OLIVIER TWIST (EPISODE THIRTEEN)

Iyke stood before her desk in the impressive-looking office watching her plum well-manicured fingers go through the books, scowling at the pages, scanning, reading nothing. He had his hands in his pockets, keeping his temper suppressed, from boiling over. She shrugged and lifted her highly bleached forty-five years old face at him, her heavily glossed lips shinning.

‘I have looked at the books,’ she said, ‘I am going to stick to what the auditors said. They are professionals.’

Iyke nearly flared but thought it the wrong approach. ‘The auditors are touts, they didn’t do any work. They are crazy to say the book is short of half a million and you know it!’

She shrugged, bored. ‘There are two ways to settle the issue; either you remain with us and we deduct the amount from your salary gradually or you pay at the end of one week!’

‘That isn’t possible! I am tired running your hotels, bars and restaurants; am tired of having all sorts of criminals and prostitutes as clients. I am out, just pay me for September and we say goodbyes.’

The woman shook her mighty coiled head. ‘You are the one who should pay us—the auditors say you owe us and you owe us!’ She rose to her feet and walked round the desk to him; she placed an artificial-soft hand on his shoulder. ‘We can settle this in another way, though.’

The ‘way’ lurked in the corner of his heart. ‘What other way?’

She laughed mirthlessly, ‘C’mon boy.’ She pinched him on his back. ‘We can meet in my hotel room by 7pm and settle the matter like adults.’

Iyke looked at her face pityingly. ‘You are going to settle me here and now or there will be consequences!’

She let her hand off his shoulder as though it was bitten by a scorpion. ‘How dare you threaten me!’

‘It is not a threat, it’s a promise.’

‘Can you look Raymond in the eyes and tell him this trash?’

‘If your husband were alive, can you look me in the eyes and talk about hotel rooms?’ she made to answer but Iyke was still talking. ‘Your husband had his fault but he was a fair businessman, as fair as he can be. But even he cannot stop me from quitting, and even he cannot deny me my salary.’

She swept back to her seat and began to dial numbers on the intercom, then she lifted the phone, ‘Juliana, get me OBJ.’

‘What is your idea?’ Iyke demanded as she dropped the receiver.

‘You wait and see.’

He didn’t wait long. A very huge, well-built man with wild chest and powerful arms shot into the office, too swift for his size, occupying one-third of the space. ‘Yes ma’am?’ he addressed the woman in the most undisciplined voice Iyke had heard in a long time.

She pointed a careless finger at Iyke. ‘This chap owes us some terrific amount of money. He promised to pay back in seven days, but he may forget; I want you to remind him, can you?’

And the gorilla laughed HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. ‘You trust me ma’am!’

‘But the guy is very tough and he fears no one!’

The gorilla’s face crumbled into a mess of terror. ‘Hey chap,’ he said, ‘you go pay that money in four days or I go cut off your left eye. Then I go give you three days and cut off your left hand. Then I go give you another three days and take off your left ear. Then your left ear go go, then your left penis…’ the woman laughed at this stage. ‘…I am a righteous man so I no go touch your right things, but all your left-wings must go!’ and he laughed at his gawky wit.

Iyke nearly spat on his face. He took two valiant steps forward. ‘You want me to look at your size and fear you? But I tell you, Lagos is big enough to contain both of us and your lofty ideas.’ He brushed roughly pass the thug.

‘Hey, stop there!’

‘Let him go,’ the woman said; ‘not now. I gave him seven days actually.’

‘And I give am FOUR days!’

She shrugged. ‘Do you know where he lives?’

‘I don’t care if he live for Aso Rock!’

#                         #

Iyke was passing a crowded mini-market specialised in phones and phone accessories, sales and repairs, brand new, fairly used, unfairly-used, third-hand, fourth-hand, scrap, stolen, all. He looked at the umbrellas and zinc sheds crowded with sweating and arguing people and grimaced. He was broke and Olivier was with him. He would care for him until the end, the very end. He removed his android from his pocket, squeezed pass the crowd and placed the phone on a fellow’s desk. ‘How much will you pay for this?’

#                       #

Tony and Humphrey stood a little away from the road studying Olivier’s photograph. Humphrey was a tall, thin fellow, but for what he lacked in weight he made up with a menacing countenance.

‘This girl looks innocent,’ he said.

‘But she is dangerous,’ Tony said.

‘How dangerous?’

‘Very dangerous.’

‘Hmmm.’

‘Humphey.’

‘Yes?’

‘Will you help me take care of her or not.’

He shrugged. ‘She appears too innocent but as she is a danger to you I will make it my duty to treat her fuck up.’

Tony grinned. ‘That’s my buddy!’

‘Yeah. But it will be difficult.’

‘How?’

‘We don’t have her address.’

‘She was last seen with a guy in Dream Nice Boutique. I believe you will find her if you show the receptionist this photo.’

Humphrey sighed. ‘Whatever, I will do my best. Even if she is hiding in Alausa I will find her.’

‘And fix her.’

#                       #

Iyke had a nylon bag of packed food in his hand when he entered the bedroom. Olivier was seated on the bed, studying her feet. She was wearing a white T-shirt over blue denim trousers. Smart. Beautiful.

‘Hey, dear.’

She rose to her feet. ‘I am going.’

‘Where are you going to?’

‘To my father’s house.’

He studied her face for a moment and half-smiled. ‘At least eat something before you go.’

‘I will eat nothing!’

He saw through the hostility. If only she knew the weight on his mind, he thought. She began to make for the door.

‘Wait.’

She turned sharply. ‘What is it?’

‘You have something that belongs to me. Something you don’t need.’ He walked to her, lifted her shirt and removed the pistol she had on her waist. ‘What do you need this for?’

‘What is this doing in your room?’

‘You don’t need this,’ he concluded and turned.

‘And you—you need it! Yes I need it for Tony—for vengeance! But what do you use it for, you armed robber! Hired assassin! Ex-convict! Criminal, you need it, murderer! You kill for a living!’

He sat down and began to unlace his shoe. She hit him on the shoulder. ‘Deny it, you murderer, deny it!’

‘There is no need; you have drawn your conclusions.’

‘Nonsense. Am done staying with you. You have an agenda, I know it! All you want is to gain my trust then you finish me up. I am small but am not foolish. And don’t try to follow me because I am going to shout ‘‘rape’’.’ She opened the door.

‘Wait!’ She stopped. ‘You need transport money. Your home is far.’

‘Keep your stinking bloody money!’ She slammed the door shut.

As she stepped out and the wind smooched her face the magnitude of her decision began to hover around her like the buzz a faint mosquito. But she was adamant, she would leave Iyke. He is a criminal, she kept telling herself as she hurried away. But the more she put distance between her and Iyke the less sure she was about her decision and the weaker her steps, so that by the time she reached the main road she stopped. Her legs could no longer carry her. Her head wanted away but her mind (or heart?) thought otherwise.

She sighed as she fought the tears. What was this, anyway? Love?—it could be, but it was so early, so early! She liked him, for all he had done for her, for his brave humanity, but he was just in the crust of her heart (or so she thought); but now it seemed he had gone pass the mantle straight to the core of her heart. So soon! She had thought that after all she had being through with men, her system would permanently be a non-conductor for love, that her heart would no longer muster the emotional electrons to run the electricity of love. How wrong she was!

But he was a criminal, wasn’t he? And why didn’t he just explain himself! No, she must go away, he should have begged her to stay! No, she would go. But her legs refused to cooperate. She suddenly felt so lonely and alone, Lagos suddenly became as big as Africa, thrust with a giant stony path she must trek.

Her tears were blinding her as she began to walk back to Iyke. She didn’t see him coming towards her, she simple walked into his embrace. As he held her in his arms, she wept.

‘Who are you, Iyke?’

‘I am your friend, till the end,’ he replied.

She noticed the stress in the ‘end’, lifted her head and paired into his face. ‘When is the end of us?’

He placed a hand on her shoulder and returned her to his bosom. Even Iyke couldn’t tell the end.

To be Continued…

Have you read ‘Going Down Chinese Road Series’ in this blog? How would you compare the characters of Iyke and Dozie? Really want to hear what you think… Can’t wait.

Tweets to @okw4chukwu

Olivier

EASTER RICE AND OTHER ABSURDITIES

Yesterday will go down as my most memorable Easter ever. A memorable Easter I won’t want to remember. A trying Easter. Shameful. Painful. All in the pursuit of Easter rice. Now, this is the wrong way to start the story, so let’s backpedal a little.

My Easter started on Thursday. Holy Thursday. Not the celebration itself. The calculations for the celebration started on Thursday with the map of Nigeria before me and a poorly sharpened HB pencil in my hand. A keen geographer, I was searching the map for where to go spend Easter. For where to go eat a well-cooked rice and stew. Not that I can’t cook; just that sometimes you get bored eating your own food.

And I was broke. As you know, good food na money kill am. But no matter how hard I try my salary will not cross the 15th day of the month. It is not that the money is that small, in fact I suspect that even if you pay me 100 thousand pounds it won’t still cross the 15th! I am not extravagant, am no prodigal spender, just that some people’s month runs for thirty days and others’ for fifteen days. Fifteen days make one month for me. But this is Africa, and you don’t need money to happily celebrate; all you need is connection.

Then my pencil fell on Abuja. My sister’s family lives just four kilometres from the Nyanya bomb blast spot. But that is not the problem. My sister is a Toughie, I am a toughie too (my toughie na small letter sha) and we disagree a lot. And her children are bedbugs, FCT number one troublemakers and you can’t correct them by giving them an ordinary knock without their mother shouting down the whole house, and their father squeezing his face like smashed boiled cocoyam and twisting his lips until it touched the ceiling, so that you fear it will be cut into pieces by the ceiling fan. Because of ordinary knock on concrete skull.

And when you finish eating you have to march into the sitting room like a recruit, stand at attention before the Brigadier-Generals and salute them, ‘Thank you ma, thank you sir’ like a small boy even though you are a super-graduate. Now, with the bomb blast, where would I escape to when they vex me and get respite, and read free newspapers and abuse the government and Arsene Wenger? So I crossed out Abuja Abuja.

My eyes fell on Gusau where my favourite sister lives. I love my sister so so much and enjoy her company like crazy. And I would like to be there, just two stone throws away. But the chores! You fetch twenty gallons of water (every morning), you go to the market (every hour), you help cook, pounding your heart out, sometimes you cook alone and mess it up due to intense pressure; you carry the sweet crying baby and beg him to no avail to stop the incoherent radio station he has commissioned inside your ears that drives you naught.

Food is no problem here, you eat well, too well; they slaughter cow every weekend. The problem is that they overwork you so much that when you leave, you will be so thin like rake and wind will blow you up and down and people will start suspecting that you are an HIV patient. No Gusau, not now.

So my pencil continued to caress the map then stopped on Anambra State; Anambra! Home! That is the only place on this planet I feel at home. Here I don’t do any chores except occasionally fetching water and giving free criticism advice. There are two tables in our sitting room; my father will sit on his chair and put his old legs on the big table; I will rest my bony legs on the small table. We are the Lords of the Ring. We run the house. We will argue politics and culture and history, yes I will argue with my father about things that happen during his youth, things I read in dog-eared typographical errors-infested pamphlets.

My sweet father! He will sometimes offer me ‘fresh’ palm wine, I will squeeze my face like dry bread, not Agege Bread, like the left-over bread that Jesus fed five thousand people with, and Papa will give me malt. When my mother comes in to have me pound something I will put my face six feet inside a book and bury it. Then she will order our last born to pound it (I am the second to the last, the others are really independent unlike my Micky Mouse freedom). My brother will mumble, murmur, grumble, rumble and still do it. If he complains to me, I will quote Karl Marx or Lenin to him.

Shame, I can’t go home now, the break is so so short. And I haven’t bought that Ferrari car I vowed to bring home, so reluctantly I ruled out Anambra.

My eyes fell on Kaduna. I started from Southern Kaduna—Kafanchan, my place of birth. With my family no longer there, I stayed with my friend who spoil me whenever I visit (his name is withheld for SECURITY reasons). Now this friend of my is a sharp shooter and has impregnated a girl and they asked him to marry her. My friend is now a family man. A one-room family man. His beautiful room will have been turned upside down with the born boy pissing all over the place and an angry amateur wife cursing and nagging like someone with whitlow on her tongue. I didn’t look at Kafanchan two times.

It began to look as though I wouldn’t eat rice this Easter.

I didn’t eat rice last Easter. I was in a hamlet in the boundary of Kano and Kaduna States, with ABU Fellowship of Christian Students preaching Christ to the unsaved community there. It was a most spiritually rewarding Easter, walking deep into the jungle, getting lost, finding ourselves, getting lost again, getting burnt by the merciless sun, wearing our shoes out like Old Testament prophets and preaching to obstinate Fulani herdsmen in halting Hausa.

I wasn’t in the field this Easter, so why not ‘enjoy’? I continued my search. My pencil fell on Zaria. In Zaria, GRA. I picked up my phone and called Eben. But as soon as I mentioned Easter rice, Eben became aggressive, shouting that as small as he was both the federal and state governments were owing him, that he hadn’t been paid his February salary even. He vibrated so much I feared he would slap me via Bluetooth. Just after MTN told me a sly ONE MINUTE REMAINING Eben calmed down and said he was sharing SOS envelops and that I should be gracious to donate to a brother. I switched off the phone.

My pen shifted to Samaru area where my pastor-friend lived. He is (was) fond of me and called me Achebe, but as I hadn’t visited him since August 2012 I was ashamed of turning up on his dinning on Easter with an accursed spoon sprouting out of my pocket like overgrown weed. What if he pretends doesn’t recognise me? Do I say, ‘I am Kingsley, your ex-friend, here to eat your Easter rice’? What if he (or his harsh wife) says, ‘Devil, go behind us’? I respect myself a lot. Damn Easter rice, I am going to drink Tom Brown on Easter and praise the Lord than risk this.

Then I remembered Victor. Actually, I didn’t remember him, I was just strolling on Facebook, when I saw Victor. He was online looking for whom to kill, steal and destroy. We started talking and I carelessly dropped the letter bomb, ‘I feel like eating a well-cooked rice this Easter.’

‘Then come to my house,’ he offered.

My sigh of relief lasted twelve hours.

#                                  #

Easter service was an interesting affair and the preacher was really called by God (some are not called by God, they wait so long for God to call them, then they give up waiting for Godot and scream for God). A sweet rewarding service, but my soul was in Sabo where my friend lives, my mind was in their kitchen helping to cut the cabbage, washing the onions, setting the table etc. And my eyes kept going to the watch, counting the seconds.

‘Shake ten people’s hands and wish them Happy Easter,’ the preacher finally ordered after ‘Surely’ was said. Not willing to waste time shaking people’s sand-paper hands and flashing unhappy teeth I jumped down the balcony and disappeared into a rickety bus whingeing its battered wheels to Sabo, my Waterloo.

It was well past two when I reached the gate of my friend’s house, my temper held with a cloth peg. I didn’t knock the gate; I banged on the rusty iron, like a Shylock landlord whose talents have owed him since 1960. Victor came to the gate, his lips dry and his eyes unhappy. His unhappiness overwhelmed my unhappiness and I almost smiled to reassure us.

‘How far?’

I nodded. We made to his room. Not dining room. I shrugged, perhaps he wanted to serve me here where I would be free to analyse and criticise the meal. He went out and came back with a cup of water. Not even ‘pure’ water—a cup of bore-hole water! I took the drink like a soldier. Then he sat down and tried to converse but I kept my mouth shut inside my pocket. Then I told him I didn’t come here for water. He went out and returned with a saucer half-filled with burnt chin-chin.

I lost my temper. What kind of insult is this? Do you know who I am? Do I look hungry to you? Do you know how much I have in my bank account? I can buy ten bags of rice if I want! Have you ever eaten in Sheraton before? Does—

He begged me to listen. ‘I went to watch Liverpool match and by the time I returned my brother’s wife had locked the rice and stew in the cupboard and left with the key.’

‘Then break down the miserable lock,’ I flapped.

He stood undecided. I urged him on; although I would never break my Abuja sister’s cupboard even if twenty million naira is locked inside. ‘Break that board!’ I affirmed, just like Ronald Reagan’s, ‘Tear down this wall’, except that this wasn’t the Berlin Wall; this was a kitchen wall, the wall of Jericho standing between me and Easter rice.

Image

Reluctantly Victor saw ‘reason’ and brought out a devilish bar under his bed, the kind carpenters use to remove rotten nails from stubborn wood. The bar could break CBN vault sef. He led me to the kitchen.

He tried to batter the evil giant padlock with the bar but the lock stood like the Rock of Gibraltar. He kept hitting, sweating like sardine fresh from water. Angrily I collected the bar and gave the lock one real knock. The cupboard shook to its foundation, heaved forward and threw all the crystal utensils, plates, cups, spoils, all, of the board and they shattered into a thousand pieces on the tiles. I didn’t see Victor put his hand on his head; I was drugged by the aroma of the stew inside the wooden prison, the same stew I had helped prepare (in my mind’s kitchen). I gave the lock another knock and it snapped open.

I smiled like one who had just won a ‘free and fair’ election. I bent down and touched the pot of stew, beaming like Ajasco as happiness grumbled in my stomach as though the pot was UEFA Champions League trophy.

‘Ewu chim o.’

I U-turned with the pot and behold Victor’s sister in-law stood at the door, wild-eyed as though we were ghosts. I thought she would faint, wished she fainted and died so I could taste the stew of my labour. She didn’t fall, rather she ran into the inner house, screaming ‘Victor egbuo muo’. Victor dawdled after her, begging to explain.

I was still holding the stew pot in my hands when the police and the press people with their cameras stormed the kitchen!

NOTE TO THE READER

All living and non-living things in this story are entirely fictitious and bear absolutely no relationship past or present to any person unborn, living or dead; on earth, above or beneath it! All resemblances are unregrettably coincidental.

Tweets to @oke4chukwu