Despite what happened earlier between me and Ikerebewu over the youth leadership position about a week ago, I tried to have a pleasant time throughout the festivals. At Igbemo Angalabiri community, an island 2hours from yenagoa, the capital of Bayelsa state, Christmas and New Year were always jointly celebrated. The total population made the practice possible. On Christmas day, everyone worshiped at father Nnamdi’s church at St Matthews cathedral. After church service, we had a cultural display and drama in honor of the birth of Christ and later in the evening, the whole community converged at the community chairman’s compound to eat and drink. A day after Christmas-boxing day, we had boat riding and fishing competition while our ladies indulged in bead making competition. During the period also, an impending dispute between the Maragbaya family and Okughalo house hold was brought before the elders-discussed and judged. The New Year eve, the last day of the celebration was set aside for match making. Any man old enough and capable of having a wife waits till the eve of New Year to do the formal engagement. Mr. Government, brother Alaiyesima and Duderogbe all said their marriage vows on that day.
As promised, Steven, Ikerebewu’s brother from Lagos lavished his money on us on the 1st of January. He took us to the best beer place in the community. We were about sixteen and strictly men but some were men to be, like me. Three hours later, everyone except me was drunk and ready to go home. I needed to be conscious that day. At first I didn’t know why, only knew I was boiling within. I needed to talk. I needed to make the entire community know the truth but on the other hand I was skeptical Stephen would deny and if he did, I would be the object of ridicule and rejection. Some might say I was jealous, others might call me an ingrate. What I had against him were just facts from my dead brother, how could I even convey it convincing enough not to arouse suspicion and doubt of my integrity?
About an hour debates within me over a bottle of old bottled-guilder led to a compromise to approach Steven in person on his way home not minding his intoxicated condition. Few minutes after, Steven announced to his drunk crew he was on his way home, handed his bag to Ikerebewu his brother, my old friend, who ignored my presence and I gladly disregarded his existence too. While thinking how to climb on the bandwagon, Steven called out to me
“Hey Motimi, don’t you want to join us walk the road together?”
I processed what happened. Like a thief trying to think out the best way to make his unwelcome entry, the inhabitant unknowingly handed him a spare key. Though no thief or key this time, I got an invitation to take Steven through the darkest hour of his life.
“Sure” I responded and at the instance got up, gulped the remaining liquid in my bottle because I needed all the available charge to ignite my fury that evening. I must not mince words and must sound believable. Anything short of that could make Steven act smart and deny my claims.
On our way, Steven requested I followed him to his house, I reluctantly agreed. His movement was inconsistent. He took his steps with caution, behaving like his every step must be three feet apart thus; dictated his wobbling movement as if he was a hybrid version of RoboCop. He pulled me closer, took his hands across my shoulder to support himself while Ikerebewu was on the other side with his bag.
Steven asked if I enjoyed the drink and I replied I didn’t really enjoy the beer. He stopped for about three seconds, forcing me to stop as well before we proceeded. Though the weather was changing, day turning to night, I could still see the surprise in his face, a questioning look. Obviously unsure of what to make of what I said. At the end, he pushed a word out of his mouth to show his displeasure and inquisitiveness.
“Why?” He asked.
I tried to put up a little act before responding.
“ Well, I had so much on my mind today, you know it will be exactly one year I lost my brother next month, couldn’t just stop missing him.”
At the mention of my dead brother, he claimed to feel my pains
“I am so sorry, I know how that could feel. I missed him too; you know we were childhood friends like you and Ikerebewu.”
His voice was terribly slurred and inaudible. He was choosing his words one after the other in a drunken replication of his annoying movement.
“But his death was not as painful as how he died.”
He took the bait, responded even more passionately this time.
“That was the terribly painful part truly. Your brother I knew was decent and faithful, why or how he got caught up is something I couldn’t comprehend.”
I was happy within me at the progression. The last question was what I intended to nail him. I looked at Ikerebewu who was busy waving to Janet. A lot went on between Janet and I before Ikerebewu came between us.
I chose my words carefully this time, I called out to Steven, he answered smiling at me.
“Did you know my brother died because of you?”
He leaped backwards, enough to hit Ikerebewu off balance. His eyes became opened and his posture portends sanity and clarity. He looked at me in disbelieve, tried to speak but words failed him. I suspected he wanted to deny and lash out at me but the confidence I uttered the accusation was convincing, he immediately looked to the far right and left to make sure no one was in close distance enough to hear what I said.
I gained confidence and re-framed my accusation while he seemed lost.
“I know you could go to Lagos because of my brother and that was what killed him and….”
He jumped at me unsuspectingly, covered my mouth with his dirty and alcohol smelling palms, whispered to my ears to calm down and keep quiet. Ikerebewu stood transfixed, not sure of what was going on.
“Let us discuss this in a more private environment.”
He removed his palm from my mouth to ease me. He turned to Ikerebewu, ordered him to go home while he asked me to follow him towards the town hall. On a day like 1st of January, the town hall is usually busy but at the back of the town hall was a hidden converging point known to the youth. It was along the gbelegory bush, barricaded inside by multiply bamboo trees.
We walked through the crowded town hall compound, navigated our way to the back. We crossed the stream that passed in between the hall and gbelegory bush. On the other side, under a mango tree was wisdom and Winnie catching up on old times or maybe hooking up for better time. We greeted them and moved on. We diverted our way through the bamboos and in no time approached the hideout, cutting us from any possible human existence.
The reigning sound was that of mockingbirds, probably annoyed about the presence of intruders. Flies roamed the environment in close proximity, maybe scared of the second coming of two Goliaths while am sure they haven’t gotten a David to fight the battle. We heard sounds of passerby but ignored and delve straight into the pressing issue.
“What was that you said out there?” Steven asked, his eyes were shinning and anger permeates his breath.
“Of cause you heard me. Darosa my brother told me everything that happened”,I was breathing heavily, sure scared of a possible denial but hoped he would not.
“What did he tell you?” He was perspiring heavily. Though panting softly, his voice came out hoaxed. He couldn’t sit, paced back and forth the confinement.
“Well, he told me enough to know both of you ought to go to Lagos but because the money wasn’t enough he sacrificed his trip. You promised to come for him but you didn’t. Yet, until his death he protected the truth and made me promise never to tell anyone.”
At this point, tears was forming in my eyes, I was missing Darosa more than I could handle. I remembered our trips on boat, setting traps, making nets and boat riding. He taught me almost all I knew, made me understand the usefulness of education and promised to send me to school as soon as he could go to Lagos.
I looked at Steven and wailed in agony and hatred “but you killed him!”
I thrust myself at him but he was too strong and fast, he moved swiftly out the way of the impending attack. My punch missed him by a whisker. I hit my foot on a stone and descended heavily on the ground, he took advantage of the situation while I was faced down connecting the dots why I was on the ground. He pinned my waist with his knee to the ground, held firmly my two hands backward with one hand and the other to pull my head up.
“Motimi, you have to be careful what you do or claim, I didn’t kill Darosa, he was too smart and nice. He chose his path.”
I tried to get him off me to no avail. It was my turn to pant which I would have done better than anyone if it was a competition. I sweat profusely. At that stage of the unfolding, fear gripped me. Different thoughts and possibilities took turn within me in a close succession. I became scared Steven took me to that quiet place to kill me too.
At that instance I tried to relax, I sensed death dinning with me with a longer spoon. I had to borrow words I knew out rightly betrayed my intended motive but to be timid is better than death I consoled myself.
“Okay Steven, get off me or I will scream and the whole community will rush down here and you will……”
“Please spare me the gist, no one care about what happen on a busy evening like this”, he raised his head, turned to look towards every direction to further confirm we were alone. I sensed his worries so I took advantage.
“Well, before I joined you for drink, I told Moremi my sister I was coming to you for a serious talk, I advised if I didn’t come home in time, you would know where I would be” I lied.
I felt his grip lighten up as against the previously firm one. He cleared his throat and became quiet for a while before urging he didn’t want to hurt me. He told me he only needed to be sure I won’t further attack him.
“Of cause I won’t.”
He believed my words, released his grips both from my backwardly twisted arms and head, got off my back slowly.
I got up, stretched my twisted arms, dusted my cloth and about to talk when I realized Steven was shedding tears. I felt so in control immediately.
“You connived with Darosa, sold the stolen property but failed on your agreement.”
He shouted in frustration at me, “I didn’t connive with him, I agreed with him!”
He cleaned the tears and continued, “We nursed going to Lagos for several years, and we had someone to help us but didn’t have the money to travel.”
“Darosa told me”, I concurred.
And he also told me you stole from chief Malaikaye when you delivered his request for two baskets of fish for his daughter’s wedding.”
“We didn’t steal we took. Moreover, Darosa asked us to. All I did was help him carry the copper sculpture from Benin showing the mix of weapons that existed during the colonial era. We got a buyer and sold it out.”
“Yes you did” I replied him frustrated at his abysmal understanding of steal to took, connive and agreed.
“And the proceeds wasn’t enough to take you both to Lagos?” I sarcastically asked.
He nodded in acknowledgement.
“And my brother had to sacrifice his trip to let you go but not without a prior agreement you would gather money to take him to Lagos as soon as possible?”
“So why didn’t you honor your agreement?”
He looked perplex and lost. After a while, he got over his reverie and charged the situation a bit.
“I didn’t come for him because I couldn’t afford the transport fare at that moment.” His voice was louder than I would advice in such messy situation.
“Oh!” I raised my eyebrow and wiggle my hip to the left while my right hand dabbled to the right thin air like a woman.
“I see. Did you know after a year, they traced the missing sculpture to delta? When the buyer knew it was stolen, he volunteered to come down to the village for possible identification of who sold it to him?”
“No I didn’t” he offered in a condolence low voice.
“No, you didn’t I guessed. You didn’t know also, that my brother denied he stole or sold anything and surprisingly, he didn’t even mention your name throughout the ordeal?”
“I am so sorry” he tried to touch me but I moved away.
“The community elders suggested since my brother claimed he knew nothing about it, he should drink the water from Maricabar goddess…….”
Before I could finish, Steven shouted and rebuked my brother for taking such step.
“Why would he do that, my parent didn’t tell me that was what happened, thought he died a natural death?”
Those words angered me but he could be right, he died after a brief illness in his sleep after drinking from maricabar. That could pass for a natural death I thought.
“No he didn’t, besides, few people knew about the incidence. He told me he had a charm he believed would shove the curse off but it didn’t work.”
I stepped forward, at a distance so close I felt his heavy breath. Although he refused to exude any trait of dread, his stare wasn’t coherent. His eyes darted to every part of our environment. His posture also betrayed his impersonated firm looks; his fingers were unconsciously unsettled while his weak strength slightly professed his undermined confidence.
I maintained unblinking eyes, gnashed my teeth-whimpered almost inaudibly.
“But you refused to come back for him while he laid his life for a sin you both committed.”
He left me standing at the same spot, paced the confined area with his right index reluctantly in his mouth. He stopped after the fifth time pacing. Looked at me, opened his mouth as if to say something but nothing came out. He moved to a condemned log, sat on it head bent while his right hand supported his jugular.
“Please Motimi, you have to keep this a secret and I will do anything to compensate your loss.”
I wanted to protest he was selfish and heartless. How could he have betrayed my brother yet, wanted me to be an accomplice in making the truth an everlasting secrete. But on the second thought, there was an element of opportunity in his request. I needed to be sure I heard him well, so I deceitfully plotted a revolt against his request.
“How dare you ask me to cover up such inhuman act? My brother will never forgive me in his grave. I will tell the whole community what you did, nothing can make me……….”
He cut in looking pitiable and helpless, if it was a gimmick I didn’t know. After all these years, I cared less about his remorse, in honesty or deceit.
Before I could say wa-zo-bia again, he went on his knees immediately.
“Motimi please don’t do this to me, the truth may kill my parents. The public disgrace I can’t bear. My entire family will be a dirty gutter for the community spit of disgust and rejection, please, please, please….”
His eyes were wet, voice rescinding to his stomach. Face down while still holding my ankle with his left hand and the other to clean the water discharge from his eyes.
“Did you say you will do anything if I keep this a secret?”
I felt a quick vibration on my leg; the possibility of a positive outcome gave life to his body. He shook my legs with both hands.
“I will do anything.”
“Okay” I said.
“If that is the case, what I want is simple. If you take me with to Lagos, we have a deal.”
I told him with a skeptical disposition.
“That may be serious for now; you know I didn’t plan it. But I promise to come for you as soon as I can arrange some cash.”
Without wasting time, I rejected his offer.
“No. it’s either you take me now or I expose you. I can’t trust you the way my brother did.” I folded my arms, turned away from him.
“But try to understand, it’s not that I don’t want to but…….”
Immediately, I started walking towards the exit, in protest and threat.
“Am getting out of here, can see you are not ready for me.” He caught up with me and drew me back with my hand.
“Okay I have heard you; I will do all I can to take you with me. But remember I am going in three days. Hope that seals the deal?”
“What did you just say?”I asked in astonishment, gently turned back to face him staring at me almost with disgust.
“Yes, I said I will take you to Lagos.”
That was the best news of my life in fifteen years. Soon enough I shall be in the city I have dream of almost all my entire life. Lagos city, a destination I shall soon make my home.
I became skeptical he was fooling me at some point but the enormity of it being true outweighed the reverse. I mysteriously hugged him before I knew what I intended to do. I endured his breath and odor. Seconds after, I wanted to run, wanted to stay. Wanted to tell the whole village the next governor of Lagos is in the making. I looked up as if I would see an image I could pretend was God- I needed to thank someone, anybody in the sky. From nowhere, a song formed within me, forced out through my mouth….. I started singing and dancing, jumping and stooping. The song wasn’t all-together meaningful but I know the lyrics included ME, LAGOS and GO. The other verse had VERY SOON in it. Right where I was standing, far above Stevens head, I pretended I could see Lagos from a distance; I said “Lagos, here I come.”
To be continued………….