Note: this story is among the top 150 stories in the Union Bank Campus Writing Challenge.
It was the early weeks of December 2015 when a young mechanic from a faraway city of Nigeria had come to Lagos to discover a riling scene – another man was on his fiancée’s bed.
More tragedies would knock him in the hours that followed.
He reversed the car out of the gate and running after him was the unfaithful Amanda, sweating and cloaked in just her towel. Though she pleaded and cried as she ran, he wouldn’t look back.
He drove in silence, new worries sliding into his disappointment – he wanted to hiss himself but there was no place to park, and he didn’t know where to spend night yet.
The night was warm as Lagos could be towards the year’s end. The population and industrialization had made the temperature different from that of Asaba. The time was past twelve. He has to find a place to spend the night. He had planned all along to pay his fiancée a surprise visit and to spend the night with her, he had washed and serviced his car, and perhaps he shouldn’t have surprised her; perhaps he should have stayed and let the relationship died as his friends had suggested. But he didn’t. When he came, the girl he wanted to marry was riding another man like a horse.
Where would he find a place to sleep?
Well, they said, Lagos has an abundance of hotels, classic and non-classic.
He turned left. There was a bush path and he wanted to hiss himself. As soon as he parked, two men walked towards him. A spirit of de-javu enveloped him.
This is Lagos, they had said, you have to be alert.
He ran to his car and locked the door. He drove away and forgot he wasn’t at ease. The men must have wondered why he ran that way, it wouldn’t have made sense if he was robbed there and his car been snatched. The news would have read the following morning: Man’s attempt to surprise girlfriend backfired – was robbed and murdered. That is a bad way to go down in his family, coming all the way from home to die in Lagos because of a woman. No.
They say, in Lagos, everything is a publicity stunt.
The night was still tepid when he finally found an inn – a tall, well-lit bungalow. Flowers lined at the fence. A lady was standing by the gate – pretty and well-dressed like she was heading to a swimming pool, he knew what she wanted; she would make his night great. He would forget about Amanda. This night, he would choose anyone who wasn’t as pretty as Amanda, in fact, every girl on earth is prettier than her at that moment. He would pay any night worker a lot of money to spend the night with him.
The girl approached him and he stopped. ‘Sir,’ she said, ‘I see you have been working all day, but I can help you relax and sleep better this night.’
She spoke good English – his type of girl – though he could barely speak the language. He stopped his schooling at secondary school, now it was six years ago he had sat down to study the language or any language at all. He asked for the price she would accept for a night. When he told him, he smiled and gestured for her to enter the car, in such a way a monkey would embrace the company of bananas. He didn’t ask of his name, but he wanted to familiarize: wet the ground, let her like you, when you get to the bedroom it would be a smooth transition – this, he had heard about Lagos night workers.
His name is Peter, he said, choosing a fake name.
They said choose a fake name so the prostitute cannot find you in case anything goes wrong, he has to be smart.
He asked for her name and she replied, ‘Susie.’ It was a fake name, he knew – everyone is smart in Lagos.
They entered into the hotel, him, holding his half-eaten cake in one hand and Susie following behind her. The inside was as wide as his bedroom in Asaba, where he arranged settee, a bed, two plastic chairs, a television, a play station, and his bags. Here is an exquisite space, white couches sat around as though this was a prince palace. If he was asked to pay just to see the lounge, he would gladly pay. All his life he had been in Lagos once and this was the second time. He hadn’t the chance of lodging into a hotel when he came, this first time of sleeping in a hotel, he was already enjoying it, he had chosen wisely. Hope the price would be fair.
‘Can I get a room for the night?’ he asked the receptionist. ‘You get Egusi soup and pounded yam?’
The receptionist, beaming with a smile replied, they have Egusi and with all kind of meat. He chose pork.
He didn’t forget to ask for the price because they said things are really expensive in Lagos.
When he heard the price, it was still a fair price. If he would enjoy the night with a pretty damsel, he needed to pay the price.
‘What will you like to eat’ he asked Susie.
‘Nothing, I’m fine’ she replied. Well, she had saved him some money. He was left to pay only her fee.
They entered into the room – large, an exquisite bed, an air conditioner that hummed into his life as though it aimed to take away the thought of Amanda. Each took turns to shower in the big bathroom that had a bathtub. He changed into his boxers and singlet and sat by the bed and stared into Susie’s face which was now devoid of make-up.
Someone knocked on the door. He opened. The receptionist came in, carrying his pounded yam and Egusi soup with beef. He collected and ate in silence as Susie had found pleasure in the cake he brought. He should ask if she really wouldn’t eat.
Are you sure you don’t want to eat? He asked.
I’m fine,’ she said, smiling.
When he finished eating, he climbed on to the bed beside Susie. She was in a towel already, what was left was for him to lose it at the side of her big breast – and he did. His eyes grimaced and forgot all the things he had heard about Lagos from the time he was young till now. Of course, no one says much about women. The only thing he remembered was that most women don’t love in Lagos and night workers don’t fall in love at all. When he was young he heard stories of a man who married one of them. Poor man, the storyteller had said, the wife spent his money and graced other men’s bed. He didn’t end well for both wife and husband; one killed the other, and the other ended with life imprisonment.
Susie took him like a raging bull would fight a lion. He was ready. That was why he had ordered for Powerhorse and pounded yam. He was meant to be unstoppable. Soon, the walls could not curtail their moan. They continued until he dropped on the bed, tired.
He stood in the bathroom, watching the mirror. Why he was there and how he got there, he didn’t know. He brushed his eyes with the back of his hand and turn to use the water closet. Then he saw it. The body of Amanda was lying in the bathtub. He took tentative steps closer, and sure, it was really Amanda. He shook her, she was dead. He stood up, walk to the door, then, he returned and lifted her up. He dropped her again, thinking of what he would say if anyone comes in. What would the hotel management say? If he tried to run, he would be caught because…. He might not be caught. He stood. He sat. He had committed a big mistake for coming to Lagos. He heard someone called his name from outside, he rushed towards Amanda. The slippery tiles fell him down with a thud.
He woke up – panting. He scanned the room in seconds, even though it was a dream; the life he wanted wasn’t to end up in prison. He jumped off the bed and whisked into the bathroom. Truly, it was a dream. He breathed slowly, his life was still his. The stupid Amanda was threatening his dream after he had cut ties with her. But the dream showed she was dead. That’s her cup of tea if she was dead.
The dead and the living do not have businesses – not only in Lagos but anywhere in the world.
When he stepped back to the bedroom, heavy knocks came on the door. He stopped in his track and stood from the base of the bathroom door. He was wearing only his boxers and singlet and the weather was freezing cold. Stopping the air conditioner, he picked his shirt and trousers that were lying on the couch. The knocks persisted. This was getting uncomfortable for him and he wasn’t sure what to make of it. The time was still young into the morning – 4 am. Susie woke up from the heavy knocks and asked, ‘Who is knocking?’
He wore his clothes and opened the door. Two police officers were waiting at the door, one wore the black uniform known with the Nigerian police and the other who was tall and well-built, wore a white shirt and a black trouser and he held a pistol.
He grimaced – the tenth time he would see a pistol, all the fierceness and courage he used to have was melting away like ice cream on a stove. But what do they want, he scanned the room for what could be implicating and found none. He wasn’t a smoker or a smuggler, so he was safe, he thought.
‘What can I do for you?’ he said, smiling to the officers.
‘I’m sergeant Bello.’ The man in mufti said, ‘We are from the Nigerian police force, we receive some false reports about you at our station and we are here to find out the truth.’
He was patient to know what they really wanted. This wasn’t his first time of dealing with police officers and their troubles; when they have done all they wanted, they always came back to say, ‘we are sorry sir, Oga, we are sorry.’
‘So we would like you to cooperate with us.’ Bello continued.
‘Well, it’s fine. You can go ahead.’ He said, smiling and opening the door wider for them to come in. Bello nodded at the other officer and soon, the younger man was lifting up cushions and pillows and bags and even the cake on the stool.
‘Yeeh!’ Amanda screamed.
Our dear young man didn’t smell anything foul here. He turned, disturbed by the noise from the woman on the bed that was wrapped in a towel. What was the scream about?
‘Yeeh!’ she screamed again, her face squeezed like one who was kicked in the stomach.
‘Madam, are you alright?’ Bello asked.
‘My stomach!’ she repeated, clutching her stomach like he had seen women do when in labour. He wasn’t sure he was hearing properly. He wasn’t sure of what to do, but he was sure standing alone and watching wouldn’t solve whatever was wrong with her stomach. He rushed to her side and held her to his chest.
‘What is it?’ he asked.
‘Madam, wetin you chop?’ Bello asked.
‘Cake’ she said, pointing to the piece of cake on the stool.
This girl must be wrong; he had eaten out of the cake and nothing had happened. The cake he brought all the way from Asaba to Lagos, the cake that was specially made for him by Chioma, the cake that was given to him for free, although Chioma would get her money when she has his head on her chest – this was the same cake the girl said was the source of her pain.
‘Calm down,’ he said, ‘it’s because you are not that used to cake.’
The second officer stood beside his boss watching. Bello bent to ask questions.
‘Yeeh!’ she shouted again, shaking as though she was electrocuted.
He frowned, ‘calm down, calm down,’ he pleaded, horror written on his face. Amanda was struggling with what was left of her life. Then she went limp. He shook her. Her hands dropped, freely.
Bello took calculative steps towards the woman and felt her pulse like a professional doctor; he shook her and announced she was dead.
‘You don kill her.’ The second officer said, came closer and he landed him a slap. ‘You have killed her.’
He felt the pain of what would become of him if he was arrested, how he would die in prison, he would become bearded after few days in those stinking cells, how the place would snuff the life out of him before he died. This wasn’t how he wished to spend the rest of his days, how he wished to make his Mama proud. Amada had ruined it all. He shouldn’t have picked Susie up either. ‘Susie! Susie!’ he shouted. He cursed whoever told her to choose that name. It wasn’t her name of course and she wouldn’t answer him no matter how loud he shouted.
‘Young man,’ Bello called, ‘you are under arrest for murder. It is advisable for you to keep quiet or else whatever you say would be used against you.’
“Oga…Oga, there is a mistake somewhere,’ he cried and sweated, the collar of his shirt cloaked in brownness of dirt.
‘There is a mistake somewhere, oga,’
‘What mistake,’ Bellow asked, his dark moustache crisping as he spoke. ‘Arrest him,’ Bello commanded the other officer. The other officer, as though waiting for the opportunity, pounced on him as a wrestler would do on his sleepy opponent. He kicked, pushed and dragged him out.
The only thing he could say was that he was innocent. Perhaps it was Amanda that cursed him. Perhaps he shouldn’t have come to Lagos as his friend had told him that he was just wasting his time on the long-distance relationship. He wished to turn the hands of the clock and he would ignore the woman he met at the hotel’s gate. He was taken out of the hotel where he dropped his car keys for the perplexed receptionist.
They drove to the sleeping street of Lagos which wasn’t actually asleep but quieter than before when he had driven to the hotel’s gate. He sat beside Bello at the rear seat and the other officer drove. He looked back at his car and the hotel, the bright light, the road he followed to the hotel. He had prayed and begged but it seemed every plea sounded like an insult to Bello, who would stop and punch and slap with every word which came out of him.
It seemed in this life when one is hit by a brick; he would fall and landed his head on a rock. Last night, he was disappointed by his girlfriend but this early morning, when faint darkness lurked over the city of Lagos, faith has wished to land him another blow – the one he wouldn’t survive. What if he was taken to prison? What if the police officers tell their tales that the woman said he ate the cake? He had eaten the cake, too. They would investigate if truly she ate the cake. He would then ask them to test his body too, that he had eaten out of the cake. They would check, the lawyer he would pay to defend him would make sure the court run a test on him too. No, they would not answer the lawyer; they would say he was guilty without been investigated. The judge would make his judgment based on the proof these officers provided. He clamped his fist over his head, all his life he hasn’t been to police stations as the criminal. He was either there to give the men-in-black something or he was there to bail.
He remembered all the lessons and stories he had heard of Lagos and the deeds of the police and his heart sank like an open bottle pressed into a river.
They got to a junction where the road was brown of earth and bushes stood to each side. The other officer suddenly stopped. Bello cleared his throat and stared at him. He smelled of alcohol and sweat, he had seen his teeth earlier and they were stained and big.
‘You see, in this life,’ Bello began, ‘you can eat your cake and have it.’ he stopped and stared long at him and he continued, ‘It’s not juju, it is just common sense. If you kill someone and you found you have killed the person and the police find you, you can run or you can stay.’
He stared at him with mouth open.
‘You see, the wise ones go wait and let the police take them. You might think they are stupid they are not stupid. Or do you think they are stupid?’
That wasn’t a question he was to answer, but he shook his head anyway. If he wanted an answer, he has to give one, who knows if he would temper his arrest with mercy. He would love his prayers to be answered. He would resume going to church than before. In fact, he would become a choir or an usher or a deacon at St Mathew Anglican Church, Asaba.
‘You see, they are the wise one. When they are now arrested, they would sit the officer down and ask how can you help me. The officer would now advise them, do this and the case is closed. That is it. Case closed, nothing more. They are free from the law and no one would question them.’ Bello clapped his palms to signify how ‘case was closed.’
The young man continued to stare with his mouth open.
‘Your case is even different. We could say we didn’t see you or that the girl committed suicide. We could put a poison in that hotel room and say that is what she ate. We can say we are still looking for the criminal and we haven’t found him. Or we can say we found him but he ran before we could get to him.´ he tilted his head closer to him and continued, ‘they will believe whatever we say. Are you getting me?’ he asked.
The young man nodded vigorously.
‘So it’s up to you, are you a wise boy or you want to go to prison?’
‘I want to go home, sir. I will love if you release me,’ he begged.
‘OK. Ten million. And this case is closed.’
‘Ah!’ he screamed.
‘What is it?’ Bello shifted in his seat.
‘Sir, sir, I don’t have that much.’
‘Ah!’ Bello said, ‘Your village people will make you die in prison.’
‘Sir…I…I have five hundred thousand.’
Bello smiled. He handed the young man the phone they had taken from him and told him to make the transaction. When it was completed, Bello transferred the money to another bank account in a different bank. ‘You see,’ he said, ‘I don transfer the money to my Oga.’
He was released and his body feeling a huge and cold wave of freedom, prison is not a paradise anywhere in the world.
He got to the hotel and discovered that Susie’s body had risen from the dead, packed all her things and left the hotel room, albeit magically.
After the incident, when the young man called to inform his uncle in Asaba, who has lived in Lagos for more than thirty years, his uncle laughed and said, ‘welcome to Lagos,’ in such a way his mother used to say to children, ‘fire is very stupid for burning your hands.’
Love me and I’ll love you back.
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