; the file is in his office.”
“Your boss hasn’t come to work by ten thirty, when he is supposed to resume by eight o’clock?” I asked.
“Wait. He might come before twelve or he might not come at all.”
The secretary arrived by eleven o’clock, her face heavily painted like a masquerade.
“Come Paul, is the boss in the office?” She asked the messenger.
“No. I’m waiting for him to come, so that I can collect the file to check this man’s result. Why did you not help him check the result yesterday?”
“I was hurrying to keep a date.”
“And you couldn’t do your official duty first.”
“Shh! You better watch your mouth, before you talk yourself out of job,” she warned.
At this point, their boss arrived. It was eleven fifteen.
“Good morning, sir,” the messenger greeted and collected his briefcase. The man opened his office and walked in.
“Has anybody asked of me?” I heard him ask the messenger.
“No, sir. That man sitting in the secretary’s office is waiting to check his result of the interview held two week ago.”
“That’s alright. Open the file cabinet and collect the file.”
The messenger came out with the file.
“What is your name?”
“Okafor. Chika Okafor.”
“You’re successful,” he said after checking the list of successful applicants.
“Thank God,” I shouted.
“You’re lucky,” the messenger said. “The only problem is that the salary is irregular.”
The messenger took the file to the Senior Administrative Officer. When he came out, he said, “Agnes, the SAO says you should type this man’s appointment letter.”
“Leave the file on the table. I shall type it later,” she said, as she filed her nails.
“Please help me type the letter, I have somewhere to go when I leave here,” I pleaded.
“Please don’t disturb me.”
“Do you realize that you are a civil servant?” I asked venomously.
“And therefore?” she retorted.
“You’re supposed to render your service with civility,” I said.
“I’m no longer going to type the letter. Go and report to whoever you like.”
I was so annoyed, I collected the file and went in to see the SAO. Agnes, I perceived, was someone that enjoyed life and disliked work.
“Excuse me sir, your secretary has refused to type my appointment letter,” I complained.
“Cool down, young man. Go and pet her. She will type it for you.”
“Pet her to do her job?” I asked, baffled.
“Young man, you’ll understand, when you join us, how the civil servants do their jobs.”
I was highly disappointed. I’d heard of civil servants lackadaisical attitude to work, but never believed it could be this bad. I took the file back to the secretary.
“Please help me type the letter,” I pleaded.
“Go and buy me snacks, if you want me to type the letter.”
“Okay. I’ll buy you snacks.”
She started to type the letter while I went to buy her snacks. The SAO signed afterwards and I collected the appointment letter.
On Monday morning, when I got to the bus stop, it was overcrowded. The composition of people at the bus stop revealed marked stratification. Present were people of various shapes and forms. The well off among them wore smart attire and some wore faded and others tattered clothes with rubber slippers. Lagos was a home for all.
Among the people at the bus stop was Christie. I moved over to her. “How are you?” I asked.
“I’m fine. Where are you going?”
“I am going to the office. I’ve recently rescued a job.”
“Congratulations. I learnt Amina now works in the Cadbury branch in Kano.”
“I’ll come to visit you in the office soon so that we’ll have time to discuss. I am already getting late to the office.”
“I’ll be expecting you. Have a nice day.”
Whenever a bus arrived, there was a great rush. People trampled on others. It was a known fact that this was the best time for pickpockets to operate. Some managed to enter the rickety buses called “molue”, while they were still in motion at a speed that would’ve worn them gold medals in the Olympics. They moved fast in Lagos.
“Life in Lagos is like a war. Everything is rushed because of its inadequacy,” a man next to me complained.
happen on my second day in office.
When I realized that I was already late to the office, I removed my wallet from my pocket and held it in my hand, folded the sleeves of my shirt in readiness for the next bus. I couldn’t enter the bus because it was overflowing with commuters when it arrived. I was, however, able to force my way into the next one. I bent my neck because my head was touching the roof of the bus.
“Comfort isn’t in the dictionary of the builders of this bus,” I complained to the conductor, as he collected my fare.
“Marina,” the conductor shouted, when the bus got to the area my office was situated.
“Owa,” I shouted, meaning in Yoruba language that I’d arrived at my destination.
When the bus stopped, I jumped down and hurried to the office. When I got to the office, I was informed that my boss had asked for me. I went into his office.
“Why are you late to the office?” he asked.
“I was held up at the bus-stop, sir,” I replied.
“You must endeavor to be punctual to the office,” he advised.
When I got to the office the following day, there were two telephone messages on my table. One was from Biola, the other from Amina. They both said I should call them, anytime, I got to the office. I tore the papers and threw them into the waste-paper basket. I was surprised how they found out where I work, let alone my phone number.
I was arranging my table when the phone started ringing. I hesitated before I picked it up. It was Amina.
“Good morning, dear. I have phoned before. Why did you come so late to the office?”
“Why should I come early to the office, where coming late is the norm?”
The lackadaisical attitude of civil servants to work baffled me. Loitering, gossiping, absenteeism, truancy, and malingering were their characteristics. For two months I’d no schedule of duty. The man who was supposed to be my boss, who would have assigned me with my duty, had been abroad for three months. He was on “operation see the world’. He was neither on leave nor official duty.
I stayed three months before I received my first salary. Before I was paid the salary, I had to give tips to the Accounts clerks. My file which earlier had been declared missing surfaced almost by miracle after I gave the tips. It took that long to process the salary of a new employee.
“I just want to congratulate you about your new job, “her voice bubbled with joy.
“Thank you. Who told you? And how did you get my number?” Christie told of the job. I found your telephone number in the directory. I hope we can now start planning for our marriage.”
“Don’t be in too much hurry. We’ve our whole lives ahead of us and we have to put off our plans a bit.”
“But you promised we can marry when you’ve got a job?”
“Yes. But my salary right now is too small to support a family.”
“If lack of money is all you’re worried about, I don’t need material things. All I need is you.”
“Amina, just be patient.”
Amina was madly in love with me, sincerely in love. She had a mad passion for me. We got along well before Biola came on and had planned to marry as soon as I was gainfully employed. But how could I spend the rest of my life with Amina after meeting Biola? I had decided to marry Biola. I needed money. Climbing the social ladder,acquiring money, attaining a measure of respectability, getting out of the Ajegunle slum were the conditions that motivated me. I knew Amina will be so disappointed, so profoundly hurt. She had hoped for more than a fling.
As soon as the phone was back in its cradle, it rang again. “Who again?” I complained.
“Chika, is that you?” Biola asked, when I picked up the receiver.
“I’m happy to hear your voice, dear. I’ve been very worried since Saturday you walked out of our house. I’m awfully sorry for my father’s behavior. I’ll like to see you. I’ve not slept since that day. Please don’t be offended, love. You know it wasn’t my fault. Chika, I’m dying to see your handsome face again. I love you.”
I didn’t like to admit to myself that I missed Biola for more than I’d ever thought possible. It was a pity that Senator Harrison was a great drawback, because I missed Biola’s generosity. I found going to work difficult due to delay in paying my salary, which was why I missed her so much … more than she missed me, I suspected.
Before I could say a word, she dropped the phone. As I dropped mine, Sally walked into my office carrying a tray with a cup of coffee and some biscuits. She was a newly employed clerk. The sight of her always made me feel weak at the knee. I’d worked out a strategy, how I would take her out someday. The problem with me was that anything I wanted, I wanted excess of it.
“Sally, you’re welcome. How is today?” I asked.
“I’m fine.” She turned to look me squarely in the eye. “Chika, you have to be careful of Josephine. She is a bit flirtatious. In this era of HIV/AIDS pandemic, it is dangerous associating with her.”
Josephine was the confidential secretary to the permanent secretary. She was outrageously captivating with seductive eyes, She knew how to dress in a way that made a man took twice. She had shown a lot of interest in me since I resumed in the office.
“How did you come to that conclusion,” I asked.
“It means you’re not aware she is a divorcee?”
“Divorcee? Was she married?”
“Yes. Her husband was a salesman, who traveled extensively. During the period he was away, Josephine slept with different men, even her husband’s friends in their matrimonial bed.”
“That is serious!” I exclaimed.
“One day, her husband returned a week earlier than expected to find his best friend with his wife stack naked making love on their matrimonial bed.”
“What did he do?”
“He apologized for disturbing them, closed the door and went out to a hotel to drink. Before he returned, Josephine and his friend had disappeared. He was happy that Josephine had taken a wise decision.”
“How do you know so much?”
“We lived in the same street and my parents were among those Josephine approached to beg her husband, but the man refused to forgive. Instead, he instituted a divorce suit. Josephine couldn’t marry her husband’s friend because he already had four wives and his religion didn’t give room for the fifth.”
“Josephine wanted to eat her cake and have it back,” I commented.
“Her husband’s sexy friend was so ashamed of his betrayal; he sought for transfer to Ibadan. He was returning to Lagos every weekend to visit his family. Two months later, he died in an accident. Josephine is a slut, be very careful with her, so that she doesn’t inflict you with AIDS.”
We were still chatting when Biola walked in. She shot Sally a frosty look, but quickly took control of herself. Biola was looking breathtakingly beautiful in a skirt suit. I tried to steady my quickened heart.
“Oh Chika darling, are your alright? You’re not looking bright.”
“I’m fine. I only had a rough weekend.”
“Have you seen a doctor?”
“No. It’s not as bad as that. I’ve taken some pills. By the way, here you meet Sally, a new employee and Sally meet Biola.”
They exchanged greetings, though it was very shallow. Biola looked particularly pretty, but extremely sad. Sally left us alone.
“Chika I’m going. Biola bye,” Sally said and walked out of the room.
“Is she your new girlfriend?” Biola asked.
“Ehh! Stop that, she is a co-worker. How do you know I work here?”
“You were invited for the interview through the influence of my friend. Julie. Julie is a girlfriend to one of the commissioners of the Federal Civil Service Commission. She monitored the whole event until you resume here.”
“Is that so?”
“Chika, why did you run away from me. I guess I owe you an apology for the way my father treated you. He has no right to tell me whom to befriend at my age. I’m matured enough to direct my own affairs. If he doesn’t like my choice of friend, it’s only unfortunate. He cannot force his taste on me.”
“Please Biola, I’ll not like to get between you and your father. We better break up this affair.”
“Break what? Please don’t ever suggest that again. You mean more to me than the whole world put together. I love you and nobody can change that. Not even my father.”
“Biola, the truth is that I’m scared to death of your father.”
“Don’t bother your head about my father. He is just like that. A snob. I’m sorry that your first meeting with him was so unpleasant.”
“Your father is so arrogant and self-assured.”
She tried to kiss me but I pushed her away.
“Biola stop it, we are in the office.”
“Please don’t treat me like this. It isn’t my fault that my father refuse to understand that I love you.” She was looking so entrancingly lovely.
Did she really love me or was the attraction she felt nothing but a physical longing?
“Ok, I agree with you. But let us give time for things to cool down.”
“There is no need. I shall drive you home today, so that I can visit you at home.”
“Biola, like your father said, Ajegunle is a slum. It’s a slum created by the inhabitants due to their disregard for all rules of decency. The facilities in the area are overstretched because what is meant for a limited number of people are used by millions of people. The gutters are stagnant and stink. The area is always flooded whenever it rained,” I explained.
“No matter the state of squalor, I’ll follow you there,” she said, her eyes were alight with determination. I was amazed at how thoughtful and humble she was.
“If you insist I shall take you there, but you’ll be highly disappointed.”
“I will not be disappointed. I’m ready to go anyway because of you,” she said soothingly. She smiled and squeezed my hand. “I understand, Chika.”
Poor Biola, she had been such a marvelous help. It would be like a slap in the face after all her assistance if I continued to be unfriendly.
“I love you but I didn’t like the way your father humiliated me. Because of you, I’ve decided to forget the ugly incident.”
She smiled. “Let’s go somewhere to eat. I’m ravenously hungry. I drained my coffee and we drove to Beach Restaurant. They were specialist in cooking fresh fish. And Biola loved fresh fish. I was sitting with Biola in the restaurant when Josephine entered with a friend. I waved at her, but she sailed by without so much as a nod.
After we ate, I drank three bottles of beer. Biola took a bottle of soft drink. On our way back to my office, Biola said, “I’m going to drive me home. I want to know your house.” It was a place I wasn’t proud of. A room occupied by ten people. I tried to discourage her but she remained adamant.
“If my father prevents you from coming to our house then I shall come to your house.”
“Biola the gold wrist-watch you bought for me has been stolen.”
“There is no problem, I shall replace it with a better one.”
I smiled inwardly. Biola dropped me off in the office, “I shall be back to pick you up when the office closes,” she said, smiled reassuringly, and was gone.
After the office closed, Biola didn’t come. I decided to wait. More likely something had come up unexpectedly and it simply hadn’t occurred to her to tell me that she would be late. We would both have to learn to make compromises and to adjust to each other’s ways. I was confident that as long as we love each other, we could do it.I would do anything necessary to secure my happiness. I left for home after waiting for one and half hours feeling the knot of panic tightening in my chest.
Three hundred meters from the office, I saw Biola’s charred car upside down by the roadside. I ordered the taxi to stop. I paid the fare and walked to the car. The roof was dented, and the windscreen was smashed. I crossed the road to a house opposite the scene of accident to ask if anybody witnessed what happened.
“I saw the car somersaulting. I don’t really know what happened. I ran to the scene and pulled the lady driving the car to safety before the car went up in flames. I hailed a taxi and carried her to the nearest hospital,” a man I met in front of the house explained.
I felt panicky. “Was she badly injured?”
“No. Luckily she had no broken bones – just bruises and a lump on her head. But she was unconscious.”
“My God! She might have sustained some internal injuries.”
“That I don’t know. After taking her to the hospital, I reported the accident to the police.”
“Thank you. Please which hospital is she?”
“She is in Lagos General Hospital.”
When I got to the hospital, she was still unconscious. After about an hour, she gradually opened her eyes.
“Where am I?” she asked.
I gave a great sigh of relief. “Hospital. I’m glad you’ve regained consciousness. I was very worried about you.”
“What am I doing here?”
“You had an accident.”
“Yes. Are you in pain?”
“Yes. My head aches. ”
I went to call the doctor. He quickly followed me and attended to her and she slept off.
I was still sitting by her bedside, when Senator Harrison walked in followed by two policemen.
“Get out of here, quick. If I ever find you near my daughter again, I will do something to you that will make you curse the day you were born.” I turned swiftly and fled from the room, very angry that he should still think he had the right to add salt to injury after the cruel way he had treated me a few days ago. Outside the hospital, photographers and reporters had thronged the hospital. The Harrison family made more news than any other family around. Something was always happening.
Biola’s came to visit me in the office the next day after she was discharged. In two weeks, her bruises had healed and fading and the lump on her head had disappeared. From the office we drove to our house in Ajegunle.
She packed her car about hundred meters to our house. Houses in our area were compacted and a garbage heap covered half of the small road that existed. There was no enough space for a car to pass because it was rainy season; we waded through terribly muddy road and pools of water to our house. Her beautiful shoes were badly soiled. I’d to wash them when we got in. When she was going I gave her my mother’s rain boot to wear to her car before putting on her shoes. This was one of the slums in Lagos, called Ajegunle.
This incident reminded me of a poem, I wrote sometime ago about Lagos.
In Lagos life flows
Like Atlantic Ocean
And its inhabitants
Move with the lightness
And buoyancy of a
Flock of plumy birds.
Lagos is a working
People drawn by
Glaring tales of
Fortune easily made.
But squalor and splendor
Are in such embrace
As no other place
Though we stayed in one room my mother always kept it immaculately clean. My mother had gone to the market but my father was at home.
“Who is that girl?” my father asked when she had gone.
“She is Senator Harrison’s daughter,” I replied.
“Come Chika, you’re playing with fire.”
“Why daddy?” I asked eagerly.
“You’re messing around with the daughter of that wicked, arrogant and wealthy politician. I’m sorry for you.” I thought about how precious Biola had become to me in such a short time. “But she loves me, daddy.”
He shook his head sadly. “Love? Did I hear you say love? It’s better for you to retrace your steps before it is too late.”
“If her wicked father gets to know about this affair, you might not like what he’ll do to you. Her father is a very violent man. Better leave the girl alone. The man is evil. Didn’t you hear what he did to Chief Duro, his opponent in the last election? Keep away from his daughter. The man is ungodly. He likes making a show of his power and money. Apart from his father, how do you think you can cope with that girl that has been spoilt by money. Do not say I didn’t warn you.” By the African culture, I was supposed to provide for Biola not the reverse.
Up to this moment, my whole life has been a struggle for survival, and I knew instinctively that survival for me now lay only in Biola’s hands. And I was tired of self-denial. I wanted Biola and the pleasure she could provide. Pride, self-respect and African culture are damned, I concluded.
I didn’t heed my father’s advice that was why I was in Senator Harrison’s house for Biola’s birthday party. One thing was for sure; I’d her tied up in knots. She still nurtured the hope that someday she would marry me. “If I’m denied marrying you,” she stated one day, “I’ll never marry.”
When I get to Senator Harrison’s house for the party I straightened my shoulders. Regardless of what shame and humiliation I faced in the past, I decided to stand tall, and face Senator Harrison defiantly, with matchless dignity and poise. I would not be defeated. I would preserve through stubbornness if nothing else. Before my courage and determination failed, I moved boldly to the gate.
The party was in full swing when I walked into the ballroom. There were many children of the rich. I could recognize them anywhere, anytime because of their well-groomed appearance. The number of the girls outnumbered the boys.
Immediately I entered the room, all eyes were trained on me. I was wearing a cream colored suit that was quite fitting.
Kemi, one of Biola’s friends was the first to see me, so she went to inform Biola I was around. I deliberately went late. I wanted the party to be crowded before I got there to prevent my easy detection by her father in case he didn’t travel.
Later, I saw Biola and Kemi maneuvering their way through dancing couples towards me. I kissed her when she reached me. “You look elegant.” Biola smiled approvingly.
I presented her the gift I brought saying: “Happy birthday and many happy returns.” The gift cost me a fortune. But I felt she was worth the sacrifice.
She found me a seat and detailed her friend to attend to my needs and disappeared. When she reappeared, she was wearing the gold chain with a diamond pendant; I bought for her as gift.
“Chika, this is very beautiful. I love it. It must have cost you a fortune,” she said, as she caught sight of the multicolored sparkle reflected by the diamond nestling between her breasts. I stood back to admire the effect of my gift critically assessing the beauty.
“You’re worth it, darling. I was confused of what to give to a lady who seemed to have everything.”
“You really shouldn’t have spent so much,” she protested even as a pleased smile tugged at the corners of her mouth. “Chika, I love surprises and whatever you give to me is special to me.”
She beamed. I danced with her most part of the night but I noticed that one man was particularly disturbing her. At a time, I couldn’t help enquiring who the man was.
“Who is this guy, always hovering around you?”
“Envious? What does that mean?”
“He’s envious because I’m in your arms. He doesn’t know when he is not wanted.”
“Who is he?”
“He’s the son of Dr. Williams, the Legislator. He came back from U.S. two months ago, where he obtained PhD in chemical engineering. Since he came back, he’d been pestering me to marry him. Unfortunately, my father is encouraging him. He is impressed that he’s the son of a legislator. I’ll be forced to disgrace him soon if he doesn’t leave me alone. I’ve told him repeatedly that I’ve got a fiancé. But it seems he is deaf. I can’t imagine anything worse than being in love with someone and being forced to marry someone else. Can you? I’ll rather become a nun than marry him.”
I gave her a questioning glance and she smiled.
“But you never told me?”
“Told you what?”
“That you’ve got a fiancé.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. It’s you of course. Who else? Or won’t you marry me? I’ve considered marriage for some time, but until I met you, I hadn’t given it serious thought.”
“Have you forgotten what your father said?”
“Forget about him. I’m old enough to know what is good for me. My mom likes you. There is no pomposity in her and we are very close.”
I looked at her and saw in her eyes a look of grim, unrelenting determination.
“Why me, Biola? You’re beautiful and rich. You’ve a rich man’s son dying to have you. Why me?”
“Come to think of it, you men are not all alike. I’ve met a few who were horrible, and didn’t know how to treat a woman. All they wanted was to satisfy themselves and not the woman. Selfish lots. But you’ve courage, intelligence and fortitude. I wanted you from the first moment I saw you. You’re handsome, gentle and sensitive. Darling, you know we are good together. What’s so wrong with being in love?”
“What is so wrong? You really don’t know, do you? Nothing, only that I’m from a wrong social class.”
“Nonsense. What has social class got to do with love? Look around, you’re the handsomest man around.”
“So that’s the reason you invited me to this party – for the satisfaction of showing me off to your friends.”
“I won’t deny that, but I love you. I enjoy your company. And I derive a great deal of pleasure, from your lovemaking. You make my heart smile. What else will a woman want from a man? Chika, do you know what love means to a woman? To feel truly loved by a man? No, I guess you wouldn’t know. If you did, you would understand how I feel.”
The D. J. was playing a blues number, “Shall we,” Biola asked. So we went to dance. I pulled her closer into my arms and succeeded in raising several eyebrows among the guests. I was unaware that her father was watching us as we danced. I later learnt it was Bolaji who went to call him when he saw I was dominating Biola.
“Bolaji had to go abroad to complete his education because he slapped a lecturer in his former university in the country. He met the lecturer with his girlfriend in a party. He accosted the girl, but the lecturer intervened, so he slapped him. While the Senate of the university was meeting trying to decide the disciplinary action to be taken against him, his father sent him abroad to continue his studies,” Biola said. An arrogant man, Bolaji possessed the self-assurance, which came from generations of wealth.
Biola held tenaciously to me. I was in another plane of existence with Biola’s soft breast plastered on my chest, when I felt someone tapping me at the back. I thought it was Bolaji so I shouted: “Will you leave me alone?” But instead of complying, whoever, it was pulled roughly on my shirt.
Senator Harrison felt he was entitled to choose mate for his daughter. His choice was Bolaji Williams, a thirty-year-old chemical engineer. His mother was the daughter of the national chairman of PNP. His father was a legislator. A marriage between Biola and Bolaji would unite three powerful political families in Nigeria. However Senator Harrison’s choice held little appeal for Biola.
I turned round angrily to face Senator Harrison. I felt like melting. I wondered why God didn’t make man to melt and condense at will.
My elation vanished and a stab of pain shot through me, cooling my ardor. Senator Harrison was looking at me as though I had crawled out of some hole and had struck with poisonous fangs at the heel of his darling daughter.
“Come you pauper so you’ve the temerity to set your dirty feet on this compound after my warning?” he asked, his eyes glinting with anger. The room became quiet. Everybody was looking at me. “And who the hell let you in?”
I had nothing to say, so I said nothing.
“Daddy I invited him to the party,” Biola begged with some sort of genuflection.
“Why did you come here after I’ve warned you never to come into this compound again?” he snarled, ignoring Biola’s explanation. “You must be a fortune hunter. Well, you’re mistaken if you think you’ll get a dime from me.”
Before I could think of what to say he slapped me on the face.
His face curled into a vicious snarl. “Security guards,” he shouted. Two heavily built men appeared with the speed of lightning. “Throw this bastard out of this compound.”
“Yes, sir,” they said in unison.
“Don’t touch him,” Biola protested, tears of indignant rage slid down her cheeks. But the two hefty men hoisted me above the heads of the surprised guests.
“It’s Chika I love. Is it a sin to love someone? I’ll not marry Bolaji. I’ll rather die,” I heard Biola crying.
“Hold your tongue,” Senator Harrison barked. “How dare you utter such outrage in front of this crowd? You don’t know what is good for you.”
“It is late. How do you expect him to get a taxi home by this hour,” Biola continued her protest.
The arrogant Senator Harrison wasn’t in the habit of allowing his instructions to be disobeyed by anyone – especially, a man who he considered a pauper.
I was dropped outside the gate and the gate was locked. I felt as if I had been stripped naked for the entire world to see. There were no more taxis. I looked at my wristwatch and it was two thirty. I decided to trek till I could get a lift. Though it wasn’t likely. Who would give a stranger a lift when armed robbers were everywhere? I started to walk briskly down the street.
I hadn’t walked far when I heard: “Hey you! Where are you going and where are you coming from?”
My heart lurched wildly within me. My throat went dry and the blood sang in my ears. I thought it was an armed robber. I moved closer and saw it was a policeman on night patrol.
Imagine, no policeman came near our area except to make arrest. But what did we have to be protected anyway? I said to myself.
“I went to a party, sir,” I replied.
“Where do you live?”
He was not impressed with the place of my abode.
“Ajegunle? Who invited you to a party in this island?”
“A friend, sir.”
“Where do you work?”
“In the Ministry of Industries.”
“Where is your identity card?”
“I have none. It isn’t quite long I started working there, it’s being processed.”
“Before then what were you doing?”
“I was in the university and later an applicant.”
“Where is your university identity card?”
“I submitted it to the university when I graduated.”
“That is a lie. Graduates don’t submit their identity cards when leaving the university.”
“We do in mine.”
“You’re a robber, keep moving,” he ordered. He kicked me from behind. I staggered, but didn’t fall. “I’m taking you to the police station and if you resist I’ll shoot you.” Some unemployed graduates had turned armed robbers, after waiting indefinitely for jobs that were unavailable.
I’ve heard of policemen shooting innocent citizens as armed robbers, so I was cautious.
“I’m not a robber. I have people who can identify me at 5 Modus Close. That’s where the party is taking place.”
You’re talking rubbish. I’m going to charge you for robbery.”
When we got to the station, he threw me into a small, filthy cell and locked it. Immediately I entered the cell, my nose was assaulted by an unbelievable stink. If Senator Harrison thought he could continue treating me this way and getting away with it, he’s got a surprise coming to him, I said, as I sat on the floor of the dirty cell.
When I got tired of sitting, I tried to lie down but the small cell could not take my full length. I’d to fold myself. I tried in vain to sleep. My mind continued wandering.
Then I remembered my encounter with a big man some years ago in Jos. I was on relief duty. I booked myself into a hotel on my arrival to the city one Sunday morning.
The officer I went to take over from came to see me in my hotel that night. We ate and went to the bar to drink. The door to the toilet of my chalet was faced outside. So it was always locked to prevent non-lodgers from using it. I wondered the crazy architect who designed the hotel.
When I wanted to urinate, I asked one of the stewards to get me the key. He accepted and left. I waited for thirty minutes without seeing him. I then went in search of him. I met him talking to one man and excused him.
"Where is the key of the toilet you promised me?” I asked.
“I’m sorry, sir. I’ve been busy. I’ll bring it to you immediately I finish with the director.”
I agreed. I’d started walking away when the director called me back.
“Do you know who he is talking to?”
“You don’t have to disturb when I’m talking to one of my employees.”
I was annoyed. “Go to hell,” I said.
He became furious. “I’ll order my security men to beat you up.”
“You dare not. You’ll be unable to pay the damages I’ll claim from you.”
“Imagine this rascal talking to me. Manageress come and refunds this bastard’s money. I don’t want to see him in this my hotel again,” he barked.
The manageress refunded my money. After issuing the order, he drove to the police station.
“Some nuts are loose in this bastard’s head, he needs someone to help him screw them tight. I’ll order the police to lock you up and tell them when to release you,” he boasted, before he left.
I pocketed my money and returned to the bar and continued drinking. The manageress wept and begged me to check out otherwise she would lose her job hence she booked me in. I was sorry for her. She was a slave to the so-called director. I decided to check out.
I was in my chalet packing my belongings when the director arrived with a police constable.
“Hello, you’re invited to the station,” the constable said.
“With all pleasure,” I answered.
I looked at the director and smiled. “Mr. big man, I’ve no fear of toothless bulldogs like you. You can’t do anything. I know my rights. If any police officer conspires with you to lock me up, I shall not rest till he has been stripped of his uniform, sewn for him with my tax. I’ve not committed any crime by asking for the key to my toilet.”
“We shall see. I shall tell you that we own this city.”
When I completed my packing, the police constable told him that we were ready.
“He can’t enter my car. I can’t allow this slot to enter my car.”
“Shut up,” I roamed. “Is it that ramshackle metal box on four wheels that you call a car? I don’t enter a metal cage in the name of car. Constable, take this two hundred naira and charter me a taxi,” I ordered.
This surprised the director. When the taxi came he refused to go the police station. I was mad with rage. My friend begged me to leave him.
“I’m happy you’ve humiliated him in the presence of his multitude,” he said. “He is fond of disgracing people. It is a crime to be poor in this country.”
I booked into another hotel that night and we continued our drinking spree.
At about five thirty the officer came back to the cell. I searched my pocket and found five hundred naira. I folded the notes and threw them to the officer. He picked them up and smiled.
“Why did you wait so long? Don’t let me find you loitering around this area again.” Money, I thought, with our police it was always money. It was remarkable how money can make them do anything.
He opened the cell and I walked to freedom.
The next day before ten o’clock, Biola had arrived in our house. I was surprised. My parents have gone to the church with some of my younger ones. It was a Sunday.
“Chika, I couldn’t sleep throughout the night. I’ve come to confirm that you got home safely.”
“I was arrested by the police not quite far from your house.”
“For what offence?”
“The police officer couldn’t understand what a poor man’s son should be doing in the aristocratic area at that hour of the night. In fact, he wanted to charge me with robbery.”
“Jesus! What was his evidence that you were a robber?”
“Our police don’t need any evidence to charge you with any offence. Once you’re charged, you’re charged.”
“How did you regain your freedom?”
“I gave him bribe, after spending three hours in the cell.”
“What? Cell? So he locked you up in the cell?”
“Of course. And took my money.”
“Money!’ Biola shouted. “With our police it is always money. He’s fully aware you’re not a robber; he just wanted to extort money from you. I think after the normal training, they are then trained on how to receive bribe.”
“Yes. These are the people who are supposed to fight corruption but they are more corrupt than anybody else,” I lamented.
“I’m very sorry for the traumatic experience. This explains why my mom and Kemi didn’t see you along the road.”
“What do you means?”
“After those stupid security guards carried you away, the party came to unceremonious end. Most of the guests who came with their cars left for their homes. Kemi rushed upstairs to wake my mom and informed her of what happened. She followed her down immediately.
“This repeated embarrassment is why I want to call it quits. Your father is not ready to relent.”
“Chika, please don’t talk that way. Don’t you see, I’ve never met anyonel ike you before. The men I’ve ever known were nothing like you. You’ve shown more love to me in this short period than I’ve known in the past years. I can’t ---” Her voice broke. She swallowed hard, stalling for time to regain control of her emotions.
I felt vulnerable; afraid to embrace happiness too openly for fear something would happen to destroy it. I’d awaken to find that the joy I felt was only a dream. Perhaps my nightmares would return within a short time.
My pride was much like a huge block of ice, pecked at by Senator Harrison until only a few scattered chips remained.
I was eating dinner that evening, when two police officers made an unwelcome and totally unexpected visit to our house. My parents were around.
“Are you Chika Okafor?” the corporal asked me.
“Yes. I am Chika. Any problem?”
“Come with us to the station. You are under arrest,” the constable said.
“What have I done?” I asked.
“You’ll be told in the station,” the corporal said.
“Which station?” I replied, eating my meal’
“Victoria Island Police Station,” constable replied.
“But it is Ajegunle Police Station that covers this area.”
“You’re not in any position to determine that. Stand up and let us go before we apply force,” the corporal warned.
“Please allow him finish his food,” my mother pleaded.
“We’ve no time to waste. He must follow us immediately,” the corporal said.
“What offence has he committed?” my father asked.
“That is not your business. But if you want to know, then come with us to the station,” the corporal told my father.
“It’s my business to know why police want to arrest my son. Has it come to that in this country?”
“You better watch your utterances, before we charge you for obstruction of duty,” the constable warned.
“Young man, stand up or we’ll force you up,” the corporal threatened.
The constable kicked the small table in front of me and the tray containing my food with the plates fell down. The plates broke and the food scattered all over the room. The two police officers forcedly dragged me to the police van waiting outside and the driver drove off.
“Yes. That is he. That’s the nonentity that trespassed into my compound yesterday. I’d previously warned him never to step his dirty feet on my compound, but he defied me.”
“Constable, take him to the cell,” the desk sergeant ordered. “We will charge him for criminal trespass.”
He was dragging me to the cell, when my parents entered. When my parents saw Senator Harrison, they knew immediately why I was arrested. My father became uninterested.
“That bastard you call your son, better keep him off my daughter or all of you will regret it. Birds of the same feather flock together.”
I heard my mother crying. “Keep quiet. Let us go home,” I heard my father tell her.
“Take that woman out of this station quick,” the desk sergeant ordered my father.
I was in the cell for three days before Mrs. Harrison came to bail me.
Initially, the officer-in-charge refused, claiming a woman could not bail a suspect, but when Mrs Harrison insisted, he succumbed.
Biola told her, I’d been detained on the orders of her father. “Perhaps I’ve hurt you most by loving you,” Biola said.
Senator Harrison was unlike his wife. She was a kind, gentle and compassionate woman. He talked only business and politics. He talked money. Even when he didn’t pronounce the word, money was what he was talking about.
I always wondered whether I imagined sorrow on Mrs. Harrison’s face, when she came to bail me from the police cells. Sometimes, it seemed as though a gray veil had been drawn across her face.
“Why did I marry Senator Harrison? Why?” She whispered, as she drove me home from the police station. “It is a total mistake. There’s not one way that we belong together again. Not one way! I don’t mean, it’s anyone’s fault, it just happened.” She was in a state of despair. “All I want is for Biola to be happy. Do you understand?”
I thought perhaps, I did. “Yes, I do.”
“When I newly married Senator Harrison, I was very happy. But the more we lived together, the more I discovered, I’d made a mistake. His only concern in life is himself; the fulfillment of his own drives and needs. He turned out to be opposite of what I thought he was. I’ll do anything to make sure that Biola does not fall into the same problem. I hope you love Biola for what she is not because she is from a wealthy home?”
“I love her, ma’am.”
Senator Harrison was exceptionally powerful man who didn’t treat women with kid’s gloves
I came back from the police station to meet our whole area in total darkness.
“N.E.P.A again!”I hissed. “How long is the outage?” I asked Austin, who was lying on a mat outside, with a traditional fan in his hand.
“The National Electric Power Authority have removed our transformer,” he said.
A heavy weight fell on my heart. “What!” I shouted. “Why?”
“I learnt they’ve removed our transformer to replace the one in Victoria Island. The one serving the legislature’s quarters has blown.”
“So they’ve taken our transformer to replace it?” I asked incredulously.
“Yes. The National Assembly members living in 1004 have threatened to write the President to remove N.E.P.A.’s managing director from office, for inefficiency.”
“This is injustice. They mean we are not entitled to light. Can’t the N.E.P.A. engineers repair the blown transformer?” I asked angrily.
“Repair transformer?” Austin gave an exuberant laugh. “They can’t even replace fuse.”
“But why should our transformer be the one to be removed to serve another area?”
“It’s big men that reside in Victoria Island. The residents had given N.E.P.A’s managing director twenty-four hours to restore light in the area or lose his job. I learnt Senator Harrison is leading the action.” Austin was a very smart boy. Brains had never been in short supply in our family.
“Why did they not buy a new one for them?”
“It’ll take six months for a new one to be imported from overseas.”
“So it means we are going to be in darkness for six months.”
“Oh yes! That’s if we are lucky. They may not bring the new transformer here.”
“My God! With the price of candle prohibitive and that of lantern sky high, what do we do?”
“Stay in darkness,” Austin said derisively.
I was still discussing with Austin, when the next house to ours went up in flames. We rushed to help put out the fire before it extended to our house. Sympathizers fetched water from a well in front of the house to quench the fire.
A student who was reading with a candlestick left it on to tell stories with his friends. It burnt down and some of his books on the table caught fire and fire spread to other items in the house.
“Thank you. God will bless all of you,” the father of the boy greeted us after we put out the fire. But the fire had destroyed most of the books on top of the table.
In the early hours of the morning, I heard a piercing scream. I stood up from the foam I was lying on, on the floor and opened the door.
“Where are you going?” my father asked.
“Can’t you hear people screaming? I want to check what is happening.”
“Since when have you become the security man for this area? Better come back, armed robbers will be having a field’s day now the area is in darkness.”
The next day, I learnt armed robbers attacked a newly wedded couple, killed the man, raped the wife and looted the entire gift they were given on their wedding day.
“Jesus!” I shouted. “I’ve always warned against reckless display of wealth in ceremonies in the presence of the retrenched and unemployed. But this couldn’t have happened, if not for the blackout. All things evil happens in the cloak of darkness.”
“That is no longer true,” Austin observed. “Armed robbers even rob these days in broad daylight. It’s surprising that armed robbers still operate with the restoration of firing squad,” Austin said.
“No amount of shooting can stop them, unless the wealth of this country, is distributed to accommodate everybody.”
“The defenseless poor are mostly their victims. Ikoyi and Victoria Island are there for them to operate, but they’ll not go there because most of the big men are armed. These robbers are cowards.”
“Don’t forget that it’s the prevailing socio-economic situation in our society that forced many youths to robbery. Assuming I’m not strong-minded, I would have been stealing by now.”
“The tremendous energy they expend in robbing people of their hard-earned properties and money, should be utilized gainfully in farming,” Austin said.
“Do you think that people who have lived all their lives in the city can farm?” I asked with sign of skepticism on my face.
“Why not? At least, if they go home to farm, they’ll be able to feed their families, instead of robbing. United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has warned that the food crisis in Africa is one of the world’s biggest development problems. Africa’s food crisis can only be solved by intensive farming,” Austin said.
“On top of nature-made difficulties, Africa’s poor agricultural performance lies in the increasing population pressure, neglect and corresponding disintegration of rural agriculture with the drift of youths to the cities. With aging rural population, with more of their children in schools and working in the cities, there is often a serious labor shortage at critical farming periods, such as land clearing, weeding, bird scaring at the ripening stage of cereals. Low technology also contributes. I believe that a long term programme is needed to put Nigeria and other African countries’ agriculture on sound footing, and a lot of resources is needed also.”
“The resources are available. It’s wasted on huge military budget in some African countries; in others like Nigeria, it’s simply stolen by those in authority. Most African countries spend much money in purchasing arms to destroy themselves, making their soldiers happy, instead of planning for their social development, which is a better investment on security.”
“Our country could have been African’s Thailand if the operation this and operation that, every government launched, ever worked. Instead the money that could be used to develop agriculture is wasted in importation of food.”
“Agriculture has hardly received any innovation in this country except on paper. Research findings never get to the practicing farmers. Funds meant for massive production of food are embezzled by those entrusted with them. The publicity that are directed at making the public aware of massive production are urban-oriented. The government officials don’t monitor the farmers to ensure that the loans given are properly utilized.”
“Even foreign trawlers enter our territorial waters and steal our fish.”
“Navy, Marine Police, Federal Department of Fisheries and Air Force should be used for wider field vision. Any offending vessel should be dealt with ruthlessly.”
Robberies continued in our area unabated. The same week, a woman was lighting her stove to cook, in our house, it exploded. She was engulfed in flame. She cried out and her husband went to her rescue. Both of them were burnt to death, leaving behind four small children.
“This is horrible,” I said, after Austin told me the story when I returned from the office. “The kerosene must have been contaminated with other highly inflammable petroleum products,” I said.
“That’s what everybody said, but Nigeria National Petroleum Company has refused to accept responsibility.”
“How can they? If they do, they’ll be required to pay compensation.”
“After the incident during my birthday party, Bolaji went home and reported to his father. His father, Dr. Williams and my father are bosom friends and political associates. Both Bolaji and his father came to meet my father the second day to discuss the incident. Immediately, I saw them park their car, I went and hid my mobile phone in the sitting room and switched the voice recording on where it could record their conversation with assured clarity.”
“Have you checked if the recording is clear?”
“Yes. I brought it so that you can listen to it.” She pressed play.
“What’s this thing I’m hearing about your daughter?” Dr Williams asked.
“Don’t mind that stupid girl. She has been going about with one nonentity, claiming she is in love,” Senator Harrison replied.
“I hope you won’t allow that to happen? That will be a slur on your social status in this society.”
I’ve already vowed I shall do all things within my power to discourage the relationship.”
“I know you’re equal to the task.”
“Trust me. But the boy is really ambitious. Imagine the motherfucker, believing he can marry my daughter.”
“Are you sure, he hasn’t charmed her. Some of these boys can be so desperate; they are capable of doing anything. She might be under a spell.”
“I don’t know, but I’m going to put a stop to this unwanted relationship.”
“What is her mother saying about it?”
“She supports the relationship. She has been persuading me to leave Biola and the boy alone.”
“Impossible! I know you can’t allow that?”
“How can I!”
“In Africa, it’s the traditional right of a father to give a daughter’s hand in marriage and her mother has no right to question whom her daughter will marry.”
“It is obvious, she prefers that boy,” Bolaji said.
“Nonsense,” Senator Harrison said. “You must woo her, that’s all. You must show her you’re a better person than that pauper. Convince her she shall get the best of the bargain in the long run. That is what everyman does,” Senator Harrison said.
“When I retrieved my phone, and listened to it, I was palpitating with fury. I learned my forehead against the cool metal doorknob and inhaled long, even breaths to calm myself. Chika, you brought much light into my life, I can’t bear the thought of Bolaji touching me,” Biola whispered softly, tears running down her eyes. I knew the sentiment was true. “Is it a sin to love someone? Why should I displease myself in order to fit into what the society or my father wants?”
“Where was your mother during the discussion?”
“She was in her room. At night my bedroom walls were vibrating with the hammering of my parents’ quarrel, their angry words reverberating through the house.”
‘“I hope you’ve seen the son of a pauper, your daughter calls her boyfriend?’”
‘“Oh! You gave Biola the permission to bring that son-of-a-bitch to this house?”’ I heard my father ask her angrily.”
‘“I don’t think because the boy is from a poor home, then Biola should not befriend him, if she loves him. The important thing is that she’s happy.”’
“’You should realize that the era of forcing boys on girls has passed.”’
‘“I don’t care. I want the best for my daughter, and I’ll make sure she gets it.”’
‘“Even if your best is not hers?”’
‘“Yes. That wretched boy is only taking advantage of her. I know she’ll be spending a lot of money on the bastard.”’
‘“Leave them alone. If Biola loves him, you’ll break her heart, if you try to force her to leave him,”’ my mother said.”
‘‘‘Never,’” my father vowed.”
After several attempts, Biola made for her father to see reason failed, we decided to rent a flat at Palm Avenue. After a week, I left Ajegunle and my home without a backward glance. Her mother stood by us all these period. “Marry any man you believe can give you happiness,” she told Biola.
My parents objected to my living with Biola, but that didn’t stop me. I was bored stiff of staying with them in the one room apartment. I didn’t care to seek the advice of my friends because I knew they might discourage me, especially Kola.
One day, I visited home to collect my remaining loads. My father called me and asked whether I understood that Biola could never marry me.
“Chika, you want to marry Senator Harrison’s daughter without his consent? Just be ready to spend the rest of your life in jail. That’s if you’re lucky to be alive. If you want to commit suicide, why not find an easier and less painful means. It’s a terrible thing to want something you know you will never have. The bible described people like Senator Harrison in Psalms 73 verses 6 – 8. ‘Therefore pride serves as their necklace; violence covers them like a garment. Their eyes bulge with abundance; they have more than heart could wish. They scoff and speak wickedly concerning oppression; they speak loftily,’ he quoted. ”
“She loves me. Her father has no right to tell her whom to marry. She’s an adult and knows what’s good for her.”
“Imagine the nonsense you’re talking. Many of you so-called educated children of today, have no respect for our culture. Our culture demands that the father of a girl should give his daughter to the man he believes can take good care of her. If he doesn’t want to give his daughter to you, you better leave her alone.”
“Come son, a girl is not worth dying for. There are so many of them to choose from,” he said impatiently
“Biola is worth dying for.”
My father crossed his arms, his eyes sparked with irritation. “Okay. Go ahead and die.” His voice cut the air like the crack of a horsewhip.
“Dad, you don’t understand, Biola is a gem.”
“What do you mean by that? What is special about her?”
“She is considerate, well behaved, intelligent and humble. She knows I am from a poor home, but she refused to leave me for another man from a richer family. I love her because she’s an epitome of womanhood.”
“Do you know you’re risking your life by your continuous association with that girl against her father’s wish?”
“Yes, I know.”
“He is a child, he has only infantile judgment,” my mother said.“Nevertheless, if we don’t explain things to him now, he’ll never understand them.”
I carried my loads and took a taxi to Palm Avenue, leaving my poor mother looking bewildered. We started to live as husband and wife. We ate at a restaurant near our flat. Our happiness was however short-lived. I came back from work one afternoon to meet three heavily built men waiting in the flat. I froze. “Damn!” I muttered beneath my breath. I felt paralyzed and benumbed, but I soon recovered.
I could understand night robbery, but broad day robbery was more than I could comprehend. But if they were robbers, they would’ve collected what they wanted and left, I reasoned.
“Come gentlemen, what do you think you’re doing here? In the first place, how did you gain entrance into the house? In your own interest disappear before I raise alarm.”
“Shut your trap, motherfucker,” the shortest one snorted. “If you talk to us that way again I’ll knock out your teeth. We’ll do the talking and you’re to listen. And listen good. This isn’t a social visit.”
A shiver rode through my body. My bluff didn’t work.
“We’ve come to return Biola to her father. In your own interest desist from seeing her again,” the short man continued. “If you don’t heed this advice, we shall pay you another visit. Then we shall tear your arm from its socket and beat you to death with it. Henceforth your movement shall be monitored. You’re warned.”
Our gazes locked in animosity. “So Biola’s father hired you?”
“Shut up. Who hired us is none of your business. You motherfucker. Just do as you’re told if you want to remain in one piece,” the one with a disfigured nose said.
Demoralized by the unexpected turn of events, I felt deep anger and frustration. “You’re raving mad. Has anybody ever suggested to you to see a psychiatrist?”
He crossed over to me and slammed his fist into my face with the force of a mule’s kick. I saw stars and was temporarily blind.
We sat in silence while the thugs smoked marijuana. When the hands of the wall clock stood at five thirty, Biola entered. I heard the sound of her car, but there was no way I could warn her. Immediately she saw them her eyes popped out.
“Darling, it looks you’ve got company?”
“They’re not my friends,” I managed to say. “They’re thugs.”
“Please take away anything you want but spare our lives,” she said thinking they were armed robbers.
“It’s you we want babe,” the short one said.
Biola changed color. “What for?” She replied, surprising herself with the sharpness of her tone.
“Your father wants you back home.”
“I don’t want to go.”
“How dare you!” the short man continued. “How dare you betray in tawdry fashion your father who truly care for you and follow this s.o.b. Forget this bastard, he is only after your family’s wealth. For you,” he pointed at me, “You’ll pay a high price for your greed,” he warned. My relationship seemed objectionable because of my poor background.
“What does my father want to do with me? Marry me?” Biola asked sarcastically.
The men stood up and moved towards Biola. She tried to run, but where would she run. They surrounded her.
“Chika, please don’t let them take me away,” she begged, staring at me with a pleading look. I threw my hands upward and outward in a gesture of hopelessness. She began to sob hysterically. They carried her out to her car. Two of them sat with her at the back while the other sat behind the wheels. They gagged her. I stood at the door like a dummy.
“If you don’t stop messing around her, you shall soon meet with an accident,” the short man warned before they drove away, with the tires squealing. I sighed, wondering why there always had to be complications.
About thirty minutes, the hired thugs left with Biola, Kola entered.
“Chika, how are you? I came to meet a customer around here and decided to check if you had return from the office,” Kola said.
“I came back more than an hour ago.”
“What’s wrong with you? You look unhappy, are you bereaved?”
“No. Senator Harrison has just sent thugs to return Biola home,”I said, feeling a flash of shame.
“What? I told you that man is crazy. The tragedy in Nigeria is that she cannot adapt to changing times. The rich still resort to arm-twisting to induce subservience. Opposing views are demoralized or forcibly suppressed. The people with power operate a “dog-eat-dog’ system. They are power crazy.”
“You are right. Power is the fundamental concept of physics. To those who have but little power, it seems to them that a little more will satisfy them, but sooner, they discover that their desires are insatiable and infinite. And like it has been said, ‘Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.’ That is the case of Senator Harrison.”
“Human desires are essentially boundless and incapable of complete satisfaction. Wicked people always end badly. Benito Mussolini was hanged head down at villa Belmont in Italy, Hitler died a mysterious death and his body was never found. Don’t count a man lucky, till you see his end. Senator Harrison may end up badly, except he mends his ways,” Kola said. He was out of breath with indignation.
“Ours is a nation where mediocre persons and sycophants are at the helm of affairs, cheap popularity is traded for honesty and fair play. Indiscipline is cuddled like a newborn baby. Nothing works in this society because of hypocrisy. People like Senator Harrison are the beneficiaries of the system.”
“Yes. That is true. But the present catastrophic suffering of the masses is as a result of extreme malfeasance of our leaders, their irresponsible exercise of political power and their astonishingly high stealing propensity.”
“Another thing that baffles me is the craze among these group of Nigerians to buy expensive houses overseas.”
“That will show you how unashamedly avaricious they are. When the masses live in sub-standard, poorly ventilated houses, without electricity and other basic amenities like pipe borne water, et cetera, the sadistic kleptomaniacs buy gigantic houses abroad with money looted from the nation’s treasury,” Kola said.
“Our society and economic situation is such that day-to-day sufferings grow and life become an ordeal for the living and death a better alternative for the masses, but our politicians still live in abundant luxury,” I said.
“Senator Harrison’s company, Harrison Holdings, top civil servants, cooperative managers, are known to collude and divert essential commodities meant for the masses to the company’s warehouses, from where they’re sold to middlemen, so as to make huge gains.”
“The corruption in this country is suffocating. All categories of jobs now have price tags. Meet the right person with the right amount and you are the proud owner of a job, despite the fact that there could be other better qualified candidates.”
“The journalists who could have exposed all these corruptions are not saints. Brown envelopes have seized their pens from flowing. Journalism characterized by carelessness, indiscipline, unfounded rumors, character assassination and sensationalism is being practiced by some sections of the press, because some of them lack dignity, and discipline to do a good job.”
“The future of this country is too important to be left to be decided by a group of professional thieves, no matter how privileged. This country belongs to all of us; we shouldn’t allow these men ruin it. Something must be done to change our corrupt society.”
“Yes. This is a country, where intellectuals, traditional rulers, top government functionaries, and journalists turn out in large numbers to opening ceremony of a block of flats built by a clerk. Nothing goes for nothing has become our national slogan.”
“To change our political leaders is a Herculean task. Ceding great power to another or others is rarely an occasion for delight on the part of those who do the ceding. It’s hard to recall an occasion when an incumbent was defeated in an election in Africa, except in Sierra-Leone in March, 1967, when the opposition party defeated the incumbent.”
“J. F. Kennedy had said that, ‘those who make peaceful change impossible makes violent change inevitable.’ Some day, this corrupt system must change.”
“How serious did it get between you and Amina? I thought you were engaged.”
“We were partially engaged.”
Kola chuckled and shook his head. “How do you partially engage to a woman?”
“Well, I never really proposed to her. She kept pressuring me, and I thought the easiest way out of it was to tell her I couldn’t make any definite commitments until I got a Job.”
“I only hope you are not making a dreadful mistake. Don’t let your attention for Biola cloud your judgment. This is a fling, that’s all. In a few months it will be over and you’ll need someone to marry.”
“Why do you feel so?”
“Biola’s sexual prowess is her fatal character flaw. She cannot resist the sight of macho man. I heard she couldn’t make it with a man unless she was bombed. She is far casual about men. She never throws herself into any relationship body and soul; she takes them as they come. She can date a powerful politician, a rich businessman, civil servant, repairmen and delivery boys; to her they are all men and men are all the same. Some of the men had been serious, she never was. She is a flirt.”
“I don’t care much about Biola’s morals. Most important to me than morality is that she is a source of enormous wealth.”
Immoral or not, Biola obviously possessed certain qualities that appealed to me: looks, charms, charisma. Biola was for the above-mentioned reasons exceptionally eligible.
“Chika, surely you don’t think there’s anything wrong in a man marrying for money, do you? A sensible man will not want to be married to someone more powerful than himself. You are one of few men I had met who want to experience life parasitically; through a woman.I hope you will not mind being addressed as Mr. Biola Harrison?”
I was in a depressed mood the following day in the office. Josephine telephoned as usual inviting me out for lunch. I told her I was sick and had no appetite. She banged the phone.
I didn’t hear from Biola throughout the next week. I phoned her office several times but there was no reply.
My father had laughed at me when I went home with my swollen face.
“Didn’t I warn you? Next time you might not be as lucky. Lay off this girl and look for another girl,” he snickered.
My mother cried and begged me to leave Biola. I accepted but I knew it was impossible. She was in my blood. It was surprising how people came to love that they didn’t want to get involved with initially, I thought. She was unlike any woman I’d ever known, and I couldn’t imagine a day’s passing without her being a part of it.
I was surprised when she came into my office on the eighth day. “Chika, are you alright?” she asked soothingly.
“I’m fine. How about you?”
“My father has employed a private detective to watch me. I am warning you because the thugs are ready to hurt you. Please be careful. The only way we can ever have peace again is for us to elope,” she said worriedly.
I was shocked. Biola was really desperate.
“Your father will slit my throat if I elope with you.”
“We’ll go to where we can not be found.”
“Your father could disinherit you if we elope. You’re his only child. And make no mistake, that’s precisely what will happen, if we follow through with this solution to our predicament.”
What Biola didn’t know was that the degree of my affection for her was in direct proportion to the amount of money I received in return. And if her father disinherited her there was the likelihood our affair would crash.
“You underestimate my love for you. I don’t consider my father disowning me as a problem. I don’t give a damn about my father’s selfish plan. I’ve my own life to live,” she said in a wounded tone. She couldn’t seem to stifle tears that were now streaming down her face.
“Why are you willing to give up everything and leave?”
“This is to show you how much I love you. I shall risk my father’s wrath! I’ll risk anything to be with you.”
“Why Biola, in this life, I have nothing. Hence you’re ready to risk it all for me, well, I’ll risk the little I have as well.Myself.”
She smiled. “Chika,thank you.”
“If we abandon our jobs and elope, how do we survive?”
“I have a lot of money saved. More than enough till we leave the shores of Nigeria to U.S.”
She looked at me helplessly, wishing to find words to thank me for my reckless decision.
“Now we’ve agreed to elope, where do we elope to?”I asked.
“Anywhere. I don’t care where. Anywhere I can be with you and enjoy some peace. I care more about my feelings for a man than for his bank account. I’ve reached a point where I can’t imagine being without you.”
“Do you mean that?”
“Okay. I shall think about it.”
“Please do. I shall phone you tomorrow. I’ll always think of you.”
When she left my mind was clouded. “Where could we elope to? How about if Senator Harrison’s thugs discovered us?” I whispered.
Before Biola phoned the next day, I’d decided I would risk it. I went to the airways booking office and bought two tickets in the names of Mr. and Mrs. Harold to Garden City. Port Harcourt, the political capital of South-South geopolitical zone in Nigeria was known as the Garden City. I bought a Brazilian outfit for Biola, and cowboy’s dress and hat for myself.
When she rang the next day, I told her the plan I’d made.
“How do we meet at the airport?” she asked.
“I shall check into Chics Hotel located at Ikoyi, this evening. I shall place your disguise outfit in the wardrobe. I shall leave the hotel day after tomorrow in the morning to the airport. I’ll leave the door open. I’ll phone you first thing in the morning tomorrow to let you know the room number. A day after tomorrow in the morning go to the hotel, change into your outfit and meet me in the airport. Take the back door to Fabulous Street and take a taxi to the airport. That way, you’ll shake off the detective. The flight is by eleven thirty. Please don’t be late.”
“I shall make it.” Though there were other distressing episodes.A drunken policeman shot the taxi driver taking me to the airport for refusing to give him twenty- naira bribe that was compulsory for all commercial drivers in Nigeria.When Lagosians seething with anger, started to gather to attack the policemen in their checkpoint, I slipped efore I was recognized.
At the airport, the flight was taking an awfully long time to take off. Biola had arrived on time. Most of the passengers were nonchalant but I was panicky. Delay of flights was nothing new but I was afraid that Biola’s disappearance would be discovered and a search team sent out. The first place they were likely to check was the airport, I felt.
We, however, left one hour behind schedule without being recognized. Though I wasn’t aware that our togetherness wasn’t going to last for long.