CROSSFIRED WILFRED I

The yawn stuck in his throat and Wilfred Ejezie froze like he had just made eye contact with Medusa. Moments earlier, he had been sleeping peacefully only to be rudely awakened, the noise and footsteps that pulled him from slumber came from within the compound he shared with other tenants. It was not the regular bustle of people starting their daily hustle, it was not the hopeful remonstrations of women returning from overnight prayers. The urgency sounded like a fire alarm and Wilfred reacted like he was the warden in charge at a fire drill. Not a fire fighter by any means, Wilfred was only familiar with the matches and plastic lighters he smoked his cigarettes and weeds with. A t-shirt, a pair of shorts and morning wood were the only equipment he rushed out with.

Wilfred stared puffy and cross-eyed at the small crowd.

“THAT’S HIM”

“THAT’S THE KIDNAPPER”.

His strabismus was to his disadvantage, the angry mob stared at a scruffy looking young man with eyes that wandered and descended on him.

“what is going on!”
“what have I done!”

Was stifled by numerous hands grabbing and tearing at Wilfred Ejezie. His pleas were subdued as many feet kicked at him. Bewilderment and pain toyed with his senses. He wondered if he was dreaming. Relentlessly, blows fell on his head and body. The pain in his ribs felt more than a pinch. The futility of the utility he attempted to activate was completely lost to him, for Wilfred was still trying to pinch himself as he sunk into oblivion.

Angela Okoli stared at her reflection in the mirror, and added a little more blush to her cheeks. She fluttered her fake eye-lashes at her reflection as pleasure and excitement continued to build in her ample bossom. She intended to make today’s Valentine’s Day merriment memorable.
There will be no escape for Clement. Tonight she was ready to ride with him to hell wearing nothing but hydrocarbon lingerie, provided those flammable undies can hang on before they reach the depths of sheol.

Clement stared at his wife’s cleavage and his mouth went dry. She must have rubbed some of that make-up on it. Angela’s mammaries were not only bulging through the low-cut dress, they were also glowing like ‘TAXI’ on the roof of a cab at night. The more he stared, the more her breasts seem to grow out of her shimmering dress. Short and revealing, the dress clung helplessly at the mound of her massive behind, he swallowed painfully. The way she leaned forward was playing familiar tricks with his now hard schlong, he forced himself to look away.
Angela was on a mission, he could tell. From the top of her wavy hair to the heels of her Aldo peep-toes, she was definitely going to turn heads tonight. His head was already in a tumble like the final noisy spin of a washing machine, he was beside himself.

“Isn’t that dress too revealing?”

“You could change it for something more decent… Something a married woman would wear!”

Clement was trying hard to be concilliatory, but his rage made him feverish. His nose hot with a blaze of fury he could not understand.
The air was crackling with the lethal static of sexual tension, but looking at them, one would think they were being gently fanned with the pink breeze of love.

Angela tried hard to hide her annoyance by pressing her full red lips gently together one more time. She straightened up, palms on her hips and wiggled slowly from side to side. The movement made her breasts bounce as if she was experiencing a pot-hole on the back of a motorcycle.

“I’m talking to you woman!” Clement was shouting this time.

“I want everyone to see what they are missing…I also want to have your full attention tonight”
She said mischievously while still regarding herself in the full length mirror.

“I don’t want you looking at any other woman at all this night”

“No skinny bitches!”

Angela added with a chuckle as she quickly turned and moved seductively towards Clement with a small smile of triumph on her face. Something warned her not to get any closer. Perhaps it was the steam coming out of his ears, or the crink in his brow. She did not care, Clement was her husband after all, and she could handle him on water and on land.

“Come on honey!
Don’t you like my outfit”

The slap when it landed ended her advance and sent her in the opposite direction. Lightbulbs exploded in her head and she tasted salt, warm salt. Angela was shocked and speechless.

“What did you do that for?”

Angela had taken great care not to raise her voice, she didn’t want to provoke him. The last time she had tried fighting back, with sound and claws, she had ended up in the hospital with her head the size of a basketball and face out of bounds. So she spoke to herself, asked herself questions and received no answer.

Moments later she heard the front door slam.

“Please come back” she cried to the empty house before dropping on her knees. After weeping to her heart’s content, she removed her shoes. She already knew that Clement had driven out without her. She was scared of the mirror now. In trepidation she opened her handbag and extracted a small compact. The small mirror shook in her hands as it saw her swollen face. It hurriedly retreated into the handbag. With her mind fully made up, Angela picked up her Blackberry phone and called Jeffery.

(To be contd)

ADDITIONAL NOTES

I hope you enjoyed Kenny’s Conundrum. I had no intention of including an ‘explanatory’ note. However, due to some of the responses I have received since I posted the story, I have decided to include this note as a ‘chaperon’ for readers. Apparently my thinly veiled effort at addressing a social issue has not been as obvious as I had expected.

For most of my life, Nigeria has been a place of frequent upheavals. The inefficient security apparatus of the state has often been caught napping during attacks by known and unknown assailants. The security forces while being mostly inept in fighting crime, have sometimes abated criminal activities or victimised the innocent.

The present leadership in the country is no where close to securing lives and property (except for themselves) than their predecessors. They have been more or less insensitive, insincere, self-centered and clueless on ways of tackling a plethora of challenges facing the citizenry. Their prescriptions have often been trivial, ineffective and downright unnecessary.

Nigerians have thus overtime developed an obsession with trivia and poorly timed and ‘poorly designed’ merriment. Perhaps as a means of escape from the harsh realities on ground. Gullibility and short memory has also evolved, probably as a defence mechanism. Our collective escapism has resulted tragically in history repeating itself over and over again.
The absence of a real fear of God has left a lot of people blinded, even when overwhelming evidence, that should provide vision has repeatedly struck them in the face.
The lack of adequate information about motives, origin and modus operandi of violent groups have baffled citizens and left them quasi-religious over the years. The suspicion that political leaders and even acquaintances may have ties to violent groups has added greatly to the confusion.

Kenny’s Conundrum is inspired by that confusion. It is a metaphor for the dilemma that confronts the average Nigerian. The story is not about robbery or romance between Kenneth and Ndidi. It is Kenneth’s experience in events he has no knowledge of, and would rather live without. A condensation of life as a Nigerian, living in constant danger and uncertainty.
Kenny’s Conundrum (I hope) has painted a picture of that, because Kenneth stands for Nigerians.

Thank you.

KENNY’S CONUNDRUM I

“Target in sight, roll in!” A voice whispered harshly in the dark. Soon a motor boat appeared on the river bank. Three men jumped into the knee length water and waded to dry ground. They dragged a rope and a ‘tiger’ generator with them. With the boat secured, one of them activated the ‘tiger’ generator. The low hum it sang however, suggested something different from a mobile electricity generating device.

Circuit channels of all Base Transceiver Stations within 2 Km radius became occupied. Outgoing calls were met with the annoying “beep beep beep” that was common to all GSM operators in the country. The device known as the Universal Revolutionary Companion, URC for short, had the capability of breaking locks, influencing the decisions of victims etc, the body unit, an electronic bracelet, was a remote bullet-proof device, deflecting bullets from the vicinity of the wearer. The URC could also be programmed to cause blackouts, but that night it was unnecessary, PHCN had already taken care of such duties.

“We are ready” someone said.
“Let’s do this” the harsh whisper came again through the head set of the three men.

The policemen were rudely awakened from their slumber by five rapid explosions. Shrapnel from the grenades exacted screams from suddenly conscious policemen. The faded yellow paint quickly turned brown like the rusty roof of their dilapidated station as the building caught fire. Automatic gunfire split the night air as the few policemen who survived the initial blast fought back, but their aimless shooting at moving shadows yielded no results. More of the half asleep officers crumbled into permanent slumber under the unrelenting hail of the marauders bullets. Overpowered by the sophistication and formlessness of their foes, the remaining officers escaped into the night alongside their former detainees.

Having removed the policemen from the security equation, five armed men marched unhindered towards Sunshine Estate.
With brutality and bloodshed, they dispossessed several residents of cash and other valuables, torched a couple of houses and several automobiles. An hour later, eight men piled into the motor boat and melted into the Woji river.

The death toll exceeded forty, and it included women, children and policemen. Such previously unknown wanton destruction of lives and property left Sunshine Estate in the fierce grip of indescribable terror.

Kenneth Amadi rarely attended Residents Association Meetings, he felt it was the exclusive preserve of dishonest landlords, but this one was an emergency. Although his house was not among the homes raided by the robbers, he was seriously affected by the events of the previous night. The vulnerability of their once peaceful enclave having been so ruthlessly exposed, he was afraid the robbers might strike again.

“It’s with a heavy heart that we convene this meeting, may the souls of the departed rest in perfect peace” Chief Bernard Chikelu, Chairman of Sunshine Estate Residents Association said in his opening remarks.
“It appears we are not as safe as we thought we were. This attack on innocent people is despicable and we shall do our best to ensure it does not happen again”.
Not a master of elocution, Chief Bernard always had a way of alienating his audience. His next statements enhanced that reputation.
He stated that the Special Anti-Robbery Squad shall be conducting regular patrols around the estate and that the proposed Sunshine Estate Carnival shall take place as scheduled. He further mentioned that he possessed reliable information that some Sunshine Estate Residents were conspirators in the attack. He declined to explain further. Despite his efforts, Chief Bernard Chikelu sounded unconcerned, probably due to the high level of security in his private residence. Kenneth, like those residents who do not fancy snoring in public, quietly walked away.

The invaders did not return. Apart from the irritating police patrols, some normalcy had returned to the area within a couple of weeks. A month after the robbery incident, the Estate Carnival took place. Wizkid (from the large speakers) urged the kids to dance Azonto, D’Banj also encouraged them to ‘shakey bum bum’. Other artistes who took advantage of the speakers also introduced their own dance steps. Everybody was entertained and satisfied. A recent visitor would have had no choice but to conclude that Sunshine Estate was the happiest place on earth.

Children particularly enjoyed the merriment, there was enough music, food, drinks, souvenirs and clowns in the open air of the Sunshine Estate Elementary School playground. Adults were not left out despite the air of suspicion that swirled around their head like an african woman’s stiff head gear. The presence of mobile policemen added a foul smell to the atmosphere, it was perceived by many but acknowledged by few.

Kenneth Amadi spotted her in the distance and whispered to his friend Bassey. He could not hear what was said due to the din of the speakers, but he nodded his head anyway. She was in the company of Dr. H. D. Attah, the vice chairman of Sunshine Estate Residents Association. When she saw him, Ndidi left a group that included her uncle Dr. H.D. Attah, his wife and two unidentified youngmen and approached Kenneth. Tall and attractive, her platforms accentuated her height and perfect curves, held together by sky blue stretch jeans. She turned heads as she smiled brilliantly and gracefully floated towards Kenneth and Bassey.

“Kenny! It’s so good to see you!”
She exclaimed and shook his hand. Kenneth briefly wondered at the absence of a proper hug, the handshake with his girlfriend was very awkward. Even her smile appeared forced.
“N.D. what’s going on? U’ve been scarce” he queried.
“Since the robbery, Doctor insisted that everyone must go out with a chaperone, I can’t come to your house with bodyguards”
“What?
Your uncle is paranoid!” Kenneth laughed.
“I knooow! But try arguing with the doctor”
“Is it those 2 guys?”
“No oh! That’s my cousin B.K. and his friend Hassan”
“Oh Ok”
“I’ll see U tomorrow evening, babe” she said hurriedly and left.
Kenneth looked up and saw that B.K. And Hassan had been heading in their direction. He looked at Bassey, who just gave a shrug and looked away.

Ndidi met her cousin halfway and together they walked towards a clown in a Mickey Mouse outfit. The clown seemed to nod and posture in front of the trio, B.K. mockingly shot him with his fingers and he staggered back. They later high-fived like old friends. Ndidi and Hassan laughed heartily at BK and ‘Mickey Mouse’s antics.

Kenneth had met Ndidi at last year’s carnival. She was in charge of the Doctor’s three kids, who were busy having fun. She had appeared to have her hands full with the youngsters, so he assisted in getting them under control by telling them he was a police officer. He smiled at the memory, she had looked so pretty and flustered, he loved a damsel in distress. Chatting her up was so easy. She became his girlfriend soon after, their relationship had been going strong until recently.

Kenneth and Bassey felt they’d seen enough ‘carnivalisation’ so they left the playground. EPL and beers were a suitable therapy. Newcastle was giving Sir Alex Ferguson palpitations at Old Trafford when they heard the gunshots. Could it be firecrackers or fireworks from the carnival? After 15 minutes, they realised something was wrong. The carnival was about half a mile away, but they could hear noises and vehicles roaring past. A peep out of the windows revealed cars driving by at top speed and a few people running on foot. They all looked scared. The commotion was unreal. Football immediately forgotten, Kenneth said,
“Let’s go out and see what’s happening”
“Dude! Are U maaaad, those were gunshots! People are running for their lives, we had better stay here” Bassey cautioned. Kenneth had called Ndidi to ascertain her safety and that of her family members, she did not answer.

(to be continued)

CHIMA’S MEDICINE III

What the police and hotel security saw when they entered the hotel room was a naked girl covered in cuts and bruises and blood.
“He raped me, he raped me! Please tell him to leave me alone”. Vivian kept mumbling.
Chima was arrested and detained at Area F Police Command Ikeja, Vivian was taken to Duro Soleye Hospital for treatment. It was not how Chima planned to spend the weekend and public holidays, becoming a captive of the public was not in his itinerary. When the cell bars shut behind him and he breathed in his first lungful of urine scented air, his beards grew rapidly as if it had just received a fresh boost of fertilizer.

The 6 weeks Chima spent as a detainee at Area F Police Command were the most telling. He was often stripped and ‘interrogated’, with batons and boots, curses and starvation. He had nothing to confess, nevertheless the police went about extracting it religiously. By the time he released from detention, Chima knew he would always perceive the yellow-green smell of Area F forever. The pungency of it had clung to the ceiling of his nostrils like cobwebs in an abandoned building. Taken straight to the Magistrate Court, he was charged with assault and rape. Bail was set at a 100,000 Naira and he was transferred to KiriKiri Prisons. The journey to KiriKiri Prisons Apapa was in a rusty old truck, seatbelts were an abomination. Safety was completely ignored like the dental care of a Fulani cattle herdsman.

He was hobbled into KiriKiri, 20kg lighter than when he made love to Vivian. The scars he now bore both physically and mentally did not make him immune to the hazing that ‘Alejos’ or newcomers received when they arrived KiriKiri. Alejos ranged between the ages of 17 to 50, all at the mercy of the ‘Orientation Officers’, inmates who had arrived before them. FEAR THE RICH MAN AND THE POLICE was the most poignant inscription inside the prison cell.

Compared to his Area F incarceration, KiriKiri represented peace after the first night, a peace of the graveyard. It was an Eden of sorts, the prison grounds were full of ‘wildlife’ and fresh air. Lush vegetation combined with regular farming activities and serpents (in uniform and without) made for a more benign passage of time. And time stretched out like the limitless ocean in that inhabited but lifeless world. The inhabitants were like effigies, zombies with seemingly no purpose but hopelessness and a resignation to fate. The emptiness was infinite, the nothingness was unfathomable like the universe before the creation of light. So Chima was now a mere number, he felt like an astronaut of an undisclosed mission trapped in space. Gradually he was running out of oxygen.

The 2 weeks he spent at KiriKiri felt like a decade and he had aged accordingly albeit psychologically. Like a sailor who had survived a shipwreck, he was now fortunate to have been washed ashore. But his Island of refuge was populated with savages. Chima had a hard time re-integrating with the ‘outside’ world. Victor had disappeared initially but made his presence felt through surrogates. He hired a lawyer for Chima and contacted his neighbours, one of them was Humphrey who volunteered to help secure Chima’s freedom. Humphrey who was built like a basketball player but believed it was his duty to save everyone. The bail conditions were somehow ‘perfected’ and Chima was ‘free’ again. His trial continued like frequent asthma attacks, he had no idea if he would survive the continuous onslaught. Physical contact with Victor was impossible. He had skated back to the United States. Phone contact with Victor after KiriKiri eventually tapered from infrequent to non-existent.

The court case lasted for about 13 months. 13 months of jargon, procedure, adjournments and magistrate vacations. Finally, “Commissioner of Police vs Chima Okafor” was dismissed “as the court pleases”. However, the real circumstances that necessitated the termination of the case remained a mystery to Chima.

“Would you like something to eat?” Vivian asked after returning from the ladies room.
“Sure” Humphrey answered
“Who will foot the bill?” Chima asked suspiciously
“I will” Vivian said.
Vivian fawned over them like a mother hen and made sure their gastronomic needs were catered to that afternoon. Later she would joke about Chima’s fine cheekbones. Humphrey would laugh heartily at the joke, Chima would grit his teeth and keep his composure. She would mention that she regretted everything that happened, she will say it was due to an unforeseen attack of delirius tremens.
“That’s what the doctor said it was. He said it was possible through alcohol abuse.
“I haven’t swallowed a drop of alcohol since then, but I think that it is due to something else entirely.
“Do you remember this?”
She waved something in front of them. Humphrey was fascinated, Chima was stunned, for between her manicured fingernails were the remnants of the LSD strip she was holding the morning he was arrested.

“It looks harmless” Humphrey said
“It is harmless, at least to some extent” Vivian responded.
Chima who had lost his voice just stared as she went into a long narrative.
“I found it in my handbag after I was discharged from the hospital”.
She told them how she was upset and ashamed at what had taken place, but that one day while doing some research for her final year project, she had stumbled across an article on LSD. “I realised that I had blamed you wrongly for having it, but for what it’s worth, it may have cured my alcohol addiction”.
Chima and Humphrey who really had no idea what she was talking about just nodded and she continued.
“My parents had forgiven my reckless behaviour but my conscience was killing me. I had to do something”
She told them how she had confessed everything (except the LSD) to her father’s Personal Assistant, and how together they were able to convince her father to drop the charges.

“I’ve had your number since that night but I’ve been afraid to call.
“Please don’t hate me” she implored with tears in her eyes.
After a moment’s hesitation and an awkward moment of silence, Chima decided to unburden his mind. He quickly related the events of that fateful night and his struggle since then.

“It’s good to see you again” she said when he had finished his story. She marvelled at his resilience not knowing he had contemplated suicide several times without the will to carry it out.
“I am really sorry for all the pain I have caused you and hope you forgive me” she added.

Chima knew the pains of the past will never be undone, he also knew he had to allow himself a chance to heal. He tried to ignore the rise of her breast, her female scent and the seductive sound of her voice. Instead he chose to ignore the alarm bells ringing crazily in his skull. The desire that was growing inside him every time she spoke, everytime he caught a whiff of her perfume was driving him insane. A complete recovery from his affliction was only possible if he took the medicine that was before him.

His voice was hoarse when he asked “Are you saying that you still have feelings for me like you did then?” She shook her head.
“I had no feelings for you then, we had just met and it was purely sexual”.
Chima sighed in disappointment. The boner he had been carrying since Vivian returned from the ladies room was suddenly very painful.
“But I have never stopped thinking about… what might have been…”. She let her voice trail off.
“Me too” Chima said a bit too quickly, making both Vivian and Humphrey to stare at him sharply.

She produced a piece of paper with a phone number written on it.
“That’s my fathers Personal Assistant, he will help you to recover some of the things you have lost, it’s the least I can do.
“I have to go now, it was nice seeing you again”.

Suddenly it became clear to him why he’d not been able to move on. Why he had not been able to maintain any relationship since his ordeal begun. His illness had been cardiac all along and Vivian was the remedy. But Chima just sat there as she stood up and walked out of Mama Cass.

His arousal eased finally and after a speechless glance at Humphrey, he ran outside after her.
He approached her tentatively. “Vivian wait!” He said
“I no longer blame you for what happened.
“I’ve always thought about you and also what might have been if you hadn’t gone crazy that night”.
“Thank you” she said without even looking at him.
“Don’t you want to know where I live?” Chima asked carefully sensing an opportunity for complete freedom.
She looked him straight in the eyes and said matter of factly.
“I thought you’d never ask”

THE END

CHIMA’S MEDICINE II

The night of the toad turned out to be a night of sweet dreams. In the dream, Chima Okafor was the owner of a conglomerate with various interests, in short he was very rich. If he had known what was in store for him the next day, he probably would have kept vigil and prayed like a mantis. However he slept, and massive thunderstorms and lightning, soaked in heavy rainfall intensified his unconsciousness. When he woke up the next day, he was suitably vivified for the monotony of his uneventful life.

Work that day was like any other work day. However, the fried potatoes he usually shared at close of work with Angela his colleague, tasted especially delicious. Perhaps it was due to his anticipation of a night out with Victor, an old friend from his UNN days. Perhaps it was the fact that he knew Angela had a crush on him. Maybe it was because it was a Friday that preceded a Monday and Tuesday public holiday, the promise of a long and blissful weekend. He was thus ready to spread his wings, not knowing that the breeze that was blowing that day was the type that plucked feathers.

Chima took an Okada ride from Adeniyi Jones Avenue to Pekas opposite Opebi Sweet Sensation. Victor looked suitably rotund, like someone who had accepted everything life in the United States presented, especially if they were edible. Victor has been a resident in God’s own country for over 6 years and looked like a perfect stereotype in 3 quarter shorts and an Ecko t-shirt. How time had flown, how thick Victor had grown, Chima thought. After the ‘long time no sees’ and ‘look at yous’, Victor introduced him to his friends, Stevo, Femi, Funke, Ugochi and Vivian.

Hennessy, Heineken, Smirnoff Ice and Redbull surrounded a large pile of suya on the table. By the time the fish arrived, they were all inebriated. Victor was fixated with Funke’s ample bossom, Stevo and Ugochi were acting like lovebirds feeding each other, sharing drinks and rubbing shoulders like it was itching them. Femi on the other hand was trying unsuccessfully to maintain a conversation with Vivian who’s head was buried in her blackberry.
“You must find your virtual friends more fascinating than your physical ones abi?” Chima tried to intervene with a mischievious grin on his face.
“No oh!” she responded with a laugh before taking a sip from her glass. She ditched the phone but kept smiling at him whenever their eyes met. Vivian had the right curves and her eyes were gleaming with intelligence and sexiness. Chima sat up more straight in his seat.

The conversation was dominated by football and bad roads. Chima found out that Vivian preferred that to a private chat with Femi. Her knowledge of football and politics both surprised and thrilled him. He had intended to have a few drinks with them before going home but Vivian’s vivacity made him change his mind.

Later that night, the party of seven changed location. The lovebirds ferried Chima in the backseat of a C-Class Mercedes while Femi drove Vivian, Victor and Funke in his Honda Accord. They soon arrived at Q-Club, a Nite Club partially obscured by the shadow of the lumbering Oshoppey Plaza on Allen Avenue. Merriment had kicked into a higher gear with more drinks, cigarettes and dancing. The club was packed, the music was loud and the smoke haze was thick. Everyone looked great under the kaleidoscope of colours and alcohol influenced judgement.

In the Men’s Room:
“Chimex, I want to show you something”
At first Chima assumed it was a bookmark, but when Chima took a closer look he saw that the colorful strip of paper not only resembled but also had the feel of a litmus paper.
“what is it?”
“acid” Victor said.

Chima was even more confused when Victor explained that it was a drug called lysergic acid diethylamide, LSD for short. A drug that induced an incredible high once a piece of it is chewed. A trip of ‘acid’ Victor promised, had no notable negative side effects. Infact it was an amazing psychedelic. Steve Jobs is alleged to have enthused greatly about the wonderful feeling it engineers. He further said that Chima could make a whole lot of dough if he would agree to sell it ‘codedly’ in Lagos to affluent customers. That Chima was interested was an understatement especially after Victor told him he had booked a room for him at the Blue Ribbon Hotel. He swiftly pocketed the sample and they rejoined the party.

By the time they left Q-Club, Chima had devised several merchandising plans for this ‘psychedelic’. Femi had decided to leave after Vivian had repeatedly rebuffed his amorous gestures. That was what broke up the party of seven for the night. Victor, Funke, Vivian and Chima all crowded into the backseat of Stevo’s Mercedes. Vivian was practically sitting on Chima”s lap, he didn’t mind at all but assumed it was the alcohol. She leaned into him, asked for and got his phone which she fingered all the way to the Blue Ribbon. Meanwhile he was trying unsuccessfully to conceal the pressure in his jeans. The pressure was both from his aroused member and the strip of paper that was burning a hole in his pocket. Later he will tell Vivian “I don’t want to pressure you” but his expression will betray his desire and he will be consumed by the fire they had both kindled.

At the Blue Ribbon, Chima suggested that Vivian join him at the bar. He said this not only to provide a moment of privacy for his benefactor, but also to find out if Vivian would spend the night with him. She declined his offer. To cover up his embarassment he said,
“Let’s have a drink in my room then”.
Her acceptance surprised him for he had never slept with a girl on the first date before. He had initially thought she was using him to throw off Femi’s advances, but during the ride to the hotel he felt he could score. And now her hands were on his waist as he opened the door to his hotel room.

He made love to her like he had a point to prove, she responded in kind. Her beauty made his heart quiver like leaves in the harmattan breeze. The room was cold from the air conditioner, his throat was dry. His lips were parched from kissing Vivian’s tits, lips, hips and clitoris. Chima was primed to welcome this type of harmattan season again and again. Later Vivian kissed him on the chest before reaching for her handbag, then she padded naked into the bathroom. She urinated quite noisily, he sighed and reached for a cigarette.

She came out dangling something between her fingers. “What is that?” He laughed.
“Hindu Kush”
“Hindu what? You are not serious! Better hide it ’cause the drinks I ordered for will soon be here”.
“Yes Sir” She mocked, but obeyed and got under the duvet as “Room service!” Sounded from the door.

Chima thought about telling Vivian about the LSD but decided against it, the Heineken they were sipping seemed to be hitting her really hard. Nevertheless they smoked the herb and swallowed the draft. He was caressing her when she reached for a cigarette, she took several drags and jumped off the bed.
“What’s wrong?” He asked with his hand on her shoulder.
“You bastard!” she screamed pushing him violently aside. She seemed to be grabbing at everything trying to steady herself, all the while screaming unintelligible invectives in any direction. In her delirium, she seemed to have become unusually strong and aggressive. Heineken bottles became broken Heineken bottles as she knocked down every manner of furniture in the room, her imaginary foes. He received a cut on his left arm while trying to restrain her. Chima Okafor was suddenly scared as he realised too late that Vivian had the LSD strip in her hand.

(To be continued)

CHIMA’S MEDICINE

As if the hug was not unexpected enough, it was the fierceness of it that threw him off balance. He was rocked to his heels as she crushed him in a tight embrace. The right hand he had thrust forth for a quick handshake was totally ignored, he had to step his left foot backward to maintain an upright position. She grabbed hold of his neck and clung to him like the swaddling clothes they used to wrap baby Jesus before he was deposited in the manger. Her body shook in nerve-wracking sobs as she cried with her face buried on his shoulder. It was his most intimate encounter with brazillian hair and it was all over his face.

It was nerve-wracking for him too as he stood there, like a pillar of salt, incapable of regretting why he had looked back. His arms were still out-stretched like a catholic priest at benediction, like he expected a third party in the embrace or like Jesus trying to convince Thomas of his resurrection by showing him the holes in his palms. Gradually the granite that was his face softened and he begged a look in Humphrey’s direction. Humphrey shrugged and looked away, so he allowed gravity to pull down his hands. Across her back he rested his palms, one on a shoulder blade, the other on a butt cheek.

Chima Okafor felt the warmth and fragility of her body, her scent permeated every pore in his body. She does things to him, she had done something to him, what is she going to do for him. She made him strong and weak at the same time, it was no different from how he felt the first time he met her over a year ago. He had forgotten how alluring she was, and now he was in trouble again. He has to get away from this woman, he had to console that woman.

“Am sorry” she whispered beneath the hair.
“It’s OK, it’s OK”
Chima could not recognise his voice. Humphrey looked away in embarassment or may be distaste or both. He coughed and Vivian Sylvester raised up her face and regarded Chima.
“Excuse me”
She said as she disengaged and headed for the ladies room, leaving Chima and Humphrey puzzled as they sat down near a window at Mama Cass.

Like someone choking on a crayfish bone, knowing full well that crayfish had no bones, Chima Okafor could not re-program his brains to free himself from the past. Coughing and sputtering through the present, his malady defied all the remedies he could personally offer himself. All his efforts which were akin to swallowing the whole cross river (the water body not the state) did not help him dislodge that crustacean exoskeleton that had taken up permanent residence in his oesaphagus.

He was fed up with being a passenger on this helium-filled dirigible orbiting the earth. He was ready to jump off and re-unite with humanity. It did not matter if he crashed on landing. It did not matter what part of the globe he landed. He was just tired of that mental incarceration that had him trapped. Unfortunately he had no parachute, he would have to stay put and ride it to the end, even if it was heading straight to hell.

He had often stared at a Tuesday Guardian newspaper with disgust as he appraised the numerous job openings. They often had one thing in common, they needed more than 3 years work experience which he did not have. The ones that did not require such lofty qualifications were either behind his age-bracket or full of crap. His irritation increased whenever he considered that most of the companies were similar to his previous employers. Probably well established but also probably having ill defined organizational structures. A heirarchy that permitted only one authoritative leadership. The rest of the workforce would be engaged in ‘eye-service’ and an eternal struggle to be the ‘favored’ as they tore each other apart. With accusations and some times unfounded rumours.

Chima Okafor had only worked for less than 2 years at Oceanic Ventures an advertising agency located at Adeniyi Jones Avenue, Ikeja Lagos. He was sacked for being absent from duty for over 4 months (a good enough reason), but he suspected that it had more to do with the dark cloud of the rape allegations that surrounded him.

It wasn’t like he could no longer use corel draw or photoshop, but employers seemed to avoid him like he was suffering from leprosy. Perhaps they just could not afford to pay him what he deserved. A skilled graphic artist, he still believed in himself. Nevertheless, that self-belief was hanging by a single thread these days. A year and 6 weeks had passed since he was accused of raping the daughter of the minister of state for environment. A year of heartbreak and shame he did not even feel. A year and 6 weeks of anger, hunger and unemployment. The kindness of friends and family and the occasional odd job were what kept him alive but the suicidal thoughts were never far away.

That was the mood prevalent in Chima Okafor’s life when he was invited for a lunch time meeting with Vivian Sylvester at Mama Cass. He was not looking forward to it, the food at best was immemorable. Also he shuddered involuntarily as he took his mind back to that merry evening more than a year ago at Pekas (a stone throw from Mama Cass). A night when a happy situation had gone completely awry and subsequently changed his life forever.

He had not known whether to honor the invitation or not. He had received a call the previous day, a female voice who said her name was Vivian had asked him to meet her there at noon the next day. It was the same Vivian Sylvester who had contributed greatly to his present predicament. Not the intense desire he felt on meeting her again, but the ordeal that led to his joblessness and hopelessness.

It wasn’t like he had anything to fear or that he still haboured any grudges. It’s just that he had moved on, and now this meeting had ignited emotions and a passion he thought he no longer possessed. Vivian was a stranger the day they had met and despite a very brief period of intimacy, she was a stranger still.

What Chima remembered most about the day he met Vivian was actually the toad that had hopped into his apartment. It had been a hot day and there was power outage as usual. He was too tired when he returned from work to go out and buy fuel for his ‘tiger’ generator. So he had left the door to his one bedroom apartment open. Night had fallen and the cold breeze of imminent rain made him realise he had dozed off. He got up from the sofa and made to shut the door. Out of the corner of his eyes he detected some movement. He had turned around thinking it was a rat or worse a skunk, it was neither. A medium sized toad that tried to conceal itself behind the sofa he had been sleeping on moments before. He walked casually to the bathroom, grabbed the mop and switched on the video light on his smartphone.

It took him over 30 minutes and a dead battery before he was able to cajole that toad out of his home. His apartment was also in shambles by the time the toad had left. On returning with a mop from the bathroom, the amphibian was no longer behind the sofa, it was not behind the TV set and DVD player, it was not behind the refrigerator, it was not behind the gas cooker, it was not behind the plastic drum, it was not in the bathroom. In the bedroom it was. Not under the bed, not in the wardrobe, but squeezed between the pile of magazines on the bedroom floor.

The amphibian did not possess the massive hop of its frog cousins or those Triple Jumpers at the Olympics, but it was a master of disguise and stealth. It used its camouflage dressing and the inadequate presence of light efficiently. One minute blending with the floor length curtains, the next minute it was hiding behind travel bags. Moving constantly and seemingly without haste, it melted into the shadows with amazing fluidity. It frustrated Chima from one household item to the other, feinting left and going right like a skilled boxer. It seemed to have the ability to read Chima’s mind. It guessed quite rightly that he was not about to squash it and smear his apartment with cold blood and gore. So it danced around the apartment and confounded the exasperated tenant.

Just when Chima had decided he was going to kill the intruder, the toad hustled quickly towards the doorway and hopped outside. Chima shut his door and collapsed on the rug in exhaustion, he had no idea whether to laugh or cry. He was still lying on the rug when PHCN restored electricity supply. Kids in the neighbourhood screamed “NEPAAAAAAA!” and he got up smiling with new found respect for toads. He had previously considered them to be ugly and sluggish creatures, but as he re-arranged his apartment, he realized they were actually quite smart although still repugnantly ugly. That happened the day before he met Vivian. He had since regarded the toad’s visit as a premonition he had ignored to his detriment.

“Chima you dey house”
his friend Humphrey had called from outside, the morning before they went to Allen Avenue.
“I dey oh” Chima had responded as he welcomed his friend into his apartment.

Humphrey lived on the same street with Chima, they had become companions ever since Chima lost his job. Humphrey has been unemployed since he finished ‘Youth Service’, so their friendship was not awkward. The situation with Vivian made him uncomfortable, Chima had told his friend. He was wondering if spending some his scarce resources to go to Allen Avenue for a midday rendezvous with an enemy was going to be worth his while. Aside from the fact that he was trying to put that whole other episode behind him, he was wary of female company, but she had sounded so sincere on the phone.

Humphrey had laughed and said. “Dude, she can’t do you a damn thing, the case has been closed since last year. Who knows, she may be looking for an opportunity to apologise and this may just be your chance to get some closure, or at least figure out what the whole thing was really about”.

Humphrey had never met Vivian but he knew about the fall-out from Chima’s previous encounter with her. He felt the radioactivity whenever he was in contact with Chima Okafor who had more mood swings than a pregnant mid-wife. Chima who was weirder than a clean-shave on a street lunatic. It was after they had carefully (Humphrey was more careful) considered the pros and cons that Chima had decided that closure may just be exactly what the doctor ordered.

Although he was still somehow affected by his experience with Vivian Sylvester, the sting of the trauma had waned over the passage of time. The trip from Egbeda to Ikeja will be embarked on with Humphrey as company. Together they will wrap their heads around whatever Vivian had to say. “Two heads are better than one” was quite a popular saying after all.

(to be continued)

SWINE FLEW 3

I sprang from the bed like a startled amphibian, crashed into the bathroom and locked the door behind me. I could barely distinguish the racket in my room from the deafening drumming of my heartbeat. I collapsed on the cold hard tile as the import of this event hit me. On all fours, I crawled to the toilet bowl and threw up everything I had ever digested since I was born. From breast milk to plantain they all poured forth till my gullet knotted and my rectum bled. The excruciating pain I felt on all of my six senses squeezed the last photon of light out of me.

Consciousness returned at about noon the next day. Rays of sunlight from the tiny bathroom window filtered in and caressed my sunken cheeks. Completely disoriented, I could not make out my surroundings. The sharp smell of dried vomit made my nostrils flare and my eyes water, increasing my confusion. I closed my eyes again and gradually, reluctantly recalled what I decided was an unusually vivid nightmare. That assumption reassured me as I cleaned the bathroom and scrubbed the filth from my body. Filled with a mixture of hope and mild trepidation, I toweled myself dry and opened the bathroom door.

Apart from the unmade bed, everything in my bedroom was in its usual place. The shirt I wore the previous day was draped casually on the chair, the ‘Complete Sports’ I bought since last week was folded just the way I left it. My phone was plugged in to the bedside socket, it should be fully charged by now.

Sixteen missed calls were registered on my Samsung dual SIM phone. Half of them were from Cynthia, a member of the NYSC in Bayelsa State. Three missed calls from Bode my colleague at Union High School, the rest were from unknown numbers. I thought about calling them all back, probably one of them may provide a clue to what I had experienced last night. I thought about praying. I thought about my late grandfather and his antecedents. I was hungry.

“When I see u I run out of words… to say ay ay!
I wouldn’t leave U… ‘cause you’re that type of girl… that makes… u stay”
Beautiful by Akon was the ringtone I had chosen for Cynthia. I stared at the phone like someone would stare at a positive HIV/AIDS test result.
“Hello CC” I answered rather than throw the phone out of the window.
“Mike! Where have U been? I’ve been calling U since morning” Mr. Asuquo to my students, I was Mike to Cynthia.
“Sorry, I left it at home to charge when I went to Bode’s place this morning”
I did not intend to lie but my tongue seemed to have a mind of its own.
“Your voice sounds funny, do you have catarrh?
“Yes I have catarrh, how are you?”
I tried to change the direction of the conversation but couldn’t help noticing the beginnings of an itch in my throat.
“eh yaah! Sorry, am sure you’ll start chewing that your bitter kola and alligator pepper now”
“It works”
“No it doesn’t, please go to the pharmacy and buy yourself some real medicine, I don’t want to catch it when I come around” she joked.
“Ok, when are you coming”
“Am coming on Friday”
“Ok “
“Don’t forget to go to the pharmacy!”
“Ok”
“Ok, I love you babe”
“I love you too”
She ended the call and I immediately dialed Bode’s number. Vacations were usually boring and devoid of activity. We made plans to hang out at our usual spot, a quiet often deserted stream deep in the Eliowhani ravine. Bode George was my best friend, we were both teachers at Union High School, Eliowhani. He taught physics while I taught biology. Our friendship was formed during idle hours in the staff room. Gin drinking and weed smoking trips to the streams of the Eliowhani ravine solidified our friendship.

I boiled some rice and ate it with the stew Cynthia had prepared during her last visit. I gave one last glance at my sitting room and bedroom before locking up and going downstairs. Ignoring everyone I saw, I marched out of the gate.

At One Life Pharmacy down the road, cartons inscribed with ‘TAMIFLU’ were descending from a truck and entering the pharmacy at a hasty pace. Mute like the crows I saw in my vision, the activities of the labourers stopped me dead in my tracks. I shook off my paranoia, approached the counter and made a request for ‘Dequadin’. As I was paying for the lozenges, a voice said
“You better buy yourself a pack of Tamiflu and some Paracetamol Mike.”
I turned and stared at a fat man, his rimless eye-glasses gave him a sinister look, his bald head looked like my late grandfather’s doorknob.
“Why?” I sneered at him, refusing to acknowledge his familiarity.
“There’s a report of swine flu outbreak in this area” he smiled. His mention of swine flu was disconcerting. I felt like I was being cornered by forces greater than I.
“Swine flu rarely affects humans” I tried to sound dismissive.
“You just woke up from sleep my friend” he said knowingly and smiled. I stared at him one last time and hastily left the pharmacy and the presence of that barrel shaped man.

Alligator pepper and bitter kola are not hard to come by once you could locate a garlic seller. The familiar bitterness of bitter kola and the awesome hotness of alligator pepper soon made me forget my recent troubles. Chewing that combination brought tears of joy to my eyes. ‘Dequadin’ will have to wait till Friday.

As It turned out, Bode only intended to warn me about the swine flu. His strategy was to stay indoors to avoid contact with infected individuals. With heavy eyelids and weed smoke coming out of my lips and nostrils, I told him it was all bullshit.

Six people died that day in Eliowhani due to diabetes and old age, but they also had H1N1 in their system.

With the force of a category 5 storm, H1N1 commonly known as swine flu created panic in the town the next day. One Life Pharmacy was besieged by scared folk who wanted to safeguard their existence with Tamiflu. The pharmacist neglected to mention that the drug, like other flu medications, provided only minor relieve but no cure. Nevertheless townsfolk queued up like it was election day and bought Tamiflu and nosemasks. The next everyone went about with nosemasks like doctors performing surgery.

Meanwhile evil had crept quietly into town. A Coca-Cola truck ran off the road and crashed into a residential building, killing the driver and three members of the same family. A woman stabbed her husband to death after enduring abuse for sixteen years. A multiple car accident caused twenty two people to be cremated.

Beyond the doors of the Men’s Ward of the General Hospital, arms out stretched like a Catholic bishop during benediction, a figure seemed to float. Gray mist swirled around the figure. It glowed brighter than the fluorescent tubes overhead. Strangely, neither the patients nor the hospital staff seemed to acknowledge its presence. I stepped into the ward and felt a cold blast on my face. Despite my trepidation, I approached the strange figure, reached out with my right hand to touch it, It swung around.

His eyes were like the pits of hell, bottomless and dark. I stumbled back in fright.
“WHAT DO YOU WANT?” he growled.
I could only stare, petrified in my spot as he grabbed my hand and released it immediately as if shocked. The mist cleared, his glow dimmed, warmth returned, sure enough it was the same portly fellow I met at the pharmacy the previous day.
“What do you want?” he smiled.
“I just came to see how my friend was doing?” I croaked.
“Let’s talk outside” he said and grabbed my hand. This time he did not let go as if he was burnt.

He offered me a chance to partner with him in what he referred to as ‘The Harvest of Souls’. He informed me that he was the major host that facilitated the rare human to human transmission of the H1N1 virus. He informed me that I was a major catalyst of the swine flu outbreak. He spoke of the town as a farmland, he spoke of the townsfolk as crops. He reminded me of the box my grandfather left me.

Archibong my grandfather, was a reknowned headmaster and diviner. Losing both parents before I reached the age of eight, I was raised by him. My father was killed during a communal clash involving my clan and a rival clan, my mother died giving birth to me. GrandPa Archibong’s entire legacy and property was mine after he died. With no intention of carrying on the family tradition, I had sentimentally decided to keep a wooden chest he had given me before he died.

I told ‘Fatman’ that such a box did not exist, that I was just an ordinary school teacher.
“Please stop your harvest and go back now to wherever you came from” I pleaded. “The people of Eliowhani do not deserve such a cruel fate”
“WRONG SIR, WRONG!” He screamed.
“DESERVE HAS GOT NOTHING TO DO WITH IT, I HAVE PLANTED AND I SHALL REAP”
“How will the death of innocent people be of benefit to you” I querried.
“IT’S NOT YET TIME, BUT SOON IT SHALL BE, YOU CANNOT STOP MY IMPENDING GLORY, WHEN I LEAVE TOWN, ALL THE SOULS SHALL LEAVE WITH ME”
Not that I was cowed by his threats, but his malevolence triggered an usual dread in me, it also left a germ of an idea in my head. I declined to say another word and just walked away.

Back at the hospital ward, I was informed that Bode was dead along with seventeen others. On wooden legs, I returned to my apartment. I called Cynthia and told her to cancel her proposed visit to Eliowhani. In a frenzy now, I ripped the sole from one of my old shoes, something metallic peeked out, it was the key I had kept hidden there.

There were numerous streams in the dense vegetation of the Eliowhani ravine. My favourite was the one least frequenced by the townsfolk. Bode and I had spent many lazy hours in its serene atmosphere. A small stream, rich in flora and fauna, it was my usual solace, it was also my secret fortress.

The stream was peaceful and deserted just like I hoped. I divested myself of all clothing and waded in. In waist deep water, I spoke to my ancestors.
“Let me dissolve like salt,
Let me be washed away like sand,
Let me disappear like mist before the morning sun, I came into this world empty handed, empty handed I shall leave, but before I come to you, be my guide”

Then I submerged myself and swam underwater towards the mangrove and water lilies. Small fishes scattered in alarm as I disturbed the serenity of their aquatic habitat. I’ve swam with the eels, carps, perches and tilapia, this time I was completely oblivious to their beauty.

Under the roots of the mangrove I probed till my hands found the stone, I pushed the large stone away and dug furiously with my hands. The water became muddy and full of debris, I kept digging till just over a foot deep, my hand touched my buried treasure, my grandfather’s box. I pulled it gently from its watery grave, slippery with slime and kicked backwards like a frogman, box clutched tightly in the crook of my right hand. With the key I had ripped from my shoe, I opened the box. The contents were few but significant, 2 short sticks, a brass ring and a knife with an ebony wood handle. I took the knife and destroyed a oilpalm shoot by the water side. After cutting out the pith, I chewed and swallowed it. I grabbed a handful of selaginella and went back to the stream. After dunking it seven times in the water, I rubbed the selaginella vigorously in both palms till green juices dripped between my fingers down both arms. I squeezed the juice into both eyes and felt my eyes enlarge. I caught a reflection in the stream and saw that my eyes were now inky green.

My body went slack, my knees buckled and I toppled into the stream. Water filled my lungs and I started to drown, then everything went white.

I arrived at a green field, acres of grassland as far as the eyes could see, no trees in sight. The voices of my ancestors washed over me like rainfall as I bowed my head and imbibed their wisdom.

Darkness had enveloped the ravine by the time I emerged, it was close to midnight. My eyes gleaming like a feline, I hurriedly put my clothes on, inserted the ring in my index finger and picked up the two short sticks. Massive vibrations coursed through my body as I fought to handle the sticks which seemed to have come alive. Writhing in my hands like serpents, they forced me back to the stream. I came back out dripping wet as the wind blew great clouds of vapour towards the town. Stumbling like a drunkard, the sticks led me to the deserted highway. There I found fatman ‘harvesting’ the souls of the departed.

The night sky exploded in blue light as I tackled his glowing form. This time he did not even flinch. Without even pausing in his gyration, I received a huge blow that sent me sprawling on the gravels of the road side.
“I shall cut U to ribbons and harvest your spirit!” he whispered approaching me menacingly arms out stretched, machetes miraculously appearing in each hand. I scrambled to my feet and ran into the bush, the foliage whipped at me but I ignored the pain, intent only on reaching the ravine. Without hesitation, he pursued me, sensing imminent victory. Perhaps I had misunderstood the wisdom of my ancestors.

Finally I reached the stream and turned around to face him. The broad blade of a machete hit my left arm as I raised it in defence, sparks flew. I jabbed at his throat with the sticks and the serpents struck, causing him to drop his weapons. He suddenly seized me in a massive embrace and we fell into the stream. The water hissed and bubbled, sending up vapour, several fishes floated belly up in the stream stunned by the electrical charges. I dropped the sticks into the water and he screamed in pain. He tried to leap away but I now held on to him tightly despite my pain. I dragged him deeper into the stream and held fast. In the depths, he became just like any creature that dwells on land. Gasping for scarce oxygen, he trashed and transformed into the winged pig, beating at my face with the wings.
“let me go and I’ll leave town immediately!” the voice seemed to emanate from right inside my head.
I held on breathlessly.
We remained in that embrace ready to drown till we descended to the bottom. The pig got larger in size and I could not hold on anymore so I let go. It shattered into tiny fragments of glass scattering brilliant sparkles in all directions. Weakened and disgusted by my ordeal, I closed my eyes and relaxed and everything became white.

THE END