The time was about two o’clock in the morning. I knew I should not have left my girlfriend’s place at such an unholy hour, but I had to. A number of reasons prompted the inauspicious decision.
One, I had a lecture fixed for eight o’clock the following morning. Two, I have this phobia for sleeping overnight in a woman’s bed. The third was this premonition, which started nagging me a couple of days ago: a doppelganger might appear to me. Fable has it that it cherishes the odor of semen. Excuse me, when else is sperm likely to sprout than when you sleep in your girlfriend’s bed?
So, when I considered the implications of the three reasons, I decided to obey the dictates of my intuition which, in the last three months or thereabout, had risen to the status of precise clairvoyance.
My journey home was uneventful until I stumbled on a group of policemen. They had mounted a roadblock at a roundabout. I was sure the blockade was illegal because the group was so concealed, that I nearly walked through it before a voice ordered me to halt. I knew instantly I was in trouble.
Why? I had thought the policemen would not be concerned with a lonely figure quietly walking towards his home when the traffic was very busy with heavy lorries loaded with vegetables and other farm products. I had lived in the vicinity long enough to be familiar with the drivers and the hundreds of market women who traveled at night to catch the early customers the following day.
“Come here,” the voice cut into my thought. Instantly, I turned round and walked towards the group.
“Where are you from at this hour of the day?” the leader of the bereted group, an Assistant Superintendent of Police, boomed.
I should have lied to the lot in consonance with the general trend of attitude in the locality, but because I was stupidly naïve, I told them the truth. The reaction was ambivalent. But, when in response to a question from a fat mass of flesh sporting three stripes on his shoulder, I revealed that my girlfriend was also one of my students, all hell was let loose.
“Oh God, how could you?” the ASP fumed with pure ire.
“Oga, that girl fit be your daughter,” a beanpole contributed. The conjecture inflamed the ASP’s aversion. “Kneel down,” he barked, fingering the butt of a wicked-looking pistol strapped to his waist.
Instantly, I dropped on my knees and pacified the ASP further by raising up my two arms. When I remembered by primary school days, I closed my two eyes.
“Oga, make we go lock this boy up for station,” the striped mass suggested.
This is an insult, my mind screamed. Me a boy? No you are not a boy. A full-blooded man you are. I fingered my stiff, bushy moustache to confirm my mind’s observation.
“Where is your identification?” the ASP barked.
My right hand dropped to my side pocket. It rummaged it. No ID card. Then my fingers snaked into my back pocket. No identification paper. I checked the front pockets. The card was not there. I was sweating in spite of the clement weather. Then, I looked inside my skullcap; it was empty. To gain more moments of respite, I removed my socks and shook them; the card was not there. By then, I was drenched in hot sweat. it was then I remembered that I had left the card with my pocket diary on my inamorata’s reading table.
“Why you no check inside your pants, the card fit dey there,” the most junior of the officers taunted. I looked at him, forlorn.
“Well,” the ASP sighed.
“I am truly what I am telling you,” I moaned.
“Where is the proof?” three stripes barked.
“It is at home,” I lied confidently. Another irrational goof.
“Where is home?” the ASP wanted to know. A more sensible moron would have mentioned a far place, but I pointed to my actual home, a stone throw from the roadblock.
“Sergeant,” the ASP called three stripes.
“Follow him to his house. Let him bring his identification; I want to see it,” he ordered.
My heart did a multiple somersault after which it jerked spasmodically as fresh, hot sweat spewed out of my pores. I should have corrected the error there and then if I had any modicum of the most common of all gifts – common sense – but not in my case. You should have been aware of the quality of my dimwittedness by now. So, like a sheep being led to the slaughterhouse, I followed three stripes. We had taken a few steps when he reminded me that I should be the one leading the way. I quickened my steps and overtook him.
“You bibliophiles should understand and respect the dynamism of social etiquette,” three stripes intoned. I nearly stopped to ask him where he got such informed knowledge. Coming from a member of his professional calling, the homily sounded ethereal. I was still considering voicing my reaction or not when he said, “you are supposed to be the keys to the future, not nocturnal animals.”
I didn’t quite hear him beyond “future.” His reference to “key” had jolted my reasoning, sending my hand into my pocket. It touched the bunch of keys. Quietly, slowly, carefully, I removed my handkerchief from my breast pocket. Needlessly, I cleaned my mouth with it and transferred it to my pocket. I draped it over the bunch of keys, wrapping the handkerchief tightly over the collection so that the keys would not rattle. As we mounted the steps that led to my door, I “missed” my steps and slumped exaggeratedly towards a public wastebasket placed at a corner. Three stripes was beside me in a flash, hoping to prevent me from falling. However, before he could reach me, I had already “fallen,” in the process, I dropped the small bundle in the wastebasket, smiling, I thanked him profusely for his concern.
“You should be mindful of the steps,” he warned.
“Oh, thank you,” I said and smiled again. We soon got to my door.
“Open it,” three stripes ordered.
I made an elaborate ceremony searching my pockets. First it was the breast pocket. Then the back ones.
“Where is your key?”
I frowned. “Well, I am not sure where I put it,” I replied.
“Think very well,” he advised. “Did you give it to somebody?”
“Oh, I now remember. I left it at my girlfriend’s.”
“Okay, let’s go to Oga,” he said slapping his thigh with his baton. This time he led the way. I followed him docilely.
“Is that so?” the ASP concluded reflexively when three stripes had reported to him.
“You are not only a social deviant who does not care two hoots about the safety of his life whether precious or not, you are also a brazen liar. I do not believe the keys are at your whore’s house but I’ll grant you the benefit. Christ himself said he did not come into the world because of the righteous but because of shameless sinners like you.” He paused to wipe his mouth. “It passed in my mind to order your detention for wandering.” My stomach churned. Then, it rumbled violently. Incarceration is one experience my intestines detest.
“That’ll be okay sir. At least that will teach him and his likes not to night crawl or victimize the poor students in their care,” three stripes interrupted.
The ASP looked at him thoughtfully, “Go to your duty post,” he said solemnly. Three stripes hesitated briefly. Then, he saluted and went to join his colleagues who had begun to spread among the lorries and discuss with the drivers or so I thought. The ASP held my arm and dragged me away from the noise issuing from the encounter between the policemen and the drivers.
The pensive look on his face unnerved me. “I won’t detain you because it is said in the Bible.” This time I lurched. A police officer preaching the Bible. He cut into my thought. “.in John 3 verse 16, God actually said he had given his only begotten Son to the world. Those who believe in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. Now, if God cherishes Christ as exemplified in that scriptural injunction, we should all understand that whatever Christ prescribes is binding on all of us. Adultery, fornication, lust, greed, bribery and so on are definitely not among what Christ asked us to practice. How do you want Christ to judge you on the day of resurrection? On the day everyone will give account of his stewardship?” the ASP poked my chest with a stubby finger. I looked on demurely.
“Again, do you think parents would be happy if they know that you have been defiling their daughters? You are supposed to be their guardian. You are undoubtedly their in loco parentis. Must you in addition to that singular responsibility sleep with them? Have you ever seen a father going to bed with his daughters? Surely, if you do not depart from these shameful acts, hell-fire awaits you,” the ASP asseverated calmly.
For the first time in my thirty-five years or so of existence, I was visibly disturbed. I was remorseful. “I am sorry,” I whispered.
“No, no, no, you don’t need to be sorry. Honestly, I it is useless to plead repentance here only to turn round and commit worse moral crimes. Your claim to remorse is ordinary in as much as I cannot monitor your quotidian activities. If I were in position to assess them, then I would be confident to say whether you have changed or not.”
“How can I locate you?” I interrupted him.
“Do you know Kem Selel Police Station?” he asked.
“I am the crime officer of the station. Just ask for ASP John Sam.” He frowned and turned around, “Sergeant,” he shouted.
Three stripes answered while haggling with a lorry driver. I became curious. My anxiety was inflamed when I saw the driver of a taxi, which was parked behind the lorry climbed down from his car and passed a fifty-naira note to three stripes. He tucked the money in his back pocket and waved the cab on. However, the cab could not maneuver its way from the spot unless the lorry moved. The taxi driver voiced his indignation loudly. Three stripes would not allow the lorry to drive away because its driver had not settled him. To compound the chaotic situation, drivers who could not move their vehicles forward because the lorry had obstructed them, started blaring their horns impatiently. Three stripes did the next sensible thing, he shouted at the lorry driver to park his ramshackle vehicle at the other side of the road.
The market women the lorry was conveying to the market would not tolerate such delay. I think the veracity of the saying that punctuality is the soul of business manifested in that wee hours of the morning when the women reacted: “I beg make you settle the sergeant now,” one of them shouted from her position at the back of the lorry.
Another one who specialized in the buying and selling of okra complained, “we no wan late for market o. after cock crow business don finish be dat o. make you pay the officer o, I beg.”
“We no get plenty time oga driver,” the third woman checked her wrist watch from the reflection of the nearby street light, “ten minits to two. Market go start by four, and we still get plenty miles to cover.” The lamentations were rising into a bedlam.
The driver ignored the protesting women and ran after three stripes as he sauntered towards the ASP. By then the thin corporal had taken over three stripes’ position.
“Oga I beg now. Na only twenty naira dey my hand. I just begin work,” the lorry driver pleaded.
“You dey craze. How you go tell me say you just begin work? Check your time. Na this time lorry drivers just dey begin work?” three stripes challenged.
The duo had neared where I was conversing with the ASP so I heard every syllable of the exchange.
“Where is my card?” the ASP asked. Three stripes rummaged in a pouch strapped to his waist and removed a stack of cards held together with a rubber band and handed it over to the ASP who selected one of the cards and gave it to me.
I was seriously amused. “These policemen will never down play their worth. For goodness sake what does a police officer need a business card for?” I soliloquized.
“I beg, Oga, help me beg the sergeant,” it was the lorry driver appealing to the ASP.
“Sergeant,” he called three stripes who was about to go back to the road.
“Sir,” he saluted.
“Consider him,” the ASP advised.
“You get change?” three stripes asked the driver.
“No, na fifty naira dey,” the driver replied eagerly.
“Okay, bring am. Go collect change from the corporal,” three stripes said as he took the currency note from the driver and tucked it into his bulging back pocket.
“Oga, you don settle with the teacher or make I go lock am up,” three stripes winked.
My heart missed a skip. I thought they had forgotten about me but when the ASP laughed and said three stripes should not consider locking me up in the cell because I had promised to change, my heart resumed its normal pulsing.
“So, as I was saying, you need Christ in your life. If not, remember hell fire. The Glorious Quran was vehement in its opposition to adultery and fornication. In chapter 17 verse 3 of the Holy book, Allah admonishes us that: “And come not near unto adultery; surely, it is a foul thing and an evil way,” the ASP picked the pieces of his sermon. Three stripes was interested. So instead of going back to continue his “inspection” of the vehicles, he stayed with us.
“You can go,” the ASP told me.
For some moments, I stood staring at the ASP and three stripes. My eyes occasionally strayed to the extortion being perpetrated by the officers.
Then, slowly, very slowly, I turned round and took short, slow, reflective steps away from the noxious officers. After I had taken about ten steps, the ASP called me asked what the matter was.
“I expected you to run or walk rapidly away,” he opined.
I stopped as slowly as I had been walking away and turned round.
“What does the Holy Bible and the Glorious Quran say about bribery and covetousness?” I asked him.
He stood transfixed. Totally bereft of all words. It was as if he had been stricken dumb by a power he could not see, know or understand. All he knew was that he was stricken dumb. He was staring numbly at the ground.
The words must still be dancing in his head: Jesus Christ, the Holy Bible, the Glorious Quran, morality, bribery.
Slowly, the ASP pushed his hands deep into his hip pockets, turned round quietly and shambled into the belly of the night, still staring at the ground with blank eyes.
Feeling both triumphant and wistful, I walked away sluggishly feeling a strong urge to both weep and laugh at the same time. Life is like that….