Emuesiri tiptoed towards the direction the sounds seemed to be emanating from. The voices were coming from the room he shared with his brother, he realized as he slowly approached the closed door. He recognized the unmistakable voice of his elder brother, Ovie but could not quite distinguish the voice of the other person in the room. The men conversed in low tones and their discussion was barely audible. He held his breath uneasily as he got to the door and carefully maintaining the pin drop silence around him, he peeked through the keyhole and struggled to identify the other person in the room. From his rather strained vision, he could make out a bearded man who was much taller than his brother. For a moment, he remained awed by the man’s physique. He had always believed his brother to be a very tall and well built man but here he was practically overshadowed by the other man.
Ovie had his head bowed as he leaned on the window sill in the room. It was obvious he was uncomfortable and skeptical about the subject of discussion.
“You don’t have anything to worry about, Ovie. We will have you covered,” Emuesiri heard the other man address his brother in a rather reassuring tone as he stood over him, patting him gently at the back.
“What if I get caught?” Ovie asked worriedly.
The big man sighed frustratingly. “I have told you repeatedly that you can’t be caught. We have people at the airport. They will easily sneak you through the security checks.”
“I am still scared Presido,” Ovie said weakly.
Emuesiri noted the name immediately. The giant’s name was ‘Presido’. What sort of name was that anyway? He wondered in irritation. It had to be a nickname, he decided.
“What other guarantees do you want, my friend?” Presido continued in his effort to convince Ovie. “Remember we are talking of good money here.”
Ovie sighed and walked in feeble strides across the room.
“Do I get to have the whole two million naira?” he asked.
“Every bit of it, my friend.” Presido assured him.
Emuesiri felt his head suddenly spin. What had he reassuringly just heard? Two million naira! His brother was getting two million naira. The wave of shock spreading through him caused him to lose his balance for an instant and his head hit the door with a soft thud. Realizing that he must have aroused the curiosity of the men in the room, he tiptoed hastily out of sight. He had scarcely hidden himself in the cupboard in the small kitchen nearby when he heard the door of the room open. He realized he had definitely interrupted the discussion and he immediately hated himself for it as he wished to hear the rest of the conversation.
“Emuesiri!” he heard his brother call out.
He remained silent as his heartbeat accelerated at an alarming rate. He felt sweat break out on his forehead right away and he resisted the urge to rush out of the extremely uncomfortable cupboard into the open in order to breathe freely.
“Someone was listening to us.” he heard Presido say with conviction.
“I don’t think so,” Ovie responded.
“You heard the knock on the door, didn’t you?” Presido challenged.
“I guess it would have to be my kid brother.” Emuesiri heard his brother say in a dismissive tone. He felt the sweat soaking up his shirt as he realized to his chagrin that his brother knew he had been eavesdropping. He heard Presido caution his brother on the secrecy of their plan and Ovie assured him that there was nothing to worry about as far as his kid brother was concerned. Minutes later, he heard the front door slam shut as the men left the house.
He emerged from the cupboard and removed his sweat-soaked shirt. Sitting on the kitchen floor, he pondered over all he had heard earlier. Where was his brother going to get two million naira from? The mere thought of the amount sent shivers through him. They could barely afford to feed and in fact, they were on the verge of being ejected from their one-bedroom apartment due to their inability to pay the rent and the expiration of the six month grace period the landlord had given them. They had lived in the shabby accommodation ever since they had been forced to evacuate their former residence three years before due to the gas flare caused by the operations of one of the oil companies in the state. The area had been earmarked as unsafe and as such, all residents were advised to evacuate. They had been promised compensation but were yet to get any from either the oil company or the government. Their father had died of stroke shortly after the evacuation. The stroke had been significantly influenced by the realization that he had lost his house, lands and practically all he had laboured for to the gas flare. Their mother had relocated to the village after her husband’s death and a message had come barely two weeks before that she was very ill. The brothers were yet to send anything back to the village to help improve their mother’s health; not because they did not want to but because there was nothing to send. Ovie was yet to receive his wages at the construction site where he worked as a labourer and Emuesiri had not been among the lucky few who had their contract jobs at the shopping mall renewed for the new month.
At fourteen, life did not at all look pleasant and he had often hoped things would suddenly lighten up. His nineteen year old brother, Ovie had remained his hero and source of inspiration especially after their father’s demise. He wondered what ‘Presido’ had meant when he insisted that Ovie had nothing to worry about or about having him covered. He recalled hearing the big guy also mention that there were people at the airport who would get him past the security checks. What could the plan be? Emuesiri was convinced that whatever it was that his brother was being introduced into had to be a risky venture. What sort of endeavour would suddenly bring two million naira in a flash? He made a mental note of damning the consequences and asking his brother what he was up to. Was his brother going into crime? What sort of crime could he be thinking of getting involved in? Was it armed robbery or fraud? The questions were endless. If Ovie was getting involved in something perilous, it was his duty as his brother to put him back on track. However, he was scared of what his brother’s reaction would be if he dared to raise the issue.
Ovie returned a few hours later and did not hesitate to vent his anger on his younger brother for daring to eavesdrop on his conversation.
“Where were you this evening, Emuesiri?” he asked angrily as soon as he got in.
“I was at Ejiro’s place.” Emuesiri lied, his courage suddenly failing him.
“Liar!” the older brother accused furiously. “You were eavesdropping on me, right?”
“No, I don’t know what you’re talking about,” the younger brother defended.
“Anyway, you could choose to continue in your denial for all I care,” Ovie said indifferently. “But don’t you dare mention a word of all you heard to anyone.”
“I won’t tell anyone, brother.” Emuesiri said vaguely and almost immediately realized his error.
“I thought you said you were not eavesdropping.” Ovie asked, looking at his younger brother questioningly.
Emuesiri sighed in despair. “Alright, I confess,” he said. “I came in and heard you talking with someone in the room.”
“What did you hear?” Ovie asked curiously. He wondered how much his kid brother had heard of his conversation with Presido.
“I did not hear much. I only heard you and your friend talking about being covered, security checks and that you would be getting two million naira.”
Ovie sighed and remained silent.
“What are you up to, brother?” Emuesiri asked his brother after much hesitation.
The older brother did not respond.
In his silence, Ovie wondered what he would tell his kid brother. They had both suffered a great deal most recently due to no fault of theirs. Their lives would have been free of all the pains and discomfort they now faced if only the oil companies and the government had not neglected them. There had been no significant assistance from either the local, state or federal government that had directly impacted on them, as only a handful of the people had actually gotten the needed support from the authorities. Ovie sighed as he dwelled further on their predicament. Their father had built a good house and had lands. He had been in school along with his brother and the future had looked bright but these had all been taken away in a flash and all hope of compensation had gradually dimmed after the endless and unfulfilled promises from the government and the oil companies responsible for the disappearance of their good fortunes. Ovie knew they were not alone in their plight. It was the same with many other young people and families in the Niger Delta region. It hurt him so much to realise that the bulk of the nation’s wealth came from the Niger Delta and yet the people were neglected and allowed to suffer after their lands were destroyed and rendered useless. It was little surprise that young men all over the region had become militants, engaging in acts of kidnapping and demanding huge ransoms, attacking the location of the oil companies at random and a host of atrocities. He had never given a thought to joining the militants especially because of his aversion for violence. He however refused to believe that the young men resorting to unlawful acts should be blamed. A desperate problem required a desperate remedy and these men had simply done what they had to do.
He was not surprised he now found himself in the same situation. He had been introduced to Presido a few weeks earlier by an old friend and the bulky man had immediately liked him and over the next couple of weeks intimated him on the kind of business he would be engaging in; a business that would set him up for good and forever free him from the shackles of poverty as he had been informed. The proposition was a risky one but the proceeds could be worth the risk. All he would be required to do was to ingest some amount of cocaine and deliver them to certain persons in the United States of America. Presido had further assured him that depending on the success of every trip, he would be making a greater amount on subsequent trips. Ovie relished the idea of making good money and he was particularly thrilled at the prospect of travelling around the world. He could hardly contain his shock on learning that he would be making two million naira for the first trip. That was much more money than any he had ever seen in all his life. The offer sounded pretty hard to resist. However, he wondered how he would tell his kid brother he was going into drug trafficking and how the young man would receive the news.
“Are you doing anything illegal, brother?” Emuesiri asked, interrupting his thoughts.
“It depends on how you define illegal, Emuesiri,” Ovie answered cleverly. “I wouldn’t be killing or harming anyone.”
“So what would you be doing to suddenly get two million naira?” the younger brother probed further.
Ovie shrugged and decided that perhaps it was best to let his younger brother know the true situation of things. The young man was bound to find out eventually anyway.
“I would be going on a trip to America,” he said pointedly.
Emuesiri was visibly shocked and happy at the same time. His brother was going to America and that was good news. Almost immediately, he recalled hearing about ‘security checks’ and ‘being covered’ in the conversation between his brother and Presido and it dawned on him what his brother was getting involved in.
“Brother, are you going to be involved in drug trafficking?” he asked gravely.
The older man was caught unawares by the question but recovered from his shock soon enough.
“Yes, Emuesiri” he said unenthusiastically. “It seems the only way for now.”
Emuesiri felt fear spread through him. He had suspected that was the situation but hoped his suspicions would not be proven. Alas! Reality stared him in the face.
“Brother, it is risky and wrong. You could get caught,” he said pleadingly.
Ovie sighed and put his arm around his kid brother. “I know but what can we do for now? We can barely feed and our schooling has since stopped due to lack of finances. We are going to be kicked out of this place sooner than later and our mother lies sick in the village. How long can we continue to watch in silence?”
“But drug trafficking is illegal, brother.” Emuesiri reminded.
“Who made it illegal?” Ovie challenged. “The government? The same government that has neglected us and left us to suffer and die in penury? Please, spare me.”
“We might be going through tough times now but that should not make us take laws into our hands. The tough times would surely pass,” the younger man offered.
“I don’t want to talk about this anymore, Emuesiri.” Ovie said with a tone of finality as he got up and headed for the single bed in the room which they both shared. “I am going to bed. Good night.”
As he lay on the bed, he felt deep pangs of hunger and winced. He was starving but there was nothing to eat that night. His heart went to his kid brother. He was sure the young man was hungry as well. He sighed as he closed his eyes and thought about the two million naira he would be getting soon. Minutes later, Emuesiri lay beside his brother who had fallen asleep. He watched him sleep soundly and hoped he would change his mind about his proposed line of action. He realized that Ovie was likely to change his mind only if a quick breakthrough came about or perhaps if he felt a sudden conviction not to do the wrong thing regardless of their present situation. He realized sadly that this would take a miracle. As he closed his eyes, he prayed for a miracle and once more for a final solution to the plight of his people, the Niger Delta people.