Hannah woke with a start, her wrapper was soaked in her own sweat, she touched her face and it was there, the tears were real, she’d been crying in the dream, the nightmare was terrible. In the dark room, she felt the bed for her torchlight and switched it on, grateful that she’d charged it the previous night. The room was illuminated by the white light. She looked round the room, her family was sound asleep, just then, Tomiwa shifted on the bed and she sighedthen turned off the flash light. Tomiwa had changed so much, it had been two months since he’d stopped being an everyday-keke-rider, now he only went to the garage when he was bored, he’d been bringing money home at least once a week and whenever she’d asked how he got it, he always waved her away, the money was much and so constant that they were already planning to move to a bigger apartment. She sighed deeply, Tomiwa was still a great father to their two kids and she was grateful but their relationship as a couple was dwindling, even communication was now a big deal. Her mind went back to the dream, it was a weird one in that she’d been crying all through, over what and why, she could not remember, there was something creepy about it though, she hadn’t been crying, she’d been mourning someone or something, her mind was bare of details save for the fact that she’d been wearing black from head to toe and it was really scary. She honestly hoped it wasn’t as bad as it seemed; she was at a loss for what to do so she did the one thing she believed in, the only thing that could soothe her fraying nerves, what she’d been taught as a child and what she was teaching her children, she prayed, prayer had always been her escape right from when she was a child and even now. After praying, she went back to sleep with her faith.
When it was five AM, the family got up as usual even though the children were on holidays but Tomiwa had suggested that Hannah took them to her parents’ and so, their bags were packed and ready. When everyone was done, morning prayers had been said, breakfast had been eaten and it was time to move, Tomiwa lay on the bed tapping at the new android phone he’d bought one week ago.
“Tomiwa we’re ready.” Hannah announced and Tomiwa sat up while the expectant children were waiting eagerly by the door. Tomiwa retrieved ten crisp one thousand naira notes from his wallet and gave them to his wife.
“That’s ten thousand naira for your parents…” he said then retrieved two extra one thousand naira notes “… this one is for your transport.£ he added as his wife collected the money with a puzzled look on her face.
“Aren’t you dropping us?” she asked.
“Obviously, I’m not, se I’m tired, I need to rest.” He said and Korede’s face fell, ‘daddy has changed’ he thought to himself, the dad he knew would only be too glad to carry them in his tricycle but not this man.
“Okay o.” Hannah said resignedly and ushered the children out of the room. As soon as they’d gone, Tomiwa decided to call Shanawole.
“Hello sir.” He said as soon as he answered.
“Tomiwa how far na.”
“I dey o, I just call to greet you o, make una no forget me o.”
“No shaking, e good as you call because I bin wan call you before sef, work dey wey you go do.”
“Ah, I get luck o, thank you sir, which day be that?”
“Na today, rather tonight because na night journey.”
“Ehehn, wetin night journey mean abeg?”
“No worry your head, just show for my side around six PM.”
“Em, okay sir.”
“No carry keke come o, motor dey wey you go drive.”
“Okay sir.” Tomiwa said and Shanawole ended the call. Tomiwa was sceptical, he had a bad feeling about this ‘night journey’, he adjusted his sitting posture and stretched, he’d never given a deep thought to the nature of this guys’ job but somewhere at the back of his mind, he’d always suspected them to be an organised cartel of drug dealers and at other times, such as this, he couldn’t help but think that they were armed robbers.
Tomiwa sighed, he knew he’d got himself in a deep mess but he had to do it, he needed the money so bad. Right there and then, he promised himself to stop once he’d saved enough to establish himself; ‘I give myself six more months and I’m done.’ He said to himself then decided to go to the garage.
There were six of them, heavily armed with pistols and handguns, each of them was masked and all the guns had silencers attached to them. Chief Aregbeyo knew he had to cooperate except he was ready to lose his life. Their leader sat on a stool in front of the chief, ready for what seemed to be a chat.
“Olakunle Aregbeyo aka chief Aregbeyo…” scorpion began “… you know why I accepted this job, it’s because I like you, your name just hit me like that and I fell in love with it…” he paused briefly and looked at his colleagues “… abi don’t you think the name is nice?” he asked and turned back to face the chief.
“Olakunle stands for money full house then Aregbeyo means you dey always happy when you see your friends, what a nice name! But since we are your friends and you haven’t come to see us, we are here.” He said. He talked on for another five minutes, urging the chief to be calm and that they wouldn’t hurt him if he cooperated with them while the chief merely nodded.
“So chief, what do you have to say?”
“Please, please, don’t hurt my family and please before you kill me, tell me who sent you.” He said and the gang burst into epileptic fits of laughter.
“You must be very stupid!” Scorpion thundered and crashed the butt of his gun down the side of the chief’s face, the latter let out a cry which only angered the thug more. Scorpion got to his feet and gave the chief a fierce kick making sure the heel of his timberland boot drew blood from his nose; he pulled the chief up by the collar of his pyjama shirt.
“I hate the likes of you, I hate your guts, I even hate the person that sent me but you’re very lucky I signed a contract and I was asked not to kill you.” He spat and pushed him down roughly then signaled to one of the boys to give him a cigarette stick and a lighter.
“Now I will sit back and enjoy the rest of the show.” He said and sat in an armchair. Another guy came forward with a horse whip to beat the chief.
Fifteen strokes later, the chief’s face was bloody.
“Be wise!” Scorpion said finally and the gang filed out of the house. When they’d gone, the chief touched his swollen face and winced, all the strokes had been deliberately targeted at delicate skin of his face and neck, he looked round him, at the blood stained tiles and shook his head, he had so many enemies, that’s what politics is about, it was a dirty game and whoever sent these guys was ready for a rough ride, I got to his feet promising himself to get to the bottom of the matter.
The gang walked back to the waiting Toyota Sienna mini-van, got in with Scorpion comfortably seated in the front passenger seat. Tomiwa drove off into the night as soon as the door was rolled shut. He was nervous, he drove at top speed on Scorpion’s instruction but he was cautious, he hadn’t noticed them bring anything extra into the van and had also noticed the blood stains on the horse whip. He drove cautiously back to the ‘hood’ as Scorpion’s mini-flat was usually called, taking in as much detail as he could from the silent gang. On getting there, they all filed in and everyone one of them had to sleep in the most comfortable spot they found.
The house was dark, Tomiwa’s mind wandered off in thought as he lay staring at the ceiling, the fan was blowing at top speed but he hardly felt it due to the things he was thinking about. He thought of how to retrace his steps and go back to his former life, sure, he would miss the money but it was much more better to be broke than to lose his life. He checked the time on his phone, it was just some minutes past four AM. ‘I have to leave’ he said to himself but that would be foolish if he left at this time. He lay still on the couch, too afraid to even breathe, he’d never seen so much guns at once and in the same place in all the thirty-eight years he’d spent on planet earth, ‘what if they think I know something I’m not supposed to know and they shoot me in my sleep’ he thought and his fear heightened, this was the biggest mess he’d ever found himself in, it was worse than being in debt. His mind went to his family as images of Hannah’s smiling face flashed past his head, he still loved his wife despite her trouble, he saw Korede running around with his new ball, he also his paintings, the framed family painting he’d made, the boy was really good at this, then he saw Yejide dancing in her school uniform because she’d come first again in her class, his heart sank deep, almost reaching his toes, what would become of his family if he died? That would only mean more suffering. He saw his mother’s frail body, he’d begged her to come and live with him but she’d refused saying she’d manage till he got a bigger place, he thought of all the promises he’d made to his family, all his big dreams and a cold sweat broke on his forehead, how could he have been so selfish, how did he allow greed to take over and rule his mind, he’d only been thinking about how to make quick cash not putting into consideration the fact he was getting his hands dirty and that there’ll be consequences, he completely neglected his family but now, he knew that there is no short cut to success. If only he’d politely refused that one thousand naira but he hadn’t, now, he was stuck, left alone to bear his cross, he had no idea how but he was strong-willed, he had to get out of this mess somehow, anyhow without getting himself in bigger trouble, he knew it would be unwise to suddenly start ignoring them, he just knew he had to do something.
Time was at a standstill, Tomiwa lay awake, in fear of the unknown, through the painful one hour before it was five-thirty then he woke the nearest person to inform him he was leaving. As soon as he walked out of the gate to the one-storey building with eight mini flats, Tomiwa broke into a fierce run with his heart secured in his closed mouth, he was afraid, what if they sent someone after him, he thought and the fear strengthened him and he ran faster oblivious of where he was going, he just ran, not caring what the nine-five workers scattered everywhere on their way to work, thought of him, he just ran from nothing and no one in particular, fear made him run for dear life.
Twenty breath-taking minutes into the race, Tomiwa stopped and rested on an electric pole close by and sank to the ground, his legs too weak to support his weight. He held his head in his hands and wept, this was a big problem, he needed the money but he didn’t want to go down this path. Five minutes later, he stood, ready and determined to confront the situation head-on.
To say Hannah was distressed is an understatement, every nerve, hormone, blood cell, organ, bone in her body was freaking out, Tomiwa had never stayed away from home all night without informing her, she was beside herself, she’d paced round the available leg space in the small room intermittently dialling her husband’s number. First he’d let it ring, then he’d ended the call on the first ring; finally, he’d switched off his phone. She’d called his mother to find out if he was there but that only scared the old woman more. She’d cried, blamed herself, prayed too but none of these had calmed her nerves. She couldn’t help the feeling that Tomiwa was sleeping in another woman’s arms; finally she succumbed to nature; she fell asleep only to wake up from a nightmare some minutes before five AM. In the dream, Tomiwa was missing, she combed the area with a search party to no avail, he wasn’t found in the dream. Immediately, she went on her knees and prayed against untimely death. She was tired of worrying but she made up her mind not to leave the house till Tomiwa came home then she busied herself with chores, taking her time so she didn’t have to think too much.
Hannah jerked awake and stood, the banging was too much and too loud, she got angry and decided not to open up until the ‘knocker’ was ready to talk then she heard her name, it was Tomiwa, she rushed to unlock the door and Tomiwa literally burst into the room and slumped on the ground, she looked about the corridor to see who was chasing her husband but didn’t see anybody. She locked the door and went over to his side, he was out of breath, Hannah became alarmed, was he in any kind of trouble, or was he in a fight with someone at the garage, his tricycle was still parked outside which meant he hadn’t ridden it to wherever he’d gone. She checked the time, six forty-five, still quite early, she thought but she was still grateful that Tomiwa was home and alive even though she wasn’t so sure he was safe, she was afraid of the unknown. Five silent, save for Tomiwa’s gasps, Hannah spoke.
“Tomiwa, welcome.” She said, engaging every nerve in an attempt to sound calm but Tomiwa just nodded his acknowledgement.
“What happened, who’s pursuing you?” she tried again, Tomiwa hadn’t fully recovered so he gestured for her to get him drinking water after which he stood then sat in the armchair.
“Don’t worry yourself, everything is fine.” He said, not wanting to scare his wife with details.
“Everything is fine ke and you ran in like a mad man that’s about to be lynched.”
“Hannah, I said don’t worry your head, it’s nothing, I went clubbing with friends ni o and everything was cool until some guys started fighting around five-thirty then the police was invited and one of them shot in the air and everywhere scattered, me I just ran o, I didn’t wait for anybody.”
…to be continued