“They will not kill my child!” she shouted.
Hot blood wrestled in the hands of Ebele as she drove the wheels beyond speed limits. The call from Ajoke had jolted her from the office. Last week, when Ajoke told her about the video CDs circulating town, she had branded the stuff as “dirty African politics”. In the video, a woman who claimed to be a defecting member of the governor’s fraternity had warned residents of the state to be wary of a plan by His Excellency to use two hundred children for election rituals. Now, it seemed that Ajoke was right after all. Three pupils had died in the morning not long after the governor launched a statewide school breakfast programme. So said a colleague in Ebele’s office who rushed instantly to beat the arrival of the food distributors at his children’s school. Ajoke’s call some minutes later confirmed it. There were no felicitations.
“Have you heard what is happening?” she shot as Ebele picked the call.
“I heard some rumours in the office.”
“Rumour ke! Ebele you say rumour,” Ajoke’s voice rose.
“Ebele, shine your eyes! You are no longer in London O!”
“These people can kill Tobi O! Ebele wake up!”
Tobi. Her lovely Tobi. Tobi who had begun to read newspapers and who the night before, had asked his mother why he didn’t have a daddy like his classmates at school. Ebele thought of the six year old as she waited in the convoy length. The breadth was also tight. Radio waves wafted from the window next to hers and the lady on the passenger’s seat muttered something about how desperate politicians were. Ebele tuned to the airing station. It competed for attention with the endless bouts of blaring horns. Once in a while, a driver tired of the way others swerved ahead into his lane, would pop out of his window and shout “Idiot!” to the latest intruder. Ebele looked at her watch. Her heartbeat slowed down with the radio announcement. Ajoke’s call came again. She picked with her left hand, her right holding onto the steering.
“Have you reached? Ebele, have you reached?”
“No, but there is no need to worry. Haven’t you heard the announcement on FM?”
“The commissioner of education is going round the schools. Nobody has died. It’s the
handwork of political opponents.”
“Ebele, don’t listen to them. They are one.”
“But the police have even arrested the paid mongers. They confessed.”
“Ebele, this is Nigeria. Don’t listen to government.”
“Ebele, don’t joke with your only child!”
The call cut. Ajoke’s last words rang deep into Ebele’s thoughts. The cliché scenes in local home videos of children turning into tortoises or even adults disappearing into thin air after a handshake with a stranger played again and again in her head. She brought out the words she had gathered in the church services she attended since relocating to Nigeria.
“Tobi, I cover you with the blood of Jesus.”
“I decree that the arrows that fly by day shall not harm you.”
The road leading to Classic Kiddies primary school was without life. A gateman was on hand to explain.
“Everybody don carry im pikin,” he told Ebele.
“That can’t be true. Where is my child?”
She stretched her neck to peer through the upper rails of the gate. Her heartbeat pounded.
“Where is the principal? Where are the teachers?”
“Madam, I say everybody don go. Na so parents full for here today. Some of dem wan break my gate. One Madam wey wear blue jeans even say she go kill principal if principal no release her pikin. Na so dem com release everybody pikin.”
Ebele was confused. She ran to her car, opened the door and closed it. Inside, her eyes began to well up. The gateman followed her. He knocked on her window.
“No fear, Madam” he said.
“ E good as everybody comot. I hear say governor dey dash amala wey dey kill children.”
Ebele’s phone rang again. Ajoke’s voice at the other end was calm.
“We are at home,” she told Ebele.
Ebele felt like a stone had been lifted off her neck. Later, as they laughed over the day, with Tobi singing a class poem; Ajoke recanted to Ebele how trousers were bringing out her “true shape”. It was then that Ebele realized that the jean on Ajoke was deep blue.