Gentlemen of the Bar – 7
We are at a police station in a place called Dambatta. The air is hot and humid. The rusty ceiling fan spinning in laborious circles from an equally rusting hook emits the occasional squeak but does nothing for the hot air. I fight the urge to fan my face with my hand for the second time, determined not to lose my composure. Naden is beside me, a silver ballpoint pen twirling between his fingers. He shows none of my discomfort and I can’t help but resent his cool disposition. My shirt is stuck to my back like a second skin and a trickle of sweat begins its journey from the insides of my thighs, tracing a path to my ankle. I squirm in my seat to dislodge the droplet hanging from my ankle and then clasp my hands over my notepad, my eyes temporarily falling on the grainy wood surface of the table exposed by long strips of peeling wood veneer. The floor is bare and dirty with several holes running along its surface. A lone empty sachet of pure water sits undisturbed beside the table. My eyes drift to the stained aqua blue of the walls and I wonder briefly about the cost of rehabilitating the police stations before the sound of dry coughing makes me turn my attention to the somber looking men across the table.
“So you said you picked her up from Nasarawa?”
One of the men, a smallish dark skinned man with a pinched mouth and full unruly eyebrows nods to Naden’s question.
“Ta wuche wurin nan…” the man catches himself and mutters incoherently before continuing in broken English. “Yes, we find her that night on Achaba going to Ungogo.”
“And you offered to take her home, is that right?”
Two of the men nod while their partner, a skinny man with a scar on his upper lip stares blankly at Naden.
“Munyi niyyar raka ta gida ne kawai. She is not talking truth.”
Naden nods. “So there was no form of assault…no rape?”
“No rape,” the smallish man confirms with a nod. “We only help.”
The interview continues for another fifteen minutes. I feel the need to contribute after monitoring the nervous twitching on the right hand of the slim one of the group. I smile at the man.
“Mr. erm….I am sorry, what did you say your name was again?”
“Tanko…Tanko Usman. Corporal Usman.”
I nod and reach for the papers in my folder. I read through the papers in it.
“So you picked her up on the twelfth of November at your checkpoint when she was returning home at night?”
The men exchange glances and then nod together.
“Yes we do.”
“And you took her to …” I lift up the case review paper to find the location of the crime. “Jakara police barracks?”
The men shake their heads this time. The smallish man speaks on behalf of his colleagues, face slack and eyes darting around the station.
“No we don’t.”
I turn the paper toward him.
“Well, according to the Plaintiff’s witness statement on oath, the three of you picked her from Wudil under the pretext of taking her home, took her to the room owned by one of you, and then proceeded to rape her for a period of twenty eight days, sometimes allowing friends to rape her as well.”
The men look confused. They turn their eyes to Naden.
“I not understand,” says the self appointed speaker.
I turn to see a quizzical expression on Naden’s face.
“These are our clients,” he says, his tone flat and authoritative.
I frown. “And?”
“I will need you to stop trying to intimidate them.”
I scowl. “I am not intimidating anyone. I am just asking questions.”
Naden’s eyes turn speculative but he does not say anything else.
“Can I go back to the interview now?”
I do not wait for his answer. I turn my attention towards the policemen and interrupt their quiet discussion in Hausa.
“Sorry about that.”
I get silence and suspicious glances for all my trouble.
“So you imprisoned…or should I say….detained Miss Hussaina, for a period of twenty eight days until she eventually screamed for help one day, attracting the attention of your neighbour who reported to a senior officer?”
I shrug and consult more papers. I lift another one to the men after giving it a quick glance.
“That is the medical report. It shows that the plaintiff suffered several injuries as a result of her ordeal in your hands.”
The men look at Naden again. I feel myself beginning to get annoyed.
“I am talking to you sirs.”
The police men ignore me, content to keep their gazes fixed on the man beside me. The table vibrates under my hand and I turn to see Naden thumping the sheaf of papers in his hand, his lips thinned in a determined line. He lowers the papers back to the table and then rises to his feet.
“Angela, I’d like to talk to you outside.”
I balk at the command and keep myself firmly planted to my seat.
I incline my head upwards. “Why?”
I get no answer except Naden’s broad back. I watch his receding form disappear through the open doorway of the room with irritation.
Who does he think he is?
The silence in the room forces me to my feet and outside to meet Naden who now has dark shades over his eyes. I shade my eyes from the blinding afternoon sun with my hand and breathe in air heavy with the smell of charcoal and goat droppings. I deliberately keep my eyes on the road beside the station where a donkey is currently dragging a wooden cart piled with firewood and a little boy with wide curious eyes.
“I think you need to let me handle this.”
I cross my arms against my chest.
“And I am supposed to just sit there without saying anything?”
“You are attacking them. We won’t achieve much if you continue to attack them.”
“I am trying to get their side of their story.”
“More like picking holes in their story.”
I drop my arms from my chest and give Naden an incredulous look.
“You buy the nonsense they were feeding us with?”
Naden turns to look at the road as a trailer honks. Two children run past the station, barefoot and happy. They wave at us as they disappear down the dusty path at the end of the road where a cluster of houses sit on dry arid land.
“We represent them Angela,” he says, turning back to me with the same deadpan expression. “It is our duty to find evidence that will help their case.”
“Even if they are lying?”
“Did you read the statements from one of the witnesses about seeing the alleged victim in the company of these men some days after her purported kidnap?”
I remember the document and turn my nose.
“It still changes nothing. Not all witnesses are credible.”
“Just let me handle them. This is a very sensitive case.”
Naden’s statement makes me remember my initial reservations about the case.
Why had my father taken it up? What did he stand to gain?
I cock my head at Naden.
“Because the Inspector General is involved?”
Naden’s left hand goes into his pocket as he draws himself up, “because it is important to your father to win this.”
I have more questions but I know asking Naden will be a waste of time. I spin on my heel without another word and walk back into the derelict building with blue, yellow and green strips painted slapped clumsily on the side of it. There will be other days.
SOMEWHERE IN EHOR FOREST, EDO STATE
Boma sat on the bed in a corner of the mud hut and smiled at the girl sitting with her knees drawn up to her chest. The girl was young and had an oval smooth face. She was crying at the moment, tears dropping to the bodice of her black floral printed dress. She clutched a phone to her right ear.
“Yes mum…I will…”
She hiccuped and dragged a hand down her face.
Boma stopped smiling, rose to his feet and approached the bed. He stretched out his right hand and growled.
“Give me the phone.”
The girl extended the phone to him, hand appearing to shake. Boma grabbed the phone.
“You know what to do. Bring the money tomorrow to Iyamu…Textile Mill….or something bad will happen to your daughter. Tomorrow o! Five o’clock sharp.”
Throwing the phone to the bed, Boma climbed into the bed. The girl did not cringe back in fear; neither did she continue her crying. She pressed the heel of both hands to her eyes and stopped the tears. Boma reached a hand out to run a lazy finger along the line of her jaw. She smiled and dragged herself into his lap.
“I hope you are happy now. You made me scare my mother.”
Boma laughed, his eyes glowing with humour and affection.
“You know you are doing this for us, don’t you?”
The girl kissed him and pressed her breasts into his chest.
“Good, because we have spent all the money my brother sent to me.”
They began to kiss, slowly at first and then the sound of dry leaves being crunched under approaching feet broke them apart before they heard the clearing of throat at the doorway. Cletus, Boma’s friend and partner, strolled into the hut, a lopsided grin on his face.
“Na wa for una o! Person no fit leave una for one second before the thing begin hungry una again.”
Lydia, Boma’s recent squeeze and prodigal daughter turned kidnapper’s accomplice beamed brightly at Cletus.
“We were not doing anything.”
Cletus, big boned and hairy, stood by the door and scratched his stomach.
“So how far?”
“I spoke to my mother,” Lydia said, running long fingers through her braided hair. “She will pay the money tomorrow.”
Cletus found another spot on his chin to attack.
“Correct girl,” he said after some seconds of scratching. “I hope say she know how much she suppose send?”
“Twenty million,” Lydia answered with a shrug. “She will pay it.”
“Correct girl,” Cletus announced again. He turned away from them towards the window, head angled low as he checked the sky. “Night don dey fall,” he said, turning back to them. “When we suppose leave this place?”
Boma checked his newly acquired Patek Phillip wristwatch for the time.
“Seven. Make sky dark small.”
Cletus hung around and discussed soccer.
“Mehn you for see wetin Arsenal do Sunderland today. See as Giroud just dey score goals anyhow.”
Boma raised an eyebrow. He was an ardent Chelsea fan who loved to poke fun at his Arsenal supporting partner in crime. “No be just Sunderland dem play? Why dem no score when dem face Bayern na?”
“Comot dia, if no be dat red card wey dem give us, we for win that match.”
The men argued, bragging about the match records of their respective clubs. Lydia sat in the background, a faraway look in her eyes. She was thinking about Boma’s next victim. She had an uncle. He was a rich politician who owed she and her brothers for taking their father’s land. It was payback time.
Later that evening, when the sky had darkened considerably, Boma, Cletus and Lydia walked out of the forest, using the trail that led to the expressway. Lydia wore a wig that covered most of her face, a shapeless dress hiding her slim figure. They found their way to The Sage Hotel in GRA. There, Boma called his mother in the bathroom and assured her of his safety. He hung up when she began to cry and beg him to return back to Bayelsa. He stood for several minutes after the call, head hanging with remorse. After leaving Bayelsa, he had vowed to abandon the life that caused his mother pain. Then he had met Lydia and his plans had changed.
Boma made another vow.
After this operation, I will stop.
UPSTAIRS THE OYELOWO MANSION
Damilola Oyelowo sat in the middle of her bed, her phone beside her as she conducted a rather difficult conversation with her lawyer. He didn’t seem to understand her recent change of plans.
“Why?” he asked for the second time, his voice shrill as it came out of the phone speaker. “Are you sure you are making the right decision?”
Damilola sighed and asked herself the same question.
Are you making the right decision Damilola?
“I just going to call him this afternoon but I was caught up in a meeting with a client.”
“Don’t bother,” Damilola said, stretching her leg in front of her. “I will handle things myself.”
Barrister Braithwaite, Damilola’s lawyer and friend tried to convince her not to abandon her plans to divorce her husband but Damilola’s mind was already made up. They said their goodbyes not long after. Damilola lay on her bed, looking at the ceiling for several minutes. Even though she approached hope with caution, she admitted to herself that her husband had changed. Just last night, he had sent a box of expensive Swiss chocolates through his niece to her. These thoughts continued to occupy Damilola’s mind until someone knocked on her door.
“Who is it?”
Damilola pulled the robe of her nightdress tighter around her body. It was her husband.
What did he want?
She opened the door. Martin Oyelowo stood before her in black cotton pajamas, his face contorted in a tight scowl.
“I am sleeping here.”
Martin’s scowl deepened.
“Because this is my house?”
Damilola’s heart picked a beat. The look in her husband’s eyes…it had been forever since he looked at her that way. Damilola’s hold on her door grew slack but she was reluctant to give in without a fight.
“This is my room.”
“Is this my first time of sleeping here?”
“So, open the door.”
Damilola wanted to remind her husband that the only time he had passed the night in her room was the day she woke up to find him sleeping in the sofa across her bed but she changed her mind and released the door. Her husband brushed past her with self assured strides and made for her bed. She watched as he claimed her favourite spot. As soon as he made himself comfortable, he faced her with a curious frown.
“How long do you plan to stand there?”
The question forced Damilola out of the limbo she had temporarily fallen into. She hid her uneasiness and walked confidently to the bed. She climbed into it, turned her back to her husband and pulled the covers to her chest. Ten years had passed since she shared a room with her husband. She did not know what to expect. Damilola Oyelowo slept fitfully that night.
As Ahmed drones on about beautiful parks and traditional artifacts, I find myself still thinking about the interview with the policemen at Dambatta. After confronting Angela during the interview, she had gone back to harassing the officers as soon as we resumed the interview again. I make a mental note to talk to her father about her behaviour as we pull a stop before the hotel gates.
“So, we will see tomorrow,” I tell Ahmed after he unloads the attaché case holding case files from the boot of his car.
I pull out the room key from the side of the case and begin to open the door when I realize that Angela is not behind me. I look back to find her discussing with Ahmed. I wonder briefly what their discussion is about before closing the door behind me. The air in the room is clean and welcoming. I abandon the case in a corner of the room and walk to the bathroom. I am under the shower in seconds. I stand under needles of ice cold water and forget annoying females and cases that confuse me.
The sound of the shower running is the first thing that greets me when I walk into the room. I rave silently against the management’s refusal to move me to another room. It had been a male receptionist this time, but nothing I had said or done could convince him that sharing a room with Naden wasn’t something I wanted. I had gotten nothing but apologies and a flash of perfect white molars.
I am sorry but we are overbooked. Sorry….sorry. I wish I could help…sorry.
I kick off my shoes and dump myself on the bed.
I sigh and reach to massage my feet.
“God, I miss Lagos,” I moan to no one in particular. “I can’t live like this.”
I abandon my feet and turn sharply to the man behind me. Clad in nothing but a thick white towel that hangs low from his waist, he tosses the blue shirt and black trouser he had been wearing only a few minutes to the floor and turns to scowl at me.
“You will need to stop crossing me so often. I can’t put up with insubordination Angela. I won’t put up with it.”
The height disadvantage and the irritation of being talked down at forces me to my feet.
“And I won’t put up with your gagging me unnecessarily either. I am a lawyer not your secretary.”
Naden stares at me for a while. I do my best to ignore the droplets of water that appear golden against his well defined body.
“Do you want to go back to Lagos?”
The question is quite unexpected. I look at him suspiciously.
“I am not going to answer that,” Naden says, turning his back to me as he searches inside one of his bags for something. Minutes later, he stops his search, white T-shirt and black check pyjamas trousers in his hand.
His left hand travel to the knot on his waist and then he pauses to look me straight in the eyes.
I leave the room with my head held high up. In the bathroom, I stop before the mirror to remind myself of the things I had learned today.
The police officers at Dambatta had something to hide.
My father had taken up a low profile case for suspicious reasons.
Naden disliked me just as much as I disliked him.
Naden had a nice body.
I am still tensed long after she has gone to the bathroom for her shower. I decide to take a stroll to deal with the tension. Outside the air is cool and I drag in several lungfuls of it as I walk past several room doors in our section of the hotel. Some lights are still turned on and I see shadows move purposefully behind curtains. I keep walking until I reach the end of the shrub lined pathway before turning back again. I repeat the walk several times, my head working out solutions to the impasse with Angela.
In the end, I decide that sending her back to Lagos is the best thing to do.
Feeling considerably lighter, I retrace my steps back to the room. I am a little disappointed to see that the lights are still on when I reach the door.
If only she were already asleep.
I draw in a deep breath and prepare myself for the unfriendly air in the room. I push the door open and freeze for a moment.
I grab the falling neckline of my night dress but it is too late. The surprise and discomfort on Naden’s face means that he has missed nothing. I want to kick myself. I should have known he would return back to the room. Now the lump I had imagined was under my breast had magically disappeared, leaving me with an embarrassing situation on my hands. I keep my eyes to the bed and slip the strap of my nightdress back in place.
I catch Naden’s movements from the corner of my eyes as he goes about setting up his make shift bed with several sheets and his pillows. The lights go off soon after and I lie back on the bed, my mortification increasing with every passing second.
What have I done?
I try to sleep away the embarrassment, forcing my eyelids shut until my eyes hurt but nothing works. Things become worse when Naden receives a call from a woman I think is his girlfriend. I listen in the dark to the conversation.
No…not in Lagos…you miss me? Okay….sorry…I don’t know….will call you.
I stop listening at some point.
I think I am going back to Lagos.
The image is firmly imprinted on my mind and not even the surprise of hearing from Jewel disturbs the memory of what I had seen a few moments ago. I am irritated at myself.
I should have knocked.
I shake my head in the dark.
This is not working. She has to go back.
Tomorrow morning, I will call Martin Oyelowo and give him a condition.
Call your daughter back or I will resign.
Meaning of Hausa words used in the story.
Ta wuche wurin nan – She passed here
Mu ne kawai ya so ya riki ta gida – We only wanted to take her home.
Bio: Umari Ayim is a lawyer, writer and a poet. Her books ‘Twilight at Terracotta Indigo’ and ‘Inside My Head’ won the ANA women prize for fiction and ANA poetry prize respectively. Her works have been featured on new and traditional media platforms. She shares weekly series on her blog www.umariayim.com