Kanayo took a deep breath, pushed the revolving door, and strolled confidently into the bank. He was sharply dressed in an expensive grey pinstripe suit, crisp white shirt, purple silk tie, and dark brown Ferragamo alligator shoes. He definitely looked the part.
The young blonde woman at the customer service desk smiled up at him. It wasn’t a customer service smile. It was a genuine smile, and it lit up her whole face. “How may I help you, sir?”
Kanayo smiled back and took a seat opposite her. “Hi…” he looked at her nametag “…Sarah? How’re you doing?” His British accent was almost perfect, surprising even him.
She beamed at him. “I’m alright, thanks,” she said. “You?”
“Well, my day just got a whole lot better,” he said, making a show of looking her over appreciatively, a mischievous twinkle in his eye.
She began to giggle, and caught herself just in time. “What can I do for you today, Mr…?”
“Winston. Charles Winston.”
“What can I do for you, Mr.Winston?”
“I opened a Premium Account online. I just have to sign some forms and show you my documents.”
“Sure. May I have your National Insurance Number?”
“Of course. WF127697H.”
“One moment, please, Mr. Winston.” She began typing rapidly on her keyboard.
Click, click, click. More mouse clicks. Some more rapid typing.
“Oh yes,” she said “Found you. Do you have your ID and two utility bills? A passport or driver’s licence will do.”
Kanayo pulled out a red British passport from the inside pocket of his jacket. Inside it was a picture of him with the name Charles Michael Winston next to it. Then he produced a BT phone bill and a British Gas bill both addressed to Charles M. Winston of 22 Willesden Mews, Meadows, Nottingham.
Sarah took them from him. “I’ve just got to go and make copies of these and bring your paperwork for you to sign. I won’t be long.” She smiled at him again and left, carrying his documents.
Kanayo stretched his 6 foot 3 frame out in the chair. So far so good. He had a good feeling about this one. His documents were watertight.
As he waited, he thought about his parents back in Nigeria. His father, the disciplinarian, workaholic, high court judge, who had never made a dishonest naira in his life, despite living in a country where judgements are routinely bought and sold. His mother, doting, devoted to his father and her children, active in their church, a pharmacist who had stopped working in order to ‘raise her three children properly’.
He was not on speaking terms with his father. The Judge had never forgiven him for dropping out of university after already wasting two years’ tuition fees in England. At foreign student rates, that was nearly twenty-one thousand pounds down the drain. Well over five million naira. He didn’t blame his father for feeling aggrieved. He wondered what the Judge would say if he offered to pay him back the money. He could afford to. He had over ninety thousand pounds stashed away in different safe deposit boxes around the country.
It was his mother who had first suggested the idea to his father. His first year at the University of Ibadan was not yet over and there had already been three strikes by the Academic Staff Union. During the second month of the third strike, while he lounged around waiting for the strike to end and school to resume, his mother told his father that things could not be allowed to continue as they were.
“At this rate, it will take him six or seven years to complete a four-year degree. He needs to go to a proper school abroad.”
His father frowned. “We have proper schools here. Ibadan is a very good school, and my alma mater.”
“Yes, when they’re open. Which isn’t very often nowadays.”
“I’ll think about it. These things cost money, you know.”
“Then sell one of your properties. You’ve got property all over the state. This is your eldest son’s education we’re talking about.”
Nine months later, Kanayo was at Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos, waiting to get on a plane to Heathrow. His mother was there to see him off, as well as his sister Nwamaka, and his brother Nnaemeka, the youngest. Their father had already given him a speech at home.
“Remember who you are, remember what family you come from, and remember what sacrifices we’ve had to make to give you this opportunity. Do your work diligently – all of it! And don’t you dare do anything that will soil the family name. You are fully expected to set an example for others and especially for your siblings. I expect first class honours from you, and I don’t see any reason why you shouldn’t deliver; you’ve been given every possible advantage…”
The speech went on for another half an hour in this vein until his mother rescued him by exclaiming, “Ha! Look at the time, o! Anayo, are you ready? We have to leave now to make the airport.”
At the departure gate, his mother embraced him. “Nwam, please do your best, ok? Make me proud.” She refrained from pointing out to him that she had put her neck on the line to convince his father to send him to school abroad, and that if he did not do well, she would never be able to live it down. The Judge was a man who saw everything in legal terms. Therefore, in his eyes, an ‘accomplice’ to any ‘crime’ was also a criminal. He would not hesitate to lay the blame squarely at his wife’s doorstep if their son were to fail to deliver on the agreed plan. After all, the whole thing was her idea.
Kanayo suddenly realised that Sarah had been gone for over ten minutes. Not good. Panic engulfed him, almost suffocating him. He composed himself, forcing himself to breathe normally. When he had regained his composure, he began to laugh quietly at himself. There was probably a perfectly normal explanation for her prolonged absence. She could be looking for his paperwork, or she could have been cornered by a superior and sent on a quick errand. He was just being paranoid. But even as he said these things to himself, he knew in his heart that it was not that simple.
He got up from the chair and turned around to leave, trying his best to appear casual. But Sarah was walking slowly across the bank floor towards him, carrying his stuff. He breathed a quiet sigh of relief, reprimanding himself for panicking too quickly. But then something dawned on him, sending a new wave of danger signals flashing through his brain.
Sarah was smiling. But this time it was a standard customer service smile. It did not reach her eyes. There was something new in those eyes. Hesitation. Mistrust. Fear.
It was obvious the game was up. He quickly scanned the bank for an exit other than the revolving door at the front. There was none. Even as he started towards Sarah and the front door, he could see the three policemen outside, the first just stepping up to the revolving door.
Kanayo had always known that this day would come. He just hadn’t known it would be today.