A story written by INEGBENOISE OSEODION OSAGIE. (07068221839, 08093828575, [email protected])
The Thursday rains landed on the ground with same thuds of snows hails hitting the Canadian roads. The Toyota’s wipers swept the waters off the windscreen but didn’t sweep off the penetrating cold, which rested on her skin and breached into its once tiny pores.
The downpour waned into droplets and gradually diminished, leaving its haze on the windscreen. Jide wiped the haze from his side with a rag. He threw the rag on the dashboard and returned his hands to the steering wheel. Lauren picked up the rag and wiped the haze off her front. The wipers swished at the dots of water clung to the screen.
A police officer tapped the bonnet and directed Jide to the road’s shoulder. Lauren wondered why the officer did that. Nothing in the car was wrong. If he was checking for papers, he had stopped the wrong man. Jide never drove without the necessary papers.
Jide whined with a puckered face and steered to the shoulder. He parked and rolled his window down.
The officer stalked to his side and pointed his nightstick to her. “She’s on no seatbelt.” His English had a hint of Yoruba, like English hiding under a blanket of Yoruba.
She glanced at her middle. The officer was right. She was not belted. Anything but that would have been better. She fixed her seatbelt and prayed it made the officer walk away.
The officer gawped at the wallet on the dashboard and fined. He didn’t state an amount, but told Jide to drop something reasonable so that they would not waste time talking too much. Lauren wanted to ask the man what amount was reasonable and what amount wasn’t and who called the standards for the reasonability. She did not ask because of the manner the officer spoke, his Yoruba-accented English. He did not speak the careful English every Nigerian tried to speak when around her, and this said something of him, that he could pounce on her if she dared question him, and would not take her foreignness for an excuse like the ideal Nigerian would.
She broke the rules. He ought to be at her window and not Jide’s. And she could afford to give him something reasonable.
Jide picked the wallet and brought out three thousand notes. He gave it to the officer and fixed his hands on the steering wheel. The officer looked at the money, almost sneering at it, as though it was too unreasonable to come from a rich man like Jide who had a white girl in his car, because in Nigeria, a poor man couldn’t know a white, and anyone who knew a white ought to be able to pay a fine above three thousand naira. The officer attempted to say something, but before his words could come out, Jide rolled up his window and steered back onto the road.
A scowl had its place on his face. What introduced that, the officer or her?
“They always find ways to extort,” he said. “I pray I find myself in a position to deal with them.”
He looked at her and she blinked away. She was not supposed to blink. She was supposed to look straight to his eyes and listen to what he had to say.
She transferred her eyes back to him but had already lost his gaze. The windscreen stole all of it. “I normally wear the belts. I just forgot today.”
“They ought not to fine. The worst should be to give you a ticket, if they are organized enough. The officer was hungry.”
“Are we close to the station?” She tried a new topic.
“We should be there in the next five minutes.”
The signboard pointed to a green and yellow array of bungalows. Jide drove there and parked at the parking lot, or something resembling a parking lot.
Half of the eyes inside the building aimed at her, and the exceptions were closed. She had never been to a police station, Canada or Nigeria, but she never thought it could be as empty as this. A uniformed officer wearing a dark eyeshade lay on a bench. His eyes couldn’t be open, not with the way he lay like a lifeless man, and a part of Lauren wished he could actually be lifeless, so that tomorrow he would not be alive to stop a good man driving on the street and ask for something reasonable.
She sat on a pew and watched Jide have a long chat with the police officer on the counter, who had thick, black horizontal tribal marks, carved three times on both of his cheeks. Words like oyinbo escaped from their discussion, same word people in school said around her, same uncouth word. Their chat ended and the man made a call. Jide signalled her to walk with him.
“You two debated on if I should be granted access?” she asked.
“He was simply catering for his pocket, and relented when he saw I wasn’t going to succumb.” His lips barely moved, and those words certainly did not come from the good side. Whatever happened with the officer angered his bones and deprived her of the little cheer that used to be on his face—the little she had hoped to be brighter on the sight of Richard.
An officer led them into a room with nothing but two windows, a fan hung on the broken ceilings, and four white chairs that were scattered about the room’s edges. She put three chairs in place, and they sat and waited for Richard. She peered through a window for a glimpse of the cells, praying they should be nothing like the ones in the internet. At least, Richard’s shouldn’t. Richard walked along with an officer. His hands weren’t cuffed and he wasn’t wearing a jumpsuit.
He stepped into the room in black trousers and a shirt with the D&G label written bold on its front. A friend once told her anyone who had spent two weeks in the Nigerian cells must have a swell on his head. There was none on his, but something was different about the head.
He sat on the bench and gave her a half smile, something she never believed would squeeze out, and then, he stretched hand for a shake. His palm reminded her of his story of serving in the armed forces.
His handshake with Jide ended with Jide shaking his head. “You are not looking good, Rick, you’re not,” Jide said, and added some Yoruba words that were impossible to decipher.
“What did you expect? No one is supposed to look good after spending a month in jail.”
“I thought you paid for a better treatment.”
“That’s what they call it, but it’s nothing near good. I share the bed with mosquitoes and all nameless insects. I’m locked with them the whole day. I find it difficult to sleep. I’m in a jail, and that thought alone doesn’t let me sleep. I’m tired, Jide. I’m tired of this place, and I want to get out.”
Innocence bared on every hair that protruded from his skin, enough for the police to see, for the judge to see.
He pointed his eyes to her and left them there. The words of innocence etched on the small black circle of his eyes shown like the leaf on the Canada flag. He was not guilty.
“I didn’t do it, Lauren. All you must have read in the newspaper is untrue. I didn’t do any of those things.”
If the judge were here, if she heard those words, there would be no need for another court session.
“I know you’re innocent. Jide explained all of it to me and I believe him.”
He nodded, nodded as though her belief would change a thing. She wished her belief could change a thing.
“How’s Erneto?” he asked Jide.
Jide lowered his head. Richard’s head followed. Their gazes pointed to the desk.
“Erneto’s not good.” Jide touched his nose end. “The donations to the children hospitals have been suspended.”
Richard’s eyes remained on the desk. Nothing small as a blink found its way through. He fingered his upper lip and raised his head to Jide. “Since when did the suspension happen?”
“Some weeks after you found yourself here.” Jide returned gaze to the desk. “Last week we had a massive drop. I had to suspend the donations to the hospitals. It was the only way we could save.”
“Continue with the donations. Continue with them. If it means a decline in salaries then let that happen. If the workers complain, lay them off. Anything you do, make sure the donations to the hospitals continue.”
Jide pressed his forehead with a palm that covered half of his eyes and his nose top. “What you are saying could have a bad end.”
The tips of Richard’s skull bones fought for a way out. Lauren wished the whole business talk would halt. It didn’t look Richard needed it.
“Is there anything that isn’t bad in all that’s going on?” he said. “Whether the donations are stopped or not, Erneto would be having a loss.”
“You will get out of here, Rick, and when you do, everyone will know what transpired, and things will go back to being good. But for now, let us do what we can.”
The voices of the officers outside the window stressed Lauren’s ears. Richard directed his eyes to her. She couldn’t remove her gaze, not with the way he penetrated her.
“You are a Christian, Lauren.”
She didn’t know if that was a question or a statement. But yes, she was a Christian, the daughter of a knight, but that wouldn’t get him out of jail.
“I’m a Christian,” she said, and ended her reply there.
“You remember your words of balancing both worlds?”
Those weren’t her words, but her father’s. She couldn’t remember saying them to Richard or to anyone, but disputing would do no favour. “I remember,” she said, and awaited his next words.
“Maybe this is my pay for doing that.”
It was not. God didn’t put people in jail. She searched for a word that could stop whatever he was thinking. None. Only her dad could find such words. Only he could find words that would convince Richard that this might not be God’s punishment, but some unforeseen, encountered ordeal.
Richard looked to Jide. “Don’t stop the donations.” He pressed his hands against the table and rose. “Send my greetings to your dad, Lauren.”
Painful thing her dad did not believe in his innocence.
He patted Jide’s shoulder and sauntered out of the room. Jide didn’t look away from him until he faded.
An officer approached, tapping his nightstick, and staring at her. He led them out of the room.
They exited through a door opposite to that which they entered. The exit gave her a fair view of the cells. It had most of the inmates clung to the rusted railings, probably due to the overcrowding. She tried believing those in remand might have better cells, but it wasn’t true, they shared same hole with the sentenced. She imagined the better prison Richard had bargained for. How much could it be better? Looking at the cells, she wished her mother were here, because she would be the only one to find the perfect words to describe how inhumane the inmates were being treated.
They headed to the Toyota and Jide controlled the steering. They drove out of the police premises.
The splash of brown waters against the car sides helped in curbing the prevailing silence. It splashed on both sides of the car, on the two worlds of the car.
“What about two worlds?” Jide spoke with a cracked voice, or cracked words.
She twirled to him. “Sorry?”
“You just muttered those. Two worlds. What about it?”
The space between her lips had never been too wide to let words escape. She prayed no other words should have ever found its way out. The words her thoughts formed could be so delicate, and most should not be heard by him. “It’s my father’s phrase.”
“I first heard them from you. Some time ago, you were telling Rick something about balancing both worlds in a conversation that involved three of us.”
“And what did we talk about?”
“I can’t remember. What does the statement mean?”
“It’s what my dad always says. You cannot balance the world and Christianity. They are immiscible, unbalanceable.”
He twirled hands round the steering with a demeanour that clearly said her words were old news. It was old news. Everyone knew it. The splash of muddy waters against the Toyota’s sides overtook the conversation.
“Why would Rick think his situation might be a punishment for balancing both worlds?” she asked. Jide’s lips remained glued to themselves.
His lips moved. His words came out at its pace. “Sometimes situations change thinking.”
Yes, situations changed thinking. Maybe it was a little different for those bounded within the black walls of a prison. Or not so different.
They entered a road edged with drainages, a road with no splashes, no noises. They got to her house in same atmosphere and he parked in front of her gate.
“Thank you,” she muttered and wondered if the right thing to do was to open the door, or anything but that. Sometimes the wrong things had to be done. She opened the door.
“Have this.” His voice came from behind.
She turned to him. He held a wrapped package. His eyes locked with hers until she lowered hers to the package.
“It’s a birthday present,” he said.
“A—” There was no need saying a word. She received the package. “Thank you.”
He returned to the steering wheel.
The Toyota zoomed off, its muddy covering peeling off its white skin.
She unwrapped the package and a novel showed itself, one with a plane front, bearing only its title, “Tick, Tick,” written in bold indigo. She opened the first page. Her name was carved on it as though she was its author.
Her birthday present for the year was a “Tick, Tick.” From a black man. Not a bad present.
To Be Continued….