I had a rough day at work and rushed home as soon as we returned, to find the only entrance -a giant iron door with a sticker than read I AM NEVER HOME– to the little apartment we owned padlocked. I was exasperated and famished having used up all the energy contained in the little bowl of cereal I had eaten for breakfast.
I had left for work earlier than normal that day, after my boss Alhaji Musa informed me of our trip to Calabar. I never questioned those impromptu journeys, especially those outside the city of Lagos, because although my salary was fixed, Alhaji would ‘drop’ something for me at the end of such journeys.
My lovely wife Maria, worked as a Customer Care Representative at Hibcom, the largest telecommunication company in our country and usually returned home two hours later than I did. She hated that I had pocketed my B.A degree to become an ordinary chauffeur but she knew well enough to do nothing rash.
The ‘stupid’ kind of things women did like hiding my car keys, reporting me to our parish priest or explaining to her friends how embarrassing my job was. She had taken it in as a good woman would.
On a good day I would have told my wife where I was going to but after I had winked at a colleague of hers last weekend at her company’s end of the year dinner, where she was given the award of ‘Customer Rep of The Year’ in appreciation of her efforts in boosting the public image of the company, she wouldn’t take lightly the thought of my leaving the city to Calabar which was notorious for having the sexiest and of course, far too many vampish women.
I loved my wife very much but I loved my freedom equally. I confess to having thought she was smart and witty while we were dating. C’mon, who wouldn’t? She was that person every employer would want on their team.
What I now know after being married for five months, three days and (checks my wristwatch) exactly forty seconds is that she is way smarter than I thought. Boy, was I swindled!
You might be wondering why I am telling you all these. Never mind, I tend to spill over sometimes. I should have known to keep personal things personal. I brought out my Black Tecno Pouvoir phone to dial Maria’s cellphone but the battery was dead.
I rolled my sleeves and decided to wait a while for her. So, I pushed aside the door mat, dusted the concrete step and sat on it, drawing my legs to my chin and holding them together with my crossed hands.
I was in that position when Mark, my stately neighbour came to shake hands with me. He was tall, fair and always wore a huge smile, a trait I greatly admired for a man whose wife called the shots. Although I felt a little bit jealous anytime he bragged that his was the best kind of life but many times, I was tempted to know what took place behind closed doors because I was sure his wife treated him like a piece of shit.
He asked if we could go to a viewing centre to watch the match between Liverpool and Arsenal and I obliged. I am not a fan of football but it was better to go there and watch some men run around a field chasing an object which they would eventually get handsomely paid for, than to sit there in the dark waiting for Maria, who might have been stuck in traffic or simply forgotten about my existence.
When the match was over, I stayed back to drink some beer and talk about women with Mark and the guys, who I had become fairly acquainted with, when a high-pitched voice asked if any of us heard the news about a billionaire’s death. All eyes fell on him and we urged him to tell us who he was.
None of us had heard the story, which I thought was unusual. In his half-drunken state, he smiled showing his tobacco-stained teeth, convinced that everyone paid attention to him and mentioned Alhaji Musa.
The bottle of Gulder in my hand fell to the ground and fragmented into fine glass granules the minute it landed on the ground. I started shaking violently and calling on my forefathers. The guys thought I was tipsy and made a few jokes at me and pressed the drunkard to finish his story.
The life or death of a rich man was none of their business. As long as they were concerned, Alhaji Musa was a thief and he deserved to die. To be quite honest with you, were he not my boss, I would have probably wished same for him.
The drunkard took a long uninterrupted gulp which emptied his bottle of its content and another guy, a well-shaven obese man who had not said as much as a word, pushed his half-full bottle to him and he, the drunkard, nodded in approval of the stranger’s kindness.
Continuing, he narrated that Alhaji was found dead in his car early that morning, just before he would travel to Calabar to flag off the year’s Carnival. I felt a stream of hot liquid escape into my trousers and broke into a run. I was running helter-skelter -in no particular direction- and ran over a couple of chairs.
Mark pursued after me and tried to hold me down but I shook free of his grasp and leapt to my feet and didn’t look back until I had gotten to my doorstep. There I met my darling wife Maria, looking disheveled and scared stiff. At first, she didn’t believe it was me because she shrieked when I attempted to hug her.
She had seen my face on the news together with that of Alhaji and members of his security team. We were certified dead by a medical examiner and in fact, she had just returned from the morgue where she personally ordered them to cremate my corpse.
There were shouts of oohhs and aahhhs among the crowd that had assembled. They had not come to offer any help. No, they were there to hear the story from the horse’s mouth –amebo as we call them- so that when they leave, there would be so many versions of the story, each different from the other but having no resemblance to what truly happened.
I was confused because everything was happening so fast. All I wanted to do was have a warm bath, eat Maria’s plantain porridge -she made the best by the way- and sleep. But the drama continued.
Passersby encircled us the more as she told and retold her story, showing them a crucible full of ashes as proof while I disputed her story. ‘Oh well, everything that has a beginning has an end’, I heard Mark say and the racing lights from the siren of an ambulance came into full view.
Two men dressed in sky blue overalls, jumped down and tied Maria and I while four others lifted us onto a thin leather stretcher. That was how I found myself in Yaba left. It’s been two months and it has not gotten any better.