He squints through the pouring rain trying to see ahead. In the distance he can hear the loud rumbling of several generators, but his part of the street is quite dark. The only sound is of the slashing rain as it hits various surfaces from iron sheet rooftops to car roofs to the street itself, providing some sort of theme music.
He’s confused…he does not remember how he got here or where ‘here’ is. All he knows is – he has to keep walking.
The breath rasps in his lungs and pain knives into his side. He knows the wound is fatal; he feels the warm blood as it flows sluggishly into his trousers, down his thighs to be washed away in the pounding rain. His mouth is wooly…blurry images flood his brain. His vision dims and brightens constantly as though some child somewhere is playing with the contrast button on a TV remote control.
He lifts his left hand to wipe his brow – and looks stupidly at the gun that seems to have suddenly grown in it. Strangely, the weight of the gun feels comfortable…he balances it and grins. Suddenly he begins to cough, violent racking explosions that leave him gasping for breath, right hand covering his mouth. As the fit passes he glances at his fingers at the red splatter all over it…and as he watches it slowly becomes a dull purple…a bright pink…before disappearing, washed away by the rain.
He takes another step and knows he cannot go any further. So then; he thinks, this is how it feels to die. He leans against the closest structure which is an aboki’s kiosk and slowly sinks to the ground. He holds his head in his hands and tries to think, tries to remember.
He had been given an envelope – a white envelope as he drove out of the house.
He drove. Out of a house. He has a car. And a house.
Does he live alone? And the car…
Where is it now?
Slowly, trying to keep his right hand steady, he pats his pockets and sides and then his chest area. He finds there is something in his chest pocket; something that feels like an envelope.
He reaches past the raincoat into the inner pocket of the jacket underneath it and pulls it out. It starts getting wet almost immediately, so he crawls to the next building where an awning offers some protection from the rain. He slumps on the stairs and tries opening the envelope, which is quite tricky if you’re holding a gun in one of your hands.
He hesitates; knowing instinctively that if he is holding a gun, it must mean his life or safety is threatened. He sits still for a moment and looks back the way he had come, trying to penetrate the thick darkness with his eyes. Seeing no movement, he carefully places the gun beside him on the steps and, despite shaking hands opens the envelope.
Inside it is an official-looking white piece of paper – he can tell that much despite the darkness, but he would need more illumination to see what it is. He pulls out the paper and then feels his pockets for a phone or something that can give him some light.
As he searches, he realizes he’s not carrying anything but the envelope – no money, no wallet, no id…nothing. In the pocket where he found the envelope is a key ring but that is it.
He settles back to think about that and feels suddenly very weary. He closes his eyes again, to rest for a little while. He has no idea what time it is; he knows somehow he must be long gone before its morning…but he needs to rest, even if it’s just for a little while…
Ten days earlier
Shade, the nurse/receptionist/accountant at Ayo Laboratories looked up as the door opened and a man walked in. He looked like that Yoruba actor; Yemi Fash-something-or-the-other except he was clean shaven and a lot slimmer. He walked briskly towards her and smiled; a soft smile that had her smiling back automatically.
“Good afternoon,” she said.
“Good afternoon,” he responsed. His voice was an even treble with a hint of a northern accent. “I want to do a blood test,” he concluded.
She waved him to the row of seats on her left. “Please sit for a moment while I check which of our lab attendants is free,” she said, reaching for the intercom on her desk.
As she called, she watched the man from under her eyelids. He was staring at one of the various charts on the wall, the one highlighting various body parts and where to test for what. He looks so calm and self-possessed; she thought. I wonder what he’s testing for.
“Hello?” she spoke into the intercom as it was picked on the other end, “I have someone here for a test.”
“Send him in,” the male voice on the other end responded. “How did you know it’s a ‘him’?” She asked, slightly surprised.
“If it was a ‘her’ you wouldn’t have called to tell me.” The voice gave a dry chuckle.
“Smart-ass,” she answered cheerfully, hanging up and looking over at the man. He sensed rather than saw her glance, stood up and walked over to her.
“You can go in,” Shade said, indicating the corridor on her right. “It’s the first room on the left as you go.”
“Thank you,” he nodded and walked in the direction she indicated. She stared after him. I wonder what he’s testing for, she thought again.
“Move! Move!!” The mobile policeman shouts, holding his AK-47 in a menacing manner. “Na morning na. Una no get work?”He asks.
He is standing in front of a crowd, gathered in the usual way of ‘Lagosians’; chattering as two men bend over a corpse lying on the stairs of a building, beneath the awning. There’s a small puddle of blood beside the corpse; a small puddle that runs down the stairs and into the road – where it vanishes abruptly, washed away by the rain.
“He must have killed the other one,” the slimmer and better dressed of the two says, “shot him dead, then staggered here to die.”
“Oh yeah?” his partner asks, distracted. He is busy going through the dead man’s pockets, cursing quietly as he comes up empty. “How do you know that?”
“I checked the other gun we found in the room. It had been fired once – and here is this man, dead from a gunshot wound to the side.” He gingerly picks up the gun the corpse is almost lying on, wraps it in his handkerchief and puts it in his jacket pocket. “We’ll scan that for fingerprints,” he says, half-jokingly.
His partner grunts again. “So what does that mean?” he asks. Having found nothing in the corpse’s pockets he’s looking at it’s leather shoes. “This is not all those your TV shows o…’C-X-Y’ abi wetin dem dey call am sef? This is Nigeria.” He squats and tries to take one of the corpse’s shoes off.
The slimmer one straightens and looks at him in disgust. “It’s C-S-I and no; I know it’s not TV. Of course it’s Nigeria;” his voice lowers a notch. “Where else would you see a policeman robbing a corpse in plain sight?”
“Ehn?!” His partner ejaculates and straightens. “You say what?!”
‘Slim’ ignores him, noticing that the corpse is holding a piece of paper. He bends and carefully removes it, his face taking on a small look of amazement as he reads. When he finishes, he stares at the corpse and shakes his head.
“He’s dead either way,” he mutters to himself.
His partner, now on his feet tries to snatch the paper, but ‘Slim’ moves too quickly. He backs off, putting some distance between them. A grim smile suddenly appears on his lips.
“I hope you didn’t get any of his blood on you,” he says, still smiling, “If this test result is accurate and his, this guy has – had full blown aids.”
“Ehn?” his partner says, uncomprehending at first. “EHN?!” he says louder, as what he heard sinks in. “Give me that!”
He reaches for the paper and this time ‘Slim’ lets him snatch it, watching his partner who is urgently scanning the paper. The partner swallows loudly as he sees what ‘Slim’ means, and with a loud yell drops the paper and starts hurriedly looking himself over. And then he looks at his hands and hurries away, asking the mobile policeman to get some water.
‘Slim’ bends over and picks up the paper, unbothered because he is wearing gloves. He notes the lab’s address and makes a mental note to drive over later in the day. He nods at two-overall wearing men standing on the sidelines and walks away as they start to move the corpse, feeling as if he had woken up that morning into a Hardly Chase novel.