There were no claps of thunder or flashes of lightning, nothing spectacular as we often liked to tie to changes. But I guess that depends on which perspective you tend to look at things from. It may have been a mere coincidence or that beautiful unexpected occurrence we called serendipity. Whatever it was, things took a then drastic, now interesting, turn when Yetunde came to realise she wanted far more from life than I was willing to give. She would rather own a wardrobe filled with trendy clothes and fine jewellery than a few yards of fallow land to grow her own tomatoes and ugu leaves. Who would have wanted to snuggle away in a cosy cottage with a wrinkly artist when all her girlfriends would be married to investment bankers and thick-necked politicians? Yes she loved the very idea of me; it was as pleasant as the sweet scent of vanillas but it was only safe to dream about. When the glare of the sun struck her pupils and she splashed a douse of cold water on her cheeks, she knew things like that belonged on television screens or in serenades.
This was Lagos in the 90s she said as if I did not know, and the stringent austerity measures of the military regime had a grip tight enough to choke life out of the most vivid of dreams. Slowly but surely, the contentment of simple things had been stifled. In the ashen embers all she saw was a life of nothingness, hopelessness and despair… a girl had to do what she had to do to raise her siblings and ensure they also got the opportunity to go and make something out of their lives. I was so forlorn that when David suggested that we infiltrate the largest security outfit in the region, I willingly obliged without much need to be cajoled. This was unlike the Kure who needed to be acquiesced to go out and knock off a couple of bottles of cold brew, the Kure who would have begun a sermon about the need for contentment and how the greed of capitalism was to blame for the evils of the world today. I was unsure whether it was revenge I sought or if these were the means I sought to how to save this wilting love I had this overwhelming conviction that was destined to last beyond time… but I obliged anyway.
It was the perfect steal. 12 minutes and 48 seconds. Not a moment longer. Buchi had been working in Sync Securities for three months now. Over that time he had learnt the locations of all the CCTV cameras within the gravelled premises and the floors of the glass building. He was able to tell T.K, David and I, that the generators were powered down at 4 minutes to noon and this power was switched to the alternative two generators which came on at two minutes to twelve. He knew that Pa Joe and Deprieye were the ones to take over duty from him that afternoon. According to him Pa Joe because of his old age was rather compassionate towards people who came to sell items to the staff of the corporation and Deprieye was an avid reader of the Thrills & Boons series that was printed every Tuesday. He treasured them more than his meal tickets. This was why it was convenient for me to saunter in on Tuesday and request for them to view my paintings whose aesthetics I was convinced was what they lacked in the hallways of Sync Securities.
David had already come in 2 minutes before I did. 11:48. He was a known customer that made regular deposits in Sync Securities frequently. He retrieved a visitor’s identification tag which Buchi had slipped in a Level 5 access card behind the tag. This thing be like Hollywood blockbuster ba? Blame T.K o! With this David could get into the Prestige Platinum Vault. But he had to swap outfits and take on the guise of one of the Squeaky Clean Crew that where mopping up the toilet area. I don’t know how Buchi had done it but he had gotten David one of their tunics that so much resembled our boarding school wears. He had also given gotten the mop sticks and towels and disinfectants. I laughed at the possibility of David opening up his mouth and that exaggerated British accent we often teased him about came sliding out. His supervisor would have feared that he was under a deep illusion of some sort.
When I came into the security office, the power had been shut down. David would have been in one of the cubicles, puffing and wheezing and probably cursing that he had to struggle to fit this tunic that probably smelt of must over Armani Suit. I exchanged pleasantries with whom I suspected was Papa Joe for despite his dyed-black hair that contrasted deeply, his moustache was snowy white and his bushy brow revealed traces of ash. I talked to Buchi in my most polite tone, raising my paintings with hope that he would be enchanted with the city built across a lagoon and the night market scenery that I had painted in Oil on Canvas. But Buchi being the brash Nna boy that we had known him to be had no qualms of wearing the shoes of a rude security guard that he was required to reflect. He asked me for my invitation letter in a curt manner and when I feebly lied that I had forgotten it.
He threw his head back and laughed aggressively; in the moment it took one to sneeze his laughter melted away and he curtly pointed at the brass gates. The fluorescent bulbs flickered on; the air conditioner hovered. The power was restored and Deprieye would soon stroll in. Papa Joe was staring at the CCTV intensely and we had to stall his distraction. And so I spoke in my loudest voice; quoted the Nigerian constitution incorrectly and stated that my fundamental human rights were being trampled upon.
I thumped my fist on the table in a loud thud and Buchi pushed my stubbed cheeks with his brawny finger. I almost giggled at the foolish games that we played and how I was loving the characters we were trying to play; of how I would never have, not even to affirm my masculinity in the eyes of my woman, have challenged a man with arms that seemed the size both my thighs put together. We got Pa Joe’s attention now and he stood in between us both. I babbled on about how illiterate people like Buchi abused whatever minute measure of power. I proclaimed democracy. Buchi de demo; I craze. I took things up a notch, throwing myself up and down like a troubled hen, like person wey don catch warapa.
Buchi unfastened his belt and snapped it. He promised to thwack me like the Fulani herders often welted their stubborn cattle. Pa Joe calmed us down. I stared at the CCTV. They were jammed. I fought the urge to smile. T.K had found a way to override the camera and distort the images on the screen. He was probably in the BMW a couple of meters away, clicking and tapping away furiously on the keys of his Dell. It was 11:56. And this meant David should have been rummaging through the Platinum Vault now, claiming our pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
The door creaked as it opened and slim ray of light scuttled into the room. A man, also clad in the same white shirt and navy blue, waltzed into the room. His measured steps cut through the tense atmosphere that he seemed so unaware of. He let out a giggle, flipping over the page of a brown-papered magazine, as he walked towards his seat. Buchi held his hand and drew him towards the darker corners of the room. He whispered to him surreptitiously, pausing every now and again to raise his eyes and stare at me. This must have been Deprieye, I thought to myself as Pa Joe peered closely at one of my paintings. I allowed him to run his wrinkly hands along the rough surfaces of the canvas. I even promised to do a sketch of him when I came back again. He eyes bulged; his cheeks flumped as he laughed gleefully. He was as excited as child marvelling at the Ferris Wheels and magical rides at an amusement park; an old hero who I had embellished with a medal of honour for his outstanding courage on the warfront.
I stared at the CCTV cameras; they were all active once again. I let out a hearty guffaw. All three of pair of eyes stared at me, five and a half brows arched up in questions (Buchi did not have a complete second brow!) Buchi walked up to me menacingly. When he spoke the warmth in his breath, a tinge of boiled groundnuts settled in the spaces in between.
‘Wetin de make you laugh?’
‘Nothing sir.’ I mumbled weakly, fighting the urge to burst out into another round of exhilarating cackles.
‘You say them give you appointment eh?’ he asked with the same booming voice, using his head to beckon towards the main building.
I ran my head over my clammy bald head. ‘Mmmm…. yes sir…’
‘Okay follow me. We go see receptionist now and if she say you no get interview…’ he said as he ran his thumb along the breadth of his neck.
‘Appointment…’ I corrected.
His scowl deepened, his one and a half brow dipped into an incomplete V. He wore his beret and tilted it to the side. We stepped into the fine light of noon, beneath the azure skies. The silence was heavy with excitement. The bleached gravel rustled underneath our eager feet. As we walked along the lane, I was certain we dreamed the same careless dreams, wished the same simple wishes. Buchi would have seen himself driving a car that hummed and roared, that had tinted windows and fenders that gleamed in the sunlight. He had always said he would like to go home with tubers of yams the length of his arms and yards of fine George wrappers. The children would chase him and sing his praises along the village square. Buchi the Great. The women in the markets would stare at him in open admiration. He would sneeze sporadically because his name would roll of the tongues of every damsel and every member of his age group. Buchi the Great. His lips twitched.
For me, I thought of driving passed the blind men that crouched beside the untrimmed hedges and through the high gates of the main campus in a car without a roof so that people could see me, people could see the man that I had become. I would have liked a dark pair of glasses so that Yetunde would see the reflection of the despair in her eyes while I teased the supple flesh of another right beneath her window. I would make sure it was a girl she that she often swapped lipstick with or sat close to on the long benches in the evenings. The pain would gnaw at her heart, her spirit would lose its sparkle just like mine had. I stopped and stared at myself in the mirrors almost wondering out loud who this person that was staring at me was. I wiped my forehead and walked behind Buchi into the receptionist’s lounge. It was one minute to midday.
I paused as I noticed the motes of dust moving dreamily across the soft light that streamed through the wide windows. There were potted plants that were snuggled in cosy corners. I wondered what it felt like sitting in those low leather chairs with a hand resting on the shiny chrome the other on my temple as I flipped through the glossy pages of a magazine. Buchi leaned over, both palms on the Oakwood table and murmured into the ears of a lady with a hairdo that resembled a wasp’s nest towering above her head. She let out a hearty guffaw; hyuh- hyuh- hyuh, so much like a grown man’s. I let out a cough. Buchi straightened and squared his shoulders.
‘Good afternoon ma.’ I greeted politely
‘Please I have an appointment with the admin officer.’
She clicked away on her keyboard, her jaw clenching and unclenching. There was a faint line of hair above her upper lip.
‘Please I have an appointment with the admin officer.’ I repeated.
She muttered something in Igbo. Buchi stifled a giggle.
‘I heard you the first time. What is your name?’
‘My name is Kure Malu.’
She schemed through a hard cover book. Her eyes nearly closed.
‘Sorry I cannot see your name here. No appointment. No Kuri Mallam. Goodbye.’
Buchi’s eyes lit up; his gleeful laughter startled the men that sat in the low leather chairs, talking in hush-hush tones. Even though this was seemingly foreplay, I was stunned by her rudeness. And so I thumped angrily on the table and she jumped back. She looked helplessly at Buchi. He grabbed me by the buckle of my belt and dragged me back. I swung back and forth, lifelessly like a paper doll. We were creating a scene now, and the gentlemen began to walk towards us. I heaved a sigh of relief when I saw David. Buchi put me down. I staggered like a drunk whilst quoting sections in the constitution and scripture from the book of Isaiah that discussed about oppression of the poor and the looming wrath of God on the hardened heart of man.
I bumped into David and toppled him over. He landed on his back and cursed at me. While Buchi hauled me effortlessly I deftly picked up the disc from David pocket and slipped it into my jeans.
‘My goodness, when did they start permitting such hooligans and yobbos into this place… are our investments still secure in Sync? I must speak to the manager about these abysmal services.’ David said as he dusted the sleeve of his suit, adjusting his tie properly.
‘Sorry sir. We are sorry.’ Miss Wasp-Net Hairdo said as she dusted the other sleeve of his suit. She bent and gathered his papers and briefcase.
‘Look at this money-miss-road. Who is a hooligan? Who is a yobbo? Let me tell you I have a BSC in sociology you hear me! You have the audacity to refer to me as a common tout because you wear faux clothing and can speak like you have a piece of hot yam in your mouth. According to the book of Isaiah, chapter ten verse twenty-six… the lord will lash them with a whip… we are in a democratic regime… there is observance of the rule of law…’