You know that feeling when you feel like life happened to you? Like your game plan is to perpetually not have a game plan? Your plan of attack is attack as the plan? Your cloud nine gyrates about an axis embellished with silver linings? Your weights infuse bias on what to define as benevolence or malevolence? Your…I think you get the idea. You should. Or, at least an inkling. Because if you do not, you will judge me by the time I finish my story. And alas, your judgment will assuredly seem right on all accounts, but you will miss the point. And if you do miss the point, well, why have we wasted both our times telling this story in the first place? I think I know a way to enable you use the right set of lenses to screen this tale. Forget that it is my story. Make it yours. In fact, where you see my name, insert your own.
CAVEAT: A lot of names will be mentioned in this considerably lengthy short – granted, twisted – story, and as it pertains to whom I may be and what the story will say about the things I have done, or am doing, there shall be no indicatives. Here your task as audience and reader lies: who are you; more particularly, what story of you is being told in the next set of paragraphs?
Gold, greed, good intentions, and grand larceny are the secret ingredients to create the perfect little picaroon. Using only homemade affections from an oft inordinately-dressed nanny, four soppy stories about humanitarian aid capped up by Mark Twain’s The Prince and the Pauper, and a promise so self-indulgent you pictured a masque with nary a performer above ten sing-dancing to its dubious melodies; that’s passionate thievery borne and crusted into the mind of Arinze, a tall, young, sprightly, slightly dole-eyed fellow who carried around with him that familiar discombobulated aura of approaching puberty, and of course, the only family Reverend Father Olaka Mbadiwe had.
Arinze had traipsed about the third aisle of the boutique three times now. The key was to do all he could to not attract attention. Everything was glittery, literally. He didn’t understand the female obsession with glitter. If the end result was to make the putting on of the handbag, or the shoes, or the omni-coloured dresses, or the blindingly shiny jewellery, feel like a fairytale, like all your sorrows will go away when you place them on your person, then by all means, Miss Uche would have her purse. But he knew better; at the least, he felt he should. He had once overheard his grandpa and Miss Uche talk about how he was a slow learner. Grandpa had been furious that day and, missing his target with the missal, he had screamed the word retard. For the first time since he could count to ten, Miss Uche screamed back at grandpa. She said Arinze was an underachiever, whatever that means. But it sounded more sophisticated, and was carried with a tone of voice to suggest positivity, so Arinze accepted it. He was an underachiever, not a retard. It was moments like this that reminded him why Miss Uche, his nanny, possessed the quickest means to his heart, more than his grandfather whom he loved and cherished. But she had once told him that as much as she loved him, the love his late parents gave him from childbirth to their ghastly accident superseded all that she could ever give. He was a loved child, and that was all that mattered. He was special too, because he believed in fairytales, and how Rumpelstilskin had spun Snow White a golden purse into being, but had never been able to hand it to her. She, Miss Uche, had found the purse at a privately-owned boutique in ShopRite in Owerri, and needed her brave knight to rescue it from its holds, so that she can hand it over to Snow White. If not so, Snow White will end up like Tom Canty and not Prince Edward Tudor of Wales, you know, before they exchanged clothes.
Arinze had first checked out the section for boys, then the section with clothes so alike he wondered how people could tell the different styles – tuxedo, dinner jacket, blazer, Armani, Ralph Lauren, D&G – and then he spotted his prize and dove for the kill, having waited for the right moment, following Miss Uche’s instructions to the letter. He had surmised that making a beeline for the front door would save him from the cashier’s pursuit, because the cashier had caught him the moment he had double-checked the photo on his left hand with the item on its stand, ripe, awaiting plucking, but alas, by some foul magic from the dastardly cashier, the never-ever-stayed-closed sliding door in front of him wouldn’t open. His heels kissed the back of his head as he ran, and he prayed. Why now? Why will the door not open now? Then came the deafening horns– the alarm. A megaphone evolved mouth and blared, “stop there, young man! Return the purse back to where you stole it from. Return it, and prevent me from calling the police.” Arinze would not fail on his kingly quest. He would not be deterred by an entrance that had chosen the worst time to be unfashionably sealed, or a fat counter-man enjoying the use of sonorous enchantments, or his croons about to corner him from three other angles, all in red uniform. He would imagine the obstacle ahead of him into a looking glass, and he would cross worlds and take the purse to Snow White himself if he had to. He would later apologize to Miss Uche about the slight change in plans.
Four footsteps to the door, its middle panel split open with a very sharp cracking sound of ductile metal axially torn in tension beyond its yield point so fast, dragging with it – in the developing protruding vortex it created – all the now vehemently-gyrating glass pieces of the door, shattering with tremendous fervor from centre outwards like a perfectly-symmetrical, rarefaction-less ripple. All the pieces of the once sturdy door had come flying into the shopping space at break-neck speed, injuring most, getting stuck in all manner of soft tissue and crevices they could find; and this occurrence was initiated by the unannounced protuberance created by Chuks’ flying body, which in fact, ended up on top of the now unconscious, severely-wounded body of Arinze. Chuks’ nose licked the tip of the purse’s distinctive silver stud that held the flap in place as a buckle, the mixture of phlegm and blood oozing from it on the other hand had dyed the rest of the purse with unholy colours.
The policeman whose vehicle had violently nudged Chuks’ bike before it skidded and leaped lopsidedly rushed into the centre, armed to the teeth. He sighted his victim cum culprit taking shallow breaths under a heap of velveteen material. One can imagine the panic that had erupted all over the place– stampede galore, excuse for the unfairly denied crazy of some people letting out, carnival of shoplifting for the few who’d sold their souls (and purses) to gods that are too lazy to do the pillaging-in-the-face-of-impeding-death thing themselves, the concerto of hell as never before seen. The policeman’s partner enters the scene as Chuks discovers his day – or night, as this entire shebang was occurring between the hours of 8 and 9 pm – was just getting started. This little consciousness he’d regained jogged the only memory he needed now– why in God’s green earth he had to steal hard drugs from Papa Laka, who said he didn’t want to sell this batch to the usual customers but to some new guy and would use the money to support the nunnery at St. Mark’s Catholic Parish, only to sell them to Papa Laka’s best detective in the precinct right there in his office, and have Papa Laka unleash this rabid dog on him with same said best detective partnering up. Perhaps Papa Laka was finished with him for stealing from him. The radio people have tagged it grand larceny. Chuks stole from the biggest thief there is. How does the justice system of Nigeria open up its mouth and call it gran–
The shot fired from the bulky policeman leading the chase nearly scraped Chuks’ ear. Turning around, Chuks finds it hits something else though, something animate and barely alive. He remembered now. There was a little boy. He removed the tail of a pink robe demarcating him and the unconscious child. The bullet had gone straight though his chest cavity. Chuks cupped his mouth in terror and muffled a scream. A resounding pang of guilt had just hit him. He remembered Adaugo, and the kid she lost before joining the nunnery. A second shot that tore his left shin reeled him back to the present. He had to run. He was pissed. Pissed at life, at how cruel it can be sometimes; how the assholes that deserve the worst keeps receiving everyone’s praise. It’s salt and pepper in the wrong oriental dish. Papa Laka exemplified to the core this brand of assholes Chuks referred to. They are the slithery serpents, the leviathans of the real world. And they hold all the power. Very hard to ever imagine them hustling their way up the food chain. They must have been vicious predators. Must have? God wiped out meat-eating dinosaurs and replaced them with men. And the worst kind? The wannabes, the sycophants, Obinna, the only turd-detective who would partner up with a bulldog in order to annihilate a friend who could rat him out.
Chuks struggled and got up. He began limping as the bulldog who’d been biding his time, and making sure the result of his days spent lying to his wife about those anger management classes wouldn’t lead him to actually kill the victim cum culprit outside of self-defense. He hated these scumbags so much. He would force Chuks into a corner where Chuks would move to kill him, and then, he’d kill him first, in self-defense of course.
Elsewhere, Adaugo was anxiously awaiting Uche’s return. She was outside the convent, and had a hard time getting her legs in order. They were more excited than her. The night was cold, and of course, since no one was allowed outside at such odd hour, she was not donned like a sister; that and, well, life isn’t easy, fingers aren’t all equal, what you see is what you get, what you want you use what you have to get, it was hustling hour. Man must wak.
Her phone rings and startles her, and then brought her attention to how close she was to the convent waiting for her partner in crime. She stood from the cold pavement where she was sat and moved further down the street curve, now completely out of sight of any sister who may have been watching. She didn’t give much care to stealth whenever she switched to her alter ego with a very questionable nightlife. Since the first time she denied ever prostituting herself out on the street in front of Mother Superior and Father Olaka, and Father Olaka defended her without question, she had always gotten away with it. What was different about this night? Yes, the purse. She had scoped a score the other night who was filthy rich and had a hankering for happening babes alone. So, she would happen, gilded paraphernalia and all.
“Ada, sorry for keeping you waiting this long. I think something has happened. My boy hasn’t returned with the purse yet. I’m worried, Ada. Should I go get him? What if he got caught? But, they’d find his emergency contact and call. That’s me. Or, maybe, he’s still in the store, afraid. But I told him it was for Sno–”
“Uche, slow down, slow down. Take a deep breath. Where are you? Let me come to you.”
When Adaugo waved down the taxi that was to take her to Uche’s location, one pesky thought stuck to her mind, and try as she might to rid herself of it, it was there, like a leech, sucking, condemning, reproving. Uche would call it the Jiminy Cricket Concern, making it sound like a government programme to rehabilitate all ex-sex-worker-turned-nun-moonlighting-as-sex-worker-because-since-losing-her-son-she-would-do-any-depraved-thing-she-has-to-to-put-food-on-the-table-of-any-goddamn-orphanage-person and make them into a good person. The thought was this: Is it worth it?
Adaugo then remembered her Father Olaka who bailed her out the first time, and bile erupted and filled her insides. The reverend father had confronted her and informed her of his eyes and ears everywhere. She was not to worry though. She had his protection, as long as she quits being an independent worker, and began working for him. She hadn’t a choice. She was still grieving the loss of her son, the break-up with Chuks, and the bankruptcy that iced the delectable plummet from grace to earthworm. At Father Olaka’s establishment – where he was called Papa Laka – Adaugo met Uche who showed her a way of getting some independent business done.
Back to the bad hair day Chuks was having. Police reinforcements had arrived. The entire shopping area had been cordoned-off. The only individuals not dead or worse (because there’s worse, and that’s when you’re fully alive, but hiding in a corner, shaking in your boots and peeing on yourself – repeatedly – because the mayhem was heading straight at you, and you wanna help your wife who is unconscious beside a castrated headless mannequin but you can’t because you’re scared out of your wits) in the store space was Chuks, the bulldog, Obinna and three other cops tailing behind.
“Obinna, I didn’t do anything! You have to call off this madness. Tell Laka that I’ll repay him. You can use the weed I gave you in his office as my first payment. I’ll refund you, then complete payment with him.” This Chuks screamed as he tottered off towards an unsuspecting soon-to-be victim of amputation, finding escapes. He had climbed the stairs and was on the first floor now, in the food section.
There was a little pause the bulldog allowed to consider Chuks’ statement. Chuks had accused his partner of being in cahoots with him. The speech of a dead man. He had no reason to lie now, knowing his impending doom. When the bulldog turned to inspect his partner, just as if Obinna read his mind, Obinna said to him, “he said Captain Olaka, who is a Reverend Father is a drug dealer. How can you believe the words of a dead man?” True, he was a dead man, so he also must be finding a way to weasel himself out of this situation, and knowing his rap sheet, he is the mother of weasels. “This situation is coming to you, baby,” the bulldog murmurs, and screams to a run.
He actually did scream, like a comic book law enforcer.
All three were on the first floor now. Chuks overturned shelf after shelf on the long aisle to slow his pursuers down. His injured feet had begun numbing. Fight or flight was seeming more like fruit fly and die. He looked ahead of him and saw a window overlooking a narrow street where cars couldn’t fit. There was a staircase behind the window. An idea struck him. His pursuers had gained on him, and the bulldog had released another cartridge. Getting to the window on time, Chuks looked and realized the staircase was more like a funicular than a staircase– bundle of joy for his trigger-happy friend. He looked left and right and all he saw was mashed tomatoes, green tomatoes, cashews in a carton, lettuce on cabbage, cabbage on lettuce, a carrot and a stick rolling around on the floor, and the grim fists of ten reapers hacking at his soul.
What the hell, he’d take the chance. He pulled the window open and clambered on.
“Freeze!” he heard. It came from both Obinna and the bulldog. Their three stooges had caught up too. One feet was facing the narrow street, chill air licking the sore shin, but just briefly because just opposite the building they were all in was an even taller one with, as it seemed, nothing but wall from top to bottom. Sitting astride the window sill, a jump outwards would assuredly inflict unspeakable pain from all the cervical and lumbar vertebra he would smash in the process. “When will ekelebe learn?” Chuks returned, smiled a fortuitous smile, and made the jump.
A spine hits a stair arm and a leg gets stuck between two steps in the metallic flight adjacent the window at forceful insertion from gravity-enhanced fall. The back of a head lands lastly, and creates enough momentum to break equilibrium and initiate a sliding of said adjacent flight. A squeaky voice above head transformed into a fat man with an ugly beard who had been thrown off-balance by the disturbance in the staircase. He looked married. He had all the tells. Seemed he was magic too, for he developed free flight and his short heavy feet leaves staircase completely. Heavy fat married man starts a scream that surprisingly, as it departed from head making observations, was embellished with a sharp crescendo. As heavy feet dove downwards, narrowly missing head making observations, it clips the metal release for the flight under the one the head making observations was in – which was the lowest flight – and a second descent of staircase ensued. Heavy man before landing violently on cold concrete floor and breaking his hip for life, had flailed his arms about and this very bad idea cost his right elbow to kiss the tip of a sharp set metal jutting out of the eternal wall of the opposite building. By the time the kiss was done, arm was separate from arm. The descent of stairs lifts full body that owned head making observations and renders body upside down in the turbulence of motion. This readjusting of body forces a split in ankle tendon holding fast ankle of leg stuck between steps of the stairs, and fresh blood oozes from torn shin that was minutes ago fresh out. The tendon split enabled an easing away of feet from step when descent was done, and what remained was a gentle thud of rest of, curiously still conscious, body from a safe short height onto the concrete ground, some feet away from now one-armed, hip-broken unconscious guy with the unconscious wife lain with the mannequin, and in the other distance, a fewer number of feet away from a screaming lady who had just witnessed the unrepentantly gruesome ordeal of the fall from the ground where she was. She had been dodging the police barriers and the police, because she was so scared. She desperately needed to get inside that store. The police wouldn’t let that. She needed to verify if her boy was okay.
The Christmas decorations that adorned the streets of Owerri was a testimony to the fact that government work was a joke. A cruel, sore joke to keep up appearances. But there’s that limp helplessness of situation there again. When the pied piper played a tune, everyone must dance. The dance life poked Adaugo with had made her lose herself. The first time she actually enjoyed the lap dance she gave one rather charming forty-year-old man with mommy issues, she returned to the convent and couldn’t concentrate on her charade as a sister anymore. She once did love saying the Angelus and the Ave Maria. That life she took as real, once. It was all a shadow now, and she looked forward to newer escapades. What was once grief had dissolved into numbness, which had now fully transformed into debilitating addictive lust. And it didn’t care if it was being enacted or activated out of good intentions, it always wanted more, craved more, and unlike other mortal sins, it was exploratory and adventurous, inventing new barriers once one is broken through and rendered stale. What Adaugo had planned for her bourgeois courtier that night was to redefine the phrase S & M.
She would tie him up to the bed – Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man style – and get hot candles. Handling those non-stop at the nunnery had made her quite adept. Socks on, rabbit mask on. He would have no safe word. He would entrust his entire body and being to her. She was Frankenstein’s Wife, and her job was exactly to animate the lifeless. She would do well to check for Viagra and any other performance-enhancing drug he might have stashed. She’d throw it all away. He wouldn’t need them after all. He would be paying heavily, and she would reciprocate in kind. After she gives him the full treatment to get his excitement pumping, she would untie him, and tie his hands around his back, tie his legs together, and send him to his knees. Frankenstein’s Wife would become the sweet fusion of Black Widow and Dominatrix Extraordinaire. He would huff and puff, and grovel like a scared puppy. Then he’d be a stupid giant. Fi fie fo fum…
The sharp swerve negotiated by the keke driver pulled Adaugo away from her nasty thoughts. A limousine had appeared from nowhere and had it not been for the expertise of the man at the wheel of the taxi tricycle, a head-on collision would have occurred. As expected, the keke driver jumped out of his vehicle with smoke rising from his ears, and so did the driver of the limousine. Angry voices towered the sky and, even though there wasn’t contact, Adaugo heard words like repair, windshield, bumper, “it’s called a fender, mumu”, thrown into the mix. Once there were two goats on a narrow bridge, they were moving in opposite directions and toward each other. The one said to the other move back and let me pass. The other said to the one, move back and let me pass.
“Driver! This argument isn’t solving anything. Come back, let’s get out of here,” Adaugo screamed when she stepped out of the keke. Another passenger added, “you no hear say dem de thief for ShopRite here, say some people don die sef, abeg make we comot here.” The passenger at the back of the limo equally stepped out and threw in his tuppence worth, “leave the matter Ade. I’m late for my gala. I’m sure they’re just about to give me the Saint Nicholas award. It’s not every day one gets to be the city’s favourite patriarch.”
Adaugo recognizes the voice. She needed to wait for the head to turn before she confirmed it. Backing her, the voice wore a jet-black dinner suit, and a white shirt as observed from the peeking collar. He was stalwart, but you could tell he was advanced, even though his head was not so bald and contained black hair. The whiff of air around him spoke loudly of a self-made man who knew the streets enough to respect street codes, and was as well regal and polished enough to be able to interact with the president of America without breaking a sweat. It had to be him.
Adaugo’s phone rang. She reached back into the keke to retrieve it. It was Uche, thank God.
“Uche, how far? Are you S–”
Uche interrupted her, and while Uche spoke, hitting her with shock after shock of terrible news in one unflinching, heavily stuttered sentence, the owner of the limousine turned around. Indeed it was him. It was Olaka Mbadiwe.
Olaka got into his long vehicle and it kick started. Adaugo, forgetting her belongings left in the keke initiated a hot pursuit on foot. Olaka hadn’t spotted Adaugo, so he instructed Ade, his driver, to get a move on. Adaugo kicked off her heels and her bare feel kissed the hot blacktop; she moved as quickly and as hastily as her long legs could carry her. Thank goodness she was on her hot beige leggings and tank top. Each energetic stride she took sent reverberating shocks throughout her system, with Uche’s voice heralding.
Jumping the street demarcation, “I just saw Chuks. He’s badly wounded. He fell. His back is broken.”
Dodging an oncoming pick-up truck with a surly-tongued driver, “I don’t think he can move again. And there’s another man, he’s bleeding so much. From his hand. There’s blood everywhere. His hand is cut. Oh my God, it’s your date Adaugo. His wife owns a boutique here, I remember. He’s dying.”
The red brake lights of the limousine comes on. Olaka must have spotted her. No, he hadn’t. He was making a right turn, away from the roundabout, “Ada. Ada. Ar–Arinze my boy. Chuks said he saw some boy like that. Like I described to him. Ada. Arinze, he’s dead. My boy is gone, Ada.”
Adaugo, takes a tangent and shortens her distance from the limousine. People had made a clear running path from her, some perhaps out of fear she might be insane, others maybe, she is in gang with the guy reports said they’d apprehended at ShopRite and have locked up in a police truck. “Ada, I don’t know what to do. Ada, what do I do? My life is finished. Arinze is dead. Ada, can you hear me? Say something? Are you on your w–?”
The limousine makes a hard stop dead in the middle of the street. Other cars drive past. Passersby and pedestrians stand and watch. Olaka questions Ade, “who is she? What does she want?” Olaka could not still see the pursuer Ade had rudely stopped the vehicle for.
“Sir, if I’m right, is that not that lady Obinna shot her son? During the drug-bust ruse five years ago?”
Was he asking me the question in the middle of answering mine, or did they not teach him how to answer a question in Standard Six? Olaka wondered about his driver.
Olaka treasured Ade. He reminded him so much of him when he was younger. Olaka’s parents were so poor they sold remains of the quarter bags of rice they received as government worker’s wage during Christmas after they had managed it through the festive season, so that they could get enough to subsidize Olaka’s school fees till he reached Standard Six at least, and stopped. At least, after Standard Six, someone can do apprentice work while he’s house help for a big man in Lagos. His mother’s best friend’s daughter had been pawned off to a Lagos 419er who was reeling in the cash. His mother, and father waited for their own turn. They never found their Lagos big man.