Most people considered Monday the first day of the week. It was an early Monday morning; and as usual, people were moving up and down the streets of Lagos to their different offices and workshops. The shops were beginning to open; beggars were already sitting by the roadsides with their bowls, set for the day’s job of begging. Even chickens were going for their morning constitutional walks in search of edible pebbles and the early worms.
The weather was bright, and the soothing morning sun was out giving a beautiful yellow ray to the world, far above was a faint distant insect drone of an aircraft engine beyond the towering cumulus clouds.
Out of the massive population of the inhabitants of Lagos were a vast number of people who had no job to do. It had been reported that some of the world’s greatest con-men originated from here––one of Africa’s most famous cities, they stripped a certain South Asian country of several hundreds of millions of dollars just by convincing her government with a false image of the Central Bank of Nigeria. The act shook the economy of that country, nobody really knew how true the news was. The pecuniary crimes in the state had caused an opprobrious sobriquet of scorn by some other countries. An idle brain they say.
Richard stayed at home; he had refused to go out again in search of job. The best his credentials could do for him was to adorn his dusty little reading table. Fate had not been fair with him; fate had unfortunately merged him with the vast army of the unemployed.
“What are you going to do now?” Mrs. Rosemary Philip, Richard’s mother, asked.
“I don’t know, mother. I really don’t know.”
“But sitting at home doing nothing is not the best, is it?”
“I have nowhere else to go, I’ve trekked almost all the streets of this state in vain.”
“You have to continue trying; God will surely answer you one of these days.”
Richard chuckled in annoyance, “Where was your God when I was out there under the rain and sun in search of job?” he shook his head, “I doubt if God really exist.”
“Richard!” Richard had been born and raised a Catholic, although he had long since ceased attending church his mother had never expected any blasphemous word to emerge from her son’s mouth.
“You heard me right, mama.”
“The wrath of God is the last thing for which you will ever wish. Be careful of what you say about your creator, Richard.”
“Am I not already seeing his wrath?”
“A little patience is all you need.”
“I’m sorry, mama. I don’t think your son can wait any longer.” He paused, “I get increasingly desperate every morning I find myself an unemployed. I can’t continue like this anymore. We’re even finding it hard to pay for the rent. I must do something.”
His mother was about to argue with him when she caught herself, she immediately read meaning to what her son had said and she cast suspicious eyes on him; she took a moment before asking, “Something like what, Richard?”
Richard shrugged his shoulders, “Anything. Maybe a tiny bit of crime will do.”
“My God! You will never be a criminal, you’re not a criminal, and never will you be.”
Says the woman who doesn’t know what I did to survive in the university.
Richard shook his head, “You can’t stop me, mama. Don’t even try to––my mind has been made.”
Richard’s mother could not believe her ears––her only child was turning to crime! “Please Richard, I’m begging you––don’t try it. You don’t want to put yourself in trouble, do you? You might get yourself killed.”
Richard smiled, “No, I won’t, mama. I’ll take every necessary precaution.”
Two salty tears cascaded down Mrs. Philip’s cheeks as she studied her son. The determination she saw in his eyes scared her. “Why don’t you have a little patience and see what fate has to offer you? Do you want to spend the rest of your life looking over your shoulders?”
He did not reply.
She looked at her son and shook her head in sadness, “You give me no choice but to tell you what I’ve been determined not to let you know.”
Richard turned to look at his mother’s face, “What are you talking about, mama?”
“Heredity has been too strong on you, Richard. You need to hear what I have to tell you today, maybe this will change your mind. You’re already twenty-seven years old and you’re old enough to make your own decisions.”
“I’m doing this for us, mama. I know what you went through before you could send me to school after father died. I should pay back for that suffering.”
“That is really why I want to tell you this story. It’s mostly about your father.”
“What is it with my father?”
Another rivulet of tears came down her cheeks and met at the chin, forming bigger drops of liquid.
“He’s your step-father.”
For a moment, the sentence did not mean anything to Richard. Then it dawned on him––the man he had grown to know as his own father was not.
“What!” he screamed.
“Yes, Raymond Philip was not your biological father. I married him when you were three.”
He looked in his mother’s eyes to find any trace of humour on it, that slight smirk in the corner of her eyes to reveal the joke. But her eyes were wet, serious and sad, “This can’t be true,” he said, “I don’t believe you.”
“It’s the truth.” She replied solemnly.
He stood up abruptly, sweat glistening his forehead, he shook his head so vigorously that it was quite painful to watch. “No, this can’t be possible.”
This is just a bad dream, I’ll wake up soon and this madness will be over.
“Sit down, Richard.”
He sat down slowly, “Who’s my father?” he demanded.
His mother looked at him for half a minute before replying, “I don’t know.”
“Oh God!” he sighed. It’s starting to sound true. I’m an illegitimate child. “Oh my God! I was adopted.”
“No, you’re not. I’m your mother, I gave birth to you.”
Richard looked at his mother as if she had just grown horns on her head.
“Did you just hear yourself, mother?”
His mother ignored his comment and continued, “As I told you, I married Raymond Philip when you were a child of about three years but I could not bear him any child. I don’t know why, we visited many medical centres but all the doctors told us we were medically okay. It was a pity. He could not leave me because of the strong love he had for me and you. I even encouraged him to marry another wife but he blatantly refused, he said the only family he ever needed were both of us. He was an extraordinary kind of human being, he continued being optimistic about the child-bearing issue until he died of a mysterious cause. I woke up that morning and found him dead stiff beside me. The doctor said his heart stopped beating…the rarest of all causes. How can one’s heart just decide not to beat anymore?
“The story I’m about to tell you may seem impossible to believe but it’s the truth.” She stood up from the chair she sat in, walked around the room slowly and stood by the window with her back turned to her son.
It was in 1981 when it happened. I was eighteen years old at the time and I was still living with my parents. I was their only surviving child; I had two siblings, an elder sister and a younger brother but I saw it with my own eyes when the canoe they were rowing capsized, I could not even save them. On the morning of May Seventeen, we were attacked by robbers. My parents and I were living in a house with only three rooms; a sitting room and two bedrooms, one of which was mine and the other, my parents’. We were asleep when a loud bang on our door interrupted our slumber. I was instantly awake and afraid in my room, I put on my night gown and went into the sitting room, my parents came out of their bedroom too; they were also looking very scared. I didn’t need to be told to know that we were about welcoming bandits in our home. The door was banged violently again and one of the men ordered us to open the door or they would break it down and kill us. The door was kicked loudly many times, the door was not a strong one; it was the kind of door primarily meant to keep children and uninvited house guests out of the house. It was useless against intruders like these robbers. We all knew that if we didn’t open the door they would break it down in no time.
My father summed up the little courage left in him and went to open the door; he was struck with the handle of a pistol by one of the men immediately the door was opened. My father collapse immediately, the hit from the gun almost cracked his skull. Five masked men came into our sitting room; the only visible parts of their faces were eyes and mouths. They were real armed robbers dressed to kill. Four of the men were wearing army green trousers and black tight long-sleeved shirts which gummed to their bodies like skins. The fifth man, who was apparently their leader, wore a pair of black trousers and a black armless shirt. On his left arm, just below the shoulder, was the tattoo of a cross. Two men were holding a pistol each and the other two were wielding bigger guns. Their leader was holding no weapon; he was even harshly scolding the man who rendered my father unconscious.
“Good morning to you.” He greeted us politely. “Sorry to wake you up so erly, I’ll quick so that you may return to your sleep, I’m only here for that money.”
“W-What m-money, sir?” my mother asked in a shaky voice. She was shivering violently like an epileptic patient.
“The money that sleeping man brought home yesterday from the bank.” He pointed to my unconscious father. He was so polite that I almost found it hard to believe that he was there to do us harm. “I’m so sorry one of my men gave him a little nap.”
“He didn’t collect any money from the bank, he only––”
One of the men cocked his pistol and pressed the muzzled on my mother’s temple. “We’re not here to make jokes, woman.” his voice sounded like something you could scour rusty iron on.
My mother’s fear intensifed.
The leader of the gang smiled warmly at my mother and asked solemnly, “Where is the money?”
“It’s in-in the c-ceiling.”
“Which part of the ceiling?” he did not even look up to confirm that we really had a ceiling.
My mother pointed to a piece of small square asbestos at the corner of the sitting room. One of the men took a stool and stood on it. He drew the asbestos aside and dipped his hand in the dark roof beyond, bringing out a black polythene bag. He jumped down from the stool and flourished new notes of Nigerian currencies, which filled the bag to the brim. Even in the midst of our attack, I wondered how my parents were in possession of such a huge sum of money. The man with the tattoo grabbed a pistol from one of his men and aimed it at me.
“What are you doing?” asked my mother fearfully, “you have t-the money, why don’t you j-just leave us––”
“Shut up, woman or I’ll be forced to splatter your brain all over the floor.” The man pointing the gun over her head admonished, his voice rougher.
The man with the tattoo ordered me to go into my bedroom by jerking the pistol in his hand in the direction of my room. I quickly did as he said. Then he followed me. He was still pointing the gun at me when he followed me inside my room, then he commanded me to UnCloth myself. I was shocked and afraid as the realization of what he wanted to do occur to me, I stood there shaking. He repeated what he told me in a louder voice, I was afraid he would shoot me for disobeying him, so I undressed right in front of him. I felt shame course through the whole of my body as I stood Unclad in front of him.
He stood in front of me looking at my body. His hand holding the gun, I noticed, was shaking so violently that I thought the gun would fall off him.
He kept the gun behind him between his belts, closed the door and turned the key before he removed his mask. Knowing that he was about To Molest me, I studied his face carefully–he was a very good-looking man of about twenty-four I guess. He knew I was staring at him carefully, trying to sink his image in my mind, but I think he cared less. The robber came straight at me and started kissing me passionately. I didn’t know what real kissing meant until that moment, I felt something very strange happen to my metabolism. I did not even know that I had started kissing him back, and when I did know, it was too late for me to stop myself. I felt like I was in the Garden of Eden where nothing mattered, I didn’t know a soul doomed to rot in hell could pivot the emotional system of an innocent girl to the pinnacle of her S#xual potential. The robber gently lifted me off my feet, put me on my bed and made love to me. When he finished, he stood up sweating and looked in my eyes.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” he asked.
I could not answer him. I could not even look in his face. I only kept crying like a baby. He came back to me on the bed and put his hand on my shoulder; I shook his hand off me and came away from him like avoiding the plagues of Egypt.
“Answer my question. Why did you not tell me?” he demanded angrily, “Why did you not tell me that you’re a virgin.” This time, he roared in anger. But surprisingly, I was not afraid of him any longer. In fact, I was annoyed at him. I got closer to him on the bed and slapped him until my hand ached. He did not make any attempt to stop me. I stopped myself when I found tears coming down his eyes. I was shocked; I could not believe that the leader of a gang of armed robbers would cry because an eighteen-year-old girl had slapped him.
“You should have told me–– you should.” Tears continued flowing down his eyes. I was speechless because I was realizing that behind this criminal mastermind was a soft-minded man. “I’m sorry, please forgive me.”
I was confused. What has really happened? Why did he apologize? Was it really because he raped a virgin? Was he feeling remorseful for what he had done? Or was he not, maybe he did that so that I would feel sorry for him and not tell the police what had happened––because I had seen his face? I did not know what to believe any longer. I was crying, he was weeping and begging me to forgive him. When he saw that I would not say a word to him, he got on his feet, put on his mask and went to the door. Before opening it he turned back to look at me and said in a very solemn voice, “I love you”. It was so solemn that I thought for a moment that I had only imagined him say those words. Then he walked out of my room.
I rose up from my bed to meet him, to hold him, to tell him how I also felt about him––but it was too late, they had already left. The truth is, I fell in love with him too. I know you’ll be surprised that I fell in love with the monster that came to do us harm. That is love, which is crazy and wicked. Love doesn’t know what’s wrong; neither does it know the right thing. Love sometimes brings sorrow. I truly fell in love with him, it’s what you call love at first sight these days which was very potent in those days. I sat in my room thinking about him. He was really a gentle guy, not a psychopath as most people would view him. My mother came in and found me sitting on the bed with tears on my face; she didn’t need to be told what had happened. She joined me in crying, and we leaned on each other’s shoulder; one trying to comfort the other not to cry. Then we suddenly heard a fusillade of gunshots outside; the screams of agony were even more deafening than the gunshot sounds. We ran into the sitting room. My father was still lying unconscious. Fear gripped our hearts. What is happening? I thought. The robbers had surely turned against one another because of the loot. Maybe they are just shooting the night-watch men on the street. I was afraid the former would be the problem. I was not ready to lose the person I love––even if he was a criminal. Then the gunshots ceased suddenly. My mother and I rushed out to see what had happened––
Mrs. Philip paused, she appeared tired of speaking. And Richard was finding everything difficult to believe. She kept such a huge secret for twenty-seven years? My God!
“When you went out that night to see what had happened,” said Richard, picking his words carefully, “What did you see?”
“Dead people, what do you expect? We saw policemen dumping the dead bodies of the robbers in their vehicle. How the police came around baffled me, they might have been passing by and told that there was a robbery going on. Two of the policemen were killed but all the robbers kissed the dust. You see, robbers have always been the kind of species lacking in sense and rational decisions. They always seem to be driven by some aching greed that would make them feed until they burst, like ticks. I have never heard of one who had ceased his evil job because he had decided he had enough money. They just get voracious until they die in some violent reward of their silly overconfidence.
“After the bodies have been dumped in the vehicle, the policemen drove away. That was their end––they were probably given mass burial or cremated to have a taste of what they would have to endure in hell. I don’t even know the name of the tattooed one; I don’t have a picture of him––only in my mind. It was after a month and a half that I realized I was pregnant. I felt like dying when the doctor really confirmed it was true. Imagine the shame I went through. I wanted to get rid of the pregnancy but my parents advised me against it––they were afraid I would lose my life or my womb would be damaged. I was their only child and they didn’t want anything bad to befall me. That pregnancy I was forced to keep was you.”
The last sentence felt like a stab to Richard, he stood up abruptly and his body began trembling, sweats secreting from the skin of his forehead. He felt as if he was in a nightmare.
“You mean––you mean my father is––” he could not complete the sentence.
“Yes, your father was an armed robber and he died a criminal’s death. He was killed like––”
“Oh, please stop!” Richard interrupted sharply, “Just stop, this can never be true.”
“I know you’ll find it hard to believe but it’s the truth, I have no cause to lie to you or make you sad. But I just have to let you know the truth about your father before you become like him. I realized it was your father back again when you told me you’ll become a criminal. Your father robbed to make money until he was brutally killed in an avalanche of gunshots. How I wish the police had allowed me see his corpse for the last time.”
“I’ve heard enough of this.” He stood up, walked out of the room and banged the door behind him. He walked far away from the house because he needed time to let the revelation he had just got to sink in. Contrary to his reluctance to believe the story were some nagging issues that suddenly became glaring. It did not help situation; it only made it worse for him. Some of what his mother had told him about his dead father’s personalities corroborated with his. He was also a soft-minded man himself, and he knew he also had the gift of getting away with crimes. He stopped walking suddenly and returned to the house, his mind had been made up––Something must be done about his wretchedness, and he knew what to do about it. No matter what anybody may say, his mind was made up.
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