THE CASE OF THE MISSING WALLET
SATURDAY, 1:30pm; My room
After the third round of knocking began I went to answer the door, my mind suspended in between making a decision to put on a shirt or not. My skin was hot from the exercise, small beads of sweat rolled into themselves drawing lines across my face and chest. I could feel the intensity of my heartbeat, each sound registered a note of pride and a little grin broke out on my face. It couldn’t have been more than thirty five degrees outside but in here it was at least twice that. The moment of uncertainty lingered a little longer, at least long enough for me to reach the door and then realize that I was still without a shirt, so I decided to go for broke. I opened the door with a vicious pull, not out of sheer bloodymindedness but because only a pull so vicious could open the door. Apparently, the surface of the ground that greeted the room’s entrance was a little higher than in the rest of the room, this made it difficult to open a door that came in custom-fitted. It gave an annoying screeching noise when the base of the door peeled its way across the virgin floor, explaining the absence of a carpet underneath.
The dull brown mahogany door gave way to two figures standing at the entrance. Usually it takes about two seconds for the average person to come out of the unconsciousness of meeting a charming stranger at their door so that they can begin a conversation without giving out clues that they were too dense to speak. Mine lasted an hour or close to it but not very far. The first figure turned out to be a lady about five-five, she wore a plain orange shirt embroidered at the front with a design that matched the shape of her earrings and the drawings on her hat. Her skirt was knee-high and her perfectly shaped legs were fed into a pair of shoes that looked as if their value in naira would pay my rent for a year, with change to buy a good broom to sweep away the trouble it parked on my conscience. She was standing with one hand on her hip and the other clutching a brown bag. The colour of her face was a million degrees steeped in black, bringing out the outline of her eyes and mouth. If she wore any makeup, it was simple and it made her beauty all the more haunting. The whites of her eyes bewitched me instantly, I would look into them forever with an open mouth in exchange for anything. I did just that and the price was my sanity. The other figure was nothing like the first. Evidently it was a guy who had grown tired of standing and watching me drink up his friend like a cold bottle of coke upon encountering the harshness of FUNAAB’s sun, himself not worthy of my attention.
He wore a mild, unattractive frown that went well with his arm-length blue shirt and black trousers, his shoes were equally unattractive and so was his skin. He was so hairy he looked like he was made from fur. “Good morning”, she spoke, attempting to punch a hole into the increasingly rising balloon of tension, “I am Faith, this is Kingsley, and we are here to share some news with you, should you be so kind to grant us permission”. The hand on her hip had, by now, turned with the palm facing up in a gesture to seek my approval, which she already had centuries ago. Nobody who spoke with such finesse without the slightest hint of affectation need worry about seeking my approval, not least a dame who was so beautiful she caused several earthquakes along my neural pathways. They were Jehovah’s witnesses who had taken the trouble to steal my wandering heart away from the dark so I could be free from ignorance and live life as a true Christian. It was not a paid job, apparently, still they acted otherwise. I was intrigued. I wasn’t particularly sure if my sweating shirtlessness made them uncomfortable,and apart from Fur’s glare which had toned down a bit since his partner spoke I couldn’t seem to read any expression on their faces. There was no law I knew of that said I should refuse Jehovah’s witnesses my company, just as there wasn’t one that said I should allow them entrance. I did then what most guys would do, “Yes” to her , “No” to him. But it came out as “Kindness is my middle name. You may come in.” Fur assumed, somehow, that he was included. I assumed, somehow, that I had gone soft. In all of the thirty something years the meeting lasted in my room, I learnt just two things: one, Jehovah’s witnesses weren’t all that bad if the ones that did all the talking were attractive ladies. Two, that beautiful African ladies are the most exquisite of female creatures coughed up by creation or evolution. At one point during the session, Fur said he was thirsty. I looked at him as if he had just mooed, then went outside to get some sachets of pure water.
SUNDAY, 8:45am. My Room
I am not your regular church-goer because I don’t like to do things as if no measure of thought was required. And if I decide to go to church it is because I want to, and not from any external event. And if I do not go, it is because I do not wish to or, as in this case, I have no clue about where my wallet might be. I had searched through my room four times over, each time yielding the same result. Surely a wallet wasn’t meant to be this difficult to locate? Apart from my schoolbag, traveling bag, reading table, my box of clothes, pots, plates, and shoes, my big bag of rice remained the only untouched item in the room. My thoughts immediately began to collapse on each other, how in this world will my wallet be in a bag of rice? I half-stopped myself from searching, succeeding only for a second after which I lunged at the bag and frantically dug my way through until I was certain no such wallet was there. I sat down, picked up my mind, dusted it and made a net out of it, then I cast it back into the past with the hope of finding out what had happened to my wallet, for I was sure it was no longer in my possession.
Friday: Went to school. Paid for meal with wallet at SUB. Returned home, washed clothes and slept. Went to the party with a couple of friends at a club. Got into a fight with a jerk. Left.
Saturday: Played football. Ate at Uche’s place. Slept. Did push-ups and sit-ups. Hosted Jehovah’s witnesses. Ate at Uche’s place. Watched a premier league game. Slept
Sunday: Awoke and could not find wallet. Not funny.
SUNDAY EVENING, My room.
Uche claimed he had not laid eyes on the wallet, that if he lied let God snatch up his soul at that instant. I thought that was extreme, it was only a brown wallet with a few naira notes in it, my ATM card, school ID card, library pass, and a love letter I could not bring myself to finish. Losing a soul in exchange for these items was too galling to comprehend, besides I did not think God was anyone’s errand boy. After long sessions of pondering (between two generous plates of rice and beans) only one explanation remained and however impossible I felt it was I did recognize that I had to explore it. I did not like the idea, it brought ash to my mouth when I thought of it, the possibility that my Jehovah’s witnesses friends had pulled a heist right in front of me in my room. I was sweating fury.
MONDAY EVENING, B.J’S BAR.
Until I come upon a Damascus-like epiphany like good old Paul, I like to pride myself as a man of very few words but a gazillion thoughts. Talk less, think more. But even the thoughts failed to comprehend what logic lay beneath the words of one of the bar’s stewards. “You cannot sit and order nothing. You have to buy something or you leave. Club policy”, his mouth seemed to say. He was dressed smartly in a white shirt, pink jacket, pink trousers, and shiny black boots. A white bandanna was tied firmly on his left wrist, his breath smelled of mints- the cheap kind, and his attitude was pouring cold water on my cool-guy act. I gave him a toothy smile, “I told you, I am waiting for someone, okay? He has my wallet. If I ordered something how would I pay? Or would you take smacks? You look like you could use one or two”. He stopped for a second, elevated his frown into a cold leer, mumbled something underneath his breath and marched off. I quickly scanned the area to see if the guy I had come looking for had arrived, there were only a handful of persons around, mostly the club staff and two tables had been occupied by a group of friends who were celebrating something.
The noise of vehicle hardware on the road outside the bar invaded the atmosphere so much I could hear ribald comments peeling off the tongues of drivers as they addressed their comrades, I could hear the food-hawkers, the stall owners, the okada riders and the street beggars. I made the decision to come here earlier that morning when I could no longer shelve putting the heist beyond my preacher friends. Everything else blended in while they stuck out like a third human leg. What perhaps made it more convincing was when I remembered the little spat I had at the bar on Friday with another fellow who had nothing else to do with his time and sought to make trouble. I had arrived in the company of three friends earlier that day, against my judgment, apparently. They insisted I accompany them even if I refused to drink with them. “At least check am out nah! I never see guy whey never enter bar before o! Even pastor dey enter and you no be pastor”, one of them said in a moment of sageness. They had each settled for beers and plates of fish pepper soup while I drank juice from a glass cup with ice. The music was ear-splitting and honestly, torrent after torrent, a mixbag of mismatched voices and beats to produce noise that fed on my ear drums. Everyone else seemed to enjoy it, I took that as a sign that I should not have come for I was beset on all corners by halfwits or aliens or halfwit aliens who lacked the refinement in taste that recognized good music. I therefore sought solace in my fruit juice knowing fully well the worst that could happen was for it to have the taste of a cow’s udder.
I was halfway through my drink when a tall, broad-shouldered guy wearing a face cap, armless white vest, shorts and sandals appeared at my side, sized me up and asked me to leave my seat so he could take his place among the seats. Meanwhile my friends had scampered off to greet an acquaintance they all knew. I gave him the same look one would give a monkey that just spoke french and translated it to yoruba. He repeated himself, this time with more menace in his tone. “Alaye, E be like say you blind abi? Can you not see that this place is taken? I pointed to the seats around me where my friends had each dropped an item to indicate possession of the seats. He bristled at my remark, attempted a more offensive posture, and revealed more teeth in an effort for me to take him serious. He gave the indication of a man not used to being refused something, especially upon repeating himself. I levelled my stare and it made him uneasy, I made sure he got the impression that I was willing to get physical if it was necessary, still it wasn’t lost on him that I was no match for his brawn. This one would beat my brains out and make brain paste out of it, before eating it with rice. He was about to make a go at it when my friends invaded the scene and moved the pieces of leverage back into my favor. My once hollow voice suddenly grew several notches deeper and I felt my spine slowly crawl back into place, he immediately began to retreat, saying “God go help you O. if I be you, na weytin my prayer go be”. it was what he said as he left that day that brought my attention to what Faith had said as she and Fur left my room the following day. I had mentioned something about not preparing adequately for a test I had the following week and interjected about the great unrest it caused me. To which she gave the response, “If I were you, I would ask God to help me”, she smiled and we parted. When she spoke those words then, I merely thought she referred to my test. Now I thought differently.
If my analysis was right, she either said those words as a threat or to throw some light on who was behind my misfortune if after then I ever walked into one, as I eventually did. From a distance I saw the club steward, whose belligerence was beginning to wear me out, coming at my direction. Behind him walked a man with a head the shape of a giant bean. And the bean seemed to enlarge each time he drew nearer. Mr Bean was dressed in a similar outfit as his underling in front, only he looked more posh. He looked like someone I would bring along to a party that gave instructions to come with a dog. His neck made his head look so oversize that it was completely missing. He had thick limbs that threatened to tear their way through the clothes.
There was suddenly no need to be cagey anymore, he would smash my teeth in with his beady eyeballs alone. My nerves itched. They arrived at my table and I enquired with my eye brows, “Yes?”, Mr Bean had a name tag with “HOS” printed on it, the muscles on his face danced around until they were taut, his nostrils reduced to buttonlike impressions, the wrinkle on his forehead formed a dimple. He said, “What seems to be the problem here, Mister?” I told him that unfortunately I was not here to order their special delicacy, and I was sorry but I was only here to meet an acquaintance and he was running late. The one with the bandanna let out a soft scoff between his lips, his boss paid no attention. “Okay, you can stay till he comes, but once he arrives you have to order something or you leave”. I nodded fairly well to his desire and extended an arm which he shook with a powerful grip, and he left. I was not entirely certain I would meet the fellow I came here for, even less certain was I of whether he was the evil puppet master pulling his strings to hem me in, or maybe I was wrong and all I needed was to replace my batteries so I could have a better memory. Yet, I edged myself on with my broomstick conviction, something somewhere told me I was on the right track. I was midway through a big yawn with my hands cupped over my mouth when I saw him walk through the main entrance with a female guest attached to his left arm like a tumor, a black tumor. The type of black that could only be Faith’s.
Now my confidence was full and I allowed myself a fit of joyful pride for impressing with my extraordinary intelligence. They sat at a little cluster of tables and chairs east from where I nestled. It was getting dark already, the DJ had slipped in unnoticed and his speakers had begun to send waves of hypnotic music our way, not that we had a choice really. Meanwhile I was strategizing what my game plan would be, Do I use stealth or brute force? Boiling point wrath or a layer of sangfroid plus several other layers of bone-chilling rascality? Do I punch him in the face or spill wine on his girlfriend’s clothes, knowing that she was in on this as well, perhaps even to a greater extent, not minding if it costs me a broken neck with a couple of broken ribs. But it happened that I had made up my mind even before I had made up my mind, I saw myself advance to their table as if prompted by an unseen hand, they did not see me come neither did they take note as I sat across the table from where they sat. For a moment I thought I would have to cough or make some irritating entrance to announce my arrival, but Faith’s gasp made that unnecessary. I displayed a grin to meet her shock and I could tell she was entirely shaken by my appearance. Her companion was wearing the same sleeveless vest and I could see a tattoo crying for help on his left shoulder, something I wasn’t sure I spotted during our last encounter.
He looked whitewashed with surprise, the way one would look if caught by the jaw with a left hook from surprise, astounded, he asked “How did you know?”. I answered him, “At first you had me in a fix, but after employing my deductive skills it wasn’t that hard tracing the strings back to you. Nice try though”. He was now smiling but it was devious, scheming and the glint in his eye had malice for clothes. “I see you won,” I began to say bringing out a white handkerchief, “So I concede defeat. May I have my wallet back?”.By the time I reached the end of the sentence my spine had left me. Something in me had turned to water and I hoped it wasn’t my courage. He considered it a moment, chewed his lip and stuck his hands into his pockets to produce my wallet. He played with it for a second then flipped it at me, responding with reflex I immediately reached for it. He was quick, too quick. I did not get the wallet because he had his hands on my collars, pulled me across the table and eyeballed me. “I like you. You are bold. Stupid, but bold. If you try weytin you do last time again, you go beg me to cut your tongue.” He wasn’t planning on letting go and were it not for his girlfriend’s impassioned pleas he would never have let go. After releasing his grip, I gathered my scrambled wits together, stood and said with relish,”Your girlfriend is beautiful and confident, but since she sticks with you, she’s not necessarily sharp because let’s face it, you’re not exactly the sharpest guy in the room. Why she would pitch her tent with you bends my mind to snapping point. Why would I ask you to cut out my tongue when it is by my tongue your life still exists?” I picked up his beer, “You really ought to be careful about what you drink. Lucky for you I’m not a killer so I only used enough to do a little damage to your guts. Make sure you drink plenty of palm oil when you get home”. His face turned to ash. I turned to her, “In another lifetime we could have been friends, I’d probably ask you to be my girl too. And you would not say no. What a shame. Good job with the heist though, and tell Fur I hope never to meet him again unless he wants a new set of teeth, made with wood”. I dropped the bottle into the bin and left the bar with my heart doing the moonwalk, making certain too that the contents of my wallet were intact. The palm oil part was just a threat to indicate that I had poisoned his drink before it got to him, it wasn’t real. But it didn’t matter. I was beaming.