Richard Philip was angry––angry with life, angry with self, angry with everything and everyone. He was a graduate without a job. He could not imagine himself lacking in job having graduated from the higher institution about a year ago. The ink was barely dry on the certificates of some people when they had started working. Even those with the worst qualifications and grades could be seen knotting ties around their necks and heading for offices.
Although Richard was not the very studious type in school, he still managed to end up with a good result because he had a higher intelligence quotient and assimilation gift than many of his classmates. He had personally seen university life as a four-year vacation from the realities of life. His judgement on the discouraging value of higher education reflected this belief. He had also seen it as a long part of some other people’s life which was studded with parties, dates, escapades, affairs, unexplained absences, threats of expulsion, and an endless parade of yearning for the opposite sex that seemed to be the order of the days. He was generous in addition; he loaned out his lecture notes to truant classmates, coached some of them on the courses they’d missed, covered up the absence of many of his roommates, until he finally got through these four years to acquire a Bachelor’s degree. He didn’t show up for graduation, he had taken off to look for jobs even before finishing school. But his certificate was mailed to him.
He was a twenty-seven year old man of average height with close-cropped black hair, dressed in a blue and white striped long-sleeved shirt, a pair of black trousers and shoes. He was quite beautifully structured, and he possessed the appearance of a man most ladies would fantasize about. As a baby Richard had been so pretty that people thought he was a girl. He had no friend or relative except his mother who was the only woman he had grown to love and respect. When he was in his first year in the University of Nigeria, he had been sexually abused by a gang of girls. It wasn’t in the least a satisfying romantic image; five ladies had taken turns on him as they rode him aggressively, and when they were done he had splattered on the hard floor as if he had been hurled in front of a locomotive in motion. He had always wanted to keep himself till that honeymoon night, but he unfortunately lost that pride to a cluster of university hookers. He had narrowly escaped being infected with HIV; it was that moment when the last lady was about to climb over him that someone had flashed his torch from far off. The ladies had scrambled off laughing to themselves, and mocking that sixth lady who had not been successful with her attempt to do the hot guy. That last lady had just gotten infected with the human immunodeficiency virus two days previously. Since that moment Richard had always been afraid of being alone in the midst of ladies, he didn’t know how lucky he was beforehand. Many seemed to show much interest in him, but he had refused to allow the handshake reached anywhere close to the elbow. Now, what he was really interested in was to get himself a good job, which he never got.
Noise was everywhere, and Richard hated noise. The decibel rate of that room was enough to make a corpse complain. The Cyber–Café was full of people seriously engaged in internet scams. Richard was there particularly to check any available job on the internet––he’d gone to almost all imaginable companies in the city of Lagos but he always ended up empty handed and frustrated.
Sitting next to him in the sordid cyber-café with a computer was a gum-chewing boy of about fifteen years old who was not interested in anything being displayed on the monitor screen but pornography.
On another computer at his other side was a big, maybe six feet three or four giant with long curly hair and a beard. He wore a bandana around his big head. And a gold earring was hanging on his left ear-lobe. He looked like a pirate. A gold chain around his neck so thick you could look up a bicycle with it. Richard wasn’t exactly a small man but sitting next to this large thug made him feel like a midget. Another man farther beside that Great Wall of China beside him was a short dark young man with tinted white hair which was frizzled out from his head and formed a halo over him, as if he had just stuck a finger in an electric socket, he was looking much like a cartoon character than a human being. He needed a shave, and some little trim of his grotesque goatee. His clothes were rumpled and wrinkled; they hung loose on him like shapeless rags. It was the man’s goatee that annoyed Richard most about him. He believed men should either be clean shaven; like himself, moustached or wear full beards. Another noisy group of five men were standing at one corner, debating loudly on professional football matches.
One boy jumped up suddenly and bellowed at the top of his voice, his raucous laughter catching the attention of everybody around, “Maga don pay!” He began dancing like someone who had just received Chloroquine injections in both his bottom cheeks.
I better get out of this sanitarium before I become insane myself, Richard decided. He logged off the system and got out of the café just when the boy’s fellow scammers were congratulating him on his luck.
The streets of Lagos had changed for the better with the help of the God-sent Governor, Baba Fash. The roads had been re-paved and circular holes had been cut out of the sidewalks to allow the planting of young flowering trees. Old and condemned buildings had been demolished and new ones built. Traffic congestions were controlled, there was no one-way driving, no illegal parking of motor vehicles, and reckless drivers had been committed to hospital psychiatric wards to get their brains observed. Dress like a hooligan and find yourself behind bars. The concrete pole which had fallen across the busy road a week before had been re-erected; the broken concrete had caused a fatal accident on the motorway, claiming the lives of five travellers and making movement of vehicles a complete standstill that fateful afternoon.
There was even more noise outside. In front of a shop was a crazy Nigerian Hip-Hop music thundering from two speakers as large as coffins. Men and women were bargaining, buying, selling, arguing, laughing, praising, criticizing, conferring––over goods like eggs, chickens, roosters, soaps, fish, peppers, butters and cassava flours. Yet, some market women were ceaselessly calling on passers-by to buy goods in which nobody was interested; one sweating woman clutched a screaming infant, she tried to soothe the baby by putting her Bosom to its mouth, but the baby itself appeared tired of salty mammary gland, it turned its face away from its mother’s bosom and continued shrieking. The nursing mother in question ignored the crier and continued to unravel with another woman beside her the puzzle surrounding how today’s tomatoes had lost their tomatoey tastes. After walking a few kilometres out of Market Lane into the Chevron Roundabout, Richard took the second exit into Nollywood Road; there were many vacant shops with ‘For Rent’ signs on their walls and dusty windows. People walked up and down the busy streets like ants through sugar. Just at the intersection of the Marvel Supermarket was a purse lying on the ground. Richard stopped when he saw it, the purse was looking fat––nobody would deny that it contained something valuable. Without thinking twice, Richard quickly picked up the purse and continued walking as if nothing had happened. He walked for a couple of minutes before he stopped to search its content. The purse contained a mobile phone, many rolls of money and different cosmetics ranging from a simple nail file to a compact plate of mascara. The amount of money in the purse, Richard found out after counting, was quite tempting. He returned everything into the purse as he had found it; he knew the owner of the phone would call. He had already walked a few kilometers from where he found the purse when the phone rang. He brought it out and pressed the green button.
“Hello?” he said.
“Oh, Thanks be to God.”
It was a cool, gentle, mellifluous feminine voice.
“Who is this?”
“It’s the owner of the phone that you are illegally in possession of.”
Richard was shocked, “I’m not illegally possessing anything, I found it on my path.”
“I don’t care how you got it, okay? I just want it back. I searched inside my bag just now and couldn’t find it, you don’t know how devastated I have been. So, can I just have it back?”
Richard refused to be easily convinced, “How do I know you are really the owner?”
“See, Mr. whatever…it’s not the phone that I need, it’s the SIM card inside. I just need it back, okay? You can keep the phone to yourself, I don’t care.”
The woman had already decided that he was a thief; she didn’t even know him yet. He was in an annoying mood today, but this strange woman had cut him in the raw.
“Anyway, come to The Delicacies restaurant along Queen Aminat way. You’ll find a deserted shed opposite the restaurant, go to the shed and pick up your SIM card.” He terminated the call.
“Hello, hello––” she checked the phone and realized that the man she had called had terminated the connection. She was grateful. At least, the man was kind enough to tell her where to pick her mobile card. She could not imagine how she was going to feel if she lost that SIM card. You rarely lose your phone or money in Lagos and get it back. There was a time, maybe prior to the year the country gained her independence, when they said you could leave your belongings almost anywhere and find them untouched when you returned. These days, even the clocks in churches are being purloined. She paid for the call she had made at a local call centre and jumped into her car; she switched on the ignition and drove to the described location.
Richard stood sentinel at the front of The Delicacies restaurant, keeping a careful watch over the purse he had dropped on a table standing in front of the shed, making sure that no wrong hand got hold of it. Over two decades earlier, the piece of land occupied by the restaurant was formerly holding a large private hospital, and beside the shed opposite was an old bank building which had been neglected. Its strong room was now being used in the nights by weed smokers and sellers. He had decided, after his annoyance had ceased, not to take anything from the purse. He kept everything in the purse as he had found. Richard was no saint, if he had wanted to take somebody else’s property, it wouldn’t have been this way, it was too easy, too clean; there was no likely danger in it. And to Richard, the danger in a crime was what made the crime interesting. When Richard was in the university and in need of some money for handouts, he’d stolen the Professor’s Nokia phone and he had indirectly sold it back to him in another casing and colour. He had once tried smoking cigarettes and Indian hemp just to know how they tasted. He had gambled and conned just to feel what gamblers and con-artists felt. He had even successfully picked the pockets of a pickpocket at the bus-stop.
He leaned against a tree and put his hands in his pocket to await the arrogant woman.
Then just down the road was a glistening black jeep approaching.
She stepped on the brake of her vehicle when she saw the sign board of the restaurant; she switched off the ignition and got out of the car. She was about to cross the road to the other side when she noticed a young man with a hard face staring at her suspiciously. She ignored him and crossed the road. To her utter astonishment, she saw her purse as she got there, and all her things were intact, not even a kobo was taken out of the money. The lady joyfully made her way back to her car and as she was about to climb into the vehicle, the young man presently staring at her came towards her.
“Is that purse you’re clutching your property?” asked Richard.
“Yes, I came here to retrieve it.”
The voice is unmistakable. It’s that same gentle voice, the voice was very soft and sonorous, it might have been a little girl’s voice but not quite.
“Then you’re the arrogant woman who spoke with me on the phone.”
“Are you the man who found it?”
He felt he should feed her a piece of his mind, “Who are you to speak to me in such a manner? You think I give a rooster waste about your things?” his voice was cool but it carried a tone of irritation.
The lady looked at him. The man is angry, really pissed off.
“I’m sorry. Please forgive me.” she said solemnly.
Richard studied her, she was a beautiful woman in any setting; tall and slim with fine bones which defined a regal face that matched her bearing, and her face was soft and unlined. Her nose, ears and mouth had been created with a stunning sense of proportion. She had high-set breasts and very beautiful supple legs; he had seen her movement when she crossed the road, an unsteady grace in every step, an unconscious and sinuous rolling of the hips that could take many men’s breath away, she had carried herself with a confidence found only in women well able to defend themselves. And she was dressed in a small collarless shirt and a black skirt which outlined the s*xy** shapes of her lower body. This skirt was worn just above the knees in a season when most of the girls wore them just below the edges of their panties. A gold chain with teardrop pendant laid smugly in her cleavage and her dangling earrings were a primitive creation of stones and beads.
“Apology accepted, but always devote more care to your things; you may not be so lucky next time.” Richard said, after getting his eyes off her lithe body.
“Handsome and kind young men like you are as rare as hens’ teeth these days.”
Richard was not amused. “Thank you for the compliment. I have to be going now.” He turned to go.
Richard stopped and turned. “Can I help you?” he asked
“You look so mean. Don’t you smile?”
“Let me risk repeating myself––Can I help you?”
“Um–actually, my name’s Abby Martins. Can I know yours?”
Richard frowned, “Abby? What does that mean?”
She smiled, evidently at her success in confusing the stranger, “Abigail.” Her smile alone could melt the average man’s ear-wax, but Richard’s ear-wax was not melting.
“Nice meeting you, Abigail.”
“You haven’t told me your own name.”
“I am Richard Philip.”
“Richie,” she smiled, “What a rich name you’ve got.”
“Must you shorten every name you come across?”
She laughed.” You don’t mind being called Richie, do you?”
Richard shrugged, “Anyway, I should be on my way.”
“Oh–it’s been nice knowing you, handsome. See you.” she waved and mounted her iron steed––a black Lexus. Richard watched as she drove away.
He continued thinking about her as he turned to go home, there was no doubt that she was a very beautiful girl and probably a good company. She also possessed the effervescent personality of one of those ladies often seen presenting TV game shows. She might likewise be one of those spoilt rich politicians’ daughters who didn’t know what suffering really meant. Yet, Richard longed to meet the nubile young woman again. He only knew her name; he did not have her address––not even her phone number. Seeing her again was akin to one out of every fifty million chance of winning the Lagos State Lotto jackpot.
Not knowing what fate would deal him, Richard shrugged, giving up the hope of ever seeing Abigail again. What neither the two knew not was the fact that where both of them had met now, another man and a woman had met there twenty-three years earlier, and that meeting had shaped the lives of these two younger people into what they could never had imagined. It was far back in the eleventh month of 1986.
He didn’t even know his own name any longer. All he could remember was his former profession––he was a medical doctor, he therefore named himself ‘Doctor’––because he had become slightly insane after what had happened to him. He was coming home that night when he found his house on fire; everything had been burnt to almost ashes. Then he’d thereafter attempted a suicide which was unsuccessful. He had no home of his own any longer, he lived here and there, and people avoided him on the streets. Every night since 1981 when his house was destroyed by an inferno, he would go to the land his house once stood and he would cry until the energy to cry anymore would desert him. For five years the Doctor cried unashamedly everyday until tears would no longer secrete from the crevices of his eyes. He stopped going to the land when another building was erected on it and another family had occupied it. The land became another person’s because he’d sold it. He never looked as if he owned a cowry; his clothes were always stained and shabby and invariably too tight for him. His shirt was always grubby. He ate anything he saw, feeding himself on the money he had in the bank. His reasoning faculty had been disengaged from that catastrophe that befell him. What little capacity that he had left for rational thoughts had been consumed by the raging inferno of that fateful night.
He sun was shinning brightly from the horizon, but it was emitting no high temperature. It was about past four in the afternoon and the sun was already losing its intense energy and everybody was grateful for that. Every week, Doctor would go to the community bank to withdraw some money for himself anytime he’d exhausted the cash with him. He’d even been told at the bank that his name was Ebenezer, but he only always remembered the name for five minutes before forgetting it again.
He came out of the bank that afternoon pocketing the money he’d just withdrawn. What he was thinking about at the moment was to go to the cheapest restaurant he could find and eat something. After accomplishing that, he would then think about where he could spend the night. There were always the churches and mosques to sleep in. So, spending the night posed no real threat to him. He looked up at the other side of the road and saw the woman who changed his life. The woman was carrying a baby on her back. There was a general hospital on the other side of that road, directly facing the bank; the woman was coming out of the medical centre. He stood rooted on his spot and continued looking at the young beautiful woman. For that whole moment, his psychological systems began functioning as a normal man’s should, it seemed as if his sadness had evaporated from seeing this strange woman because, for the first time in five years, what Ebenezer forgot was not his own name but his problems. As a matter of fact, he remembered his own name. It wasn’t just her look that triggered his consciousness; there was something more about her––something he couldn’t define or understand, but he wanted to know her––he had to.
Having the feeling that there was someone staring at her, the woman looked in his direction and their eyes met. As they exchanged looks, Ebenezer knew he had not only fallen in love with her. But by the way her eyes suddenly lit up; he felt she had fallen in love with him.
On very rare occasions, when a man and a woman see each other, it happens that they immediately know that they have seen their true partners. It’s now left for one of them to make the first move, usually the man of course. This strange chemistry happened to Ebenezer and the woman. The woman was beautiful, Ebenezer noticed, but looking at her alone one would know that she had been lonely––life had not been fair to her, at least they both had something in common. The woman walked to the bus-stop. Ebenezer knew that he would lose the lady and probably never see her again if he wasted more time just staring at her. He hastily crossed the busy road, a bus nearly flattened him, but he made the crossing unscathed. It raised no hair on him, his mission was to reach the young woman, he felt as though his whole life had changed in only a few minutes. He wasn’t sure how, but he knew that this woman––this extraordinary creature––had come to his life for a reason. Ebenezer stood beside the woman for some minutes, unable to say a word.
Then he finally managed to greet:
The woman looked at him for a moment, the moment seemed like eternity to Ebenezer. Then she replied, “Hi!”
More courage on his part, “My name is Ebenezer, can I know your name?”
They got to know each other––better.
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