A battered head bent over rough hardened fingers struggling with a torn slipper showing no immediate signs of success. The sun worn head shone brightly in the days light reflecting upon all who happened to pass and causing them to quicken their pace as they left the wiry body to keep forcing a battered heel of a slipper and a repeatedly damaged slipper knob into a hole that no longer considered itself a hole, it imagined itself to be a deep valley and could not be tamed by a mere man. This mere man with his leather worn skin looked upon the disappointing slipper and sighed. It couldn’t fit into his budget to buy new rubber slippers and these current ones were laughing at him, just as he was about to trudge ahead and forgo the comfort of a safety net beneath his feet a shadow blocked the sun from his front view, towering over him and causing a brief reprise from the sun.
‘hello sir, would you like some help?’ a rough but melodic voice flowed out of the shadow as a startled carpenter looked up at the voice and saw a heavily bosomed dark skinned woman smiling back at him,
‘I said do you need some help?’ the dark skinned woman repeated with a crease of concern on her face.
‘no, thank you. I am fine my dear’ the carpenter made to get up and set his second foot on the heat baked concrete pavement. The shout that escaped his lips surprised him and amused her.
‘you sound like who needs some help, I will offer it anyways. There is a black SUV just parked a bit further down the road and if you agree to follow me, it will be worth your while, okay sir?’ her tone reassured him that there would be no harm or foul play to come his way and he followed her quietly with his sack of tools and oddities that only a carpenter could understand.
A clean cut driver came down and opened the backseat, ushering the wiry man inside the car where he was greeted by a smiling face once more. Not the pleasant type of smile, it looked forced and out of place on the face.
‘Not to waste your time, as I can see you are a busy man but would love to engage your services for a brief night of entertainment for which you will be greatly rewarded no matter the turnout’
‘what do you mean by night of entertainment?’ He replied clearly apprehensive at this offer.
‘what is your name?’
‘Tony, I will give you a lot of money if you fight for me.’
‘Fight for you?’
‘Yes, fight for me. I will give you money to fight for me, if you win the tournament, you get paid even more. Now listen before you get any more apprehensive, you look like you’ve been around the block and back in your lifetime and you have the strength to handle yourself. So take yourself out of poverty and take my offer, by the time it’s over. A torn slipper will no longer be an issue in your life.’
‘ha-ha, I see you’re considering it.’ He takes a dip into the pocket of his well starched native and brings out a bundle of 1000 Naira notes then hands it over to Tony, whose eyes bulge at the sight of so much money. A mental check already going through his head of what the money could achieve for him.
“That bastard landlord will finally leave me alone” he thought to himself’
‘This is just a sample, of what will come your way and don’t worry about how to get there. We will find you and take care of everything ourselves’
‘Thank you very much sir’
A pure smile finally appeared on his face and followed his reply
‘Don’t thank me yet, you are going to work for your money my good man. Rest well. You will need it. You can leave now.’
Tony alights from the car and the heavily bosomed woman smiles at him before walking around to the front passenger seat and shutting the door. The black SUV zooms off leaving a trail of dust and strewn gravel in its path. He looks around for his bag of tools and oddities so he can begin his arduous one footed journey home and just beside the bag is a new pair of leather palm slippers.
Dike withdrew from his balcony and entered the living room where his wife tried her best to stifle the cries of their four-month old child. A powerfully built man, Dike’s large frame filled the doorway as he looked down with disapproval at his immediate family.
“Ify, why is this boy crying like this?” he asked.
“I don’t know-o, my husband… look, he’s refusing my breasts,” More than Ify cared to admit, after a whole year of marriage her husband’s booming voice still unnerved her; especially when he was irritated.
“See,” he addressed her, “take those thick clothes off his body and put him in the room. It’s cooler there.”
Ify lifted the infant from her bouncing knee to her neck as she rose from the sofa and gestured to a table across the room where a mobile phone was singing incessantly. “D.D.” she said, “your phone has been ringing for the past ten minutes-”
“-and I couldn’t hear it because of Junior’s crying.” Dike retorted. He moved to the dining room and answered his call. On the other end he heard uncontrollable sobs.
“Janet?” Dike went silent for a minute then he let out a bark,
A minute later, his face visibly darkened, Dike slowly lowered the phone in his trembling hand.
“This bastard… this bastard.” he muttered repeatedly.
His wife stood still by the door with a suddenly quiet Junior ensconced in her arms. Mother and son bore a striking resemblance – chubby, yellow faces with penetrating eyes and curly, dark hair. The similarity ended there; for while the infant now wore an innocent but perplexed expression, his mother’s betrayed concern.
“What is it?” She inquired.
“Please take that child inside.” Dike answered. “It’s nothing.”
Ify did not move an inch.
“I said it’s nothing.” Dike almost barked. Then he calmed himself.
“Ify, I will tell you later, just do what I told you to do first.”
Before his wife reappeared from the room, Dike was in his car, on his way out of his large compound.
Reclined in the back seat of his Sequoia as his driver navigated the congested thoroughfares of Effurun town, Dike tapped the screen of his iPhone into life and dialled his brother-in-law. The man answered on the third dial.
“Hello?..” Sam’s voice was tight and wary over the line.
“Senior man,” Dike hailed. “I need to see you this evening. Come over, my brother.”
“Hope no problem?”
Dike laughed. “Which problem? It’s weekend and we’ve not had our normal drinks. So what problem? I just have something else to discuss with you this evening and it can’t wait. Tomorrow is Sunday you know, and tonight’s drinks are on me too.”
Sam gave a short, nervous laugh. “Alright, where do we meet?” he asked.
“The usual place, oshare. The usual place.”
“Give me thirty minutes.”
Dike ended the call. “Bastard.”
At the Woodrow Hotel Bar, Dike sat in a dimly lit corner, nursing a bottle of Jack Daniels. Every now and then a patron or hotel waiter, having noticed the thick-set man dressed in shorts and a stretched, blue polo, would amble over and greet him profusely. When Sam Okri entered the bar at about 7:30pm, he was ushered to the back where Dike sat. Sam was a lanky man who always dressed fastidiously. Tonight he was garbed in an immaculate white polo, smartly tailored trousers and gleaming, brown Reto Fransesco shoes. He greeted his in-law, took a seat and a drink and they began to discuss.
A couple of hours later, Dike mulled over the issue in his mind and then decided to split it open like a knife on a coconut.
“Sam,” he began, “you beat up my sister. Again.”
Sam smiled. “So it’s what you wanted to discuss with me,” he said smoothly.
Beneath their table, Dike clenched his fingers into fists to stop their trembling.
“What happened this time?” Dike asked calmly.
Sam looked exasperated. “Well, you know” he gestured with a fair, slim hand accentuating his bruised knuckles. “You know your sister, Janet. she can be very stubborn and incorrigible”
“What the fuck does that mean?” Dike said trying very hard to keep calm but wondering for how much longer.
“Look, man, Janet is my little sister. I am also senior to you by a number of years. So the least you could have done was to call me, and I would call my sister to order. Instead of having her call me on the damned phone, crying and screaming.”
Sam leaned forward in his chair.
“Sometimes, big brother, I marvel at the way you think. So I should report every affair of my household to you? When I married Janet, did I not show enough gratitude? I’m a forty-year-old man and you sit here expecting me to report MY wife to you anytime she misbehaves. Look, I have hands,”
he thrust his hands across the table, exposing the various scars and bruises on his yellow fingers
“and so anytime the woman I married misbehaves I will discipline her. That is why I’m her husband. Me. Not you.” Sam reached for the Jack Daniels bottle and emptied the last of it.
This outburst left Dike grim and silent for a long moment. Then he smiled.
“No need to be so upset, oshare,” he rose to his feet, “we’re two men just concerned about a good woman. Let me get us another drink.”
At the bar, Dike slipped a wad of naira notes to the attendant who nodded knowingly, then he made his way to the back of the hotel, got into his jeep and went home. Sam allowed ten minutes pass before he began to wonder about his in-law’s thereabouts. He left the bar and walked towards the back of the hotel where numerous vehicles were parked. As he turned around the dark corner, a couple of hefty men jumped him and wrestled him to the ground. One of them quickly clamped a woollen cloth around Sam’s nose before he could cry for help. Within seconds, he lay unconscious. The second man kicked the motionless body on the ground.
“Easy na,” the first man admonished. “Let’s get the fool out of here first.”
he rapped at the back of a black, unmarked van parked nearby and the doors were opened to reveal a dark, bare interior. A third man jumped out and all three men lifted Sam Okri and dumped him into the back of the van. A driver already seated behind the wheels reversed the vehicle and drove out into the already deserted Effurun streets.
BY Temisan and Tony