EXCERPTS FROM “DAYDREAMS, ETCETERA” by Elnathan John
The guys at the Police Service Commission are such hypocrites. Ruffling the ranks of the force at the whim of Presidency to gain little favors. Promotions today, demotions tomorrow. More nauseating is the self-righteousness that accompanies the entire routine. We all know how they got there in the first place.
I can’t wait to finish my post-graduate degree. Then I’ll be through with this annoying black uniform for good. Then I can tell that corrupt fatso of a Commissioner to go suck a lemon. Sending lowly ill-equipped men like us after the same criminals that they empower, so we can be killed in the process. I hate having to kill these criminals and I bleed each time, but what I hate more is seeing those arrested back out on the street. There is either not enough evidence to go to court or the judge throws the case out for want of diligent prosecution.
Damn! I can’t wait to leave this crazy job. Just last month, my bald Commissioner got an award from the Governor for breaking three notorious rackets based in the State. All tip-offs from my sources and raids from my unit. Not even a word of encouragement from the bulgy-eyed fathead! He wore a new starched uniform for the ceremony. How I wanted to push him down from the podium and spill the filthy contents of his potbelly.
Everyday I lose faith in this country. I see its foundations crumbling under the weight of ineptitude and mindless corruption. Democracy has never really appealed to me. I see nothing wrong with a sincere, purposeful dictatorship. Leadership isn’t a thing to be gotten by the roll of the dice. It won’t be long before this nation’s crumbling mass crashes down on us all- innocent and guilty. I have always been petrified of being guilty by omission. So, I try, and each time I feel powerless. But, I try. That is why I will use the one thousand naira in my pocket to add fuel to the patrol van I will use this evening. An informant of mine has tipped me off and my superior has assigned me as usual. And the glory will be shared in order of rank, starting from the Commissioner and ending somewhere before it gets to me. My superior always complains of lack of funds. While this statement is generally true, I know exactly how the fuel money is spent. It’s split several ways and by the time it gets to us, only a fraction of the original amount remains.
One thousand is a lot considering my salary, but I need to do this. Only then will I not be sleepless with guilt. Only then will I be able to look into my Martha’s eyes and smile when she tells me she loves me because I am a good man. She’s been patient with me and she’s waiting for me until I become a bit more stable. She won’t marry me until I leave the police. I have only a couple of months till I surprise everyone with my resignation. The Assistant Commissioner thinks I’m one of the best officers in the state. Unfortunately, he’s not in the inner circle of power from where officers get helped up the ladder. He’s a good man.
It is almost time. My big day. I’m here early so we can observe all movement in an out of the Metro Hotel. It’s a drug bust and my informant has told us of a big exchange this evening. The carrier will be in a blue truck.
My heart is beating faster now. I have to get this right. I’m taking four men with me including the driver. The people in the blue truck will have at least two revolvers in the car. All locally made. That’s a relief for me. No automatic weapons. I trust my informant because he has never once failed me in the six months we have worked together. Our van is in relatively good condition and we should be able to handle a chase.
We drive into our dark corner. Some car is parked there and we badly need the cover. I get down from the van and walk over to the car with my flash light. Fortunately, someone is in the car. Two half-naked people actually. The man winds down his glass cursing in anger and embarrassment. I am in plain clothes, so he doesn’t immediately realize it’s the police. The van moves closer and he can see it’s a police van. He’s struggling to put his clothes back on. I don’t want to create a scene as this might jeopardize the operation. I ask the woman if she’s ok and tell the trembling man to drive off. We have a good laugh while he is at it. Now we have our vantage point.
I see the truck come out of the Metro Hotel. It stops suddenly before the junction fifty meters from where we are. For five minutes, the lights are on and the engine keeps running. A lady drops from the truck and enters a taxi which has just pulled up in front of the truck. I am tempted to follow the taxi but I remind myself that the truck holds my big catch. I take down the number of the taxi. He shouldn’t be hard to find. We’ll pick him up later and he’ll tell us where he took the girl.
The truck begins to move and we follow stealthily. I am positive that we will find the drugs there. The truck picks up speed. They must have seen us. We pull out the siren. It has become a high-speed chase. Soon, we will reach the very busy highway where they will have to stop or cause a big accident. Either way, we will get them.
We are close now. I try to keep my mind on my target but I can’t help wondering if I made the right decision. The lady may have had the drugs and may even be leaving town. If only I had more men on this case and more vehicles perhaps.
I can see the cars on the highway. My blood bubbles as my heart pounds against my ribcage, threatening to burst. Now, everything is quiet save the slow tick of time in my head. We should slam the brakes soon. My gun is out, ready to pump bullets into any resister. The old bulletproof vest I am wearing should keep out any bullets. Only seconds now.
Take off my seat belt… Last junction… Bright lights…
I feel all soggy… and cold… and deaf. I can only hear that slow tick of the clock in my head, slower now. Can’t feel my legs now. The ground is gritty. I see a pale face that is Martha; I hear her whisper. YOU ARE A GOOD MAN. I know I am. I reach out. It’s all receding. Fading. Fading to black… all… black…
My death, God forbid, when it comes, should have a touch of finesse to it. There should be something grand and momentous about it. I will not die like a roach, some faceless statistic, some obscure number on a chart, faded into oblivion…
The lively debate had taken a quiet, somber turn. There was something intense about the silent concurrence with Ikem’s words. He had pulled something unpleasant right out of the deepest recesses of each of their bourgeois hearts. The three cousins hated it each time their youngest cousin sent them into the dark and weighty realm of deep, sober thought.
About a minute later, Nnanna broke the silence.
“My brother sure knows how to prematurely end a good discussion. But, true, and well said, Ikem. I only wish you were this wise with women.”
He sent everyone in the room into uproarious laughter.
“Why am I always the butt of your sarcasm, Nnanna?”
“Hey dear brother, no harm intended. I was only trying to bring us out of the awkward silence. Plus I really think you need help with the girls.”
Ikem knew better than to drag the issue any further. Besides, he knew the part about the girls was true. His last girlfriend Nma, disappeared suddenly for a while and called him afterward telling him about her plans to marry some other person. Every time it happened, he sought solace in his ever-increasing mass of books.
“Hey, lets all go have a drink on me,” Chinedu, the oldest of the cousins offered. Ikem would’ve said no, but he didn’t want the mockery that was sure to follow. They had called him a woman many times because of his avoidance of alcohol. One drink wouldn’t hurt, he rationalized, even as he hated having to conform to behavior that he sorely detested. He was irritated by their excesses; their spending, their reckless driving, their binges and their contempt for work and for anyone below their social class. Their parents were all products of a corrupt political system, which ensured that they could live their lives in stupendous luxury, without ever having to work for anything.
Ikem was not particularly proud of his father, a retired General and politician whose stolen billions multiplied when Nigeria found oil in Sao Tome. Enough wealth for many lifetimes. Enough to make rascals of all their children. However, he turned out different and he felt lonely among his relatives who were fat with money while the country crumbled under the crushing weight of irresponsible leadership. He knew he couldn’t throw all that money away, yet he found ways to rebel against that elitist order. The car he drove was simple, instead of a custom built, bulletproof luxury car with his name on the plate number. He refused to go around with a bodyguard or wear the diamond-studded wristwatch his mother bought him for his birthday. To soothe his conscience he donated anonymously to the Red Cross and visited refugee camps in West Africa.
Each time, he made his father mad, but there was nothing the old man could do but seethe with anger. His father had hoped that he would succeed him in politics and at least become a senator in the near future. Ikem would have none of his father’s ways.
As he drove out behind the convoy of his cousins, Ikem wondered what life would be like without all the wealth he constantly fought against. After all, the good things he did were possible only because of the money he had. He wanted to leave the country, go somewhere his family was not so well known, and start afresh. He wanted to earn his own living, not have everything he wanted at the snap of a finger and at the expense of millions of his countrymen. Soon, he thought.
Ikem hated the club. He felt sick at the sound of wild delirious laughter and the choking composite smell of tobacco and at least twenty different drinks. The club was a communion of the same hollow conceitedness he saw in his family.
‘Here goes the future of our great Nigeria’, he said to himself as they sat down.
“No beer today boys, today is Vodka day!”
Everyone bawled in affirmation of Chinedu’s declaration. The clear, odorless liquor began to flow freely. Ikem had never had Vodka before and he didn’t want to be embarrassed at the table. He had already made the mistake of coming to the club. Whatever it was, one glass on ice would not be so bad. Then he would drive home, have a cold shower and sleep it off.
The laughter began to ring louder in his ears and with each sip from the snifter glass, his nervousness melted away. The slight chill that came with the night was replaced with fast traveling warmth that spread quickly through his veins. All the silly jokes began to make sense and he laughed freely. Coming to the club wasn’t so bad after all.
The loud rumbling of the thunder said it was time to leave. Now he was reluctant to go. He gulped down what remained of the magical drink that made him warm and happy. Along with all his cousins, he dragged his heavy feet to where he parked his car.
The drive home was beautiful. Everything seemed like something out of a sci-fi movie. The new glister of the streets was spectacular. Crystal street lights complemented the neon beams from electronic billboards to create a luminescence that was otherworldly. The ladies that lined the sidewalks all wore ethereal smiles and had flawless figures. All of them, like models from a fashion magazine. Tonight was special. Everything was right, except that the music was too low and he was moving too slow. He knew he could do better.
He sped along the wide road as if it had no end. The road seemed too beautiful to have an end. This was Heaven Street! Slowly, all the lights blended into white and he could see nothing. Not even the police van he was seconds away from ramming. Nothing, except the broad, white gate to Heaven.
He let go of the steering wheel and felt a bump, pushing him through the gates of Heaven. Finally, he was in. There were no gorgeous, winged angels to welcome him and show him his place at God’s right hand. No resplendent seraphs flanking God. No throne of sapphire and diamonds and gold. No God… Only lights that had now begun to dim, quickly, until there was nothing but darkness and dead silence.
The Jews have always been obstinate people. Read the good book and you’ll see what I mean. Read it, not as a religious book, but a book of history and you’ll learn about that peculiar race. How often they used to send their God into fits of rage. Maybe I’m saying this because the Israeli army killed my fiancée in Lebanon last year. But then, I’ve always felt this way about them and the iniquitous capitalism they were midwives of.
However, an immoral solution can never be right. So, Mr. Hitler went too far. No, to put it better, he was the psycho who helped create an even bigger problem. No thanks to him, we have the sovereign state of Israel. An official Jewish problem.
My fiancée was Lebanese. She had a thing for postcards and I have almost a hundred postcards from her. She was visiting her relatives when they struck. Now the Jewish army has made sure I don’t get any more postcards. I didn’t even get to attend a funeral. What a shame! Blown to bits by Jewish bombs. A mass burial of unclaimed body parts.
My mother, God bless her soul, must be rolling in her grave hearing me talk about Jews this way. She was a Christian, of the old school, who believed that the Jews are still God’s chosen people. God brings judgment upon those who make trouble for the holy nation of Israel. As long as they killed Jews, the Germans were bound to lose the war, she said. God didn’t even allow their heathen dictator get a decent burial.
Dad, who held a different view, was always reasonable enough not to start an argument by expressing his view on the matter. So, they lived happily till death did them part.
The rains have not alleviated the heat. It has only multiplied the number of flies in the streets. I take to observing them intently. One has landed on my left arm and tickles me slightly with its short, swift movements. It rubs it two front legs together as though it were begging, supplicating. It drives me into a spasm of deep thought. Maybe it’s a sign. Maybe I should be begging for forgiveness for what my life has become.
I should have been dead by now. The average drug dealer doesn’t last too long. But look at me. I have reached the top of my cadre not by strength but by luck and being careful. All those ahead of me have died silly, shameful deaths. We all don’t know when to stop. We have more money than we will ever need, but we just cannot stop. In this business, greed breeds many enemies. Everyone wants some more or wants it all. So we make the money and kill ourselves.
I have the reputation of being a shrewd dealer. Consequently, I have cheated death many times. I know He waits for me at the end of my tunnel with retribution, holding in His hands the bleeding hearts of those who have gone because of me.
I did only what was necessary. De rigueur. Like what I am about to do. Bola, who sits by my side, is a rat for the police who almost got me killed last night. I know because I have my own rat in the police. The disappointment was evident in his eyes last night when I decided to use Irene and a taxi to divert the cocaine. Only she knew the destination. It was a radical, last minute change of plans. I saw the treachery his eyes and I was sure he was the rat. We were lucky- all four of us in the truck- that the accident happened when it did. Just when I thought I would go down fighting. It would be a miracle if anyone in that police van survived or even in the car that ran into it.
Bola is about to die. I am the god that will make it happen. Any minute now, a slim, steel blade will slit his treacherous throat. He won’t see it coming. There won’t be a violent struggle or screaming. Only the guttural sound of blood in the throat. I feel my heart beginning to collapse. I don’t think I can handle all this for much longer- the hiding, the risk, the necessary killings, the wild unpredictable animals in this business. This dance is becoming too fast for me or perhaps it is I who is becoming slow. Anyway, my mind is made up. This will be my last. A mere formality. He broke the unspoken code and died the moment he decided to become a rat.
There is no choice now but to leave. I still have my father’s house in Malta and I bought a ship there last year. I want to live out my days quietly. Perhaps with a woman, perhaps not. The thought of bringing children into this sick world terrifies me.
I will donate anonymously to charity. If I can, I will play golf and enjoy the calm breeze on that serene island. I will grow a beard and listen to jazz. I will find it in my heart to forgive the Jews. Hopefully, if I can bring myself to it, I will kneel in my bedroom and pray to a God I have long forgotten, hoping that somehow He can forgive my contribution to the ruination of His earth.
After all said and done, I will keep my date with death. Whether it comes to me quietly in the dead of night or comes with the aggression and vengeance of one who has been cheated, it will not matter. It will be well deserved.
I just threw up. Raw honey irritates me. The sticky, nauseating taste of tumultuous dreams. False sweetness. Discomforting viscosity. Ironically, I had to chew on bitter kola- the pleasant after taste of truth following its initial almost unbearable bitterness. A familiar, bitter start to cure a discomforting, sweet ending. Sweet irony.
My grandfather systematically takes out and lowers his limp and wrinkled penis into the toilet seat. He needs to find the right angle so he doesn’t mess up the hospital toilet seat like he did yesterday. I can see because I am with him in his final days of pain.
I am patient. By conscious choice, I will not descend to the low depths of irritability and its attendant violence. Like my grandfather. And this not due to his age and illness but from seventy years of concretized habit. It seems less now, as he has little energy to be the man he was.
In Africa, age is revered in spite of what oddities accompany it. So, I respect my grandfather and care for him, especially now that his proud heart is failing. Every evening I bring in his tasteless dietaries and escort him on his torturous trip to empty his inflated bladder and bowel. I am by him when he groans at night and when he cannot eat and when he shivers from the cold in his weak bones.
He has had his day. He once drowned in pools of sinister, cacophonous laughter, playing draught with his less than exemplary friends. Day and night. He would walk in just before midnight and wake my mother up with the heavy descent of his wide swarthy palm upon her back. The effective awakening was a reminder that even after twelve hours of working in the neighborhood bakery, a good daughter ought to wait up for her father. A good daughter. Grandma had died of a bad kidney and there was no submissive wife to lighten mother’s load. Grandfather would scream and bicker to make the slightest point. He would curse and spit and slap. Effective communication.
I am patient. I understand mother’s aggressive nature. I have seen that beneath it lays a good heart, battered by years of brutish treatment. When she loses her temper as she often does, I know that they are only echoes from a childhood gagged by filial piety. Now that I have been with grandfather these few weeks, I understand when mum tells me that even an imperfect marriage became paradise for her. Instead of being irritable when she screams, I pity her as I would a person suffering from some hereditary disease. Therefore, I am patient.
These are his final days. It is a bit early for him, considering the history of longevity in the family. His pain is getting worse by the day and mother still refuses to see him as have his two older children. I see frustration lined up in every crease on his perpetually frowning face when his weak lungs do not allow him to raise his voice. He has not spoken for sometime now. Not that he cannot speak, but the pain in speaking is very great.
As he groaned last night, I looked into his jaundiced eyes and tried to see beyond the unpleasant phenomenon grandfather had become. I couldn’t see beyond the grim testimony of seventy odd years. Life has judged him. I will go no further.
Mother has agreed to attend the funeral together with the rest of the family. They want a quiet funeral. They will not indulge the old man even on his way to the grave. They will shed quiet tears at the graveside. Not sorrow. Tears of freed slaves finally leaving a brutal master. At last, they will live their lives without crouching under the shadow of his heavy hand. I will watch it all, feeling vicariously, the new lightness in their crushed hearts and numbness in their cicatrized souls.