The journey to the infamous ground level took all of 45 minutes and involved several stops at different levels where they had to disembark one transporter and board another, as they made their way further and further into the depths of Abuja city. Nonso had insisted on paying their fares with cash on the way down. If Ibrahim had used his biometric card, it would have attracted more than a little bit of attention. The crime rate at ground level was alarmingly high and had been so for a while. More so, the shady characters of this darker side of Abuja could pick out someone of Ibrahim’s status like a fluorescent light among charcoal. They stepped towards the door and Nonso handed a few Naira bills to the conductor. Both he and Ibrahim jumped out. Ibrahim looked at his watch. It told him the time was 5.00pm. He had just under two hours till the Maghrib – the fourth prayer of the day for Muslims. He took in his surroundings. It had suddenly become chilly and damp as they had made their way down. Ground level was a dark dreary place. The titanic skyscrapers and high rises all around the city, coupled with the amount of aerial traffic and magnetic highways, combined to form an artificial canopy high above, blocking out most of the sunlight. Ibrahim was becoming pensive, as he checked his watch again.
“Nonso let’s go. I want to get in the groove of things with Simisola before going for prayers.”
“Relax.” Nonso quipped. “Does it take two hours to toast a girl? If you know what you are doing, it shouldn’t take up to 30 minutes to get her in the mood.”
Ibrahim flashed a glare towards Nonso.
“In the mood for what? She’s not that kind of girl to me.”
“Na so.” Nonso responded while flagging down a green cab. “Abeg make we go.”
The driver slowed down to a stop in front of them.
“Where to?” He asked indifferently, feigning disinterest in his potential passengers. It was a common tactic employed by cab drivers who operated at ground level where bargaining fares was still common practice. Nonso stepped forward and began the delicate dance with the cab driver in order to bring down the price to a reasonable value for both parties involved. Ibrahim observed the car. It was an old generation automobile that ran on refined fuel and had rubber tires. The paint had long worn out and the engine sounded as though it would stall the very next second. The bargaining was done and they both got inside the vehicle. The interior was no better. The original leather upholstery was torn and stained beyond recognition. Windows were missing their button controllers and there was a gaping hole in the dashboard where the radio once used to sit. Now, one was treated to the rather messy sight of an entangled set of wires in that space. The driver made his way through the largely empty street of Ademola Adetokunbo crescent in old Wuse II. He made a left turn unto Ahmadu Bello way and soon made another left turn unto Aminu Kano crescent. Dusk had come quickly to ground level even though the rather dim digital clock on the dashboard read 5:20pm. The phenomena was also caused by the artificial canopy above. Not that the residents of ground level seemed to mind. At least not the night owls and party goers. Music could be heard in the distance and it steadily grew louder as they drew closer. The crescent effortlessly transformed from a quiet, deserted neighborhood, into a jam packed, music thumping area. Music blared from powerful speakers within deserted buildings converted to clubs, bars and brothels.
“Okay. We are here.” The cab driver announced in the same distant disinterested tone.
Ibrahim and Nonso got down and as usual Nonso paid off the fares. As the cab sped off, they turned and took in their surroundings. It was a bit of a mad house or rather a mad street. Cab drivers slowed down and tried to blare their horns over the loud music. Skimpily clad women paraded the streets in groups or with a male companion or alone. They were all here for different reasons, but the revealing outfits were adorned to achieve the same goals… competition and seduction. Nonso took a deep breath and glanced at Ibrahim.
“Good to go?” He asked partially in homage to a now defunct paramilitary unit every Nigerian youth had to interact with up until some thirty years ago.
“Yup.” Came the terse reply.
Nonso shook his head. “That’s not how you respond but anyways… Call your chic. You know eventually I’ll have to keep my distance and catch my fun right? But if you feel like there’s a situation just flash me.”
“I’m not a baby you know?” Ibrahim retorted.
“Up there you’re not.” Nonso replied, as he pointed his index finger upward. “Down here brother… you most definitely are.”
Ibrahim shook his head and retrieved his phone. It was an almost sheet thin piece of glass that came to life with an orange interface, the instant he touched the surface. Nonso dialed Simisola’s number and put the phone to his ear.
The dark skinned lady picked up her call using the disc shaped device she had used to view an image of her target earlier in the day. She listened for a while before speaking.
“Already?” She said in mock excitement and then continued to listen to the voice on the other end.
“Okay. I’ll be there in a sec.”
She hurried her steps and made her way through the crowd, effortlessly balanced on her stiletto heels. A man had approached her. He was grinning sheepishly as he walked beside her. His eyes roamed hungrily over her features and if he didn’t consciously stop himself, he might have drooled.
“The party’s this way baby.” He said as he reached out his hand to give her backside a gentle rub. There was a cracking sound and the man instinctively withdrew his hand.
“What the…” He looked at his wrist and found out to his horror that his hand was contorted out of position. The searing pain began to burn and he let out a loud scream of anguish. No one really heard him over the music. The lady was long gone.
Nonso and Ibrahim were still talking when a tall lady walked towards them. She strutted her way past a group of people and looked dangerously elegant in her stiletto heels. She wore a dress – if it could be called that – that stopped just below her hips and exposed her well defined set of legs and thighs. The dress threatened to lift up a little too high with every step and every deliberately pronounced sway of her hips, but never actually did. Nonso turned to Ibrahim as she walked towards them.
“Ooooooooooohhh booooyyyy.” He stole a glance at Simisola once more before turning back to Ibrahim.
“Dayyyyyuuuuuuuuuummm!!! Guy when is your prayer because HMMM you will need divine intervention on this one o!”
“Gerrooouttt!!!” Ibrahim said struggling to contain his laughter.
“Good luck bro. I’ll be around.” Nonso said as he began to walk away.
“Thanks bro.” Ibrahim said.
Nonso walked passed Simisola and offered her a hello. She responded in kind before approaching Ibrahim. Ibrahim took a deep breath and when she smiled the breath escaped him forcibly.
“Y…You look… amazing.” He said meaning every word.
“Thanks.” She said still smiling and looking around.
“So we are here. Where are you taking me?” She leaned her face close to his and giggled.
Ibrahim laughed. “Well I was thinking of a nice club… VIP section. We can have the best of both worlds there. Club skyline is just across from us.”
Simisola turned around and took a look at club skyline. When she turned back to face Ibrahim, her face wore an expression of one who was impressed.
“Big boy.” She smiled sensuously.
Big boy. It had so many connotations. Ibrahim shook the thought from his mind. In any case his move had yielded the desired effect. Club skyline was the most exclusive club in ground level and arguably in all of Abuja, even though those who thrived in higher levels would not so easily buy into that idea. It effortlessly combined the classy with the raw and edgy and as such this was one of the few remaining melting pots where the upper class and the lower class could still intermingle. There was virtually no middle class anymore. In Nigeria, you were either rich, poor, floating or trying to survive the war that raged on outside the walled city. He shook those thoughts from his head as well.
“Well let’s go have some fun.”
The night was a blur. They had drinks – Ibrahim refused to drink anything alcoholic – talked, laughed and danced on many occasions to the top hits and even some old school jams. Ibrahim was having a blast. He was definitely on cloud nine. Observing Simisola, he could safely assume he was not there alone. No definitely not. She laughed and giggled at even the silliest of his jokes, and on many occasions she had leaned in teasingly towards his face, but would always pull away at the last moment. He didn’t mind. He was enjoying the cat and mouse game. Sooner or later, he knew she would yield. That moment finally came when in the middle of a dance she whispered in his ear.
“Let’s go a bit higher. Skyline is too low right now.”
Ibrahim smiled sheepishly and Simisola took his hand, pulling him through the crowd. The DJ had gone with a little bit of techno music for the past fifteen minutes or so. The speakers blared the edgy vocals of an Old Russian female group.
(music) You don’t turn me off I will never fail (music)
His eyes scanned the faces searching for Nonso. He could not find him. No matter. Nonso could take care of himself after all.
(music) Things I loved before are now for sale (music)
And besides, he was the baby in ground level right? Not anymore bro Ibrahim thought as he was yanked along. Ibrahim turned his eyes back towards Simisola but not before they caught sight of another face. Her dark chocolate skin was as perfectly unblemished as a skin could get and her brown eyes held him frozen for a moment in time. Those same eyes followed him as he walked past her, his stare never breaking from hers. He couldn’t. He was transfixed. But what was it that bothered him? Why did he all of a sudden feel uncomfortable? There was a hint of recognition in her gaze. Did she know him? Ibrahim’s heart thumped faster as his mind quickly recalled words he had heard only a moment ago. He had been so transfixed by her gaze that it hadn’t registered. It did now. And this girl knew him for certain, but not in a way he’d hoped for. He turned his gaze towards Simisola.
(music) Keep yourself away… far away from me. (music)
Her grip on his wrist felt firm… a little too firm and tight. He gently tried to wriggle his hand free but he couldn’t. Ibrahim’s heart beat faster and he turned back to look for the dark skinned lady he had caught sight of. She was no longer there. But what she had said to him reverberated in his ears over and over again.
Run. Care Packet. Run.
(music) I’ll forever stay your perfect enemy (music)