“I don’t know what you’ve done to me but since I met you, my day is only completer when I hear your voice,” Obi speaks into his phone.
“Awwwww, the feeling is mutual,” Rahila, replies.
“What’s that?” Obi asks.
“What’s ‘what’?” Rahila asks too.
“’the feeling is mutual’, are you suffering from mumps?”
Rahila feigns anger and refuses to respond to Obi for well over 45 seconds. When she will not respond to his “I’m sorry”, “are you there?”, “please, talk to me”, he resorts to flattery.
“Omalicha’nwa! Omaa!” Obi teases. “My tomato Jos, my ego oyinbo”
Rahila bursts out laughing. “This guy has sweet mouth,” she says to herself and he just knows the right words to use. What makes her laugh, though, is “ego oyinbo” (my foreign currency). How an Igbo man can conveniently slip money into a love talk and still sound sweet, is what she cannot comprehend.
“You know I love you too, Obim. You are my muse. My heart skips a beat each time your name appears on my phone screen. You make me. . .”
“E don do, my ego oyinbo”, Obi cuts in. “I know that. I just want to hear you say it. The magic your voice does to me, I can’t explain”.
Rahila giggles and confesses to feigning anger just to hear him beg.
“Go joor,” Obi replies, half-laughing and just loving the fact that his feelings, no, not feelings, devotion. Yes, the right word is devotion, mixed with commitment, laced with a pinch of love and respect for her, is growing by the day.
He met her when he came for the National Union of Journalist, NUJ, national convention in Jos. Theirs isn’t love at first sight. She sat across from him during the two-day convention. What struck him about her is her intelligence, ability to think outside the box and most importantly, her receptiveness. She’s the most unassuming person he has ever met. They continued talking after the convention and after a visit back to Jos, their love story blossomed.
“Have a great day Oma and be a blessing to someone today, okay,” Obi finally says.
“Alright Obim, I will. I’ll make sure Henry, Ben, O.J, Abdul and Kaynoe get blessed by me today”.
“Yes o, make sure John your cubicle neighbor, his father, grand-father, grand uncle, paternal great grand-father and. . .”
By now, Rahila is laughing hysterically. Obi’s dry humor, mixed with sarcasm, doled out in a calm way, is one of the things that makes her look forward to his phone calls. There is never a drab moment talking with Obi.
A loud crashing noise interrupts her laughter. The sound came from Obi’s end.
“What’s that noise?” Rahila asks Obi. “Hello! Hello!! Obi are you there?”
In a far-away voice, Obi assures her that he’s alright and will call her as soon as possible.
“Alright, be careful and stay safe,” she says to a dead line because he had dropped the call as soon as he was done speaking. “Please keep him safe, Lord,” Rahila prays.
Rushing out, Obi could not believe his eyes. The source of the sound is that of two armored tanks, crashing (deliberately, he can’t say) into Nnayi Emma high stocked crates of drinks that were delivered early morning for his bar business. To crown it all, these armored tanks are not the conventional ones he is familiar with. They look like something out of a Stephen Spielberg’s film.
Obi walks towards his friend, Chekwuebe, who’s discussing with some “yard” boys.
“Nna, wetin dey happen?” Obi asks in pidgin as is normal with how he converses with Chekwuebe.
“Nna mehn, as you see am so, I no get idea.”
“What kind of car is this?” Nneoma, a ‘slay queen’ asks. Everyone turns to look at her. She’s putting on a bum shorts under and an orange tank top that is barely covering her heavy cleavage. Her face, with traces make-up, is dull as she looks like she just woke up from sleep. On a normal day, her question would have sent Obi and his friends rolling on bare ground with laughter but, today is far from a normal day.
“It’s called an armored tank” Obi manages to rely her.
“Armored tank kwa, what is it for and what are those long sticks on top of it?” she ask further.
The question thoroughly irritates Obi who is trying to get the full gist of the “invasion”. But come to think of it, didn’t Nneoma claim to be a third year student of Bio-chemistry in the State University? Confirming that is for another day. Just then, he heard a familiar sound- Robin Thicke’s “Lost without you” is competing with the noise around it. Of course it’s his sweet heart.
Hello? Am I hearing right, Rahila asks herself. Obi salutes her so, if they have a misunderstanding. He always responds with “Oma”, “ego oyinbo” or “my tomato Jos.”
She’ll let it slide today.
“Are you there?” she hears Obi’s impatient voice through the receiver. She snaps back and responds.
“Yes love, what’s happening up there? Are you alright? What made that noise?” she asks in one breath.
Obi realizes how he answered and tries to make it up.
“It’s some army armored tanks, Oma, with countless army trucks passing through our street.”
“What made that sound then?”
“It’s my neighbor’s drinks that was stocked up outside his bar. I don’t know how some of the tanks ran into it.”
“Was that deliberate or what?”
“Obviously it is”
“Anyway be careful and talk to you later”
“I love you, Oma”
“I love you too dear” Rahila replies and clicks the end button. She dresses up and heads out to work.
In the bus, Rahila keeps hearing some Igbo people talking repeatedly about “Python dance.” As she walks the remaining distance between the bus stop and her office, she chuckles as she thinks of the incredulity of a python dancing. To what now? “Come to think of it, does a python dance?” she asks out loud to no one in particular.
“Good morning ma,” Jemimah the receptionists greets Rahila as she walks into their station’s complex.
“Morning Mima, hope you slept well?”
“Good. By the way Mima, have you ever seen a python dancing?”
“Ma???” Mima responds with a wide-eyed blank look.
“Never mind,” Rahila says and marches on to her cubicle.
As she sits to take out some of her personal effects from her hand bag to put on the table, Kaynoe walks up to her corner and after exchanging pleasantries, he asks.
“Ever seen a python dancing?”
“You took the question out of my mouth,” Rahila replies. “What’s with all that? I kept hearing that from some Igbo men in the bus I boarded to work today.” Just then, her phone beeps to notify her of a new message on Facebook. She quickly checks as she listens to Kaynoe talk of his experience in the bus too. Obi’s status on Facebook reads, “Egwu Eke”
“Kaynoe,” she calls after him as he makes to leave her cubicle. “What’s the meaning of ‘Egwu Eke’?”
“Roughly translated, it means snake dance,” Kaynoe responds. “Wait, are you sure it’s not related to this python dance thing?”
Being a born investigator, Rahila dials Obi’s line. After five rings, he picks the call and tells her that he’d call back and drops the call. Somehow, this action did not bother her because her mind is already working -trying to connect the dots. Armored tanks in Uahia. Igbo’s angry conversation in the bus about Python Dance. Obi’s status that means snake dance.
She begins to dial another number.
This is one week since the “invasion” of the army in Uahia and surrounding. The army’s operation, code named Python dance, is meant to quell down the Secessionist activities of the BOPE- Bonafide People of the East.
Obi’s anger and frustration knows no bounds as he recounts the events of the past six hours
“Sir, kindly give me back my tablet,” Obi tells the army officer with the badge name reading Ghaddafi Umar. “I was not covering anything. You saw it on the table so you can’t say I was video-covering you.”
In a split second, Ghaddafi throws the Samsung Galaxy tablet to the ground and smashes it with his Jackboot. The crushing sound, is one Obi will not forget in a hurry-not because of the tab, but because of the twisted anger and pain that accompanied the crushing sound as the show of ignorance and “power” continues. Obi looks at Ghaddafi’s guns and what remains of his tab and walked away to his cubicle.
That tab is worth more than half of his one-year savings from the meagre pay he receives as a reporter for Maple Press.
“Bring out your phones and electronic gadgets,” barks another army officer with a badge name reading Dantata Aliyu.
Obi watches on as his colleagues’ phones and tabs met the same fate as his. Even their midgets were not spared.
“What’s the meaning of this madness?” asks Chekwuebe.
“What?” Dantata asks in feigned shock. “You dare to question me?” He asks as he moves towards Chekwuebe to butt him with his gun but is stopped by Babawo Ganja, his colleague.
“This is what you get for sending out false, unconfirmed reports to the gullible Public.” Babawo announces to all the teeming Journalists present in the Uahia NUJ centre. “You incite the locals and paint us black before the international community, this is what you get for being unprofessional.”
The army officers begin to troop into their vans.
“Hey you, will you keep rolling,” Braimah, Obi’s torturer brings him out of his woolgathering. Obi rolls over in the cold mud. He thanks God that the rain is now in drizzles as his mind lulls back to the previous hours’ events.
As the army van drives out of the National Union of Journalists’ Centre, the chairman drives in with his entourage. His fit of anger is obvious as the veins in his necking are visible and his eyes, red.
“What effrontery!” he begins. “What effrontery!!” he continues. “What effrontery!!!” he ends. There’s a chaotic uproar as everyone tries to speak at the same time. The Chairman’s P.A, Erastus, tries to restore order. As soon as the place gets quiet, Philip Okenze, a Journalist with Daystar Times speaks first.
“Sir, I think the time we’ve all feared most, has finally come. A time when doing our job will be threatened by the sword. Is it not a giant coward that picks up a fight with a midget? Why will. . .”
“Chairman Sir,” Ugo Dubem, a journalist with Aqua radio cuts Philip. “You’ll agree with me that this is no time for rhetoric. We’ve been raped and we won’t be silent. We’ve lost all our work gadgets and something should be done fast about it.”
“See my camcorder,” Julius Onah shows his shattered gadget to the Chairman.
“See my Samsung Galaxy tab,” says Obi.
“See my Tecno Ipad”
“See my Apple Ipad”
“I can’t even find the remains of my Fero Tab.” Some three Journalist say in unison.
“Alright, I think the best course of action is to pay the Governor a visit immediately.” The Chairman intervenes. “Everybody, gather your remaining valuables. Erastus, get a good picture of this damage. Make them good, Erastus.” He picks his phone and dials the Press Secretary’s number.
Obi is once again jerked from his reverie by Sergeant Braimah’s voice, this time, followed with a kick at his side. He turns and continues reminiscing, this time, on his last conversation with Rahila, his ego oyinbo.
“How are you doing babe,” Rahila anxiously asks. It’s been three whole days since they last spoke and the anxiety is killing her.
“I’m fine. How are you, how is work?” Obi asks without enthusiasm. The situation in Uahia is turning worse by the day. Being in the frontline of covering and reporting the events, leaves him drained of emotion and strength. His nights are full of nightmares of gory wounds and mutilated bodies he encounters while covering for Maple Press. The last scene he saw today is that of a young man in the pool of his blood. He has not been able to eat since he came back.
“I’m doing well,” Rahila replies. “Are you really fine? It’s so depressing that the close I hear about you for the past three days, is on the media, in the pages of your column.”
“I’m sorry,” Obi still manages to respond. He loves Rahila with a passion. Her calm demeanor, beautiful smooth dark face with a ready smile, is a picture etched on his mind. The fact that she’s taller than him did not deter her from showing him off to her friends when he went visiting. That singular act endears her to him.
“I love you dear, just know that,” Obi says quietly.
“I guess so many emotions are going through you now given the madness going on in Uahia. I just want you to know that I’m here for you any time you want to talk. In fact, I could arrange a little getaway for you at Mango Inn, in Jos, you told me you like the place much.”
“Did I tell you I want to run away?”
Rahila sighs deeply. It’s like having the proverbial elephant in the room and not dealing with it. The BOPE Secessionists blame the Federal government for marginalizing and extorting them. The BOPE are using every means possible to get the Federal government to ascent to their demands. Since they are using violence, the Federal government is also using the army to quell down the agitations. Obi belongs to the BOPE divide while Rahila is lumped to the Federal government divide. It’s like fate has pitched them against each other
“I know you don’t want to, I’m just suggesting something to you. If it’s not okay by you, you can simply decline.”
“Well, thanks, but no.”
“No problem, it’s still open should you change. . .”
“What is it?” Obi shouts at her as he cuts her. “I’m not running, I’m not running. How should I say it for you to believe it?” As he says the last words, he realizes he’s been talking to a deadline. He breathes in, then out. Realizing his irrationality, he redials Rahila’s number but was told by the service operator that the line is switched off. It’s her style and he loves her for it
“Oh, how I love this Jos girl” he tells himself as he smiles sadly and stands to go take a shower. She has forewarned him that instead of picking his call while she’s angry and say things she’d regret, she’d rather be offline.
A cold bucket of water brings him back to present. He shakes off the urge to scream as the consequence of doing so, dawns on him.
How he ended up in the mud with tens of others is just as annoying an event, as all the occurrences of the past week. The NUJ chairman took all the journalists to the Government house in his Official Hiace bus. The Governor’s reception is far from warming as his resolution was not hopeful either as he responded in a typical government way- “we’ll look into it and bring the perpetrators to book.” The unsatisfied team of Press men left the Government house like chickens drenched by the rain.
Obi and Chekwuebe drop off at their junction. They did not exchange words as both are engaged in their private thought, counting their losses. About 25 meters to their compound, they notice a gathering of almost all the people in their neighborhood. They could pick out some Uniform men from a distance so, they double their steps and even half-run to get to the scene. As they get closer, they see an army officer holding their caretaker by his trousers.
“What’s going on?” Chekwuebe asks no one in particular.
“I learnt he’s planning a peaceful march for 8am tomorrow. How the army men got wind of it is a mystery. They are roughing him up to get the names of his cohorts,” replies an elderly bystander.
Obi and Chekwuebe exchange looks. They are actively part of the plan. Caught between sticking around and walking away, the choice is made for them by the army van that drives to the scene in a “commando” style, spraying CS gas at the gathering crowd.
Two hands with iron-like grip, takes hold of Obi as he begins coughing profusely and gasping for air. His nose is burning, so is his mouth and throat. The hand that gripped him, takes him to the waiting van. He looks around for Chekwuebe but could not sight him.
“Get off me!” Obi shouts weakly to another person that was thrown into the van. He looks around the Van for Chekwuebe to no avail.
The van begins to move abruptly and countless other bodies fall heavily on him. Obi gasps for air, decides to take a deep breathe, then jerks himself up with great force thus sending the bodies on him, flying in different directions. He hits his head on the roof of the van, in the process, but, the pain is a relief to him as it serve to confirm to him that he’s alive- something he doubted some minutes ago.
After like fifteen minutes’ drive, the van stops and orders all to drop down.
“Oya Oya fall out,” a Sergeant named Musaib Goro barks.
“Remove your shirts,” barks Goro when all had dropped from the van.
As the men weakly comply because the effect of the CS gas is yet to fully wear off, the army men begin to bark commands at them harshly.
“Are your hands paining you? Be fast else I’ll injure someone this evening,” Sergeant Goro threatens.
That’s how Obi found himself rolling shirtless in the mud with tens of others.
“You think it’s easy to be a security agent? You want to protest abi? Don’t worry, your training begins today? You’ll thank me later.”
Rahila tries to keep a calm front but three days without talking to Obi, is like three decades of meaningless existence. What worries her most is the way they left things the last time they spoke.
“Good Morning aunty Rahila,” Jemimah greets her.
She snaps back and manages to answer.
“Morning dear, how was your night?”
“It was good aunty, how was yours?”
That’s a first, Rahila thinks to herself. Jemimah, the receptionist, is a shy lady that doesn’t greet pass the normal pleasantries.
“My night was good dear, thank you.”
Just then, Rahila picks a whiff of cologne that makes her nostalgic and sad. It’s the same type she bought for Obi the last time they visited his family in Uahia. She smiles as she remembers how he used it abundantly the day he was seeing her off to the park.
“Oga, did you empty the cologne on your body?” she teases.
“Haba, what do you take me for? I just love the smell- not too harsh or too mild, just what I like. Thank you baby for the wonderful gift.”
“You’re welcome. But if you keep lavishing it like that, the bees will feast on you anytime you pass their abode.”
“Whose phone is ringing?” she asks in herself. As the ringing persist, she feels the vibration coming from her bag. She jumps out of her woolgathering and begins to hope the caller is Obi-her Obim.
Unfortunately-or fortunately, it’s her mother.
“Good morning mummy,” She speaks excitedly.
“Rilaaaa” her mum responds in the fond way she always calls her. “How are you doing, dear?”
“I’m great mummy, when are you coming back? That village has had enough of you, we’re missing you o,” whines Rahila.
“Missing me? When none of you is calling me?”
“Mum, I planned calling you when I settle in the office.”
Her mum laughs heartily.
“Tell that to a stranger, Rila. Are you done calling Obi, that you’d have time for me?
Rahila’s heart sinks.
“Mummy, the way you are talking, someone listening will think we didn’t talk yesterday afternoon.”
“Ehen? So what? Yesterday is gone, today is another day.”
“Mummy I. . .”
“Never mind, I learnt an attack on the northerners is ongoing in Uahia. That the Igbos are also giving the northerners quit notice only this time, by killing them. Watch your moves in town today.”
“I will be careful mum. Please come back soon, your children miss you.”
“I hear you.”
“Please bring some shea butter cream for me. . .” Rahila trails off as she realizes that she’s talking to a deadline. Typical of her mum. Some years ago, she would have become worried and call back but now, she’s so used to her mum cutting the call as soon as she’s done saying why she called.
Thoughts of Obi creeps back into her mind as she turns on her desktop computer to begin work for the day.
A siren blares from a distance, signaling the coming of an important personality. By now, Obi and all his colleagues in the mud, are “sitting” on their head. The position is achieved with their heads placed on a long plank that’s just some few inches off the ground, their legs spread wide apart and their hands on their upraised hip region.
The siren gets closer and seem to be approaching their location and in no time, the motorcade stops at their location. An orderly, with badge named Hamidu A., drops from the only Jeep among the motorcade and marches towards Sergeant Braimah and beckons on him to follow. A three star Lieutenant General steps out of the Jeep and begins to question Sergeant Braimah.
“Are you in charge here?” the Lt. General asks.
“Yes sir!” Sergeant Braimah answers
“What’s the meaning of this?”
Obi recognizes his voice as that of the General Officer Commanding of the third armored division of Uahia. The General met them as they were leaving the Government house and he promised to “Look into the matter and make a refund of all the damaged valuables.”
“Privileged information got to us of their plans to raze down a make-shift station in their community. We’re nipping it in the bud, sir.”
“This method is not discreet enough to handle such,” snaps the Lt. General. “You know what you can draw by doing this? Pack your things and leave here.”
“Sir, Yes Sir!!!” Sergeant Braimah responds and turns to march off.
In less than five minutes, they are loading their van and jumping in as their driver zooms off, splashing murky water on their now abandoned victims. Obi sits gently on the muddy ground to get over the dizzy sensation and weakness, the “exercise” has caused him. After a few minutes, he begins to call out Chekwuebe’s name because he hoped they were picked together. When he did not get an answer, he starts towards the opposite direction, the van went. He walked into a tricycle rider who is trying to give it a push. Obi helps him out and hops in, giving the man his address.
“No 10, Holy Ghost street, please.” Obi manages to say as a wave of drowsiness hits him.
Obi pecks Rahila on the cheeks as he wraps his arms around her. That’s the much he gets from her and he’s content.
“A penny for your thought,” Rahila tells him.
Smiling, Obi says “I’m just picturing us touring the world as renowned investigative journalists, trending the big media conglomerates with our highly sought after stories, transforming lives one person a . . .”
“Obim!” Rahila interrupts, “Of all the things you think of at the beach, with the smell of fresh water, cool breeze and coconut all around you, is work?”
“At least you’re in it,” he replies her innocently.
“Chai, what an improper use of opportunity.” She claps back as he smooths away a strand of her natural hair that escaped from the band holding it together.
Rahila’s ringing phone brings her back to the present. “Who could be responsible for interrupting me relishing my sweet memories?” She thinks to herself. A quick look at her phone tells her that she has overstayed in the office again. The caller happens to be her boss.
“Rahila, are you still in the office?”
“I am, sir,”
“Good, please don’t come into town yet. There’s pandemonium breaking out in the central area. Just stay put, put your nose to the ground for any news and be certain of normalcy before you leave.”
“Alright sir. Does that mean you have no clue as to the reason of the pandemonium?”
“I don’t but will surely do. Bye”
“Bye sir.” Rahila ends the call.
She tries Obi’s line, but it’s still unavailable. She remembers her conversation with her mum in the morning and decides to stay back a little.
Obi cannot believe his eyes as he drops from the tricycle. In the pool of dried blood, with swarm of big flies responding to the strong stench, is Chekwuebe, lying cold dead in the same cloth Obi last saw him in. His brain matter is splashed on the culvert leading to their yard.
“What happened?” Obi asks, half-expecting Chekwuebe to clap back with his ever ready sarcasm. He a while, away from the body. He then begins to gingerly move towards the body.
Dazed, Obi sits by the dead body.
Rahila couldn’t wait any longer so her two colleagues on night shift, Tersoo and Sam, decides to see her off to the main road where she’ll get a taxi home. Rahila is quiet as they walk to the road which makes Tersoo, her closest colleague, to probe her.
“What’s the matter, Rahila?” he asks.
“Nothing, why do you ask?”
“You’ve been a little absent-minded and aloof, lately.”
“Nothing dey do me jare,” she breaks into pidgin to lighten the mood.
“If you say so,” Tersoo ends. “Quarters!” he hails a passing tricycle which stops.
Rahila enters and bids them good night. The traffic at this time of the day was beyond normal. She caught the gist in the tricycle she boarded. According to the driver, his cousin barely escaped death with his Boxer van after dropping off some vegetables he took to Uahia the day before. The said cousin came with tales of how Northerner’s cars were burnt by the BOPI people, along with the occupants. The pandemonium in the Central area of Jos, is caused by the protest of aggrieved Northern brethren who lost their kith in Uahia.
“Those people can be callous. What concerns a northern business man with the activities of the army up there?” asks one of the four passengers.
“No, a better question is, what concerns us here with what happened up there so much so that we’re about to lose some sleep?” another passenger cuts in.
“It’ll be better if we lose only our sleep tonight,” says the passenger in the front seat. Rahila pays her fare and drops off.
She gets home to the news that Jim, her family friend and neighbor’s son, is not back from school and is not reachable. She drops her bag and goes to Jim’s house.
“Good evening mummy Jim,” she greets.
“Evening Rila,” Jim’s mum answers without any trace of her usual enthusiasm.
“I heard about Jim, mum. Has Matthew his close friend been contacted? Any update” Rahila asks.
“Matthew said they parted ways at the usual Bottling junction.”
“Has any search been done from the junction?”
“Yes, his father is at it as we speak.”
“He will be fine, mum”
As they are speaking, a car enters the compound and Mr Ted, Jim’s father, walks in with the news on his face. In a flash, mummy Jim faints.
Nneoma, Obi’s neighbor, happens upon Obi. She cajoles Obi to leave the spot but he won’t budge till the BOPI National Guard came for Chekwuebe’s body. After bathing, Obi could not do the littlest task of rubbing pomade or wearing his cloth. So he sits in the dark, ruminating over the events of the past week. He picks his small Fero phone and begins to dial Chekwuebe’s number, and then he remembers the reason for his dark depression. The only other person he’d call is Rahila. Though not so enthusiastic about the idea, he dials her line all the same. After five rings, she picks.
“Hello.” He notices that her voice is drowned by wailing and shouting at her end.
“Hello, please could you shift from where you are so we can talk?”
“I’ll call you back, please,” Rahila says as she drops the call.
“Can my day get any better?” he asks himself.
He thinks of calling Chekwuebe’s only sister, but decides against it. Such news should be delivered with tact and deliberateness, face to face. He dials Rahila’s number, but it rings without her, picking the call. He tries again and she busies her line.
“If she’s still angry, she is definitely on her own.” He angrily says this out loud. “How will someone who claim to love you not be anxious to talk to you after three days? She works in the media and she knows what’s going on here, can’t she be more humane and show a little concern? Can’t she?” Obi asks his dark room as his catharsis ends.
It’s been six weeks since the death of Jim, Tersoo and Sam- who unfortunately ran into a deadly, angry mob on their way back from seeing Rahila off. The death of those three, on the same day, for no just crime, still feels like a mirage to Rahila. It has drained her of all emotions-positive and negative. She has abandoned any hope of connecting back with Obi as he wouldn’t pick her call nor respond to her social media messages. She sensed the agitation and deep sadness in his voice, the night he called. Unfortunately, his call came in the same time Jim’s mum fainted. If the secessionist did succeed, they had succeeded in tearing two hearts apart.