Once Upon a Blue Moon

It was the end of the work week and his shoes were killing him. He had worn the dark blue and white all stars that always gave him a footache at the end of the day but T.G.I.F had called for it and he’d had no choice but to obey.
The sky was a wide expanse of dark velvet littered with large clusters of stars winking in and out of focus and a few errant ones standing alone, unperturbed. Their leader, a pale full moon(the third this season), hung nearly 400km overhead, lording over the horde in its luminescence and proximity.
Yet despite the picturesque arrangement of the firmaments, his mind was riddled by other thoughts, ones brought on by things down below the glittering heavens, for those living underneath its celestial boundaries.
His fees for the house would be due next month(an amount he’d had saved, up until last week when he’d had to take out a part of it to settle unexpectedly school bills)and his Landlord Baba Alimi Omo-Oseni a.k.a I better pass my neighbours, wasn’t known for his patience, especially in things money wise. It was the other reason he’d wanted to wear the small by half an inch shoes. They had cost him more than a healthy slice of his salary and would be a waste for him to just chuck them out because of a little discomfort.
Maybe that was what had him secretly chanting Nigeria’s most frequently used prayer point or perhaps it was the way the open sky made him feel he had more access to God but they words were already playing on a loop in his subscious long before he uttered the statement the first time: O Lord, please let me just find a bag of money on the floor.
As he traversed the long street leading to his house, his left foot, the one with the ache, connected with a rectangular object laying idly on the floor. Wincing and swearing against the pain, he sidestepped box and slowed to a halt. The instrument of his pain, a wooden box or maybe it was a old carton of a used good stood on one of its shorter sides, the hard ground sprinkled with the hated dry sand that always insulted his polished shoe by turning it brink red before he got to work, spread around it.
He bent to get closer look just out of curiousity and saw the image of Nigeria’s second most friendly face chilling in the print of a stack of bills of others like it.
Dr. Nnamdi Azikwe.
Suddenly loosing the lethargy brought on by the drive home and the long walk, his eyes opened wider and he suddenly went Jack Bauer on the situation, assessing the area for threats and potential traps.
The road was nearly completely empty by now save for a few people walking several metres away and the receding illumination from a distant vehicle’s rearlight. The few stalls that existed were long closed and the ones that remained were too far away to be a concern. It took him a while, checking and double-checking before he moved to pick up the stack and slide it into his bag as normally as possible just in case he was been watched.
He had knocked being pranked out of the potential option of what this could be. No Nigerian was that stupid.
Yet as he stood up, he saw another stack just like the one in his bag a few metres east of where he stood. It sat at the top of a pothole filled to the brim with everyday detritus; gala wraps, empty sachet water, drunk and crunched cans of coke or other beverages nettled together till they looked like just one mess.
A black overused, patched up suitcase lay at the end of the trail, hanging loosely on a slender branch of weed which had set up residence where the road met uncleared grasslands.
Now double time piqued and equally cautious, he walked towards the bag and picked it up absent extra thought or hesitation and continued his walk home. The bag lay quiescent against his side, a welcome burden for him to bear. The other stacks expertly fed to their mother along the way.
The journey to his house took twice as long as it usually did or maybe that was just what it felt like. He could have sworn someone was watching him and the floor, though always uneven, was intent on tripping him.
Their problem. This babies were gonna be adopted to his account by fire by force.
When he was finally behind the safe confines of his room, he was happy for the first time that he lived alone. Imagine trying to partake in small talk with a briefcase full of cash on you.
He skipped dinner and by the time he was done counting, it was almost a few minutes to midnight. Six hundred and twelve thousand five hundred and twenty five naira exactly. Three consecutive counts testified to that.
Naturally, when he went to bed, he couldn’t sleep and when sleep did come. He slept poorly. He dreamt of being attacked, beaten and robbed. Of being arrested at work come morning. Of turning to stone paralysed inside his body when dawn crept over the hill of darkness (yes, his idiot brain still remembers Alfa Sule). And of being rich, paying his fees, eating properly and taking care of his Mom. Though not quite in that order.
When morning broke, he spent the bulk of it contemplating whether taking the money with him to work or leaving it at home was a wiser choice, as he bathed and dressed.
He settled on leaving it, locked up and left for the bus/stop. Deliberately attempting to walk normally(however that was supposed to be done), he found the main road that led to the close he lived in littered with people; law enforcement, nosy neighbours and early morning stragglers.
And he knew they had heard about the money. He thought about turning back to properly hide the money but he still had a job to get to so he cautiously sidestepped the gossips, half dressed busybodies and those on their way to work who had stopped to stare.
They didn’t know about him. They didn’t know about the money, all was good. Just walk and act casual.
Whenever he thought back to that day, he wasn’t sure what it was that had made him turn. Perhaps it was the image of the small, greying man lying on the grass with blood oozing from a head wound that registered in his peripheral vision or the heart-rending way he kept repeating ‘mary’. Inconsolably vulnerable.
And then the old man looked at him, not a glance or an errant visual wandering but a calculated zeroing of eyeballs.
The man’s eyes screamed guilt and pain and rage yet he uttered nothing. He just sat there staring for as long as he was able to before been taken away. And then it dawned on him that the old man had seen him last night.
But he couldn’t have, no one was there. No one saw. The money was just lying there alone, unclaimed. Yet as he tried to convince himself otherwise, he knew he was wrong. Deep down, he knew money didn’t grow on trees. It always had a source, a custodian, an owner.
He should have known. He should have checked but he didn’t want that truth just the mirage of a blessing.
A week past before the full story spread wide enough for him to hear it. A sick hospitalized daughter. A peculiar list of drugs. A stipulated amount. A rush. An accident. A ghastly impact. A panicked rider. A death.
The last, a thing he could have prevented if he’d been better. He kept going to work(it was strangely the only peaceful time he had now), each day sometimes easier than the last had been.
He had a heavy heart.
A good soul that cried for self forgiveness though it knew that that was an easy way out of his guilt.
And a bag full of money that he only remembered on a blue moon.



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