Inspired by an urban myth in Opobo, Rivers state.
The natural police doesn’t wear black uniform or hold old carbine rifles with cellotaped magazines. It doesn’t collect bribe. It doesn’t wear bullet proof vest on top a native dress. It doesn’t pursue you when you offend, instead, you go and meet it, and its punishment is a merciless one.
The thing, fifty-five feet long, glided through the dark waters of Imo River with its ten tentacles like a submerged submarine. Its arm differentiates it from an octopus, which has only eight tentacles. The whites like to call ‘the thing’ a giant squid, but we prefer to call it a devilfish because it is a vicegerent of the devil.
The devilfish could see the utility boat, which was about 500m ahead of it. A target in which the spirit that leadeth it told it to catch was inside it- a target that it must not miss.
The boy seated at the middle of the utility boat was troubled and it was apparent on his face. He knew it was in his best interest if he kept it to himself, at least for now until he reached Port-Harcourt where his buyer awaited. The darkness of the night did well to hide the grass-green khaki long sleeve T-shirt and trouser he wore. The orange life jacket he wore on top his clothing too wasn’t visible. His grip on the merchandise, that had become his own just that evening, was tight in his hands like the way our politicians hold briefcases of money at Abuja.
The boat driver, one swarthy, stout man that looked to be in his mid-twenties stood at the back of the boat, near the rudder engine, like a gondolier.
Their utility boat was a sixteen seater whose hull was made of wood coated with plastic. The rudder engine, at the back, was making the chief sound in the silence of the night. There was an improvised headlight, a led lamp, attached to the stern of the boat, which shone the paths ahead on the water like a lighthouse. And as fast as the boat could go, it coasted towards Kono.
Earlier in the evening, the journey had seemed like it would not take place. The sun had already entered its chamber when a visibly panicking boy approached the boat driver, who was closing for the day. He told him that he needed to get to Kono. The boat driver had vehemently refused, but when the boy offered him N15, 000, which was almost double the fare for all the passengers the boat would contain, he changed his mind within a millisecond and lied that he was bending his stance not because of the money, but for the fact that the boy was a youth corper.
The journey from Opobo to Kono is a mere thirty minutes boat ride, but it had been fifty-five minutes since they left Opobo. The boy was at the submit of fright. He had been feeling something strange. As if, something was pursuing him. He turned backwards hoping he would see something- something not right, but his expectation fell flat- everything was fine.
“Oga corper, hope say everything dey okay?”
“How can I be okay? We have been on the water for the past one hour and we are still yet to get to Kono. Hope say you neva miss road?”
“Corper no vex. Na the engine no run well well. I go service am tomorrow.”
“I don’t care if you don’t ever service it. Just get me to Kono.”
“We don almost reach.” The boat driver assured. As soon as he finished talking, the lamp at the stern of the boat flickered and died.
“Now the lamp is due for service too?” The boy was at the pinnacle of unrest.
The boat driver killed the engine and he moved seat to seat to the lamp. He hit the lamp with his palm, and it flickered again before it switched on steadily again.
The boy hissed. “Just start the engine and let us get outa here.”
The boat driver was fast to return to the engine. He started it. It showed some sign of life, and then it died. The second and further attempts proved futile. The engine was unresponsive as if it had spoilt for a long time.
“Your engine no work,” the boy slapped his palms against each other. “Now we are struck.”
“No worry, I get paddle. Now now, we go reach Kono.” He drew out the paddle that had been tucked underneath the seats and he started to paddle the boat forward.
The boy felt it again. This time, it was as if whatever was pursuing him had entered the boat and it was coming to torment him. He felt his heart rip open and his heart beating without a flesh covering.
Then suddenly he heard a sound… incoming, like water gushing from a burst dam. To the boy, he thought it was a sudden rain that was about to fall because wind began to blow fiercely. Everything was happening like magic. Before he could place his thoughts together to conjure what was happening, he was up in the air carried by a wave onto its crest, moments later; he was plummeted to the trough of the waves. He was afloat. He was clueless. He tried to say a prayer, but before he could start, the waves carried him up again, this time several feet further than the previous ascend. By now, his mind was blank, his eyes were turning in spirals and fear unconsciously enveloped him. He plunged down again, this time fell deep inside the Imo River, but soon, he was floating up real fast- thanks to his life jacket.
And just the way it came, suddenly, it went. The abnormal waves seemed to have receded and calmness returned to the River.
Minutes passed. His vision began to balance. He began to shiver as cold attacked his body, and he felt as if all his energy had been drained from his body like a dried fish. He couldn’t see the boat or the boat driver and that compounded his troubles. Then he saw it, a flicker of light- the lamp. He felt strength returned to his arms- a surge of it, and he began to swim towards the light.
He felt something pulling his legs, like seaweed, but this was softer and thicker, like a flesh… a mollusk… an octopus… no this was bigger… a squid maybe… a devil—f-is—h. As it began to pull him, the boy was sure it was straight to hell.
The dawn breaks early at Opobo. As early as 6am, the day would have conquered the darkness of the night. I had woken up, done my daily regimens and I was getting set to have my bath when a police officer walked into the corpers lodge.
“Salachi corper,” he greeted. I could sense urgency in his voice, the need to deliver a piece of information quickly.
“Morning sir,” I replied before I readjusted my towel.
“Please where are the rest?”
“They are still sleeping. You want to tell us something?” I pressed, hoping he would divulge the pregnant information I was sure he was carrying.
“Yes… and it is urgent.”
“Let me call the CLO. He is the representative of all the corpers.”
The CLO almost cursed me when I pounded my palms on his door. His eyelids were battling to open and he must have felt foggy when he opened the door.
“Why you dey bang my door like that?” he barked.
I told him a police officer wanted to see us and it was urgent. I didn’t wait to answer the irrelevant question which in was sure he would ask. I went to the other rooms to knock at their door and wake them up from their temporary deaths. Soon many of them with somnolence in their eyes gathered at the epicenter of the lodge.
“Good morning my fellow corpers.” The CLO greeted. He waited to hear mumbled chorus replies before he proceeded. “We have a police officer here that wants to pass important information. I will like you all to listen attentively. Maybe after he is through, we can tell him about the thief that broke into the lodge yesterday.”
“Salachi .” The police officer greeted once more.
“Salawa.” We replied.
“I’m sorry to disturb you at this time of the day, but I couldn’t help it. A rather unfortunate incident happened yesterday night, the like which we haven’t seen or heard about in Opobo for a very long time.” He paused, exhaled before he continued.
“There was an unusual tide and waves in Imo River yesterday night, and it was so unfortunate that it drowned one of you.”
His message sank in fast like water being absorbed into a foam. We began to look at ourselves with confused looks and murmurs that sounded like bees at work. I could see the CLO counting all of us present.
“It is just remaining two for us to be complete. Where is Femi and Uche?” the CLO asked after he had finished counting.
“They are still sleeping,” I answered. The scene of how I had knocked at their door and they refused to wake up was still fresh in my mind.
“I’m here o,” Femi’s voice rang from his window, which was near where we were gathered.
“What of Uche?”
“He is not around o. He has gone to Nkoro for the INEC PVC distribution.”
The police officer looked unfazed by that information. “A body is at the waterfront. He is dressed in your Khaki. Let’s go there for identification.”
Everyone of us trooped back to our various rooms to change from our make-shift pajamas to a cloth we could wear to the waterfront. It was no surprise when many came out cladding varying mufti cloths, but with a NYSC crested cap. With that in place, we began to promenade towards the waterfront.
We walked through the tiny, concreted roads of Opobo. The roads in Opobo were concreted not asphalted. Vehicles had no business with Opobo because it is a riverine area. The roads are not even wide enough to accommodate two vehicles side by side.
Most of the indigenes had not woken up, and Opobo at that hour looked like a ghost town whose precious metals had been mined and deserted for good.
The walk to the waterfront is a mere twenty minutes from the corpers lodge, and in a matter of twenty two minutes we had reached the waterfront to meet a crowd of enthusiastic indigenes whose talks and murmurs at that time drowned the sound of the boats that sped past River Imo.
The Indigenes had always been nice to us. But it seems the time of been nice was over because yesterday, someone broke the unspoken rule – he stole from us.
We had gone for INEC PVC distribution only for us to return in the evening to meet some of our doors force-kicked and padlock picked. Most of us lost our freshly collected first month allowance to the theft. In addition to that, three phones and one new engaged lady’s engagement ring was stolen too. It was a mystery because the like had never happened before.
The Police helped make way in the crowd and we moved unhindered to the embankment by the waterfront.
The corpse was cladded in full NYSC regalia. Only the crested cap was missing. It was swollen like this balloon little children play with. Rigors mortis had set in and its rigid structure looked like the statue of king Jaja of Opobo whom we had passed earlier. The face was eclipsed by pseudo-darkness. I could tell from the arms and feet, which I could see, were fair in complexion.
Who is he? Maybe a corper from Queens, Kalibiama, Nkoro or Minima, but the face doesn’t look familiar.
Femi was the one who noticed the gold wristwatch.
“It is Uche o…” he announced, his mouth wide open at his discovery.
I glanced at the wristwatch. It was truly Uche’s. He had boasted that it was an 18-carat gold watch and I observed it the day he boasted about it when were talking about carats a fortnight ago.
“Look at it,” he screamed again.
My PPA mate, Yetunde, opened the spillway of her eyes and tears started flowing from it. “Uche oooo.” she wailed.
Another lady too joined her, crashing herself on the ground. The guys showed their masculinity by holding onto their tears, but their eyes were red and faces were gloomy as the, hard to take, discovery sank in.
My brain was active with myriad of complex thoughts. I glance at the corpse face again. Something wasn’t right. I could feel it. The face didn’t look like Uche’s? Yes it is almost the same round shape, but his face features sizes were not the same with Uche’s. The ‘John Doe’ had a big and flat nose like mine, not the small ample size Uche had. But come to think of it, can’t someone else wear Uche’s watch? But the watch is exclusively Uche’s, unless it was stolen…
My phone rang. It was an unnamed number calling. I picked it.
“Kay what’s happening. Nobody is picking my calls. I’ve called Femi and the CLO and…”
“Who is this?” I screamed, waiting to ascertain my guess.
“Ode, it is Uche now.” I didn’t know when my phone dropped from my hand. “Uche is not dead ooo. He just called me now.” I screamed.
My message hit the corpers that instance like the sharpnels from a dirty bomb and they all trooped around me to confirm it. “He just called me now.” I screamed again.
The gloomy faces turned to ecstatic ones that instance. Everyone brought out his or her phone to call him. Someone got through and he put it in loudspeaker. Happiness became the uncontested lord of moods.
Though I was happy, there was still a corpse, a ‘John Doe’- a mystery . He was putting on a NYSC regalia, who is he?
The CLO called the CLO of other neighbouring riverine communities, and they all claimed all the corpers under their watch were all accounted for. The mystery remained, floating in my mind like a kite.
The boat ambulance came, and we all stepped back as the morticians carried the corpse into the boat. As the boat started and began to move, I heard someone mutter at my back, “No one attempts to cross River Imo with a stolen property and becomes successful.”
In a flash, I glanced back. I saw a senibo, a titled old man, cladded in the native Jaja and Judge attire, walking with the aid of a walking-stick as he left the crowd.
The whole jigsaw fitted in my mind. I seems I’m going to like this place. We have natural police– A water police.
PS : In reality, no one died.
Kay Greins™… 2015©