They still had one of those old telephones at home. One of those stylish sixties versions with the dial wheel. It was black and important looking sitting on the sidestool beside the tasselled chaise longue in their living room. Bobo is stretched across the chaise lounge languorously. It is Sunday, he likes to lounge about on Sundays but he knows better than not to be available by the telephone. Any minute now his father will call to perform his perfunctory check on his first son. He has refused to call Bobo’s mobile phone because it is sure to go to voice mail, in his view, and he bristles if Bobo does not pick up the land line by the third ring. It speaks of a certain insolence.
Bobo sees the telephone, black and foreboding.
Bobo hears the jangling clamour of the thing, sitting so pompously on that stool and he struggles to collect himself, to get his lanky frame to function in synchrony with his thoughts. The air hangs still and pings with static, the fuzz of a joint colours his immediate space.
Bobo finally sits erect and wipes the sleep crust out of his eyes and mouth, ignoring the dullness behind his brows. He collects himself. He does not want to speak the evil of his weed habit through the phone to Nigeria. His father has always been very perceptive. Any slur could be traced with accuracy down Warwick Avenue to his friend Baba’s equally spacious family house. Bobo’s father knows that Baba smokes weed copiously and is just waiting to catch him supplying to Bobo. He does not approve of Baba.
“Young Man!” Moustache scrapes handset and a voice the texture of brocade scratches up the phone. His father never calls him by his nickname as though his cultured moustache cannot cope with the playfully satisfying sound of the name, the way it rings with lazy ease.
“It’s eleven o’clock boy! Are you still asleep?” The tone is distracted and Bobo knows there will be no diatribe today, there are more pressing things on his father’s mind.
“No Sir, Wide awake. Just watching the news and- ”
“Well, you weren’t watching hard enough. Didn’t you hear that your uncle, the Minister has been kidnapped. Even the foreign stations are carrying it!” He pauses, waits for Bobo to chime in with some acknowledgement of this dreadful development. When nothing comes down the phone but Bobo’s tense breathing, he continues with a slight edge of irritation “Your mother is too distressed, she left earlier than I did for church, myself. Maybe you want to go and find a moment to pray too”. The phone clicks dead.
Bobo sits stunned. The uncle they all fondly called The Future because of his habit of breaking into a spiel about his many plans for the future of Nigeria, had been kidnapped. How? Even now Bobo lived in London, his uncle often visited. He always had on a flatcap and never went anywhere without his gold-topped cane and twinkling stare. When they travelled by tube, which no longer happened now that The Future worked for the government, he would gleefully touch his oyster card over the reader and exclaim “Nigeria too will have these oysters, or shrimps or whatever you want to call it in The Future and even better, believe me”. Now, in the government- supplied BMW sedan with its blacked out windows he would tap his cane in the direction of the Hilton Paddington and say dismissively “But our hotels are much bigger than this! Have they been to NICON? All these hotels will come to Nigeria first in The Future. Things are happening, Bobo!”
Bobo wonders how they kidnapped him. He usually had a convoy of six or seven cars. Bulletproof jeeps screamed blue-and-red as their sirens cleared traffic for The Future to pass unopposed. He made sure he had armed aides to escort him because Nigeria was too unpredictable and people were all too ready to waste you without much provocation. Those were the exact words of The Future. Bobo remembers being whisked along at circus speed across the third mainland bridge last Christmas when he went back home and visited The Future at his palatial Lagos home. It was not there when Bobo left Nigeria but in a few short years, he had had it built up from the sands of beachside Lekki and lavished it with Middle Eastern Rugs and ornate furniture. Bobo can recall how surreal it was to see one of the aides hop out of one of the escorting jeeps and batter one Nigerian as he fussed over his car. It had broken down unexpectedly in the middle of the bridge and was causing a ‘go-slow’- as Lagosians like to refer to heavy traffic. Just like that, he bludgeoned the man with his baton and hopped back in the Jeep. Two taps to the sunstroked roof and the motorcade was off again. Bobo’s eyes lingered on the man collapsed on the bonnet of his smoking station wagon, blood staining his kaftan in wanton patches. The Future, even then, hissed at the Nigerian as the sirens traced their insistent pattern of unswerving motion. The Future hissed at the Nigerian without a backward look.
Now Bobo feels like that Nigerian sprawled amid wreaths of broken down smoke, the unfortunate victim of something that happened everyday in Nigeria. You just did not get in the way back there. You just step out of the way, and if you are unable to do even that, if your vehicle happens to let you down, just make sure you’re not there when mobile policemen come by. Bobo feels the usual nosebleed coming on, the one he gets when he’s had more weed than he can handle. He fingers about the chaise lounge for the remote control, damn it. The curly-haired reporter is animatedly speaking of his uncle’s time as a student of Harvard and Cambridge. The focus is on his uncle’s role in the ‘strategic alliance’ he was in the process of engineering for the exploration of some newly discovered oil fields. The pretty lady, dressed in a trendy pink cashmere sweater, is speaking with the confidence that can only come from the infallible stream of a teleprompter, saying that Nigeria had parlayed these discoveries into a position of renewed strength with the West and ‘the man they called The Future was key to this process’. Now all there was was limbo.
Bobo sees straight down her throat in his state of hyper consciousness. Her tonsils are like punching bags. He is in that cavernous space sliding along on her tongue towards the challenge of pendulous tonsils. His uncle is hiding somewhere in her spearminted breath, cowering in the canopy of her palate as his own helplessness comes out loud and clear. She spits him out.
Something like sorrow and anger mixed together in one thick paste crushes Bobo’s throat. He rings his girlfriend. She’s barely awake.
“They’ve kidnapped my uncle, the minister”
She snaps alive, “Haba, is that how you’re going to say it. Ah! Is it the one we call The Future?”
“Yes” Bobo feels himself slipping into a state of tremulous despair. His girlfriend’s concern has sobered him up and all he can imagine is his favourite uncle in the bush somewhere, eating antelope.
“Oh my days!” Bobo resents the sharp London inflection in her voice, something like cut glass.
“Jo, let me call you back.”
“God, when will this shit stop! Now, they can even kidnap The Future? But I thought he was like the main guy…” her voice trails into a despair, a real political searching tone, and Bobo resents it. All he had been thinking about was that his uncle was far away from life’s comforts, eating undercooked antelope.
“Babe I’ll call you back, I’ll call you back. I have to …I’ll call you back”.
He trudges into his bedroom. University textbooks crouch on his reading desk. The reading lamp from IKEA is skewed at an odd angle. Vodka bottles stand in army on top of his wardrobe. There’s a four foot shoe rack beside the four poster bed. Shoes perch everywhere like lizards on a fence. The smell of Issey Miyake permeates the air. They didn’t call him Bobo by accident.
He digs out his smartphone from the pile of clothes that rises out of the centre of the floor, an anthill of designer names. He scrolls through the phone book, wondering who to call. He passes name after name, scrolling through in search of just one name, one person who he could talk to without feeling irritated. He calls two of his close friends, they sound shocked then slowly start to irritate him with their talk of protests and petitions. How will that help? Will any one million man march pay The Future’s ransom. Will The Future hear the teeny voices of the present youth in their naive ideals, all the while awaiting possible discombobulation? He just wants somebody to share his personal vexations: Why did they have to kidnap his own uncle, as in, of all the ministers they could take why did it have to be The Future? Why? The Future was his own uncle! He got a sudden image of his father, dressed in his impeccable suit, tapping his brother on the shoulder, the moustache stretching wide over his top lip in unusual bonhomie; “Now we have a voice in power. Now we can get a thing or two done”. The next week his father was awarded the primary contract for shipping diesel out of Nigeria.
He’s been waiting for his mom to call.
“Bobo are you ok? How do you feel?”
“Ma, I don’t know. How could they…how did it happen? Did he travel without MOPOL?”
“Bobo are you eating? Have you eaten?”
“Ma is it when he went to play golf? What happened? Was it an inside job?”
“Bobo just keep yourself well, and try to relax. They are dealing with it over here. Don’t try to do anything OK, it’s not for you to worry about. Make sure you go to school. Make sure you eat especially. Uncle is fine. The Future is fine.”
“Ma, MA, MA! WHO KIDNAPPED THE FUTURE?”
“Bobo, good night eh? Bye. It’s six o’clock. Let me find something for your father to eat”. The line clicks dead.
Bobo throws his phone against the wall. It slams onto a bedknob. He sighs, grunts. Then he spots his eyes in a mirror on his desk. Red channels run across his corneas like little rivers in the globe of his eyeballs. He looks around for some drops and finds that he has run out. He slams his fist against the desk, frustrated at his powerlessness. He shuffles to the kitchen to get something to eat. The kitchen worktop is spotless and the electric hob sparkles like a showpiece at a homewares fair. He chuckles to himself. Who knows when last he tried to cook. The fridge is crammed with juice and salads and ready meals. He tries to stay healthy because he runs on the university sprint team. Girls liked it if you played sports. If you looked after your body, it counted as a sort of sign that you would be similarly careful with a partner. All you would need was some nurturing. At least his girlfriend thought so. Shit he would have to call her back, but if he called her she would want to come over, or she would want him to come over so she could have a cry and vent about the political irresponsibility ‘back home’.’The overwhelming corruption of the perverse elite ensures that there is absolutely no hope that Nigeria will ever be able to salvage anything from the ruins of the past five decades‘. Who the hell talked like that? He could not handle that right now, that feeling she gave him where he felt like he was festering with sores that made him unsightly, hampered his movement, but somehow he could not feel them. He needed something other than that. Then he heard the sound he had been hoping for, secretly. The ringtone was coming from his other line, the one only a few friends had. It was a song by a popular musician. It spoke to Bobo’s core, that song with its idiosyncratic production, the melodies that twinkled like The Future’s eyes.
Gbona Feli Feli! Mo Gbona Feli Feli!
“Bobo I heard the news my guy. That’s some sad shit.”
“Dude, tell me about it. So imagine if we were in Nigeria now. You know how I like to roll with my uncle there. So that’s how they would have taken me too?”
“Guy just take it easy”
“Guy how can I take it easy? That’s my father’s bro, not any random government thug. This is our family. This is The Future!”
“Guy you’re stressing, man.”
“Are you seriously talking like that?”
“Guy, come to my house”
” I don’t know, I don’t even feel like doing anything. I just wanna chill. And the old man called and was giving me stress as if it’s them that are even going to pay the ransom. As if it’s the loot that is the problem-”
“Guy, come to mine”
“- As if they don’t know that they could jazz him or something, and now we’re ALL in danger”
“Guy come to mine and smoke up-”
“- Baba but do you have some of that poly left?”
They both laugh awkwardly. Bobo looks at his toes, momentary shame wrinkling his forehead, his reflection in the stainless steel fridge repulsive.
“Dude roll up before I land.”