The clock on the wall chimed softly at 1pm. Ochuko was standing by the glass window that took the entire length of one side of his square office, overlooking the parking lot below and allowing a view of G.R.A that stretched over less taller but elegant buildings uniformly arraigned in the estate. The sun hadn’t appeared the entire day, Ochuko noticed. It was abnormal. More so that he had only just taken note; many hours after leaving his Rumuibekwe Estate home. Perhaps it was due to the fact that he arose very early in the morning long before Jite had woken up from wherever she passed the night to prepare Ona and Zino for school. He woke anticipating a troubling day and had had no intention of setting eyes on his wife before it all begun.
For the umpteenth time in the last three hours spent standing by the window, Ochuko inhaled deeply and braced himself for the moment the police would arrive his home to “invite” him to their station for questioning. On getting there, he was sure, it would become a game of throwing vile accusations at him and him trying desperately to fend them off.
“Over what? I see Chief Timi’s hand in this more and more. I turn down his bribe and an offer to launder money for him through my company and soon after he leaks to the media that DAPPA SECURITIES Co. and some other Indian companies are laundering money for politicians ahead of the coming elections. He’s definitely involved in this.”
The fabricated, calamitous news first broke out in his stupid Weekly Herald newspaper. The outcry it caused in Rivers State was deafening and prompted the callous investigations. Well, they will accomplish nothing. That I must make sure of-” he kept muttering to himself.
The large mahogany doors behind him swung open and clicked shut. He turned his head. It was his P.A., Helen. Tall, brown and dressed in a pink blouse and a tight, black skirt, her slender frame swayed sideways as she quickly covered the distance between the door and where her boss stood.
“O.C. how are you?..” her lips parted in a thin smile. Ochuko moved slightly away from the window.
“I’m fine, my dear,” his voice sounded tired but Helen was already beginning her report.
“that Damini individual..”
“does he know I’m here?”
“no, he doesn’t..”
“what about him then?”
“He called about 20 minutes ago and said I should inform you that they were leaving the police station, on their way to the house,”
“and why are you just telling me? Twenty minutes ago.. So were you preparing food for them to eat?”
“no O.C. I just thought you needed a little more time alone…”
“a little more time alone!” He snapped. After rounding the desk, he slumped into his chair and sighed. A brief, quiet moment passed before he sat up, shuffled some papers away and folded his hands on the cleared space in front of him.
“sorry I snapped at you Helen.” He said in a mild tone, then rose to his feet. “I need to leave for the house now. Please go into your office and put Barrister Tito on the line. I must speak with him at once.”
“I’ll do so,” Helen replied, but she rounded the desk and planted herself in front of him. “but, I’m worried about you. O.C. I want you to remain calm and relaxed. You have me. I’ll keep things in order here, don’t worry.” Her long fingers closed around his head and pulled him in for a hug.
“I told you before, I’m fine.” he mumbled, freeing himself from her embrace. “Baby, I’m fine. Now go and call my lawyer for me.”
She persisted. Her full lips located his mouth.
“look at your tie,” she murmured, and her hands took hold of the knotted, blue tie that had gone askance. Ochuko stopped her firmly.
“Helen just go and do what I asked you to do. I’ll adjust it myself. Go. Go.” She pressed another firm kiss to his lips before sweeping out of the office. His eyes followed the swinging hips until the door closed shut.
‘She’s the one who needs to be cool. Did she forget she left the door unlocked?’
His hands reached for the tie on his neck and he winced immediately.
‘Damn!’Darting into the bathroom, he ran cold water in a bowl and dipped peeled knuckles into it.
The policemen arrived DAPPA SECURITIES Co. premises at about forty-five minutes past lunchtime. Ochuko was just on the ground floor about to hop into a silver, G-wagon when two men of slim build and dressed in muftis alighted from an unmarked, battered Hilux vehicle and accosted him.
“good aftnun sir,” the first man announced, flipping open an ID. Card “I’m Sergeant Okafor, and this is Sergeant Okoro.” Sergeant Okoro, bald, with a wide face flashed a NPF badge. “We’re here to take you for questioning at the station on orders of the DPO.”
“where is Detective Damini? I understood he would be here in person.”
“Sir, whether Detective Damini is here or not, you must come with us to the station” the sergeant fixed hard eyes on Ochuko who in turn shot daggers at the man with his eyes.
“Look here,” Ochuko began but Sergeant Okoro stepped in.
“sir, lets not create a scene here. In a few hours you should be free to return. Let us go please.” He gestured for Ochuko to lead the way.
Jite was trying hard not to panic as the network provider spoke into her ears for a hundredth time that her husband’s work line was “unreachable”. She ran her fingers over the ring on her left hand multiple times in anxiety. Something was not right. First, she had known about the questioning today only from the news on Channels TV, as Ochuko rarely spoke to her these days. Then, the strange looking man from the market who had brought alive her worst fears. As she went through Elele market in the morning after dropping the kids, the aches all over her body made her feel overwhelming nausea and she had crawled to a stop within an empty market-shed to wipe her eyes and compose herself. No sooner had she done that than a man in a shabby suit appeared beside her, seemingly from nowhere.
“here, madam. Please, wipe your face with this,” the man offered a clean, white hanky and wore a wan smile on his narrow, pale face. A face dotted all over with dark, brownish spots.
“thank you sir, but I’m fine.” she’d replied, sniffing. The man’s smile widened.
“do they hurt?” He asked. Jite turned her head to face him. “what?”
“the swellings on your cheek. And that one below your left eye. Let me rush through the market and get you some ointment,”
“no, no, please don’t worry yourself, sir. I’m okay. I’m fine. Thank you.” The man said nothing, but continued to stand below the raised pavement that was littered with dirt and crushed vegetables. She tried to dismiss him politely.
“did you come to purchase items from the market, sir? Don’t let me keep you any longer. I was just on my way out.” then she made to get up from the wobbly bench but the effort caused her to wince painfully. With great agility the man leapt over the platform and gave her support, causing her more indignation.
“who did this? Your husband?” He rasped in barely suppressed anger. Jite observed the man closely for the first time. Distracted, she managed a weak nod.
“what an animal.” The man declared. Then he turned to look at her, “don’t worry yourself anymore. Your husband will not lift his fingers on you again.. He’ll be taken care of.” the wan smile returned to the man’s face, giving it a sinister appearance. Jite stiffened. What on earth was this stranger talking about? Suddenly, the man looked out of place. He seemed too formally dressed to be in the market. His suit bore signs of rumple but his tie was immaculately knotted and his shoes gleamed, even in the gloomy weather. She removed herself from the man’s grasp and hurried away. Who was he? Who had sent him? One of Ochuko’s enemies from his cult days back in the University? She shivered and her fingers located the ring again.
Then came the squad of policemen who had parked outside the gate barely ten minutes after she’d returned from the market at exactly 1:30pm. They had come for Ochuko. But he was not home. When Musa opened the gate only the Detective, Damini, entered the compound. He insisted Ochuko agreed he would be at home to follow them to the station and his eyes darted around the wide compound as though he thought her husband could have been hiding among the low palms.
“so madam, where do you think he will be at this time? Since you say he left this house very early without telling you where he was going.”
“Officer,” a sigh. “like i said, I was asleep when he left the house this morning. It must have been around 5am. And my husband doesn’t leave home that early on his workdays. Except he is travelling. If not sir, I would have advised you checked the office.” The Detective looked confused and surprised and his eyes stopped their roving. Then he gathered himself and flashed a smile, showing perfect white teeth set against dark, facial features.
“its alright madam. We shall go to the office but please let me know if he returns here while we are away.” He had given her a dark, blue NPF card and then left in a convoy of three white, Hilux vehicles marked with the Rivers State High Command insignia. God, what was happening?.
She slumped onto a stool by the kitchen table, fetched inside her bag for her iPhone and stared at the screen for long minutes. Finally, she resolved to call her husband’s P.A. Its an emergency. She consoled herself.
“hello? Helen? Is my husband in the office?” A brief pause.
“madam.. no he’s not in. He has just left with the police.”
“the police? Oh.. Okay. Okay,”
“ma, is there anything-” Jite ended the call. Her fears had been allayed somewhat. The police had gotten to his office quicker than she expected but it meant he would return sooner. She slid off the stool and began to mechanically cut vegetables in the sink. Ochuko would return and eat his favourite dish which she was about to prepare and then she would beg his forgiveness for causing him to lift his fingers on her and promise to be a better wife. Things would return to normal.
Thirty minutes later when Detective Damini returned to the estate home, without Ochuko and a look of dismay on his face, all facade of normalcy that Jite fronted shattered; and together with the blender hanging loosely from her wet hands, she crashed to the ground.
Meanwhile somewhere in the northeast in an undisclosed location,the entertainment has begun.
The steel cage seemed to release something feral within him. Within them all. His opponent was no longer just a stranger. He was an obstacle to his freedom. He was going to fight even if he didn’t know how. He lunged at the bigger man hoping the element of surprise would work in his favour but it seemed that whatever beast had woken up in him, also found its way into his opponent too as the man easily sidestepped the mad grab and smashed his forearm into his own exposed neck. It didn’t end there. Before he could gather his wits and stop the spinning of his head, the bigger man had grabbed him by his already bruised neck and waist, flinging him into the cold, hard embrace of the steel cage.
Stay down.That was what common sense told him to do.His body was broken but he just couldn’t give up,he had to make it out of here alive.
The bigger man walked around the ring eliciting chants of praise from the audience before walking back to deliver the final and fatal blow.
Get up. Get up. The smaller man tried to will some strength into his broken bones for some last attempt at self defense.
‘I can’t die in some forgotten cage in God knows where”
he spat through bloodied lips and mustered the last bit of energy he had to stay alive.
Timing was everything now. He waited for the big man to get close before furiously latching onto one leg and biting down hard. Screaming and yelling as the man tried to shake him off with kicks and painful yells of his own but he never let go. He held on to that bit of flesh with all he had and pulled, coming out with a mouthful of flesh and leaving his opponent spurting blood over the ring floor.
He kicked at the leg he just ruined in his bid to scramble away from the man and left the big man toppled over and yelling in pure agony. He crawled away as far as possible,retching and spitting out the human flesh in his mouth, appalled and disgusted by the horror he had inflicted as he watched the big man scream out and tear a strip of cloth from his shirt. The man bound the leg and made an attempt to get up, falling back to the floor with the effort.
“Gentlemen, it seems you have decided to bore the audience so one of you will have a chance to end it quickly”
a smooth female voice said over a reverberating megaphone.
A blunt steel pipe was tossed into the ring by one of the female referees,
“last man standing gets to go home, make it quick.”
The smaller man scrambled towards the pipe without hesitation and hefted it, the steel felt cool in his palms and gave him a sense of control again. He walked towards the bigger man whose cries had reduced to quiet grunts and sobs as he gripped the leg with the open wound.
The smaller man lifted the steel and brought it down with all his strength on the bigger man’s bald skull.
‘It’s either you or me and it can not be me, I have a family.’
The sound of bone audibly snapping was all that filled the arena, followed by hoots of applause. The bigger man had blocked the blow with his forearm and held on to the pipe,in that same swift motion, he used his good leg to sweep the smaller man down to the floor and brought the pipe down on his throat. The smaller man stirred no more from there.
“I have a family too”
“release me,” he yelled “he’s down! Release me!”
By Tony and Temisan