By Mark Cassidy
In his office in the Elembe Police Division compound behind the Oil Mill market on Ikwerre Road, Captain Odike sat down at his desk and stirred a handful of crumbled McVitie’s digestive biscuits into his milky tea while he opened the newspaper brought for him by his sergeant. Outside the window at his back a detail of the Captain’s men toiled in the mid-morning sunshine to flog the scantily dressed girls, a score and more, who had been herded into the yard between the barrack block and the motor pool shed from the backs of the night shift trucks before dawn. The Captain pursed his lips, blew gently across the surface of his sweetly thickened tea and then sipped and tasted. Satisfied, he set down his mug and started to read. The swish and crack of freshly stripped switches, the howls and yelps of the women, did not unduly divert his attention from the issues at hand in his city. Nor did the presence of the barefoot young girl who stood trembling before his desk in the long ragged skirt and threadbare, grimy blouse she had been wearing when rousted along with her aunt from their bed in the middle of the night. At her back the Captain’s sergeant, hands on knees, head bowed, sat on a straight-backed chair beside the door
The Captain addressed him without lifting his head.
The sergeant, sleeping soundly, did not respond.
The Captain sipped his tea while his subordinate jerked awake, blinked and rubbed his eyes at the light which had filled the room in his absence
– My friend, I beg, rouse yourself.
– Sah am fine. Am with you. Was a long night sha.
– Oga, tell me.
– Woman killed by cultists.
Sergeant Jackson yawned, rubbed all round his bald head with the palms of his hands, fingers splayed wide, and then stamped his shiny black boots on the cement floor to chase away the cramp in his legs.
– Imagine. In this our modern country.
– On the seventeenth current a fifty-nine year-old woman, as yet unidentified though believed to be a well respected member of staff at Afrik Engineering Company along Trans Amadi, was reportedly killed by ritualists. Her corpse, grossly disfigured and emptied of all its vital parts, was discovered by taximen gathered waiting for fares at the Technical School bus terminus in Creekside near to where she was residing.
– Lord protect us from such creatures.
– Police detectives from the Serious Crimes Investigations Bureau are said to be
closing in on the perpetrators of the egregious atrocity.
-Are they magicians?
– Don’t worry. However, it is understood by this reporter that no arrests have been made to date.
– It has been previously reported in these pages that cultists have surfaced once again in the Garden City and environs, particularly on college campuses, after having been driven underground following close vigilance and rapid response by the police which turned the heat upon them.
– Well done sah.
– The office of the SCIB have warned members of the general public to be wary of the activities of such heinous personages, especially at late hours of the night.
The sergeant shrugged.
– With Jesus’ help.
– Amen. And while the forces of righteousness continue to pursue mountebanks and interlopers dispatched by the devil himself, what of our own particular endeavors?-
The Captain barely raised his eyes from the newspaper to nod at the child.
– My friend, come on, wake up. The case of the foolhardy oyinbo.
The sergeant clapped his hands together, causing the girl who stood between the two men to flinch.
– You are to be complimented sah, as a very clever and crafty man worthy of your standing in this our venerable force. In fact, having followed your instruction, given regardless of the gabble and obfuscation of the company manager, to inspect the room in the camp to which the hapless victim had been assigned, we have, as you rightly prophesied, recovered a note.
The Captain chuckled, sipped, smoothed a page.
– A note indeed. Lord anoint us with small mercies.
– Amen sah! Which confirms the location of the incident, the particular establishment if such it might be called, as related to us by the driver.
– And where is this individual now, said motor pool employee?
– He remains.
The Captain frowned at a full page advertisement extolling the God given virtues and life’s work of another late local chief. So many!
– In custody sah, under guard at the Silva Clinic, having sustained one or two minor injuries while being arrested.
Captain Odike placed the tip of a finger to his lips and turned another page. Behind him the sudden gloom of approaching rain leaned across the rusty zinc rooftops round the yard, over the heads of the writhing women, the men bending tirelessly to their work.
-What is your name?
When the girl did not respond immediately the sergeant lifted a slender length of bamboo from beneath his chair and leaned forward to cane her sharply across the back of her legs. She gasped as though shot and collapsed to the floor in a heap. The Captain waited patiently while his sergeant stood to help the prisoner back to her feet before addressing her once more, again without lifting his eyes from the newspaper.
– I have asked you to tell me your name. Beyond your many crimes, child, will you now disrespect me?
The girl, shaking and weeping, tears streaming on her face, stared intently at her feet while she attempted, with trembling, fluttering hands, to brush dust and grit from the front of her blouse.
– Mastah, sorry mastah.
The Captain, his finger again lifted close to his mouth, waited a moment.
– Your name.
– Iniobong sah. Sah please.
– Iniobong sah, sah please. Please what? This is not a friendship centre my dear. Your full name child.
– Mastah sorry mastah. Iniobong Akpan Mary Catherine Johnson.
The Captain turned another page.
– Mary Catherine.
– You are Catholic.
– Sah no sah.
– Then what? Which church will you attend? Do you attend any church?
– Sah, Christ Redeemed In Faith.
Another page, and then another. Talk of politics, talk of business.
– Mary Catherine.
– Sah mastah.
– Do you care to know my own name?
– Name of the senior officer in service of the State Investigation Bureau who gave authorization for you and your many associates to be brought here for query. In whose presence you now find yourself.
– Sah please, am not one of them.
She glanced from the Captain to the window and then back.
– I was waiting only for table. I…
– My name is Captain Armstrong Olawu Odike.
She clasped her hands in front of her and bowed her head
– Sah, thank you sah.
– I am a policeman.
– I serve the community. I am industrious and conscientious in the discharge of my duties on behalf of this community. I work very hard for the people amongst whom I live. I have not received salary for three months. Is this correct?
– Should I be thus encumbranced? My sergeant over there has not been paid throughout this entire year but he has faith that I will solve this problem for him in due course. Through me, the Lord.
– Amen sah.
– Yet how can I solve his problem when I cannot even help myself, my own family? Hmm? I am responsible for a wife and two children. We live in a three room cinderblock house which has a leaky zinc roof and for which I owe the landlord rent past due. Light come and go but our generator requires repair for which spare parts are needed. The landlord would like to evict us but is so far restrained only by the fact of my profession, though he becomes more brazen in pursuit of his devious aims with each passing day. We collect water, along with everyone else in the compound, from a tap in the middle of the yard. After rain we must wade through mud a foot deep to reach the tap, to hang our clothes to dry; even, carrying our shoes in our hands, to reach the street. The neighborhood is full of area boys and beggars and robbers, ashawo such as yourself. My children do not have new uniforms for school this year. I am a policeman. I am a Captain. Is this correct?
– Sah, am sorry for your trouble.
– It is not correct. From where?
– Your place.
The girl began to breathe a little more steadily, the shaking subsiding somewhat, and stood straight with her hands held at her sides.
– Sah, Akpajo side.
– Your father and your mother. Where are they that they have allowed their child to fall into such circumstance, to behave in such manner?
The captain put his fingertip to his tongue.
– Sah, they are late.
– In whose care do you now find yourself?
– Aunty sah. Madame Koko.
– And employed by her?
– Sah, in her cafeteria.
– Blind Mama Koko’s Kitchen Kanteen along the Elembe express, on the edge of the shanty town close by the gates of the Petrochemical site. She of the milky eye.
– And the heavy ledger.
– Who now resides in one of our cells awaiting her own appointment with my boys. My child listen to me.
The Captain frowned, adjusted his glasses and began once more to read aloud.
– A gang of armed robbers attacked a Mobil Petrol Station along Djambeki Road in Aqubo on Saturday morning, killing three persons and injuring two others seriously. The incident occurred at approximately 2:45 a.m. on Sunday last.
Daily Proverb understands that the perpetrators slashed the throats of the victims and also removed the tongue of one other person present. Another victim was beaten thoroughly by the armed robbers.
One of the survivors, who wished to remain anonymous, said all of them were employed as security guards at the petrol station. They were asleep when the attackers arrived. He was beaten savagely, he said, but managed to escape to a nearby church covered in blood. The victim added that the attackers broke into the petrol station’s mini-market and also broke the safe but could not retrieve any money.
This latest attack is one of a series instigated by men of the underworld. This type of crime, along with that of kidnapping, continues to plague our communities.
Daily Proverb has previously reported another attack, this time on a professor working with the University, also in Djambeki Road. The robbers used sophisticated weaponry to fire on him, inflicting severe injuries including the loss of his hand and an ear.
A rising trend in house burglary also, as well as the above mentioned attacks by armed robbers has become a disturbingly common phenomenon in Aqubo, causing residents of the estates therein to sleep with one eye open for fear of being attacked.
Daily Proverb sought comment from the State Commissioner of Police but the Commissioner was unavailable.
The Captain removed his glasses and rubbed his eyes with thumb and forefinger.
– Now then my dear, tell me.
– How am I to offer assistance to such people, to find time to ease their troubles while I scour the country, the bush, the muddy creeks, the lagoons, for one clumsy lost oyinbo? Can I offer hope for the recovery of their lives, for their salvation from such cruelty, while I squander precious time in this my sweat, under this heat, talking to such as yourself in order to ascertain the whereabouts of a simple fool? Should I abandon the rest of my day for such a man? Another arrogant American? Is that what should be done? Well I cannot. There are things. There are people. I will not tolerate such nonsense. At all-o.
The Captain leaned back in his chair and pulled a blue handkerchief from his trouser pocket which he flapped open and used to wipe his brow, his huge furrowed head, before raising his eyes and fixing his gaze on the slender girl before him.
– My dear, why are you looking at the floor? Am I sitting on the floor?
– Sah, no sah!
– Am I so low in your estimation that I should be down at your feet with your tears and your piss?
– Mastah sah. No sah mastah.
He sat forward suddenly, belly against the edge of his desk, to glare at the girl.
– What is this nonsense? Look at me!
– Please don’t try this my patience. Have you been flogged yet?
She began to tremble again.
– No sah.
– Why not? Sergeant, why has this person before me not yet been flogged? Is there some reason for the delay?
The sergeant sat up straight and looked past his captain out of the window.
– Oga, they continue to work through, three by three.
– My dear, I will instruct you one more time to look directly into my face after which, if you persist in being stubborn, I will have you flogged immediately and thoroughly, regardless of what you wish to say to me in such vain attempt to save your own skin, and when my men have finished then I will flog you again myself.
She began to shake and moan, bending this way and that from the waist as though ready to fall to her knees.
– Sah mastah mastah please mastah sah mastah mastah mastah…
– My child, no cry-o. Look out of the window. See your sistahs? See them cry? See them wail and beg and shout to heaven for mercy? See them dance? They go suffah-o. Too much. They go break and bleed for love! And will they dance tomorrow for oyinbo in this their bush bars and houses of ill repute? Will they even walk? They will not take drop from this place because my men will chop all their money, so wherever they will go they will trek, if it is one mile or twenty, and some, one or two at the least, will not survive such journey, of this you can be certain. Do you hear me? Your tears are of no consequence here. As you can see while you continue to stare at the floor, they fall on stone and nothing more. They are meaningless. No sympathy for you or your trouble is contained within these walls so listen to me and listen well. If you are wasting my time you will dance this day make no mistake but you will not leave this place with the rest to take your chance along the wicked road outside the gate. I will keep you here and you will dance again tomorrow and tomorrow after. Do you understand me?
The girl could manage nothing beyond a gasp and a whisper.
– Sah please sah.
The Captain took a long deep breath and returned to his newspaper. Football. Serious talk of dispute and consternation within the Super Hawks camp. The office fell quiet. Splashes of rain began to fall against the window. The cries of the girls subsided as the men stepped away to take cover in the doorways of the barracks and the downpour washed the blood from the smooth pale flesh of the switches propped against the wall. The yard would soon become a quagmire beneath the sodden, grovelling women.
Captain Odike tutted to himself and pushed the newspaper to one side, drank the last of his tea and held up his mug for the sergeant to take.
– Tell me then my dear. Tell me-o.
– Please sah.
– What of Mama Koko and her boys? What they have been up to?
(Bio: Mark Cassidy was born in Glasgow, Scotland, grew up in a small market town in the northeast of England and then emigrated to Canada (central Alberta) after his schooling was complete. He started working in the oil and gas business and, from there, worked all round the world for many years, including West Africa where this particular story is set. At present he lives and works in Texas.)