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Muheez Olawale | Even The Whitest Palms Swim In Mud

“Even the whitest palms swim in mud.”

I’m pretty sure that this DPO’s regular remark immensely enriches my hate for mud. Because when I slip and tumble down the stairs, my glance dives first to my palms. I smile to myself because my white palms never swim in mud.

The sight of a burly guy in a black suit coming towards me jolts me out of my reverie. I waste no time before I jump into the shadows under the stairs. The guy hastens down to the foot of the stairs. His eyes comb through the room but they can never find me behind the bookshelf where I hide.

“I thought I heard something,” he mumbles.

My eyes trail him as he marches down the hallway. Once he enters the last room in the hallway, I creep out from behind the bookshelf. I step on the bookshelf and I climb into the ceiling through a manhole.

#

Someone said my integrity would be the end of me but I waved him off. Another reminded me that men of character end up with muddy clothes; I called him unscrupulous.

However, I began to take their words into consideration the day Anita left me for another man. For years, Anita and I had been living as a blessed couple with our son, Ifeanyi. Though we had not enough money, we were contented with our life. I was a police officer while my wife taught English in a secondary school. Though my wife’s salary was meagre, it was almost two times my salary. Yet months might run past and I wouldn’t receive that gladdening cheque. Despite the fact that Anita took care of most of the expenses in the house, she still respected me to the extent that I began to feel guilty.

How I got to marry a perfect wife such as Anita was still a miracle to me. In my early years of policing, I had saved her from a robbery attack one late night in Oshodi. She liked me. I don’t know why. I liked her back. To me, that was all that mattered.

Made with a good proportion of God’s mud, she had the right curves in the right places. Her face was like the sky on a night when the moon and the stars sang lullabies. Nightingales stay quiet to learn whenever she sang. Hardly could a man walk past her without stealing a glance. I found myself so immersed in her features. We started dating. We got married two years later, and Ifeanyi arrived at our abode too after our wedding in her father’s sitting room.

Despite my undesirable financial conditions, Anita never, for once, looked down on me. And disgrace was the share of whoever talked down on me in her presence. In fact, she had poured muddy water on one wealthy man who lived on St. Victoria street when he wooed her and told her to leave the riffraff she was married to. I took pride in being able to call Anita my wife.

However, things took a strange turn when Ifeanyi, who was then two, got diagnosed with asthma. The hospital billed us five hundred and sixty-five thousand naira for the treatment with an upfront payment of at least three hundred thousand naira. Who was I to afford a crazy bill as such? If I saved up my salaries for two years, I still could barely raise that amount. Anita managed to get the advance salaries of three months which was not even up to one-eighth of the bill. I almost went crazy as all my efforts to gather money for the treatment hit the brick wall. Banks refused to give me loans due to the lack of substantial collateral. Or could I request for advance salaries at my workplace that hadn’t paid the salaries of the past four months? Part-time jobs could have been an option but how many days would I use to gather the money when Ifeanyi could only survive few months without treatment?

While trapped in the frenzy of this crazy predicament, Chief Kenny Dike, the CEO of one of the best hotels in the state, visited me in my house one evening when I was arranging to sell some of our clothes and household items. I was startled to see him. What could make a lion leave his den and visit a pigsty?

“Good evening, chief,” I stuttered as I pointed him to the only available chair.

He slowly sat, letting his eyes comb through our crappy one-bedroom apartment. He cleared his throat as he adjusted his flowing agbada.

“Good evening, inspector Mez,” he beamed.

I chuckled. Only close friends and colleagues called me Mez which was a shortened form of my given name, Chimezie.

“To what do I owe this pleasant surprise?” It actually amazed me that I was still so formal in this weird situation.

Chief was just like other rich men I knew. They disliked beating about the bush. Chief hit a home run instantly. “I have a business offer for you, Mez,” he said.

I smiled awkwardly. “What’s that, sir?” I managed to say.

Chief took a glance at his bodyguard and the latter nodded. Then he turned to me and began, “you see, Mez, you have one of my boys with you.”

My eyes rolled quizzically. “Your man? I don’t think so.”

He smirked and continued, “two weeks ago, you and your colleagues arrested a man for sexual assault.”

I nodded. It was true.

“You see, that man is in charge of some of my businesses. And since you arrested him, I no longer have access to my goods.”

“In charge of your business?” I gasped. “What kind of relationship can you have with such a man?”

Chief grinned, embarrassed, “He’s in charge of some of my goods, you know,” and he winked.

I nodded as the realisation dawned upon me. Surely, Chief was also one of the rich men whose left hands swam in the mud but spotless right hands wave to the world.

“So how do I come in?” I asked.

Chief adjusted in his seat. “You know he’s been charged to court right? I want you to help me find a way to let him out. Just to get my goods from him, ehn?”

I exhaled sharply. “He’s a criminal, Chief.”

“Seven hundred thousand, I’ll pay you!”

My eyes rolled in astonishment. I squandered a minute on breathing exercises.

“A criminal,” I reminded Chief.

“Let’s make it one million.”

My brain had some thinking to do. Ifeanyi’s lying figure on the hospital bed flashed through my head. The rules and regulations I read the day I was recruited reverberated in my ears. Money is good. Muddy money is worst.

I shook my head and, as politely as I could, I said, “I’m sorry, Chief. I can’t do it.”

Chief’s jaw dropped in disappointment. “Oh! I thought you can do it.”

“I can’t take the risk, I’m sorry.”

“It’s not that risky, you can just–”

I cut Chief short. “I really can’t do it.”

Chief rose from the chair and adjusted his agbada. “This remains a secret, right?”

I nodded.

With that, Chief and his bodyguard left. As soon as they had left, Anita popped into the room.

“Chimezie!” she yelled.

I slumped on the chair Chief had sat on.

“I can’t believe this!” she gasped. “So you want your son to die! Someone came here, offering you a million naira. You can’t take it and do whatever they want for the sake of our son. For the sake of Ifeanyi! Do you have five hundred and sixty thousand naira hidden somewhere? Or do you just want to watch Ifeanyi die? I can’t believe you’re such a cruel husband and….” Tears gobbled up the rest of her words.

I tried to explain. “Calm down, Anita. What he wants is not so easy. Though it’s unprofessional and risky, I still can’t….”

“Shut up, Chimezie!” she raged violently with tears cascading down her cheeks. “You can’t take a little risk for your dying child? Perhaps, it’s true you don’t deserve me anyway.”

She wiped her tears, sniffed, walked out of the room, walked out of my life. I never saw her again. When I went to the hospital to check on Ifeanyi, I was told she had withdrawn him. The only thing I heard after that was that my wife had linked up with the wealthy man on St. Victoria, and they had both relocated to Abuja after treating Ifeanyi. I tried to find them with all I had but it was fruitless, so I gave up. Since then, I became the wretched wife-deserted police officer who was left alone to nurse his wounds.

#

My hands and legs carefully search for the footholds. A great error it will be if I carelessly crash down the ceiling. I can’t even think about what will happen to me.

I finally get to the room where the transaction takes place. I hear the boisterous voices of the potbellied men. With the loudness and confidence exuberating in their voices, one would think they’re trading something completely legal.

I smile to myself. I don’t need to arrest them now. All I need is evidence of them. And a video tape would have been the best, but I lack that luxury now. A sound recording is all I can make use of.

I slide my phone out of my pocket and I steal to the spot where there is a hole in the ceiling – a hole made for a bulb that has become defunct. With a few strokes and slides, I turn on my phone’s sound recorder. I press record and I wait.

“Put that flour on the scale, Jikky.”

I almost laugh when I hear Big Bo calling cocaine “flour”. Now, I know Big Bo has a partner called Jikky. I nod.

“Five kilos, oga mi,” Jikky replies.

“See? Complete!” Moh’s unmistakable voice rings.

I smile. I’ve been right about this shit all along. I check my phone. It still records.

“Let’s see if it’s original, or just dusting powder.” I imagine the smirk on Big Bo’s face. Proud, ruthless bastard!

“You doubt me?” Moh gasps.

“We can never say,” Big Bo chuckles. “This might be a trap, after all. An NDLEA director selling “flour”? At least, I have to make sure that if I die, what I’m dying for is worth it.” Big Bo’s laughter shakes the house.

Moh joins him reluctantly.

I hear Big Bo sniff. He laughs. Sniffs. Laughs again.

“Good!” he grins.

“So let’s talk money now,” Moh says.

“Money, money, money,” sings Big Bo.

“Three point seven million,” Moh declares.

“Three what?” Big Bo gasps. “I’m not buying the universe!”

“No more no less!”

“I can’t pay that much.”

“You can!”

“Why?” Big Bo sniffs.

“You don’t like prison.”

Big Bo snickers. In two seconds and a half, a gunshot rings clear in the room. Moh yells in pain. My eyes widen in terror. What the hell?

“What are you doing, Big Bo?” Moh winces.

“Taking precautionary measures.” Big Bo smirks.

Bang! A gunshot again.

I hear a gunshot; this, from another gun. An AK47, perhaps. Big Bo screams. Another gunshot. Then a rain of bullets that drowned my ears with gunshot noises.

#

After leaving Apapa Wharf two weeks ago, I reported to my DPO in his office. He has the most admirable office in our station. Unlike my shoddy office, his office has an air conditioner, a tea maker, and a modern office furniture set. He was flipping through the pages of a case file over a cup of coffee when I entered his office.

“Mez, the man!” he hailed me.

“My DPO!” I responded.

I knew out of his junior colleagues, I was his favorite. This is not because I am dutiful, but because I’ve solved so many cases he’s taken credit for. He says I take my police job seriously like an American. I shrug. Upholding the law satisfies me; I should take it seriously, shouldn’t I?

“What’s the new thing on ground?” his inquisitive eyes ran into mine.

I sat on one of the seats before his table. I clasped my hand and brought my elbows down to the table. His eyebrows vibrated suspiciously.

“Sir, there’s a twist on the case I’ve been working on.” I took a deep breath. “I think Fatai Momoh is involved.”

“Fatai Momoh? Moh?” DPO rolled his eyes disbelievingly.

I shrugged. “I was also shocked at first. How can the director of the Lagos division of Nigeria Drug Law Enforcement Agency be involved in drugs?”

“Are you sure of this? That man has solved a lot of mysterious drug peddling cases. How can he be a drug peddler?”

“I don’t know, but I’m sure he’s a peddler.”

DPO muses in realisation. “Even the whitest palms swim in mud.”

“I don’t have evidence yet, but I have the time and location for his next transaction. It’s with Big Bo.”

“The same Big Bo? The notorious drug peddler in Isale-Eko?”

I nodded. “I went to the wharf and one of the porters told me, after I paid him, that Moh and about two of his men come to the port about once in two weeks to meet two Ghanaian guys. These Ghanaians always come from Badagry, and Moh meets them every time he is at the port.”

“Two Ghanaian guys from Badagry? Kwame and Appiah?”

“Yes!” I exclaimed. DPO knew a lot of things, and that is why I love working with him.

“But they confessed they only go to Apapa once in a while to lounge!”

“That’s possible because Moh threatened or paid them to keep shut!” I interjected.

Silence lorded the room for minutes. The sweat that gathered on DPO’s forehead showed the hot thoughts that roamed in his head.

“The time and location for the transaction with Big Bo?”

“Tomorrow. 7 pm. House four in Abraham Adesanya, Magodo.”

DPO nodded. “Go. Only you. Tell no one about it. Moh is a slippery catfish. We won’t make an arrest there. All we need is substantial evidence against him and Big Bo. Understand?”

“Understood!” I nodded intermittently.

#

After the shootout which lasts for about two minutes, I retreat to the manhole through which I entered the ceiling. I climb down gently. The curiosity to see what really happened during the transaction pulls me towards the room while the obedience to DPO’s order of just getting substantial evidence pulls me backwards. Eventually, I give in to curiosity, letting it drag me forward as far as the dining room where the transaction took place.

Amazement instead of surprise strikes me when I slip into the state-of-the-art dining room. Big Bo and his man, Jikky, lay on the floor, still conscious but already at the gate of hell. Moh and his man, a junior NDLEA officer who I recognise from a case earlier last year are sprawled on the floor of the other side of the room, both growing rapidly cold. A small polythene bag that obviously houses the cocaine lies on a small scale on the dining table. A black travelling bag props itself beside it. My eyes run from the pistol in Big Bo’s hands to the AK47 rifle in Moh’s junior colleague’s.

I don’t know what pushes my hands to the black bag. Curiosity, perhaps. I pull the zip open and my eyes almost pop out of their sockets. Wads of naira notes stare back at me in astonishment. The sight paralyses my brain for seconds. What do I do? Take the money or leave it?

If I take some of the money, I can definitely live the luxury life that can make Anita and Ifeanyi slither back into my life. Since their exit, I’ve been filling the gaping hole in my heart with wishes and prayers. It makes me roll on the bed, without sleeping a wink, all night, that mere money made me lose my beloved family.

And if I leave this money lying here, whose gain is it? Some petty criminal friend of either Moh or Big Bo who comes to check on them? This dazzling notes of naira would be invested in the society’s unrest once again.

I shake my head as I zip up the bag. This is sticking the hands in mud that I detest, but I must do it. I sling the bag across my shoulder and I saunter towards the main entrance of the house.

#

I finally get a promotion after being stuck to the post of an inspector for nine years. So proud am I when another promotion follows three weeks later. I am living the best life I could have. With the money I took from Big Bo — not stole — perfectly hidden in the ceiling of my three-bedroom flat in Ikoyi. That money could have made me resign but I knew that would do nothing but raise suspicious eyebrows. Anita and Ifeanyi haven’t still returned to me. Though I heard a rumour that the rich man had jilted Anita. I still try as much as I can to find her but it seems she has flown to Mars.

Nevertheless, it all goes smoothly until this afternoon when DPO calls me to his office.

“Sir!” I salute.

“Chimezie Jeremiah,” DPO’s eyes drill the hole in my heart wider. Him calling me by my full name instead of the usual Mez creeps me out.

“Yes, sir?” I mumble.

He sits straight in his chair and his right hand fumbles with a pen. “I think, despite your donkey years in this service, you still know only a little about the police force.”

“Sir?” I’m unsure of what I heard.

He clears his throat calmly. “Now, I want you to tell me how a transaction scene looks like.”

Is this a test, I wonder. I heave. “In a transaction, the seller comes with the goods he wishes to sell, and the buyer comes with what he’s to offer for the goods, most probably money.”

DPO nods satisfactorily. “So, what do we say about a transaction where the seller has the goods and the buyer doesn’t have the money?”

“The buyer isn’t ready to buy the goods then,” my reply comes promptly.

“Good!” DPO smirks. “Mez, where’s the money you stole from the transaction scene between Moh and Big Bo?”

I want to scream but a lump flies into my throat. My stomach burns with so much fervour that my clothes start dripping wet with sweat.

“Where did you keep the money?” DPO asks, his eyes catching every single detail of my response.

“Money? No? They killed. They died. Me? No.” I can’t bear to listen to the gibberish I am saying, so I shut the trap up.

“The NDLEA has been putting their nose in the ground. I think they found something. Now, they’re coming for you.” DPO explains.

“Me?” I gasp. “Why me?”

“In fact, they just concluded a search on your house right now.”

I pissed in my pants. “What?”

“They’re really onto you. Big Bo’s boy, Jikky survived. I think he told them you stole the money.”

I slump on the nearest chair. “What can I do, DPO?”

“Do the honours of staying in one of the cells till they complete their investigation. You stole the money of a criminal. A criminal! Money that should be handed to the police!”

I shiver from the coldness of my hot sweat as the words slither out of DPO’s dry lips. A lot of words rushed out of my stomach. I would love to scream them out to the world. But the lump in my throat. It made me mute. All I pray for now is God’s mercy. That I am able to endure whatever number  of years I spend in prison. And an equally important prayer; that Anita and Ifeanyi should find time to visit me in prison.

DPO calls in two inspectors who slam handcuffs against my wrists. He glances at me and shakes his head. As the inspectors lead me out of DPO’s office, I hear him hiss.

“Even the whitest palms swim in mud.”

———-

Image: Microsoft Co-Pilot AI remixed

Muheez Olawale
Muheez Olawale
Muheez Olawale is a Nigerian writer whose pen bathes in inky oceans of eloquence. He believes his pen can capture the world on the pages, and that's what motivates him. He took the second position in the tertiary poetry category of the 2023 NIMC Identity Day Competition. His works are forthcoming in Muse Journal and Words Empire.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Wow! This was an interesting read. Mez experience questions how one can stand the test of time and one’s integrity. Well-done, Muheez.

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