Tunde walked briskly into the bar. He had been casing it for days. After leaving Yewa’s and talking to the family of the boy, he had gone dark. Jide’s school had agreed to not suspend the kid; such was the father’s clout. He convinced the principal it was in her best interest for his son to be in school.
He entered the bar, his eyes dancing; alert for any untoward sign. He had to pull out a ghost of the past, a forgotten myth to get the meeting he was due for. As he approached the men he was meeting in the bar, he couldn’t help but notice how their dressing had gone north.
Back in the day, they wore jeans mostly and other kind of ugly attire that caught their fancy. Now, they’re mostly into suits. The criminal world was going legal and the country had yet to wise up to them.
He slammed the table, grinned as the people round the table stood to welcome him.
‘James!’ The closest one addressed him. Thanks to the files and all other records, he would never have remembered the guy’s name.
‘Mark my man, how’s life going?’ Tunde slapped the man on his cheek gently as he embraced the man he hadn’t seen in ages.
‘Fine, just fine my dear friend. God has been good, business has been booming.’ He eyes dilated as he spoke.
Tunde almost cringed but kept up the charade. It had been ten years since his last encounter with Mark, when he was new to undercover operations. The only reason the man was standing before him was because he had gotten emotionally attached to Mark and decided to let the man go, instead of arresting the criminal. Mark never knew his true identity.
Back then, Mark was just an aspiring goon. Now, he had risen through the ranks and become one of the personal guards of the kingpin. That was why Tunde needed Mark; he could get the agent a meet with the crime overlord. He sat down with the group; it was time to break kola with the enemy.
‘So tell me, what all have you been doing?’ Mark made small talk whilst sipping beer from his glass. He didn’t wait for Tunde to respond before turning his head round to ogle a waitress’ behind.
Tunde waited for him turn round and refocus before replying. He thought that years would have tempered the man, but minutes in his company showed that was not the case. The man was still his incorrigible self. If experience was a banker, then he would wager that Mark would be sleeping with the waitress that night. Time would tell he decided.
Mark turned round; his cohorts were beaming with smiles and approving gestures. He beamed. ‘Now that is some arse on a lady.’ He was still grinning.
Tunde waited till the euphoric moment had passed before articulating his well rehearsed lines. ‘After that last job, I was lucky oo. I did a job for a fella who got me a link to Ukraine; I thought it was a better life oo. See me,’ he stretched out his hands. ‘Cold don wan finish my life.’
‘So what brought you back to Nigeria? Ukraine may be cold, but I’ve heard it’s a better place to live than this hellhole of a country.’
Tunde matched his gaze thinking in his head, whose fault is it that the country is as it is? The common man or the man who has redirected all the resources to himself; employing the aid of goons and other legal insulations. The words out of his mouth did not follow his thoughts though.
‘That is true, still, there is nowhere like home. Plus I may have run into woman troubles there.’ He smiled, hoping Mark would understand being himself an unrepentant womanizer. That was the weakest lie of his story, so he waited.
Mark observed him for a bit. Shook his head in disdain and turned to the muscular guy beside him. ‘Rukevwe, remember I always berate you guys for not having good work ethics?’
The fellow Mark addressed answered him, ‘the gospel according to Saint James. Yes, I remember…’ His eyes suddenly dilated. ‘You mean that this is that James?’ He was on his feet now; his chair fell backwards as he stood. He didn’t bother with the seat, he was in the presence of a legend.
Tunde knew respect when he saw it, and he realised that whatever stories Mark may have told his boys, he would now be held in high esteem. He rose, shook hands with the guy and the others round the table, three guys in all.
The third guy eyed him warily. He appeared to have doubts about myth called James. Mark Noticed as did Rukevwe.
‘Shina…’ Mark began, but Tunde cut him short.
‘I’ll just have to show again that I have what it takes to run with the boys.’ His smiled at the Shina guy, seething within. ‘Which brings me to the reason I’ve been calling you: I need a job bad mehn, I’m low on cash, and I heard that you run things in this city.’
Mark slapped his hand on the table. ‘You want a job and you’re chasing me like a beggar. Did I not say I owed you my life when you saved me from that invasion? I owe you James, big time. I’ll talk to someone tomorrow, make it happen.’
He carried his glass and emptied its content in his mouth. ‘Never worry dear friend, it is well.’
Tunde smiled stifly. ‘I don’t want a desk job. I’m feeling adventurous; give me a job in the field.’
Mark regarded him in the darkness. ‘Didn’t I just say you’ve got the job? You get to pick and choose, that’s how lofty I regard you.’
Tunde sighed, ‘thank you.’ His initial interview had been successful, now he would have to convince the brass of the dark outfit that he was a worthy recruit. The ball had started rolling.
Damilola Adelegan was a journalist extraordinaire. She worked as a freelance investigative journalist for two powerful media houses in the country. Wherever there was a story, she was there to cover it. Her fearlessness had earned her notoriety and a following.
A medical doctor by training, she had finally embraced her innate writing skills during her housemanship at the general hospital in Oshodi where she interned. The pain and suffering of the patients had driven her to write. Not one member of her family including her father who received bad news smiling had the stomach for her tales. She could not recount her experiences to anyone, not even the doctor she was seeing then, so she had bought a diary. To chronicle her experiences and get a cathartic release.
What was supposed to take a year was done in weeks, the pages of the diary replete with vivid descriptions of her days in the hospital. She bought two more diaries and within six weeks both were also filled with words. She had panicked and was almost distressed then, that was when Taju – her brother Femi’s friend – had stumbled on one of her diaries. Sensing dirt, he had begun reading in earnest.
She caught him reading her journal and pretended she didn’t know. He made no move to hide the diary, waving it in her face as he spoke.
‘You wrote this?’
She felt like slapping him across the face. What effrontery. His saving grace was that he was older than her and she kind of enjoyed his company being the more amiable architect. Her brother Femi was one too, always lost in his drawings, he didn’t have time to mingle with his family. So Taju was a fresh breath most times, yet she wondered at his brazenness.
‘I did.’ She said, a scowl forming on her face. She was bracing herself for the worst.
Taju dropped the diary on the empty seat beside him and stood, he approached her and hugged her; she felt she would faint, he had almost choked her in his warm embrace. When he left her, she saw his eyes were glistening, he was fighting back tears.
‘What was that about?’ She asked.
‘I have read a lot of texts. And you can attest that I’m a book junkie. Still, nothing has deeply touched me, affected my psyche in so little amount of time. What you have written there,’ he pointed at the diary, ‘that is a goldmine.’
‘It was the first time anyone would praise her writing. She felt his sincerity and what was more, he did not need to compliment her, yet he had. A tear escaped and rolled down her cheek. She tried smiling, but the spasm of her body made her let out an involuntary wail instead. He held her again.
They stood there, locked in an embrace, comforting the other. Finally, she thought, someone understood her pain. Finally. He let her go after a while, but not before saying the words that would change her life.
‘Have you ever considered writing professionally? Maybe you should look into it.’
She had been aghast, write professional? When she was still trying to carve her niche as a medical doctor, he suggested she add writing. Taju was the best of jokers. She laughed.
He reiterated, ‘look into writing as a profession, you just might like it.’ He returned to his seat, leaving her stunned on her feet. ‘By the way,’ he added, ‘you won’t mind if I borrow this?’ He held up the diary.
She shook her head. Unsure her voice wouldn’t betray her, she tried to speak. Her words froze at her throat, failing to make her lips let alone go out. She shook her head again and went into her room to contend with the conflicting emotions she had.
That was eight years ago, she had been twenty-four. Taju had left the shores of the country just before her NYSC posting to Bayelsa state. He kept in touch for a while, but soon stopped contacting her, or Femi, her brother for that matter. Last news she heard of him was that he had relocated to one of the Arab Emirate countries, as his company was busy designing architectural wonders.
She finally ditched medicine for writing as a youth Corper. Following Taju’s advice, she wrote, to salvage her sanity in the strange land, and sent her writs to newspapers because he encouraged her to. It was a shocking yet beautiful surprise, when a newspaper contacted her about publishing the article she had sent to them. Soon, she was making more money than she could spend. What was more, she no longer felt the sadness that she did whenever she saw a dying man in the hospital, or watched as a patient groaned helplessly in pain. She was free and she knew it.
Thus began her journey into the uncharted world of journalism. She went more in search of stories and neglected the hospital she had been assigned to serve with. At first the medical director of the hospital had been angry, but when help came in the form of aids and grants the hospital desperately needed, the man blessed her and allowed her follow her heart and passion.
When she got to Lagos, her father was furious she was throwing her life away. He was a proud man, proud that his children were professionals. Dotun the eldest was a lawyer, Femi an architect, she had been trained as a doctor, Tolu had just become a civil engineer and Jire was studying to become a computer scientist.
His words were, ‘no child of mine would join that partisan bandwagon. Do you realise that you would be subjected to seeking favours and handouts from politicians?’
In the end he had agreed to let her try out the field. An agreement was struck that if she wasn’t faring well, she would quit and go back to medicine. He gave her six months. She got lucky in the fourth month, wrote a story that would shoot her to national prominence, and her life had been a roller coaster since.
She checked her watch and sighed. That was a heck of a flashback she thought as she checked her purse. A pragmatic Lois Lane, she packed her own gun, there was no Superman anywhere close to save her when she shrieked. She clicked the bag shut when she was satisfied she had everything she needed. It was time to research the biggest story of her career yet, she left the house.