BY Alapa Peters Odugbo
The day grew quite older. It was soon midnoon. Cecily still sat behind the wheels awaiting his arrival. She had been there since 9am. The parking lot covered a large expanse, with the kerbs painted white to match with The Heavens’. They were meticulously formed and adorned with rectangular rows of varied lengths that had beautiful flowers on their faces like veils. Behind her at the centre of the parking lot was the statue of a man dressed in uniform, probably a policeman or anyone in the force. With the stick in his hand, he appeared to be shooing away two other images: an old woman clad in rags, crying, dragging her naked daughter away.
For Cecily, that image was an enigma, not in the sense of what it portrayed but that it was stationed right in front of The Heavens. She had heard from countless mouths that The Heavens was only for the rich, and hence the image meant the poor had no place near it. But that made no sense to her. Her nine years in Nigeria only revealed to her a deep rooted callousness in the hearts of the elites. In spite of all they steal from the country’s treasury, one idiot still had the guts of building a hotel to taunt the poor.
At that instant a young man came by her window.
“Please any work for me. I have been looking for work for the past six months”. He was tall, round-headed, with sharp smart eyes. But for his round head, he looked like a dried log of wood in his oversized jallabiya that bore several maps of stains in an assortment of colours. He couldn’t had gone beyond twenty, and must have been a school dropout, or an unemployed frustrated graduate like the millions of them running up and down the streets of Ajabu in search of all manner of menial jobs to live on.
She had fixed her gaze on him without saying anything. She pulled her diary, tore a sheet, scribbled her phone line on it and handed him.
“Ka kira ni!”- call me, she had said.
He bowed to take it, stole a quick look behind, pulled away hurriedly and sped off.
“Uwaka shege”, your mother, bastard, another young man, shouted, hurrying down with a stick in his hand. He was dressed in a bogus uniform.
“Madam, you see this kind wahala! If he is caught here I will lose my job. He is a worthless fellow. Boys his age are hustling in the markets and he is here disturbing people’s peace”. With every line he made he outlined with a demonstration to justify his action.
Cecily watched him leave, walking slowly, with measured steps, like someone who feared that the interlocked floor will slip him off his feet any time.
She turned to look at the statue. A dribble of tears ran down her eye. Then through her rearview mirror, she saw the car drive in slowly, the usual black brand new Camry. She checked her wristwatch. It was 12:10pm. Ha! What took him this long?
But he was only ten minutes late, a big difference from most Nigerian guests who had deliberately fashioned the habit of attending events long after the scheduled time, with the hope of not being kept waiting in the name of “waiting for the arrival of special guests”, who will try to defend their excuses when they eventually join the event, as if it were a right to arrive late.
He came out of the car and hurried in. She jumped out and followed.
The Heavens’ main eatery was filled with life. There were several wealthy people scattered around different tables: some sitting in groups, eating and chatting, others alone, drinking and reading newspapers.
It was gloriously lit up with brilliant streams of light flowing from the golden chandeliers suspended over each table.
She took a seat a distant away. Right in front, by the counter was a big poster, with his image and the caption: HE IS WANTED; DEAD OR ALIVE, written below in red. No one knew he was in there taking tea, someone who could bring down the whole hotel in rubbles with a mere single order.
“Madam, what would you want?” A short, chubby waitress clad in a white short sleeve tucked into a black tight skirt, whispered with a broad smile that made her look like a robot.
“Oh! Please give time to check through the menu,” Cecily had replied politely. She picked the menu, a laminated A4 paper with a long list of different meals. It was hard to take her mind off her nine year target, while he sat right within sight. She began to think deeply about what next to do, forgetting the waitress standing beside her.
The waitress smiled and scurried down to another table occupied by a thin bespectacled young woman and her daughter.
Cecily scribbled a note in her diary, tore the sheet and slipped it into her pocket. She saw him look at his picture, and smiled. As he surveyed the eatery, she quickly turned her face away.
An old man stood up, cleared his bill and began to walk down towards the door. She joined him. She hurried as quickly as her legs could go, to the Camry. The door was not locked. She had ten minutes to please herself before he showed up. Nothing bore the sign of any brutal murder in the car. Beyond the jotter and a handkerchief beside the driver’s seat, there was nothing else. She delayed a bit.
As she pulled the door open, two police officers walked down in quick giant strides, followed by the The Heaven’s internal security officer she had seen a few minutes ago.
“Come on out!” One of them huge and bulky, presumably the boss, thundered.
“I knew it. She had been here all day. I had refused to take my eyes off her” the security officer explained.
She came out and said nothing.
“What were you doing in there?” The policeman croaked, his saliva spilling over her nose, his eyes reddened with violence. His colleague stood with his hands folded across his chest. He looked like someone whose life wouldn’t have been best spent outside the altar of God.
She said nothing. The old man she had walked out of the eatery with had joined the group that was beginning to widen with more and more people.
“Let’s have her searched right away” the policeman had said to his colleague whose hands had immediately reached out for her breasts that stood erect behind her fitted T-shirt.
“No, Babu! Are you out of your senses?” The old man stopped him immediately.
He fished out an ID card from his pocket and showed the crowd.
“Don’t dare touch her. Am a judge. If you do you will have your lives spent in jail”.
The internal security officer had withdrawn to the back, singing and telling everyone how he had caught her.
“Let’s take her to your office. She is a woman. She will be thoroughly frisked there.” He had said.
“The owner of the car is even here” the internal security officer shouted from the back.
Then he appeared, tall and huge in a black suit. His long moustache was thoroughly cleared as though no hair had ever grown there.
The crowd made way for him, preparing to receive his reaction. He entered the car and said nothing.
“I have lost nothing. Set her free.” He had said without turning to look at anyone.
“No sir. All of us have to go down to the station to have her searched. This will curb future reoccurrences” the old man explained. The crowd mumbled acquiescence. He tried to make them know he had serious other engagements but knew he was only wasting his time the moment the two police officers pulled her into his back seat and flanked her.
“That’s her car” the internal security officer had pointed at the black brand new SUV.
“With this kind car, you still want to steal from a poor man. This world ehmmm!” He had added.
“Sani, run down to her car, and lead us to th station” the police boss passed the instruction to the third officer who had been in the crowd unnoticed. The old man and a few others pulled down an entourage behind them as the cars proceeded to the station.
The drive was fast and short because the roads were almost completely deserted.
The police station, situated at the back of beyond, was a beautiful newly built flat with about ten offices, a large reception room where cases were registered at a counter, and a large general cell where criminals awaiting trial were kept.
About six policemen were receiving instructions from the Divisional Police Officer, Mrs. Sabita Dauda who spoke with a sonorous thin voice that never matched her sternness and smartness.
The troop came in, in solemn silence. Cecily was in their middle with the man by her side.
The three police officers first saluted, before their chief sought to have a word with Mrs. Sabina.
They walked out together and soon returned afterwards.
“What’s your name?” Mrs. Sabina asked Cecily.
“Am Aishat Hamza” she had responded without raising her eyes from her shoes.
“You have an SUV and came to steal from a Camry?”
She said nothing.
“Shut the Station right away. Get your weapons” Sabina ordered as someone would at the sudden discovery of danger. The confused police officers all swung into action.
“Come on here” Mrs. Sabina had said to Cecily her pistol right in her hand. She hurried down behind the counter into an adjoining room, with Cecily right behind her.
“Pull off everything” She had said calmly. “Quick”. The room had a wooden table with a plastic chair sitting behind it. It was well illumined with a fluorescent bulb.
Cecily pulled off her shirt slowly. She pulled down her brassiere and dragged it off, down her long arms. A card fell down from it, as her breasts flipped off their cups, dangled reluctantly up and down and stood erect like two upturned cups over her chest.
Mrs. Sabina picked the card. “Stop”
Cecily had produced the sheet in her pocket.
“Agent Cecily Woods from the CIA?” Mrs. Sabina had asked in utter bewilderment.
She took the sheet and read the greatest wonder of her life: “He is Shekau”.