(This story was inspired by and written for Yvonne Oyinye. Enjoy)
Today I learnt her name is Yvonne, pronounced You-Von. She is an artist. Her paint is the twenty six letters of the English alphabet. And she can draw. According to Baba, she is very good.
I opened the curtains a little. She was reclining on the railings of the balcony opposite. Her hair fell freely behind her back and was tossed here and there by the evening wind. The sun was lost in the moving white clouds.
As always, I watched her with a religious devotion. Her head was tilted up to the heavens. She seemed to be taking in the fresh breeze. Then she dropped her head, and for an instant, I thought she had seen me. Her eyes stayed on my window for more than a fleeting second. But my room was dark. She wouldn’t see a thing, only a veiled darkness. Her head went down, to the traffic happening below on the road which divided our windows and life.
My fascination for You-Von had grown when I learnt that she was an artist. I liked creative people. They are different from the rest. They are like jumbled mass. No shape. They never follow charted courses. They are unpredictable. Although in this job predictability made things easier, unpredictability is the real deal. Unpredictability introduces adrenaline into the game. Your heart pumps. Your eyes dilate feverishly in anxiety. Your instincts are put on maximum attention. Your life, my life, becomes more fun. It was like reading Koontz or Brown – the never ending rush.
She spent few minutes watching the traffic then turned around to go inside her apartment. Her back was straight, and she walked like a lady who believed nothing could touch her.
“I’m coming honey,” I whispered inside the darkness of my room. The words trembled at my lips. My heart was racing. I was scared shitless. But this was my life. It was all I could do. I made the sign of the cross, and closed the curtains.
She had seen something at the window opposite her balcony. Something like a figure, or maybe a shadow. But she had not given it much thought. Today, this evening, her muse was hitting her like Tyson. She grabbed a notebook on the bedroom table and started to scribble earnestly. She felt herself being emptied into the notebook; like her soul was the ink.
When she finished and read the poem, it was about him. She hadn’t had the tinniest idea she would be writing about him – the stranger whose face remained a mystery. She had walked past him in the hallway this morning, and his cologne almost knocked her off her feet. She had looked back, hoping that he would also. He had not. He was taller. He wasn’t a big guy, but he walked like one. His strides were measured, like a clock. She watched him turn the corner to a flight of stairs.
Now, she asked herself why she had not gone after him. Hello, good morning, my name is Yvonne. I like your cologne. It wasn’t such a hard thing to do. Maybe a conversation would have started; maybe he would have noticed her. Still smiling at the thought of the maybes that crossed her mind, she dozed off on the table.
Her doorbell soon started to ring, but she was already in Nod.
The two Jonathan Towers were the tallest buildings in Lagos. But since power was never constant most people, including me, never used the elevators. If you get trapped, you are on your own. I remember the month May when a husband, in a hurry to get his pregnant wife (who was set to deliver) to the hospital, had guided her into the rickety machine. I can imagine him praying that the power would just stay that way for two more minutes, but for whatever reason, God didn’t accede to his request. They got trapped. It took another seventy-five hours for the light to return; by then the elevator floors had become flooded with blood. Mother and unborn baby died; Father went crazy. He had to.
So that evening, I used the stairs. My apartment was on the 45th floor, so getting down was as herculean as running a marathon with a block tied to your legs. I made into to the lobby all sweaty. A television cackled at a corner and was surrounded by a crowd of small children. I walked quickly and was soon out of the building. The evening breeze dried my sweat as I crossed through the busy traffic. Then I walked into the next Tower. Her Tower.
The receptionist was a fiftyish woman with tufts of gray hair. She wore a smile like a cloak. I couldn’t place her accent.
“Yer are Leeking fer Yivoon?”
“Yes ma’am. She wears her hair long. She’s slim. She carries a bag.”
“Mest Leydies curry bags mister.” She laughed. She had meant it as a joke, so I laughed too. To not make people feel awkward during a conversation, laugh when they laugh.
“Okay. I am going to chick fer yer. The register. Haf yer visitid her beyfore?”
“Yes. I think she stays between 44th and 46th. I just can’t place it correctly.”
I was right. You-Von stayed on 45th. I just wanted to be sure. I thanked the kind lady and as I turned to leave, I told her not to call her room that someone was visiting. I wanted to surprise her. The old lady laughed.
“Never maind. The telephones are dawn. Nothing werks in Jonathan.”
I left for the stairs, and as I ascended I forgot about the old lady. I was focused on my mission. I slipped a hand into the pocket of my jeans, and reached for my famous little sickle. I caressed its curvy blade. Strands of shivers coursed through my body. It was time for harvest.
She dreamt of him. The stranger. In the dream, she didn’t see his face. But she could smell his cologne, feel the aura of his powerful presence. They were in a garden. There was a train in the garden. Then they started to float, and soon found themselves caught among moving clouds. It was from the clouds that she started to hear knocking.
The knocking grew louder, and she was forced to retreat. She opened her eyes. Her cup of coffee had tumbled. The spilled liquid, although not much, had stained her papers. Shit! She raised her head and wiped a small pool of black coffee from the desk. Another knock. Oh! That was what had woken her. Who could it be? She wasn’t expecting anybody.
She walked out of the bedroom. The sitting-room was in order. Pillows lined up on the sofa like school children on the assembly ground. The curtains were drawn, but she could see that the evening was losing its light. Darkness was coming.
I’m coming, she almost said, irritated. But she didn’t. Why? Oh c’mon, this is Jonathan. People get killed here almost every month. Even if most of the stories she had heard had been the product of idle rumour, she knew of Barnabas who had lived on 46th, just above her apartment. The robbery had happened months ago, but she could still hear Barnabas weeping ‘abeg abeg make una no waste me abeg’. Of course, they wasted him. The police came but closed the case a week later. Unsolvable, as always.
She got to the door and looked through the glass. Nobody was standing in the hallway. Empty. She shrugged and turned back.
Kan kan kan.
She froze, turned to the door again and looked into the glass. Same result. Who the hell was playing this kind of prank? She wanted to know. For a moment, she wanted to forget she was in Jonathan. Curiosity tickled her. But she couldn’t forget.
Still looking through the glass, the knock came again. Kan kan kan. Was the person a dwarf? Invisible? Clark Kent? Like a burrowing insect, the questions devoured her mind. She was a fan of mystery, and like most people interested in the maze of reality, she wanted answers.
Eyes still on the glass. Kan kan kan. Nobody still to be identified.
She turned the lock, gripped the handle, and turned it down. She had forgotten to hook the chain and the door swayed open like the legs of a willing bride.
The door swayed open like the legs of a willing bride and standing in front of her was Parankaka, her neighbour’s five year old son. He was holding a balloon.
Yvonne breathed a sigh of relief. Oh it’s you. Of course it had to be you. She smiled broadly at the boy.
“Today’s my birthday,” the boy cried cheerfully.
Yvonne hit her head with a palm. How could she have forgotten? November 17th. Parankaka and his mother had sung it into her ears every morning as she stepped out for work. Even this morning. She scooped up the boy and swirled him around, while singing a sweet Happy Birthday melody into his ears. The boy chuckled.
Still holding him close to her bosom, she carried him inside the bedroom to give him some wraps of chocolates.
She forgot to bolt the door.
On the 40th floor, I stopped to catch my breath. My knees hurt. My back ached. The whole world appeared dizzy. This was hell. A yellow bulb glowed dully in the passage. My eyes wandered to the elevator box, and I considered jumping in to take the ride to 45th. But I couldn’t risk it. The light could go off any moment.
A door opened, and an obese woman stepped into the passage. Yes, who are you looking for? She started walking towards my direction. The voice was husky and sounded familiar. But I didn’t think much of it. I had a mission to complete.
Going to 45th, I replied. Always tell the truth when you can afford it; the universe has a way of compensating you.
Then get going, she said as she walked past me towards the elevator box. She pressed a button. While she waited, I wondered how a human being living in any Jonathan Tower could be overweight. Did she ever use the stairs? Or was she one of those people whose husbands worked in the Power Corporation and was well informed on when the elevator was going to work smoothly?
The elevator door opened, she stepped in, and turned around to face me. I met her gaze. She possessed a scowl of a face. As the elevator door started to close, she raised her head to acknowledge me. I returned the gesture. The machine shut, and I could hear it rumble away. Then I pushed my body off the wall and attacked the stairs.
I didn’t think much of the fat woman’s gesture. She was probably a psycho with an eating disorder. There were lots of psychos in Jonathan. The place made people go mad.
Parankaka was a child generous with laughter. That was what had attracted Yvonne. The first day they met was the day she moved into the apartment. The boy was seating in front of his mother’s door (playing with imaginary friends), and as she passed she had noticed him. Hi there, she had waved with one hand (a suitcase in the other hand). Hi there, he had replied with a wave of his small hand. She stopped. She hadn’t expected him to reply. And he had started to laugh, his round face sparkling with juvenile immaculacy.
So when she gave him the chocolate, he laughed, opening his white dentition to Yvonne’s delight. Thank you Aunty Yivvy. His hands shot into the sky. He was seating on her laps. She felt like hugging him, and she did.
You will be a good boy and go show that to your mama right? She held his cheeks.
Yes Aunty Yivvy.
Aunty Yivvy almost had a heart-attack. She turned sharply to look at who had said ‘good girl’. The stranger from the hallway was standing at the doorway of her bedroom. She just knew it was him. His cologne. His presence. It felt like a trance, but her feet were on solid ground.
I stood at the doorway, my side resting against the jamb. I watched her eyes widen with shock.
Who are you? This is my apartment and you have no right to –
Good evening, I cut her short. My name is Bobby. I’m a PI.
A Private Investigator? She dropped the small child and stood up. I demand that you leave right now.
I will, but not after I have cut out your heart, literally. I slipped a hand in my pocket to feel my sickle. It was not yet show-time.
Seven months ago You-Von Adams, where were you?
I don’t know what you are talking about?
You were on the Island attending a Book Festival. I looked into her eyes as I spoke. You are a lovely girl, beautiful, charming, adorable. Of course, no one could have suspected. I mean no one. Not Interpol, not the CIA, not the FBI. No one knew it was sweet, arty You-Von that blew up the President’s motorcade.
You are nuts, she snorted.
I just moved into Jonathan few weeks ago. I would still need a few more years to get my brain fried. I gave a small laugh.
You need to get out of my apartment or I call the police.
You won’t. I said.
What makes you think you think I won’t call the police? You barge into my apartment. You threaten to cut out my heart and you are accusing me of this nation’s biggest crime. She was literally shivering with rage. All the same, she looked beautiful.
Because you don’t need the publicity.
God, she sighed. Okay, can you let the poor boy go.
I am not stupid.
Fuck you. She moved a step closer.
Stay where you are.
She didn’t stop.
I went for the sickle. But it was too late. She was damn fast. She threw a punch. It caught me in the face. A kick found my groin, and I groaned as I staggered into the sitting room. Bent over, she dealt me an upper-cut and I hit the wall, landing face down on a pile of books.
She was still coming. I reached for the sickle. But it was gone. It had slipped off. When I raised my head, she was standing in front of me, sickle in hand.
Too easy, she said, and kicked my face into oblivion.
She had covered every of her tracks, but she wasn’t naive – someone would eventually find her. Her job was to be ready when they came. The first rule when it happened: don’t panic and run.
She went into the bedroom. Parankaka was still waiting. She carried the boy. His face was full of questions. She assured him that everything was fine, that she was just playing a game with an old friend. The boy remained doubtful. She further assured him that she would buy him a carton of chocolates if he never told anybody about what he had just seen. It would be their little secret. The boy’s countenance lightened up. She took him to his Mother’s door. On returning, she locked her door.
The stranger was still unconscious, sprawled over her pile of books. She dragged him and made him sit on a sofa. She could have ended his life. But she needed him. She needed him to talk. Who else knew about her? Who was he working for? How did he find her?
She started by searching him, but as expected, found nothing. You don’t come to kill and carry an ID card. But she needed to be satisfied he wasn’t carrying any other weapon. Then she went to the fridge to fetch a glass of cold water.
She needed answers, and there was no time to waste.
There was only darkness before I felt cold liquid hit my face. But my eyes were as heavy as a rock. The coldness was followed by two hot slaps on both cheeks. Although still blurred, my vision returned. She was sitting on a stool just opposite. I tried to raise a hand.
Don’t even think about it, she said.
What do you want from me? You can as well finish me off.
I want answers. First, who are you?
And what makes you think I’m going to talk.
Let’s just say I know how to make people talk.
What do you mean?
She grabbed the smallest finger of my left hand, and like a gear, shifted it backwards. The finger snapped off my hand.
I let out a sharp cry of pain. I tried to sit up, she sent me back against the sofa with a blow across my chin. There was blood everywhere. She went into the bedroom, came back with a First Aid box, and did a shoddy bandage of the bleeding hand, just enough to stop the blood-flow.
She picked up the independent finger from the floor and held it against my face. Look, I have done this countless of times, and I won’t hesitate to do it again. I can make your last days very miserable, but you have a lot of options. Tell me what I know, and you will walk out of here a free man. You have my word. But don’t try to play games. This girl. She nodded her head. This girl can be ruthless, I assure you.
She kept a veneer of calm and innocence as she spoke. She was like a diplomat, a public relations expert, a politician – the guys who never stop smiling until they pushed you into a pit. And that scared me like crazy. My heart thumped. This was what I loved about being a Private Investigator – making big decisions. I chose to talk.
What do you want to know?
Who are you?
I’m a Private Investigator.
Who are you working for?
So, how did you find me?
Like I said earlier, I was at the Book Festival on the Island. I left the Park just minutes before the bomb-blast. I had noticed you earlier in your beautiful Ankara print, but I just couldn’t sum up the courage to walk up to you. I’m this shy guy who –
Cut to the chase.
The bottom-line was nobody on the scene could have survived that blast, but you did. How? I went through police records, the pictures of those who died, suspects, but it was like you disappeared into thin air.
I could have simply being charred beyond recognition like lots of people were. Case-closed. What made you conclude I was still out there?
What separates the good detective from the bad detective: intuition. I just knew it was you.
But that still doesn’t explain how you traced me here.
Modern technology and a buck-load of patience. A beautiful girl like you must have been forced to take pictures, so I collated all the names of those that died in the blast and started to dig into their photo libraries online. Facebook, Google, Twitter, every damn space. I had your face etched in my memory. It was all I had.
You are kidding right?
I am not. It took me four months and 17 days, working 18 hours a day, seven days a week. But I finally hit gold. Chris. You took a picture with a certain Chris and tagged him on Facebook.
I hacked your Facebook account but realised it was empty. So I set up an alarm to prompt me whenever you logged in. You did three days later for about seven minutes, but it was enough for me to get into your computer and harvest all the data I needed.
I moved into Jonathan Towers few weeks ago. The rest is mundane history.
So no one else knows about this?
I like to work alone.
Excellent. She stood up.
So why did you do it?
Blow up the President’s Motorcade.
The blistering whirl of a helicopter filled the night. A powerful light cut through the apartment window. This is the Jonathan Police, surrender your weapons, save yourself.
What have you done Mr. PI? She looked at me, great grief evident on her visage.
I swear I had no hand in this.
No you don’t. They’ve been watching you.
Who has been watching me? I asked as we came out through her door. The passage was dark. Outside, the sound of distant sirens had joined the whoosh of helicopter blades.
This is not the time for questions. She snapped. She was carrying a bag which contained the few things she had had time to retrieve before making our way out of the apartment.
Why are you helping me?
Because if they get you, they can find me.
You could have just killed me. Why didn’t you do that?
Will you just shut up!
We started to descend via the dark stairs. Flashes of light flashed streamed into the building via the small windows of the stairway.
Stay close to the wall, she told me.
Where is my sickle?
I don’t trust you enough to hand it over to you.
Will you just shut up? She stopped and looked at me. Look, we need to get out of here alive, and to do that I need to concentrate.
What’s the plan? At least, I deserve to know that. You are the one they want, not me. Why should I even help you escape?
She let out a long exhale. I understand your position, but if I was the bad guy, I would have killed you. Think about it. The Police are the bad guys.
And why should I believe that?
Please we don’t have time for this.
We? Who says we are a team?
Can you spare me the bullshit and give me the benefit of the doubt. It was a scream. Every vein in her throat was visible as she spoke. Then she added quietly: you’ve got to trust me. And for a second, I thought she was going to burst into tears.
I don’t know what it was, but right there, something touched me. Maybe it was sympathy. Maybe it was intuition. I don’t know what it was. But right there, I believed her. So, what’s the plan?
For now there’s no plan, she said. Every Jonathan Tower has multiple exits, but I am positive all has been covered. So, we have to create an exit.
Start thinking. Until we find that exit, our job is to try not to get killed. Understood?
Absolutely. I formed an ‘O’ with my thumb and next finger.
We continued our descent.
Above our heads, the thump of boots started to echo. The Police were now in the building.
I turned over the decision I had just made in my head, and I smiled. Thirty minutes ago, I was ascending this same stairs with the intent to kill a woman I had chased for months. But here was I, an ally of that same woman – the woman who blew up the President’s motorcade, the woman who had broken my little finger.
It was odd but I felt proud of myself.
All her life she had lived like a rabbit wary of the hunter’s bullet. Somewhere in her mind, she harboured the thought of retiring from a life of action. She had half-hoped that Jonathan Towers would provide that; but she knew destiny would find her. She was created to change the world. Though not through roundtable discussions, peace talks, negotiation conferences. Not through wearing a tie and delivering speeches. You could change the world that way, but that wasn’t her path.
They must have reached the twentieth floor when something unexpectedly happened (they should have expected something like that to happen though). Residents of the Tower started to stream into the passage on each level. Before long, the stairway was crowded with people running to and fro.
Everyone should get back into their apartments, Police Loudspeakers started to boom.
But as it is with crowd panic, people no longer rationalise, they just follow. By the time they got to ground level, the crowd had already overrun the police cars stationed outside. The helicopter still hovered in the air, but you can’t shoot your own citizens.
Yvonne wasn’t surprised when they escaped the building tucked inside the pushing-and-shoving crowd. If you have the will, the way will come, her father used to tell her.
We made it, the PI guy said to her once they broke out onto a strange street, away from the police.
She wanted to reply by saying ‘if you have the will, the way will come’. But it didn’t sound right. She knew that they hadn’t escaped anything. Her enemies now had a lead. They would hunt her with all they had. Instead, she replied: I think you should start saying your last prayers. We may never survive tonight.
Above, there was no moon, only scanty stars, like the heavens were mourning.
As we walked (very fast, almost running) along the pavement, Yvonne kept looking over her shoulder. A day-old baby could tell she was anxious. Me? I was making sure we didn’t get lost. I had never been in this side of town, and I was taking note of signs that would help us retrace our steps if we needed to. The night was lit up by dull, yellow lights. People were everywhere, going about their businesses, busy. On the road, the traffic was bad. The Police Stampede must have affected the entire road network in Jonathan.
Jonathan Towers was a city of old buildings that reached for the clouds, narrow streets that curved endlessly and free Wi-Fi that was as fast as a snail. The city was home to millions of Lagosians who could not afford the ridiculously high price of accommodation on the Island. Foreign governments had tried to pressurise the Nigerian Government to try and de-populate the city, but the economics of keeping a large number of people here made sense. The Island was seeing rapid construction (on water especially) and the residents of Jonathan Towers provided cheap labour.
I found it difficult to believe that was the sole reason why the government had decided not to do something about the inflating population though. Cheap labour was too myopic. Maybe it was simply just indifference on their part. And government economics alone did not justify why millions stayed here instead of going back to their villages. Everybody in Jonathan was looking for the Nigerian Dream. I felt –
What are you thinking about? Yvonne interrupted my thoughts.
I am thinking that we try and get out of here tonight.
I don’t understand.
Jonathan is no longer a safe place.
So you are suggesting we cross the Third Mainland Bridge tonight?
That’s impossible. I can’t just leave. My things are at my apartment. I collided with a man coming from the opposite direction. Watch your front, the man said. Sorry. I caught up with her.
Time is one thing we don’t have, she said.
I think you need to tell me what the hell is going on here. Enough of you treating me like a kid asking me to trust you.
She stopped abruptly, in front of Dan’s Popcorn. It seemed to me that the lights of the shop made us very vulnerable.
What? My hands were spread. We can’t stand here. We have to keep moving.
No. Sometimes to get ahead, you need to slow down. Let’s have some popcorn.
You are crazy.
Maybe, but I need to whet your curiosity. She slipped her arm into mine. Just pretend we are a couple, she said as we walked into the dazzling luminosity of the world’s largest popcorn Franchise.
Usually, when you are on the run, don’t run too much. That’s what they tell spies. It wasn’t always a solid advice but it was good enough to store it somewhere in the dashboard of your memory, Yvonne knew. She had wanted to be a spy as a child – a Nigerian spy who gathered intelligence from other countries and reported back home. However, by the time she was ready to fulfil her dreams, reality had replaced fantasy.
Inside the popcorn shop, the lighting was soft. A flat screen hung from the wall beside the counter. The news was on, and it was about the stampede. A police spokesman was being interviewed, and he was saying something about terrorists being hunted. For now they didn’t have names or photographs but they were making progress.
They chose a quiet spot, away from the others in the shop, whose eyes were glued to the screen. A waiter took their order and brought two jugs of popcorn and two bottles of coke. Yvonne paid. They ate in silence.
So what’s your name, she asked him.
Bobby. I thought I told you that earlier.
C’mon, you come to interrogate and kill someone and you just tell them your name? Who does that? Besides the name sounds contrived. What’s your real name?
He chuckled. You are good, you know that don’t you?
Heard it a gazillion times. Do I believe it? I don’t know.
You should. My name is Hymar.
Hymar whatever. I did away with my father’s name a long time ago.
Wow. That’s interesting. Why?
Let’s just say the old man didn’t live up to expectations.
I see. So Hymar, I know you hate me right now. I mean you think I’m a criminal because I apparently blew up the president’s motorcade, beat you one on one, and you know, broke your little finger.
I think hate is euphemistic. He smiled
But thank you for still coming this far with me.
He shrugged. I followed my instincts. Let’s hope I haven’t shot myself in the foot. So, why did you do it?
Did I? She asked. It was rhetorical. Let me behave as a Nigerian and answer your question with a question, she said. Why would you blow up your own Father’s motorcade knowing he was inside?
You are the President’s daughter?
Oh my God! You are supposed to be dead.
My sisters are dead. Those were the faces you saw on television.
Why didn’t your face appear on television?
Because I was with the Secret Service. I had a cover I could not blow.
Wow. Secret Service? Fantastic, I said.
My father was a good man; I mean he wasn’t perfect but he wanted to do good things.
He was a man of the people, I said.
Yeah he was. But when you are a man of the people you acquire powerful enemies who want to maintain the status quo; people who would give anything to ensure that their narrow interests are protected.
And these guys are in government?
They form the majority.
I always thought that was a conspiracy theory; that people in government were just incompetent and stupid not selfish.
Then think again my friend. The Monday after he was killed, my father was supposed to sign a bill that banned the importation of generators into the country.
I read that in the news.
He was killed to stop that bill.
That’s a pretty strong accusation.
She rummaged in her bag and brought out an envelope. She handed it to me. Check it out.
I opened it and brought out an A4 sized paper which had a strange emblem at the top.
That’s a cheque for ten billion dollars from the Chinese asking that my father not sign the bill, Yvonne said.
I looked up at her, my mouth slightly open. Let me guess, he declined.
Yes, apparently the first president who had the guts to do that.
So they took him down.
It wasn’t the Chinese.
Why do you think I am no longer a Secret Service agent and on the run?
She knew it was going to happen, but what could she do? The park was filled with people laughing as they bought books and took pictures with their favourite authors. She was in the midst of it all, engulfed in the euphoria of literacy. She was like a child on a playground, dazzled by the cheerfulness of life. But she wasn’t present. Her eyes were on the long driveway that led into the park. The President had informed the organisers that he was on his way.
So you guys did it?
Yes. The operation was titled USSR.
But I thought the Secret Service was controlled by the president?
Well, we bombed our controller. She put the last piece of popcorn into her mouth. Her coke was half-empty.
So why didn’t you go to the media? You had evidence.
This is not some movie dude. You should know better. You think I’m going to hold a press conference, tell the world that I am a Secret Service agent and that I participated in killing my father and people are going to believe me? And how do the media even work? Do you know that 100 percent of the top media in this country are owned by people in government or who have close ties to government? So you are asking me to walk into the lion’s den? Think again man.
What about foreign media? CNN? BBC?
You don’t get the gist do you? First I have no solid evidence only what I know. The operation was not documented. Second, I am the president’s daughter. Conflict of interest. Thirdly, my enemies are not just people, but ideas, attitudes. It is not just the government people on the Island that are haunting me and my story; Nigeria as a Third World Country is chasing me. Neo-Colonialism and Cultural Imperialism and Subjugation are hot on my heels. These ideas are owned by western governments and their media. If I call a CNN journalist today, don’t be surprised if the FBI shows up. Should I try it? She brought out a phone and pointed the screen at him. Should I?
No no no, he quickly said. I get your point.
I’m a little bit overwhelmed. I need some moments to digest what I have just heard.
Time is one thing we don’t have, she said and gulped down her remaining coke.
Then she took notice. Why is there so much quiet. Where is everybody?
That’s true, Hymar also noted. Where did they all go?
Even the screen beside the counter had gone mute. What remained was the sound of silence.
The silence inside Dan’s Popcorn hung in the air like the sword of Damocles, circling round us for moments that seemed interminable.
Let’s get out of here, I said.
Don’t move, Yvonne said, touching my arm on the table.
Why? We need to get out of here. The volume of our conversation had suddenly degenerated into whispers.
Because if any of us makes a move they will open fire.
Look to your right, slowly.
The position of our table (Yvonne was facing me, and her back was against a wall) ensured that the view to my right encompassed the whole shop – empty tables, and a deserted counter. The door and the windows were made of glass and I could see into the night. Cars were still locked in the traffic and people whisked by in droves, as if they were all chasing a moving train. Everything looked normal.
We are good to go, I can’t see anything.
Dumb-head. You have a better view and you still cannot spot the red dot on that window?
Which red dots are you talking a–
I had spotted it. Tiny, almost invisible. On the counter. Oh I see. Then another one on a table Yvonne could not see because she was backing the view. Wow.
Look beside your coke, Yvonne said.
Another one was just resting at the edge of the table. I couldn’t believe it. A small shift to the right and I would have directly been in the line of their fire.
Jesus Christ! They could have shot but they didn’t. Why? I gawked. It was not a question. It was an expression of gratitude.
They are snipers not sporadic shooters, she said. They aim and shoot with purpose. If you had maybe tried to stretch your legs or bend your waist to the right, you would have been a dead man.
Wow. So what do we do now? My legs were already shaking under the table.
Wrong question. How did they find us? She banged a fist on the table. My bottle of coke crashed against the floor. Suddenly, she was angry. Her calm demeanour had vanished.
I don’t know.
She buried her face into two palms.
I don’t think this should be a time for despair.
She made the sign of the cross. Despair? No way. I just said my last prayers and I think you should too. We are going to be making a dash for the door anytime soon, and these guys don’t miss.
Not these guys. For god-sakes Hymar they are snipers . Say your last prayers.
I don’t believe in prayers.
Okay, good-luck then. See you at the other side. So on the count of three, we move. Use the chairs and tables for cover. She grabbed her backpack.
If you think we are not going to make it, then why are we trying at all? We could as well step into the line of fire and get shot. Why run?
Because I’m an optimist.
You believe in miracles.
Well think again. Life itself is a miracle.
If you say so. I found her hand on the table and slipped my fingers into hers. Let’s do this then.
One, two, three . . . and
I had barely taken two steps when I felt a bullet pierce the flesh of my thighs.
She had already made it to the door when she realised he was not behind her. She hid behind the solid wall by the glass door and peered into the entire shop. The red dots were now moving across the shop sporadically, apparently searching for her. They could have taken him down completely but it was obvious they needed him alive.
She debated whether to open the door and dash into the streets, leaving behind her new acquaintance. She had won his heart with her story, and he would probably hold off federal interrogators until she could get out of Jonathan. But she couldn’t bring herself to it: to leave a wounded ally on the battlefield and scurry for safety. It wasn’t noble. It wasn’t her style.
In a flash, she ducked behind a table and ran across the shop to where Hymar lay writhing in agony. A bullet smashed a table beside the duo. She put one of his arms across her neck and lifted him up. The red dots tracked her but she was fast in spite of the burden she bore. The shots were fired but they missed, incredibly.
Out on the street, a man had been killed in front of the popcorn shop. Ostensibly, he had been caught in the line of the snipers’ fire. Traffic was still at a standstill but people had fled that side of the street.
Yvonne knew the snipers would have a very good advantage as there were no tables and chairs to duck under. But she deduced they had to be positioned at one of the top-level windows in the opposite building across the street. So, immediately they came through the door, she crossed the traffic in one quick flash literally carrying her newfound ally.
The opposite building was a fleet of offices, judging from the signs that marked its levels. But Yvonne wasn’t interested in signs. Her breathing was ragged. Her vision was getting blurry. It wasn’t until she turned the corner of the street that she realised she, too, like Hymar, was losing blood.
A bullet had pierced her arm.
The piercing cries of distant sirens filled the night
I didn’t remember anything until my back hit a wooden surface. I tried to open my eyes but the world was moving in circles. I felt pressure on my thighs like someone had tied a cloth around it and was trying to squeeze out water. My head throbbed with pain. I felt like screaming but no sound emanated.
Someone was calling my name, but it sounded very distant, like the last vestiges of an echo.
Hey Hymar can you hear me? Wait here. I will be right back. I need to get something. I will be right back in a jiffy, don’t go anywhere right? Good.
Pain clouded my head but I could still hear the declining pitter-patter of feet, like someone moving away. I felt hot, hurt, dirty, everything unpleasant. My nose started to pick up the familiar smell of shit. I wanted to turn my head away from the odour but I couldn’t bring my neck to do it. It was like I had lost control of my muscles. But in a way, it reminded me of home, the beginning I had left behind. Like a cockroach, the memories crawled up my throat and nestled in my brain, transforming into pictures. Moving pictures.
I am a little boy again, naked but for a pant on my waist. I am running across the street, rolling a tire that is taller than I am. The other children are behind me. I am leading. Then I look back to shine my broken set of teeth gleefully at my followers. But instead of seeing my playmates, I see an army of child skeletons rolling tires. I slip and hit the dusty ground.
Next set of moving pictures. I am on a bed. My head feels heavy. It has been bandaged. A strange man is standing beside the bed. My parents are there too so I do not panic. They ask me how I am feeling, but I do not reply. It is like my tongues have been tied. Then again, the strange man turns into a skeleton. He reaches out to touch me with his bony fingers. I scream.
Next set of moving pictures. I am seating in an office. My parents flank me. Across the desk, a man sits. He has no cheeks and his eyeballs are very white. The flesh of his lips appears cracked and torn. He starts to tell my parents that I am a messenger of Satan. That I was sent into the world to kill lots of people. My mother shuts him up. My mother tells the man he is crazy. Her son will never become a killer.
She stole a coat from a boutique and used it to cover her shredded Ankara blouse and wounded arm. She had torn her blouse and tried to stop the blood-flow on Hymar’s thighs and her own arm. But he needed proper medication and going to a hospital was out of the question. So, she had left him on a bench inside the Jonathan Sewer.
The road network was still jammed. Drivers blared their horns in frustration. Distant police sirens filled the air like background music. The curb was populated with people. She tried to keep her face down until she entered a super-market. She picked up some bandages and antiseptic from the shelves, and without going to the counter, started to walk to the exit. The guard positioned there had noticed her.
Madam, you never go counter oh. He blocked the doorway.
She gave him a quick glance. He was maybe six feet, not too big, and was holding a baton. With a weak left arm, she quickly glossed over her options. Without halting her walk to the door, she turned sideways and pushed her right elbow into his face. He staggered backwards, and she followed with a sprawling kick to his throat. He crashed against the door and landed on the curb outside. It all happened very fast. Before anyone could react, she had mixed with the crowd crawling across the city sidewalks.
When she returned to the sewer, Hymar was still propped up on the bench. But now he was awake.
Thank God you are awake, she said as she dropped her bag on the bench, removed the stolen coat and started to unload the antiseptic and bandages.
She bent down to get level with his thighs. How are you feeling?
It will get better, she said. She untied the piece of Ankara which was now clogged with blood. She cleaned the wound with the antiseptic liquid and started to use the bandages. I can’t remove the bullet now. We will have to get to the Island before we can do that.
I know. He put a hand to her chin and raised her head to meet his face. There were tears in his eyes.
C’mon you don’t have to.
Thank you, he said.
The Jonathan Sewage was an underground tunnel that spanned the entire city. The tunnel had two raised platforms at both sides while the city’s waste washed through the middle.
This place stinks like crazy, Yvonne said as she finished applying the bandages to her arm. She turned to look at me on the bench. Only her bag separated us on the furniture.
What did you expect?
Why would they even put raised platforms in a place like this?
Who cares? Good thing is it gives us a place to hide.
Not for long though. She dug into her bag and brought out a map. She moved closer so I could have a look. This is where we are, she pointed to a spot on the map. So to get to the Island, we would need to go through Bankole Avenue, then walk through Apapa.
Yes. From there, we can cross the Third Mainland Bridge.
That’s a pretty long journey. And with the traffic, we will never make it.
No, look at the map closely. This tunnel actually goes into the Atlantic, and to get there it goes through Apapa. So all we have to do is simply walk down and use the Apapa exit. From there we can hire a cab that will take us across the Atlantic. I don’t think the traffic will affect those areas.
The map reads 8.8 kilometres. That’s like an hour and 49 minutes.
I don’t think I can make it with this leg.
Sure. When you get tired, I will carry you.
You carrying me of course, and that with a wounded arm.
I’ve endured worse. How’s your finger?
No pain but I feel incomplete.
I’m sorry about that again.
You don’t need to apologise. I guess I’m now in your debt.
If you say so. C’mon let’s get going.
She helped me up, and we started to trace the tunnel’s curvy length.
For a while they walked in silence. Only the burping sound of moving shit and broken bottles and pieces of floating furniture filled the tunnel. The smell was thick and choking. And there was heat. Thirty minutes into their walk, they were already drenched in sweat.
So why did you become a PI?
Fate and faith.
I don’t understand.
Fate as in luck, chance. And Faith as in belief, confidence.
You are losing me.
It’s a long story.
It always is.
I flunked my final exams at the University. I wasn’t a bad student but I couldn’t handle the pressure.
Oh I see. So?
I ran away, he turned towards her direction.
Why? I couldn’t face my mother.
With foresight I know, but back then I thought it was the right thing to do, the best thing.
So what happened to her? I mean your mother.
He halted, and rested his hands on his knees.
Sorry. She placed a hand on his back.
Should I carry you?
Nope. Let’s continue.
I know how it feels to take a bullet in the thighs Hymar. Trust me. Your whole body weight is resting on it. It’s killing you.
I am fine, he said through gritted teeth.
Male chivalry, she wanted to say but kept mute.
With closed eyes, he straightened up again and continued to limp.
So what happened to your mother?
She had a heart attack when she heard the news?
Which of the news? That you failed or that you ran?
She didn’t make it.
Yeah. I felt very guilty. I think that’s the fate part of why I became a PI. I wanted to redeem myself by helping as much people I could help. It’s what she would have wanted me to do.
Wow. So what’s the faith part?
His breathing suddenly became harsh, dissonant and loud, but before he could collapse to the ground she caught him and laid him gently on the pavement.
She tore apart his shirt with one pull and placed an ear on his chest. His heartbeat was at first irregular, slowing down. Then there was no beat. She spread her two palms on his chest and applied her entire weight in order to put some pressure on his heart. No response. She scrambled to his head and placed her lips on his mouth. But he didn’t move. He lay on the pavement, motionless.
Still on her knees, Yvonne moved away from the body and stared at it in shock. Was he dead? She couldn’t tell. But his heart had stopped. No his heart had not stopped. No it had stopped. No it hadn’t. Yes it had. No it hadn’t it. Of course it had. Of course it has not. Stop deceiving yourself it has.
Noooooooo! She screamed out loud. And like a stone released by a catapult, she shot forward, picked up the heavy body, balanced it on a knee, transferred it to her shoulder, and started to run like a formula 1 driver, navigating the tunnel’s curvature with adrenaline-induced expertise.
Don’t die on me, she kept repeating to herself. Don’t die on me please.
As she ran the length of the Jonathan Sewage, she never asked herself why she didn’t want him to die. But later, she would ask the question. She would never be able to answer it though. Maybe it was compassion. Maybe it was duty. Maybe it was something else.
And every day of her life, she would remember running with him on her shoulder inside this shitty tunnel. She would remember seeing the next exit hatch in the tunnel. She would remember climbing the ladder with a wounded arm, with him slumped across her shoulder, pushing the boundaries of pain. She would remember the rain as she emerged from the tunnel onto a deserted street. She would remember running looking for a hospital.
Every day, she will remember Hymar Whatever and the day he died.
The rain brought with it darkness. The darkness brought with it empty streets. Thunder shrieked like an angry witch. The windows of the tall towers bore no lights. It was like rapture had come and met all the women and men and children in Jonathan as saints, their garments spotless from the city’s corruption. The world was empty.
Yvonne had stopped running. She was now walking, the dead still hung across her shoulder. She must have run for hours but her sense of time had blurred. She still wanted to run but her body would not respond. Just keep moving, she told herself. All she had was motion. That way, she could get lucky and find a hospital.
She saw no sign of a hospital. She passed a couple of vagrants sleeping on the streets. Once, a car flashed past her. But she didn’t see a hospital. Tears started to form around her eyes, but she held back. She knew if she cried then it was all over. She steeled herself until she stood in front of a payphone.
She dropped the body on the curb. She knew he was dead, but she was an optimist.
She walked into the payphone. She didn’t have a dime but that didn’t matter if you were calling the police. After four rings, a muscular voice answered from the other end.
Hello, this is the Jonathan Police.
My name Is Yvonne Adams.
She stepped out of the payphone and sat at the edge of the curb, her feet on the tarred road. The police were coming. She knew this was the end. They will hand her over to the State Security Service. She will never get a trial. People like her don’t get trials. They erase them. Nobody will ever know she existed.
But why not keep running? You can still save your country by staying alive. She laughed at this thought. She would never beat these guys. They had the resources. They had the people. She was just a drop of water in the ocean. Even if she stayed alive, she will never be able to tell her story.
But that’s not the reason I’m giving up, she said aloud to herself. Is it? No it wasn’t. Hymar’s death had taken something from her. What was it? She couldn’t place a finger on it. She had watched scores of people die. She had even killed countless times when it was inevitable. And she had never felt such hollowness as was currently ravaging her. It was like someone had taken away all her memories and she had become a Button – a baby who was born a reasonable adult. Her heart ached for his existence, the mystery of his cologne.
She drew near to the stiff body and cupped his face between her palms. Okay so I didn’t tell you this because I didn’t have the time to tell you. But . . . hey I know you are dead now, but I still think you should know. This morning I passed you in the hallway. Though I didn’t see your face, I loved your cologne. She laughed, thinking how crazy she sounded talking to a corpse. Her eyes searched the area but everything was quiet. A draft of wind swept past her.
Okay as I was saying, I loved your cologne and I couldn’t get it out of my memory. So this evening, before you barged in, I wrote you a poem. A very short poem. I don’t have it here. I left it at my apartment. But I have a photographic memory, so I can recite it to you. I want to recite it to you now. And I really hope you like it. She wiped off an escaping tear.
It starts like this . . .
Something hit her from behind. She knew immediately it wasn’t a bullet. It was something else. But before she could start to figure it out, it was too late. She started to see dancing towers, shaking azontocally to the rhythm of a nonexistent beat.
She slumped over the dead Hymar, and the last thing her ears picked up was the distant cry of sirens.
A car parked beside the curb and two masked men stepped out. They picked up the two unconscious bodies and stored them in the trunk. They got back into the car and drove off. Two minutes later, five police cars arrived at the scene.
Yvonne Adams was gone.
The car carrying the two unconscious bodies crossed the Third Mainland Bridge and at exactly twelve midnight entered Lagos Island. The Island was a city of wide, polished roads. Unlike Jonathan, there were no old towers. Here, you found majestic buildings sitting side by side like students on a straight queue. Here, the air was cold and clean. It was like Europe.
The car went through the gates of the American Embassy and halted in front of a white building. Two men (wearing no masks) alighted, went to the trunk and retrieved the two unconscious bodies. Instead of going through the front door, they rounded the building and went in through an alternative door. Behind the door was a stairway that went into the ground. The men descended.
At the bottom of the stairway was a long, well-lit hallway with doors at both sides. After walking past seven doors, the men entered through a door that carried a RESTRICTED tag.
You guys are freaking lucky, a pot-bellied white man seating in front of a bank of computers and electronics welcomed them into the room. In one of his hands was a cup of coffee. The room was like a recording studio. The wall in front of the pot-bellied man was a transparent mirror that allowed a view of the other side – an empty room with a single table and two chairs
Luck is always on our side Frank, one of the two men said as they walked through another door which took them further down into the ground.
The first thing I felt was blinding pain. But instead of shouting, I opened my eyes.
Welcome back Hymar errrr, what’s your last name again?
The ceiling was white. I was lying on a bed, tubes attached to my hands and chest. Sitting beside me were two white men, probably Americans. The one to my left had a scar that ran from his left eyebrow to the edge of his mouth. His face was kind. The one to my right was bald and had a long face, like a cucumber. The air was chilled, like the innards of a freezer.
Where am I?
The American Embassy, Scar-Face said. Technically, when we brought you in, you were dead. Your heart had stopped for up to three hours. But thank for God for modern medicine. Our cardiologist used a procedure known as coronary angiogram to x-ray your heart’s blood vessels, found the clot blocking its functioning, took it out, and restarted your heart by pumping oxygen to the tissues.
Really? Is that even possible? I coughed.
Very. But count yourself a very lucky man. You remember anything?
My head was buzzing with memories. Running. Gunshots. Shit. Blood. Yvonne. Where is she?
Where is who? Scar-Face said.
Yvonne. She saved my life. I remember we were walking and I slumped.
Oh Yvonne. She’s in the other room, Scar-Face said. But you really need to understand something.
She may not be a friend.
I chuckled softly. Oh you think she killed the President. No she did not. She had no hand in it. The president was her father.
Scar-Face laughed. Baldy kept a straight face. Scar-Face did the talking.
We know that the President is her father, but what you don’t know is that the President is not dead.
Yes. He’s alive and kicking but no one knows where he is?
And how do you know about it if no one knows where he is?
We’ve been tapping her calls.
You had found her?
Of course, a week after the bombing.
Then why didn’t you hand her over to the police.
The system is compromised my friend. Besides she didn’t kill the President.
Of course she did not.
But why did she hide him?
Isn’t it obvious? The President is her father and she is hiding him because he needs to be hidden.
Why should I know?
Scar-Face heaved a deep sigh. We need to know Mr. Hymar.
Well just go and ask her.
Even if we break her into two, literally, she won’t tell us.
Then what makes you think she will tell me?
She trusts you.
How did you come to that conclusion?
How did I come to that conclusion? Scar-Face repeated. We think she’s in love with you. And with love comes great trust.
My heart skipped a beat. But I still managed to shake my head even though I suddenly realised I wanted Scar-Face to be right.
Scar-Face and Baldy stood up from their seats and started to walk to the door. At the door, Scar-Face turned back. She will be here in an hour. And I know how you feel Mr. Hymar, but you need to do this for your country. We have to find the President before it’s too late. And keep it at the back of your mind that Yvonne Adams may not be who she says she is.
The door closed behind them, and quietude became king after then.
Yvonne was seating at the edge of a bed when two white men in suits opened the door. She stood up. She was still in her Ankara and jeans trouser, but her body ached severely.
We see you are awake, one of them said. He had a bad scar across his cheeks, but he didn’t look dangerous. He was taller than his companion, who had an oblong, bald face. She knew instinctively that Scar-Face would be doing the talking.
Where am I? She asked. Her short-term memory was fuzzy, unclear.
The American Embassy.
Ms. Yvonne we are looking for the Nigerian President, your father, and we know that you have him.
What nonsense. What are you talking about?
There’s no need to play smart. We found you a week after the bombing.
Yes, and we’ve been tapping your calls, listening to your conversations, but we have not been able to make full sense of them.
So, we tried to smoke you out by tipping the Jonathan Police. We made sure they used a helicopter so as not to take you by surprise and give you the chance to escape.
It was you guys?
Yes. So don’t think you were too smart in escaping. We had it all planned, Scar-Face said with a cocky intonation. We wanted you to lead us to the President.
Hymar was your idea too?
No. That was a coincidence. And a very unlucky one at that.
Lucky one actually, Yvonne thought. She would have led them straight to her father. The thought chilled her.
So why didn’t you finish him at the popcorn shop?
Why kill an innocent man?
Don’t give me that nonsense. It’s not like you care about scruples.
Actually, we do, Scar-Face let out a short laugh.
Who are you working for?
The American Government.
What agency? FBI? CIA? The Pentagon?
And so what exactly do you want with me? She was angry now.
Lead us to the President.
She gave him a finger.
Scar-Face yanked down the lapels of his suit. No surprise there Ms. Yvonne, but how would you feel if I put a gun to, no not your head . . . to the head of Mr. Hymar . . . and blow it off, because you refused to tell us where your father is?
She laughed. Sorry mister, but he is dead. Who shoots a dead rabbit?
Good new Ms. Yvonne. Mr. Hymar is alive and kicking.
We’ll let you talk to him for some minutes.
How did that happen? He was dead.
Another reason why you should consider telling us what we want to know. Show some gratitude.
She didn’t say anything. She could feel her shock float in the room like bubbles of soap. He was alive? She wanted to scream, but she clenched her fists and let out a long exhale.
Let me talk to him.
Definitely. But after that, we would need answers.
I make no guarantees.
Or we shoot him back to the grave.
She nodded. But of course, she had no intention of telling them anything.
When Yvonne walked through the door, she was holding a pen and a biro. She looked taller and slimmer in her Ankara print and jeans trouser. There were dark smudges under her eyes.
Don’t say anything, she said as she inched towards my bed. We will be communicating via writing.
I thought they said no cameras are in here.
You can’t be too sure. She sat down beside me on the bed and placed the book on her lap. She started to scribble, stopped then passed the book to me.
It read: stop looking at me like that, there was no way I could have told you my father was not dead. I know how it sounds, but I didn’t want to put you in that position.
She passed me the biro and I started to write too: Well, you have a lot of explanations to do. What’s happening here? What is and is not true in the story you told me in the popcorn shop?
I passed her the book. She read it and wrote back: There was a death threat on his life. That is true and I swear it is. The motorcade explosion was supposed to eliminate that threat. You can’t hunt a dead man, you know.
I wrote back: So I was right after all. You are responsible for the explosion. Right?
But how could you? Killing all those innocent people.
Yvonne: I did it for the greater good.
Your ethics is fucked up.
Yvonne: Now don’t lecture me on morality. The entire country will be better for it.
The exchange of book and pen was now getting frantic, our eyes doing the talking.
The entire country? Is that why you did it or because you were so desperate to keep your sweet daddy alive at the expense of other people’s lives.
Yvonne: You are hurting me Hymar.
Am I? Can anyone hurt a girl like you? – a girl that can bomb hundreds of people to their graves all in the name of faking the president’s death. Are there no other ways to fake the President’s death that won’t cost innocent lives?
She took the book, and lingered on it for while. But instead of writing back, she stood up from the bed and spoke: I don’t think this conversation is heading in the right direction.
I was livid.
That’s because you are not who I thought you were, I said. You are a killer.
I’m a killer? You think I’m a killer?
I know so. And you really don’t care about this country. You care only about yourself and your family.
She shook her head. That’s exactly where I think you are delusional. Do you know that my sisters died in that explosion? You think it was easy for me? Uhn! You think it was easy for me?
C’mon. Who’s to say your sisters’ death were also not faked. Maybe they are in hiding with your father.
I don’t blame you.
Of course you can’t blame me. But I blame myself. I should have cut your throat when I had the chance.
I can’t believe this. She said and started to walk towards the door.
Where is the President? I shouted after her.
She stopped at the door. Her back still turned to me, she said: why should I tell you?
Because you love me, I wanted to say. Instead I said: because I think you should end this whole thing.
Rot in hell, she said and left.
I didn’t know why, but I felt bad about myself. Maybe I should have given her an opportunity to explain herself. Maybe I should have been more patient. But I just couldn’t understand why someone would detonate a bomb for whatever reason. She was a bad person. That was the only explanation. I had seen the fire first hand, bodies being roasted to ashes. It was a difficult way to die.
Scar-Face and Baldy were waiting for her in the hallway.
It didn’t go well, she said. But you don’t have to kill him. It won’t make any difference.
Are you sure about that? Scar-Face said.
Positive. I can’t compromise this mission for anything.
Obviously, Scar-Face said. It’s a pity this is your country. We can’t torture you or make arrests.
Yvonne laughed. Don’t you think that’s ironic? First you instigated the Police against me. You shot me inside the popcorn shop. You sedated me with a shot and brought me in. You threaten to kill Hymar if I don’t divulge information. And here you are talking about how you can’t torture or make arrests in my own country. I don’t think it makes any sense.
Scar-Face shrugged. We were only doing our job.
I see. So what do you want to do with me now? Put me in handcuffs and hand me over to the Jonathan Police? It would be good PR for America’s image as good Big Brother – policing the earth like it’s their fucking empire.
No, we won’t do that, Scar-Face tickled his nose. That won’t provide any answers. We want to know why you did it?
Does it really matter?
To us, it does.
Do you have any theories?
Can we discuss this over a cup of coffee? It was Baldy, who had kept quiet all the while.
I think I agree with James, Scar-Face said.
Over a cup of coffee? Are you serious? Yvonne said, smiling broadly. I thought I was the bad guy.
No Ms. Yvonne, Scar-Face shook his head. In the world of politics, there are no good and bad guys.
Really? What are there then?
They let her take a shower, change her clothes (they offered her a new wardrobe) and redress her bullet wound. When she stepped out of the bathroom, she was wearing a pink turtle-neck sweater and a pair of black pants. Scar-Face and Baldy were waiting for her. They led her to a restaurant (still inside the Embassy) and grabbed a table. It was 5:04am, 28th of November. Weekday: Thursday.
Scar-Face introduced himself as Collins Freeman. Baldy said he was James Turkey. They didn’t mention which agency they were working for and Yvonne didn’t ask. She knew the game. They didn’t trust her one bit but they knew torturing her for answers, apart from being against international law, was probably not going to take them far. They saw her as someone who would die with her secrets. They were right. You could dip her into electrocuted water, bring her up, and she would still spit at your face. That was the way she had been trained.
So their strategy was to win her friendship. If that failed, she guessed they would resort to torture. But she was a smart girl. She would not let the friendship ploy fail. Although she was a good liar, she would them the truth. Lies are inconsistent by nature. They don’t have structural validity. If you want to deceive someone, make them trust you completely. And if you want to win trust, don’t tell lies, tell the truth, but only bend its nature. Truth is elastic. And good liars know that it is the best tool for deception.
They ordered coffee, but Yvonne asked for Lipton.
Why Lipton? Collins asked.
Why coffee? She replied and the whole table rocked with laughter. Even the reticent James joined in.
The Coffee and Lipton came and they all started to sip from their cups.
So what are your theories, Yvonne said.
We have two theories, Collins said. The first is that your father’s life was in danger, so he colluded with you to bomb the motorcade. So, his enemies will think he is dead and he can spend the rest of his life in peace.
Interesting theory, Yvonne said. Next.
The next one is that you thought your father’s life was in danger and you did the whole thing without his consent. So, it’s like you are holding him hostage.
Dumb theory, Yvonne said. I think your first theory is better but the motives you’ve developed are quite weak. She grabbed the jug on the table and poured more tea into her half-empty mug. If you’ve followed my father’s political history, you will realise that he saw himself as a revolutionary, someone who was going to change the pathetic course of his country.
That was why he ran for president, Collins said.
Exactly, Yvonne agreed. He thought if he had the top job, he would be in charge of things.
Was he wrong?
Of course he was. You see I may sound like a conspiracy theorist, and sometimes I think I am one, but this country is not just run by the President and people in power. It is run by a powerful group who own the nation’s wealth – oil wells, chains of hotels, supermarkets, airlines. They own the ports, they own the roads, they own the banks, they own the media, they own everything. They decide who wins elections and who loses. If they lose an election, they take it to court and buy lunch for the judges. They make the laws of the land too. So, you can’t beat them. They have the knife and the yam.
Was that why your dad decided to run away? Collins asked.
Well, when he realised that he was only a puppet whose strings was been pulled, he decided to leave. He felt there was no need to remain in an office that would make him look stupid in front of his own people.
He could just have resigned.
Well you can’t just resign.
Because as President, you know every member of this group by face. If he had resigned, they would have taken him down.
He could have resigned and ran away to a foreign country.
My father wasn’t a coward. He wanted to leave office but he still had Nigerian blood running in his veins. You know what he told me the night before the bomb-blast?
Like they were supposed to answer, the two white men shook their head. No.
Yvonne leaned forward on the table. He said to me, ‘Evy, together we would gun down every one of those bastards. Together, we will cleanse our land’.
There are things that never change, like the rising and setting of the sun, like the way the head moves when good music screams from across the street. Then there are things that may never change, like habits. I was standing at my window, looking at her. Her hands were on the railings, her head tilted up to the evening sky. I wanted to draw apart the curtains and scream her name. But I did not.
It had been two months, two weeks, seven days after we had gotten out of the American Embassy. She had made a deal with the Americans to keep them in the loop in her bid to eliminate, in one sweep, the select men and women holding the country hostage. Apparently, that had been her mission in Jonathan all the while – to assassinate every member of the group the day they come to Jonathan Towers.
The location for the operation was obvious. Jonathan Towers was probably the only city in the country, apart from the Island, where the powerful men were more likely to come together under one roof. It was part of the nation’s capital and when there was need to show they cared for the common man, it was easier to cross the Third Mainland Bridge than to travel far distances to the deserts of the north or the swamplands of the south.
As part of her cover, Yvonne had been working as a waitress in the Presidential Hotel, the only high-rise building in Jonathan that looked like it had a place in the twenty-first century. It was the only place where the group would take residence if they had to spend the night in the city. According to Yvonne, it was the perfect spot to rewrite history. After the American Embassy, she had kept this cover.
But I didn’t agree with Yvonne. I didn’t agree that taking out some powerful old men was going to turn around the course of the nation. I felt what was going to save Nigeria from its celeritous rot was something else but I couldn’t quite wrap my head around it. But, after our spat in my sick bed, we hadn’t been on speaking terms. I was retained in the operation because, according to the Americans, I knew too much, and my hacking skills were also a plus.
In a way, the Americans had become part of the operation. I didn’t trust their motives, and I suspected Yvonne did not too (she had refused to divulge the location where the President was hiding). The operation, if successful, was going to send the country into turmoil. But only for a brief period, Yvonne had noted to me during one of our brief evening sessions.
The sessions usually took place at Dan’s Popcorn, not the one where we got shot. This one was on the second floor of the next building to hers. She had ruled out telephone and email, and the purpose of the sessions was for me to brief her on what I had found out. She never told me anything about what she was working on, and I never asked. After all, she was the boss and I was just a PI with good hacking skills. All I knew was that she left her apartment every morning to resume her duties as a waiter in Presidential. I didn’t know who she talked to or where she got her orders from. Sometimes, she gave me a name to follow up.
She left the open balcony and went inside. Then I saw the lights of her apartment come up. My legs now weary from standing, I closed the curtains and plopped into a seat. The room was semi-dark. I liked it that way. There were empty packs of food and clothes strewn all over the room. An unfinished meal of Amala and Egusi soup was on the table. Like all my meals, I had bought the Amala from the buka just two floors below. Beside it was my HP laptop. I grabbed the machine and connected to the fast-as-a-snail Jonathan WiFi.
My head drooped in a slumber, and then a notification box popped up at a corner of the laptop screen. It was a new email. I clicked on it. It was from firstname.lastname@example.org and it read: come quickly to my apartment. It was her email address but my first thought was that this was an impostor. She had never sent me mails. She didn’t even know my email, which was hard to guess because it was made up with as much figures as words. For our sessions, we had a fixed date: every Fridays. And a fixed time: 7pm.
But she could have gotten the address from the Americans. I communicated regularly with Collins Freeman and James Turkey. I put down the laptop and went to the window. I drew apart the curtains. It was surprising to me how quick darkness had overshadowed the light. But more surprising was the darkness in Yvonne’s apartment. She never put out her lights when there was light.
Without thinking, I retrieved my sickle from under a seat and dashed out of the room. I took the steps five steps at a time.
Two minutes later, I was crossing the street, literally gasping for air. It took me another three minutes to get to 45th. The passage was as silent as ever. I stayed close to the wall, inching forward to her door. My heartbeat tripled. My hand reached for my sickle. I gripped the tool tightly like I was holding a friend from falling down a valley.
When I got closer I saw that the door was open and my worst fears were confirmed. I peeked into the room. It was dark inside but faint light from the passage spilled into the apartment. A table lay in the middle, upturned. Apart from that, all seemed to be in order. I slipped into the room, sickle ready to be swung at an enemy. But the sitting room was empty.
I started to make my way across the room to get into the bedroom. Something tripped me and I fell across the rugged floor. Before I could move, someone was lying over my back, pinning my two hands to the floor. Don’t move. It was Yvonne.
I felt wet lips kiss the nape of my neck, just below my ears. It made me shiver. She pressed her chest against my back, making small, slow, up-down movements. Her mouth found my ear and she planted there soft kisses.
Wait, I said.
She pulled herself together and stood on her knees. I rolled on my back, sat up, grabbed her waist and kissed her. I started by sucking her lower lip like a stick of candy. She sucked mine too. My hands weren’t limp either; one was at the back of her head while the other caressed her back through the fabric of her silk nightgown, down to her waist. She moaned.
She let my tongue glide into her mouth, probing the corners of her mouth. I made her lie on her back, on the rug, and lay over her like a cover on a pot. She found the middle of my shirt and tore it at one go. The ridges of my stomach pressed against her body and she wrapped her hands around me, tightly.
I grabbed her not-too-big breasts and nudged them through the nightgown. She raised her legs and wrapped it around my butt, pushing me into her. I yanked the nightgown off her shoulders and kissed one of the exposed nipples, then administered gentle bites.
Jesus, she moaned.
Stop calling the name of God in vain, I said as I went down to her stomach.
I thought you didn’t believe in a God, she laughed.
No. But you do. Imagine if he heard you now.
She started to laugh then let out a sharp cry. I was in her panties and my tongue was doing something no man had probably ever done to her. She was in a kind of violent bliss that made her body shudder. Don’t stop, please, just don’t stop. Jesus, Hymar!!! Then for about ten seconds, she went blind. Nothing existed but pleasure. She had no memory. It was like all the happiness in the world had been put inside a needle and she had taken the injection at one sitting. I could feel it.
When those ten seconds were over, Yvonne said: let’s go to the bedroom.
Inside the bedroom, she decided she wanted to be on top. Just lie on your back, she said. I will do all the work.
I linked my hand at the back of my head as she unbuckled my belt. My head was spinning like a kid about to be handed a pack of bangers on Christmas day. This was probably the luckiest day of my life. She took the hardness in her hand, ran her fingers down it and slipped it in. I closed my eyes. A song was on repeat, but I couldn’t hear the lyrics, only the beat. It could have been Jesse Jagz, or maybe TuFace, it didn’t matter. What mattered was that I was on a roller-coaster to a land where good things never cease.
She went on like these for minutes until I started to feel the rush.
Almost there, I gasped.
But she didn’t stop until it all came out like a flood.
She collapsed on my chest and our sweat and breath mingled together like water and garri.
Then I opened my eyes. My laptop was still seating on my lap.
Fuck, I muttered.
. . . TO BE CONTINUED
(Don’t forget to bookmark this page. Chapters will be added daily)
And yes, Jonathan Towers no dey exist oh. This story is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to any place or person alive or dead na big coincidence. Hehe.