I was half way across the expansive living room when my cell phone rang. Without breaking my stride, I removed it ,glanced at the strange number, but still depressed a key and brought it to my temple.
‘Asalama alaikum.’ I invoked peace on my caller.
“Kankura, I must speak with you immediately.”
Colonel Musa Shiekh! I stopped walking and glanced at my distant chandeliers. What was he so worked up about that he not only sounded flustered, he was using my call sign.
“Where are you at Giginya?” I asked warily.
“At the airport.”
“Here in Kano?”
“No, Arrivals. Come and get me.”
This was becoming weirder. Shiekh practically ran the country. He had at his beck and call, literally a hundred executive jets. If he was here in Kano on a commercial flight, something was amiss somewhere but he was my friend, my appointment with an unscrupulous building contractor could wait.
“I understand. I will be there shortly.”
“Kankura, please no fancy cars, I do not want to be noticed in Kano.”
I pocketed the phone and continued to the exit where Maghan, a lieutenant, my protégé, met me.
“What is the problem yella boi, you are frowning.” He asked in his idiosyncratic way of mixing flawless English and Hausa.
“I am going out. Alone.” I growled. It was Maghan’s turn to frown. He took his job sometimes too seriously. He had been with me but for a year but I already sensed the seeds of greatness in the hulking young man. But he knew when not to argue with me.
“I took the liberty of preparing the Lexus.” He saluted smartly.
“No, I am taking a smaller car.”
I exited the doors and into the garage where I soon emerged with an inauspicious Peugeot 504, the car of choice for hundreds of faceless mid-ranking civil servants. Soon I was seated in a dark inauspicious restaurant in Sabon gari, a chaotic suburb, sipping at a malted while Shiekh drank a Coke. We had both retired from Heinekens several years back. I looked him over from the side of my eyes; the normally dashing Sheikh was looking drawn and tense. I wonder what was wrong. We were friends since from the Academy even though I was from a challenged background and his family was amongst the wealthiest in the North with interests in oil, haulage and real estate.
“What’s the problem?” I finally asked trying to shield my impatience.
“We are taking over.”
So that was it. He was looking at me intently. This was a matter of life and death; it was like international politics, no permanent friends only permanent interests. What I said now meant practically life and death.
“You know the statistics.” I began logically.
“I know the statistics. There have been four coup attempts within the past three years alone and the old man is still clinging to his chair, yes I know the statistics, but you know me.”
Yes I knew Shiekh, one of the most brilliant strategists anywhere on earth and my best friend.He was watching me.
“What do you want me to do?” I asked and immediately he relaxed, he was counting on me and did not know if I would commit.
“I just wanted to be sure I could count on you. I’ll fill you in with the details later.”
We now went into small talk.
“How is Zara?” I asked making small talk.
“She’s alright. Wants a divorce. I’m not giving it to her though.”
Zara his wife was perhaps the comeliest beauty in the whole of Arewa, and I am not given to hyperbole. I had a crush on her a long time ago but when Sheikh had staked his claim, I had had to discipline my strong emotions. They had been having marital problems due to Sheikh’s insistence that he was going to marry a second wife to give him a child, of course his religion allowed him the privilege, but Zara was a thoroughly cosmopolitan woman who happened to be a Harvard MBA. I grunted gallantly, marital riddles bored chronic bachelors like me.
“Look Kankura, she’s coming to town next week, talk to her for me, she always did listen to you.”
“I’m not sure that’s a good idea. Can you imagine me as a marriage counselor? Besides I have not seen her in months.” I hedged.
“Look, you are my friend; we go back like forever, just talk to her.”
He was getting uptight so I agreed and presently we were through. He left back to Abuja that very night on a chartered cab.
So here I was two weeks later at Zara’s father’s sprawling estate in Nassarawa GRA. After perfunctionary greetings with her aged mother I was ushered into her private quarters. It was as I remembered, feminine, tastefully furnished in soft pastels, a haunting perfume lingering just beyond my complete grasp. I sat down and reached for a magazine.
“Kankura.” it was her voice, soft deep unmistakable. it was her private joke that she knew all our call signs. I rose to my feet, turning round. Zara! As usual she was exquisitely dressed in a floral print that flaunted her figure. A gauzy scarf was thrown raffishly across her shoulders managing to give her a sensuous carefree look. I looked into her face and swallowed hard, all the emotions I had bottled up for so long flared up, all my old wounds burst open. I extended my hand formally.
“Welcome home Zara!” She took my hand in hers, soft, pliant and laughed.
“I hardly think of Kano as home these days but thank you. It’s good to see you again Shehu. Please sit.” She produced a remote and soon the faint strains of a Kenny G album filtered into the room from concealed speakers. She remembered!
“So how are you doing?” I asked. Her perfume was doing something to me. But why? Why was I so flustered? I who had been in the presence of some of the world’s most beautiful women? Why was I feeling like a moth drawn irresistibly to flame? This was Sheikh’s wife for God’s sake.
“Not as well as you are doing. I must say you have done well for yourself, from a street urchin to a powerful Lieutenant Commander.”
“You flatter me.’
“Are you sure?” she had known me nearly all my life, since my father worked for her father as a gardener.
“What happened between you and Sheikh?”
Her eyes misted over.
“He wants a child, and I cannot give him one.”
An irrational anger came over me.
“Are you God?”
She shook her head sadly.
“Sheikh should let me go. Why did you never marry Shehu?”
“I guess I never found the right woman.”
“I never stopped loving you.”
I was looking into her eyes. Sometimes words get in the way and sometimes words are not necessary. My fate was tied to this woman more profoundly than either one of us knew. There were only two of us in the world for all that mattered. I had to follow my destiny. I knew what I had to do. I retrieved my cell phone and dialed a number.
“Is that Number one’s Chief Security Officer? I want to report a coup attempt.”