Time: 8:45 AM
The transporter climbed through the upper levels of Abuja city. Its powerful engines revved and hummed in a never ending tussle with the earth’s gravity for superiority. Occasionally, the earth’s gravity would win. The events that took place thereafter could always be read in the Union, the following morning, along with the ghastly pictures splashed across the front page. Ibrahim’s eyes took in the muggy city landscape, blanketed by a cloud of gas fumes created from years of non-recycled air. A voice came on the vehicle’s intercom and amidst static, announced that they were five minutes from level 47. His apartment was on level 45. Ibrahim peeked out the window once more. The platform was now in view. His thoughts went to Artemis and their discussion earlier that morning.
“I have purchased a new phone and number for you. Do not turn it on until you get to the first of the three arms levels. Though, they will be attempting to track signals from your former line, they will also be tracking calls made to friends, lovers, and loved ones. That includes your father.”
“No. Not my father.” Ibrahim had responded shaking his head. “He’s the Nigerian ambassador to the U.S. Tracking his calls entails tracking the calls of some of the top citizens and government officials of the states. They’d never…”
“You don’t know the NIA.” Artemis had said, interrupting him. “There is no length they won’t go to, in order to stop you, to kill you. Ambassador or not, they’ll ruthlessly hunt you down and you will never know peace.”
Ibrahim had sighed and looked at her.
“Then what do I do? How do I end this?”
“By fleeing…. To fight another day and with the right people behind you.”
“So you want me to join the resistance.” Ibrahim had said, his voice turning cold.
“No. I want you to meet the one who sent me, and then make the right decision, for the right cause.”
“No. Never. Besides I am in my last semester of college. I have to graduate.”
“Ibrahim.” It had been Artemis’s voice which had gone cold now. “I will be frank with you. My original mission was also to assassinate you. There’s a bounty on your head. However, he saw something in you, something that changed my mission from an assassination to a rescue… and retrieval.”
“Who is ‘he’? And it’s the retrieval part I can’t accept. I was better being in the shadows! I can work effectively that way, bringing about the change we need!”
Artemis shook her head and smiled.
“Maybe just maybe you’ve been afraid to take a step into the light. Are you afraid of what the world might think of you? You have to remember, you cannot bring about change, if you don’t see change within yourself. You don’t have to fight for someone else’s approval Ibrahim. Fight for yours?”
“What are you…”
A finger gently placed on his lips had cut him short.
“Think about it. I will discuss with him and buy you some time… possibly till May, your month of graduation. Until then, we will work as a team from here. So, here are my instructions newbie.”
The transporter’s operator maneuvered the vehicle into position, right above the platform. The doors opened up and the passengers trooped out in droves. In advanced cities, every platform on a level had a dock, for safety precautions. In Nigeria, a dock was a luxury available only to the top government officials or the wealthiest and least selfish citizens. Ibrahim got down from the transporter and looked around.
Always survey the crowd. It’s easy to blend in, but it’s also easy to stand out if the other person knows what to look for. Look for people who seem to be doing nothing out of the ordinary but never really moving on from a very repetitive task. They might be reading a book, or ordering coffee at a stand. They might be standing near the platform railing, looking over the city. Whatever it is they are doing, they usually have a good excuse to be there for an indefinite period of time and if there are more than one, they try to maintain occasional visual contact with each other.
Ibrahim’s eyes scanned the crowd looking for anyone who fit the descriptions Artemis had given him earlier. He quickly followed the crowd while his eyes darted this way and that. In between glances, he would look down to avoid being made. Something was not right, but he could not tell what it was. Ibrahim looked up again and scanned the faces, as he passed through the entrance gates leading into level 47. There was a man observing jackets in a clothing store to his right. He moved from one jacket, feeling the material and then checking the price tag, to the other. To Ibrahim’s left was another man making a call on his phone. He occasionally laughed out loud before engaging in the next wave of chit-chatter with the person on the other end of the connection. A lady walked past him. She was also on the phone talking and laughing out loud. She could have been talking to anyone in the world but Ibrahim’s gut feeling told him the person was much nearer. Ibrahim stopped at the other side of the entrance gates and watched her board the waiting transporter. She turned briefly and looked up in the direction of the man on the phone. The movement was very brief but Ibrahim caught the slight knowing nod she gave before being whisked away. Ibrahim turned around and began walking briskly. He passed a couple walking arm in arm from one station shop to another. The man was talking.
“This looks nice on me doesn’t it?” He asked.
“Very nice indeed. Hmmm. I’m tripping.” The lady responded, massaging his ego to the point of overkill. Ibrahim stopped at a coffee stand and asked for bottled water. He glanced over to his left and just as he suspected, the laughing man and the jacket man had crossed the entrance gates. Ibrahim looked at the man next to him, who was still talking with his wife.
“And to think I got it from this particular outlet.”
“I know, I know. I’m just surprised you chose to wear it immediately.”
“Of course. Who wouldn’t want to flaunt The Gentleman’s clothing?”
“Bottled water. One hundred naira.” The coffee seller said to Ibrahim as he placed the bottle and the receipt on the counter. Ibrahim took out a hundred naira note and slid it across the counter into the seller’s finger tips.
“Thank you.” He said as he took his bottle and walked up to the couple. Ibrahim cleared his throat, interrupting their conversation.
“I am so sorry to barge in like this but I couldn’t help but listen in on your conversation. What shop did you get the sweater from? I’m scheduled to have a reunion with my high school friends tonight and I want to show up looking grown and sophisticated like my big brother here.” Ibrahim flashed his best charming smile as he surveyed the man’s physique. They had similar builds.
“Oh why sure!” The man said happily and turned to his partner. “Do I need more validation?”
The lady chuckled in response.
“Let’s go joor.” She said amidst giggles.
“C’mon young man. I’ll take you there myself.”
“Thanks!” Ibrahim responded, feigning excitement. The man pushed past him walking briskly. Ibrahim thought his head was going to burst. Serious psyching. Ibrahim thought as they walked on one of many metallic sidewalks and streets that overlaid the translucent platform that served as the “ground” of level 47. The translucent glass base served as both the “ground” of one level, and the “sky” of the next, letting light through all the way to level one, without necessarily forming clear images of the foot and motor traffic above. Level 47, much like all the other levels was a designated region that spanned about twenty mega sky scrapers much like the one they had landed on. Each had a connection to the other either through a bus system (straight tubes that conveyed passengers in rollercoaster style ferries) or the aerial system which was made up of the transporters and other aerial vehicles piloted by both civilians and authorized personnel. They turned the corner unto the street The Gentleman’s was on.
“Alright young man, here we are.” The man said, ushering in Ibrahim.
“After you.” He said, holding the door for Ibrahim. He also beckoned to his wife to follow suit, before closing the door behind himself. The Gentleman’s was fairly crowded with lots of potential customers looking through the clothing selection on display. Ibrahim heaved a sigh of relief as he navigated his way through the slew of people, towards the sweater and cardigan section. It was not long before he caught sight of the blue and black striped cardigan the man so proudly wore.
“Here it is.” Said the man excitedly. “And it is the last one.”
Ibrahim picked up the cardigan and examined it.
“Just my size.” He said, flashing a fake smile. His eyes darted to the glass doors. He knew his followers would eventually search this store, any minute.
“But just to be sure, let me try it on.”
Ibrahim made his way to the changing rooms and was in the nearest empty one just as his followers came charging through the glass doors. Ibrahim peeped at them as he quickly took off his shirt and slipped on his cardigan. He took out his new phone and expanded the disc to reveal the holographic keypad. He quickly dialed 999 – the country’s emergency response number. The feminine voice of an operator was quickly heard on the other end.
999 how may I help you!
“I’m calling from level 47. Two suspicious characters just walked into a clothing store, The Gentleman’s and I believe I saw them during the bombing of Kano Motel a few days ago.”
Sir that was not a bombing, but an accidental fire caused by a room occupant’s…
“Don’t give me that bull crap. Now I know you have been instructed to sell that fib to the general public but I am not the general public. If you don’t mobilize men here, the consequences will be yours to bear. Is this being recorded?”
The question had the intended effect and jolted the operator.
“Y… Yes sir I’m mobilizing a team right now. Can you describe the two men for me please?”
“Tall, about 6’1” each. One has a stocky build and the other is lean.” Ibrahim peaked at the men through the space between the door and the changing room wall.
“The lean one has a scar across his face. Runs from his left eye, across his nose and all the way down to his lips.”
“Thank you sir. Team ETA is in two minutes and counting.”
The operator disconnected the call. Ibrahim swiped away the holographic keypad and accessed his phone’s camera. He peered through the space once more and took a couple of pictures before tucking his phone away. Ibrahim turned his gaze towards his new friend, who appeared to be getting agitated and impatient. Such was typical of Nigerians, no matter how nice they were. Time was both an essential and wasted commodity. It was chased after so vehemently and yet so recklessly squandered. Ibrahim checked his watch. One minute and thirty seconds had passed. He heard noises coming from outside the store, followed by distant sirens. Soon, there was a frenzy as a couple of armed mobile policemen stormed inside, loaded with guns. The operator must have given very accurate descriptions, for they immediately trained their guns on the Ibrahim’s followers.
“Freeze!!” The apparent team lead yelled.
“You must be mistaken!” One of the followers yelled back.
“I said freeze! I will shoot you o!”
“Look I am going to slowly take out my ID…”
There was a loud gunshot and the tension ignited like methane gas. Crowds stampeded out of the store, breaking through the glass structure without fear of lacerations. Ibrahim burst out from the changing room and grabbed his new friend.
“We need to go!” He yelled.
“What is going on?” The man asked as he ran after Ibrahim, his wife being pulled along.
Ibrahim noticed pieces of wood falling from the ceiling where the bullet had embedded itself. The gunshot had been a warning shot. However, as a bullet whizzed by Ibrahim’s head, he quickly realized no more warning shots were being fired. There was an all-out exchange.
“Put your head down!” Ibrahim yelled as they got closer to the entrance, where the glass doors had once stood. They climbed over the pile of broken glass remnants and escaped into the crowd.
“Stop shooting at us! We think just spotted the real…”
Ibrahim was already out of earshot and could not pick up the rest of it. We think. It was good enough. Ibrahim had already detached himself from his two friends. He melted away into the panicked crowd.
The huge pyramid-like structure loomed in the distance and grew ever larger as the car drew nearer. The Innoson Bullet whizzed to a stop right outside the huge slab of steel the house utilized for a gate. Ibrahim got out of the car and paid the taxi man his fare. As the Bullet sped off, he turned around and took in the gigantic gate in front of him. It never seized to intimidate him. It never seized to annoy him either. Ibrahim’s eyebrows creased together into a frown, as he walked towards the gate and pressed his palm on the biometric reader embedded on the concrete wall the steel gate latched into. The green screen lightened up as it read his palm features before unlatching the gate.
Welcome Master Wada.
Master Wada was a phrase used to address him since he could understand what a name meant. Growing up, that phrase had given him a sense of pride and belonging. It had draped him with hope. The hope of growing up. That was years ago. Today, the phrase seemed to convey a rather sarcastic meaning. He was the less important Wada. The boy who could never grow up or out of his father’s shadow, no matter how hard he tried. Ibrahim could sense it in the voices of his university professors, his father’s peers and subordinates and even his family. Now, he feared, he sensed it in a mechanical voice too.
Has technology abandoned me too?
The gate had rolled back enough for Ibrahim to walk inside. He stepped into a pristine compound with pure white concrete walkways and perfectly trimmed lemon green grass. The grassy fields looked like miniature islands grouped together and surrounded by a sea of white rivulets. The pyramid’s exterior was covered in glass panes that reflected the sun’s rays, and emanated varying wavelengths of light in a dazzling display. It could have been a gigantic prism and in fact, Ibrahim thought of it as such.
The house that reveals true colors.
Ibrahim, walked up to the front door and knocked. He could hear the voices talking and laughing behind the door and took in a deep breath.
Let the judgment begin
The door opened and a tall man stood in the doorway. He was slightly taller than Ibrahim and his sharp gaze pierced at him. Ibrahim swallowed and spoke.
“Ina kwana mahaifinsa” He greeted his father good morning in their native tongue.
“So you finally made time to come welcome me.” His father said in a disappointed tone.
“Is that Ibrahim?” It was the voice of his step mother and his father’s second wife. His mother had died two years before he got into college and things had never been the same since.
“Ibrahim how could you not come home to welcome your father? You knew he was coming back.”
“Ina kwana uwar” Ibrahim said, almost mechanically.
Suddenly realizing they had both not let him in, they stepped back and beckoned.
“Come inside.” His father said.
Ibrahim stepped inside and turned around to close the door. He already felt like leaving. The interior was grandiose. The walls inclined at an angle and rose majestically upwards. Their convergence was cut out of sight by the concrete slab that marked the ceiling of the living room and the floor of the next level which was accessible by a pair of steps on either side of the living room. The stairs zigzagged their way up towards the second floor. The interior of the living room was a sight to behold. The walls were painted a pristine white and the windows were covered with emerald and gold curtains. The center of the marble floor was covered with a huge gold and emerald carpet with a lush and thick texture. Ibrahim walked to an empty couch and sat down. His father and step mother sat on two other couches situated opposite his.
“So, how are things going with your studies?” His father asked in the familiar distant tone.
“It’s going well. Happy to be graduating soon.”
“I hope you will not do anything that’ll postpone the graduation.” His step mother jibbed in. His father completely ignored his encouraging feedback and sipped on a glass of water placed on a small table beside him.
Ibrahim slowly clenched his fists to control his anger and flashed a smile that emanated from his skin and no deeper.
“I’m sure I’ll graduate in time.” He finally said.
Because a straight A student is bound to flop after three and a half years of excellence
“Anyway” His father said as he rose to his feet. “Are you hungry? And how are you financially? I’m sure that’s part of the reason you came.”
Ibrahim smiled again and shook his head. His father could barely hide his resentment for him. It had all begun when Ibrahim first showed what was considered his ‘stupid worldly view’. It was a phrase coined by his father to describe his curiosity and tolerance for elements of the ‘western way of life’, including occasionally dating outside of his religion and tribe. His approach to his faith and his essentially open-minded disposition had made him the black sheep of the family. Try as he had, he could never make a positive impression on his father. He had chased after him, presented himself to be judged on more occasions than he could remember and each time, he had fallen short of the acknowledgement he yearned for. Ibrahim took a deep breath.
“Father I’d like to speak with you.”
“Go ahead. What do you want to say?”
“Alone father. Please, it’s very important and private. For your ears only.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” His step mother bellowed. “If you have something to say…”
“Then you would kindly excuse us.” Ibrahim said suddenly turning cold.
His step mother’s mouth opened but no words came out.
“Ibrahim have you gone mad!” His father roared as he stormed back into living room.
Ibrahim shot out of his seat and whirled around to face his father.
“Father you need to hear me ou…” A slap raced across Ibrahim’s face cutting off the rest of the words.
“You must be an idiot.” His father scolded.
A small period of silence followed the thundering sound of the slap which had jerked Ibrahim’s face completely away from his father.
“Y…yes. I’m sorry. You are right. I must be.” Ibrahim looked up at his father. “I hope you do not regret not hearing me out… Even now. Then again… who knows, you might not care either way.”
Ibrahim glared at his step mother who was still looking on in shock.
“My mom was more of a woman than you will ever be.”
And with that, he stormed back out of the house, running towards the gate. He had his biometrics read once more and the gate began to open.
“Ibrahim come back here!” His step mother yelled. “Ibra…”
“Let him go.” His father cautioned. “When he calms down, he will come back and we will handle this thoroughly.”
Goodbye Master Wada.
“Shut up!” Ibrahim yelled.
He slipped by the moment the opening was big enough for him to do so. As he walked away, he felt a cold metallic object gently tap his cheek. He quickly remembered the audio chip Artemis had given him before they split up.
“Nonso, now you understand why I should have never come here. I’m a dead man, and I have nobody.”
Ibrahim took off the audio chip and threw it on the ground. He stepped over it and pressed his weight down, crushing it as he walked off.