15 May 2011

World Crimes Day by Louis Ogbere

Tabare woke up to the sound of the television. He lifted his head and scanned the room; he’d had his fair share of surprise visits. There was nothing unusual. He fell back on the pillow and closed his eyes.

As if on a mission, the alarm clock on the wall jingled. It was 8 a.m. He groaned, ran his hand across his pimpled face and got out of bed. He dug his fingers into his hair – it had become a habit since the day he decided to keep an afro. His nails touched something solid; he yanked at it. When he realised it was just a piece of his mattress, he sighed and threw the foam-bit away — once he’d found a tiny black insect stuck between his nails. On the screen, a lady in a grey suit was saying something behind a crowd. She pulled back her brunette hair as she steadied the microphone in her hand.

“...Now the situation has become worse in San Francisco after the...” Somebody pulled the SBC crested microphone from her hand, as it fell on the tarred road the crowd scampered for it. At the background just behind the bedlam, the camera focused on some group of people entering a supermarket. Two of them held shotguns clutched by their sides, and a third a big spanner. Tabare chuckled: another episode of Candid Camera. He sat on the wooden table in front of the television. The scene shifted to a lady dressed in blue embroidered boubou gown, in what appeared to be a studio. She turned to the camera as soon as she saw her image on the big screen television behind her.

“And now to the Middle East. Our correspondent Evore, reports...” Tabare jerked as he saw an image of a woman on a dusty road wailing. The dust settled on her black robe, as she continuously hit her hands on the ground. After some time, she leaned against a mud wall and covered her face with her hands. The presenter began to move away from the scene. Tabare switched to another station.

“...And now to our major headlines,” said a man dressed in brown kaftan. “The United Nations has declared today World Crimes Day...”

The rest of the words floated in his head. Then he let out what he considered to be an appropriate reaction “No... Why? What in heaven’s name!” Satisfied with his reaction, he sat back on the table and allowed bits of the announcement play hide-and-seek in his head.

At twenty-three he was still struggling to escape under the wings of Madam Cash, his benefactor. From the day he accepted her offer as a bartender, he’d continually nursed the hope of someday running his own business. Each time he thought of independence; he felt the shadows of her wings extend slowly beyond his imagination. It felt enchanting, encapsulating, and he always fell back with deep resignation, forever strung to the woman’s benevolence. As he sat back now, he thought of the idea of giving this whole independence obsession another shot. He got up from the table and walked over to the corner of the room. His clothes were scattered about in heaps. He dug into one heap and drew out his towel. He carried a half bucket of water outside, and headed to the bathroom he shared with five other tenants.

The potholes on the street still held the residue of the previous night’s rain. Tabare hissed when he saw the water-logged street. With an ingenious navigation in mind, he began to hop from this side to that, sucking in his breathe with every jump. The sweet smell of elephant grass wafted through his nostrils as the stems dangled to the light breeze. When he made the final jump across a big pond of dirty water, he flipped the hood of his sweatshirt over his head. He had an appointment to catch up with.

Makoko looked empty as he walked to the bus stop through its interconnected streets. On normal days, the streets would be filled with shoppers and hawkers of wares, which ranged from roadside cafeterias to car-boot boutiques. Together they formed a major contribution to the noise pollution the town was famed for. The major road too, was almost deserted, except for a group of boys he saw running. Some food hawkers were chasing them. One of the boys ducked into a wooden kiosk, just as a stone flew past him.

“God go punish all of you Thieves! Go look for better job do!” One of the hawker-girls cursed. She had lost about seven wraps of moi-moi to the boys. Some wraps of the ground and boiled beans lay on the side walk. Tabare bent to pick them up. The girl hurried towards him her brow furrowed, but she smiled when she saw he meant no harm.

“Thank you, brother.” The girl said and offered him two wraps. He declined with a shake of his head. In a nearby store, a woman ran out and threw herself to the ground. She began to roll sideways as she cursed whoever it was that had stolen a pot of vegetable soup she left on the fire.

Tabare arrived at the hospital on time. The nurse on the morning-shift had just started when he entered through the lobby.

“Hey, big boy” She greeted, “I’m sure she should be awake by now. But hey, don’t go increasing her blood pressure today.” She smiled and flung her blue coat on her desk.

Tabare reduced his pace almost to a tip-toe, to avoid sliding, as he cut into the corridor that led to the ward. The strong smell of disinfectant from the recently mopped floor made him hold his breath. He quickened his pace as he felt his stomach growl.

Her bed was at the far end of a row of metal beds. His mother lifted her head to see who had entered. “Good Morning Mama.” Tabare greeted, as he walked closer to her. She rolled to the other side of the bed and propped her back against the wall.

“My son. Come. Come and sit here.” His mother called out. Tabare sat on the space she had created, his back to her. She touched his face as soon as he sat down. Her hand was warm on his skin. He turned to her and held her hand with both hands, and kissed the wrinkled skin.

“So how are you feeling today?” Tabare asked.

The old woman tightened her face and slowly withdrew her hand from his. “Bare,” She called, “I have been thinking...”

“Again? I thought they told you not to be thinking again?” When she did not smile, he added, “So about what this time Mama?”

“My son, I don’t want to bother you too much. I think you should inform my brother.” She said and gently slid backwards on the bed. Tabare sucked in his cheeks and reached for her hand.

“Mama, if it’s to see him about the bill then, forget it. Madam Cash has promised to assist me with some money.” The last thing he would do was to beg a relative, who hardly knew he existed.

Bare... for how long have you been saying this? My son...” She coughed, jerking slightly from her bed. “My son, it is good to try both avenues. Please promise me you would go and see my brother.”

“Okay Ma... I will talk to her again today. If nothing, then I will go and see Uncle.” He assured his mother. He was sure Madam Cash would assist him. Working for her had brought so many privileges. The free meals, tips, and even free accommodation, was enough evidence of the woman’s magnanimity. Why can’t Mama just relax for once, he thought.

He sat with her in silence and thought about when she was first brought here. He had objected to her being admitted in the hospital. He’d argued that her illness could be treated with the bark of the dongoyaro tree(1). Something she had been using before; only that now, he reasoned, she had refused to keep to the medication. But the doctor said she’d suffered from a stroke – a mild one. And that she would need orthodox treatment. It was more than just dongoyaro treatment, the doctor had warned.

He rose after awhile and left her with promises to visit her the next day, and went in to see the doctor. When he came out minutes later from the doctor’s office, his earlier enthusiasm had dissipated.

As he walked past the road that afternoon, Tabare pondered on what the doctor had told him. He felt insulted by his cheap sarcastic and sexist remark “We that have penis between our legs should not fret to take chances.”

Ahead of him was a line of shops on the left. He noticed an electronic sign-post that read: WELCOME TO AMADI SUPER STORES. As he got closer to the store, he had no idea of what he came to buy.

The inside of the store was illuminated by a single bulb that dangled loosely from the ceiling. Shelves stuck with tins of Bournvita, Milo, Nivea cream, and other provisions, created a hallway in the middle of the rectangular store. A man was hunched over a drawer, counting packets of five hundred naira notes. His stomach sagged under the hem of his white singlet as he bent forward to move a counted bundle almost out of reach. He quickly closed the drawer when Tabare coughed.

“Uhn... Good afternoon. I want to buy... Alabukun(2).” He wiped his trembling hands on his trousers.

The man walked toward the door, his eyes bored into Tabare’s. “We no get am.” He spat out.

Tabare walked out of the store, his eyes searching for an invisible object on the ground. He crossed a Pharmacy store some blocks away. He did not bother to check there for Alabukun. There was something about Amadi’s store that made him feel uneasy. He looked at the store one more time as he cut the bend into St Michael Street.

The compound was empty, except for Madam Cash’s children and some neighbours that were playing ten-ten(3) outside. He watched for a while how one of the girls pushed out her legs before the other. She jumped in victory and smiled at him when their eyes met. He smiled back then walked to the boys’ quarters.

He fell on his bed and tried to shake off thoughts of the hospital bill, but he kept battling with them until he dozed off.

When he awoke, he stretched his hand over the side-table and picked up his wristwatch. The time was 9:16 p.m. Tabare got up and walked towards a heap of clothes. The dagger was hidden underneath them in a brown travellers’ bag. He took the dagger out of its sheath and tested the blade on his left thumb fingernail, saw it cut through the nail easily, and put it back in the sheath and into his trouser pocket. The hairy hides of the sheath scratched his skin through the pocket’s material. As he stepped out of the compound that night, he looked forward to a successful mission.

It was cold that night. Tabare rubbed his palms together and blew hot air into the cupped palms. From the distance, he saw the red lit neon sign of Amadi Super stores, and noticed a big cargo truck. As he approached it, he heard a female voice mumble “...put am… hmm… Put am”. A florescent bulb in front of Amadi Super stores blinked and then went off as he got closer to the store.

He hid in the shadows and when all seemed quiet he moved to the front of the store. A big silver padlock hung on the door. It was unlocked. He hesitated; looked round to be sure he was alone. When his instincts gave him the assurance that he was, he touched the padlock, which clanked against the metal door. Just as he was about to drag open the door, he heard a husky voice shout “Hey! Hold am there!” He turned around and took a heavy blow to his jaw and staggered backwards. He saw first the stomach of his assailant before he could make out his face.

Tabare reached for the dagger in his pocket but somebody grabbed him from behind. He was roughly pushed face down on a thin concrete slab placed across the gutter, his dagger dropped into the stagnant water. The hand of his assailant squeezed hard on his shirt collar, as he was lifted off the ground.

“Wait”, He began to say, but another blow crunched into his nose. Blood splattered on his shirt.

“Mugu(4).” He heard Amadi say. “I know you go come today but no be this late.” Another blow landed on his bloodied nose, trapping air from his windpipe. The man released more blows that blurred into one long agony. He felt a warm wet wave slide down from his throat to his chest. The bell at the Sabbath Church rang from a distance. The last thing he remembered was the reporter’s voice as he said: “The United Nations has declared...”

People gathered early that morning in front of the compound’s rusted gate. They were looking down on a man’s body with a battered face and torn clothes. From inside compound, Madam Cash began to wail when she approached and recognised the bloodied body on the ground.

1) Dongoyaro: A native African medicinal drink made from the dongoyaro or neem oil tree.

2) Alabukun: A popular pain reliever produced in Nigeria.

3) Ten-ten: A game young girls play involving the movement of one’s legs to score points.

4) Mugu: Nigerian slang for a foolish person.

World Crimes Day was written by Louis Ogbere.

Copyright © Louis Ogbere 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Louis Ogbere grew up in Oron, Akwa Ibom State, Nigeria. A graduate of Banking and Finance from Madonna University, Okija. He has published fiction in The New Black Magazine, The Sunday Independent Newspaper and elsewhere. He currently works in a commercial bank in Nigeria and divides his time between posting cheques, hanging out with friends, and writing.


Frank said...

Lovely, truely inspiring τ̲̅ø young writers out there. Can't wait for the publication of your book.

Louis Ogbere said...

Thanks Frank for stopping by.It is gratifying to know the idea behind the story inspire young writers like yourself(which by the way I am too;) ). Do take the time out to read other inspiring stories from the ST archive.And as for the book,let's keep our fingers crossed. Cheers!

Stanley Ogbere said...

This is wonderful Louis, keep it up.

Stanley Jejelowo Ogbere

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