On Friday, a literary icon died. Three of his sayings resonate in my head when I write, as I write this.
“Until the Lion has its own historians, the hunter’s historian will always tell the story of the hunt to glorify the hunter”
“As men have learnt to shoot without aiming, so I have learnt to fly without perching”
“Okonkwo said yes so strongly that his chi agreed”
RIP Chinua Achebe.
“Dude, are you totally out of your mind?” Kamal exclaimed over a beer as he listened to Derin’s story. They had decided on the garden beside the National Theatre and were by now on their third bottles of beer, accompanied by steaming point and kill. The djay regaled them with sweet highlife tunes and the breeze rustled pieces of paper.
Derin wasn’t flustered “no bro, I’m with all my wits, I assure you. Nothing can happen with Ope, it will be strictly professional client/lawyer relationship.”
“Oh, and if it’s strictly professional, how much are you paying for these services?” Kamal paused for an answer and when Derin didn’t respond, he continued “I thought so! Nothing. Look, you might want to keep it professional and all, but there are two of you, and she sure doesn’t want to. I’m your friend, and as no be you dey feed me, I can tell you without mincing words when you’re being foolish and stubborn. You’ve had many instances of this in the past, but this has to be the most stubborn you’re being ever. Dude, drop the damn case!”
“En, so if you know me, shebi they say, once you know your person’s behavior, saying they behave that way isn’t abusing them. Drop this talk of dropping the case bro, its’ not happening.”
“Suit yourself. But at least have the sense to preserve your marriage and find another lawyer,” Kamal said.
“Na you go pay? I don’t have the money for any expensive lawyer, so Ope would have to do. Wonder why all of you are seeing it as Ope using me, when it’s the other way round. Women flirt to get what they want all the time, don’t they? Men should do it once in a while. As long as Ope assumes she can have me and winning this case is her only way of achieving that, she will fight this case with all of her strength.”
“As you wish, your highness,” Kamal responded, and sipped his beer.
Awazi’s day couldn’t have ended worse. The traffic descending third mainland was killing. She had chosen to pass here when her colleague, Tessy who had left before her called to warn her of the killer traffic on Eko Bridge, all the way to Western Avenue. But she was certain whatever the situation had been on Western Avenue, it could not be as bad as it was on Third Mainland. Then suddenly, she heard a crunching sound of metal and glass colliding, and she realized she had taken out someone’s side mirror when her mind had wandered. Like an expert Lagos driver, the black tinted-glass Toyota Camry car crossed her to block any escape she might have been contemplating. Not like she had been contemplating any though. She turned off the ignition and came down to go and inspect the damage.
The moment the white linen bespoke wearing occupant of the car came down, she gasped. She rubbed her eyes. It simply couldn’t be.
“What the hell were you thinking that…” the guy was saying when Awazi screamed “Samir!”
He stopped midsentence, seeing her properly for the first time beyond the damager of his car.
“Awazi!” he screamed right back.
They embraced and kept checking each other out until the angry blaring horns of homebound weary Lagos drivers reminded them that they were on the road.
“There’s a KFC somewhere along this road we’re about to enter, let’s meet up there,” Samir suggested and she nodded in assent. Forgetting his dangling side mirror, a visibly excited Samir hopped into his car, and they weaved through traffic for another thirty minutes before reaching the KFC. In those thirty minutes, Awazi remembered Samir. Growing up in Lafia in those days, the tensions had been high between her Eggon people and the Fulani settlers. There had been series of clashes between them over grazing lands, and the Fulani herders had been particularly brutal in their night attacks on Eggon villages.
So when she had seen this very fine (the way Fulani people can be fine when they want to be) Fulani boy in Lafia, in her third year in university, she had at first been wary. But he had been so nice and so un-Fulani that she capitulated and fell for him. But she had hidden him from her friends and family; she knew they would all not approve a Fulani man. But even as she hid him from her own family expertly, Samir had not been as good at hiding her. All hell broke loose when his father found out that Samir was seeing an Eggon woman. Samir’s father had come to see her father and it had not been a cordial visit. Her father had forbade her from seeing Samir, and Samir’s father had moved him abroad to go and study. They hadn’t seen each other since then and it had been in the pre-GSM, pre-Facebook days, so they lost touch totally. And lo and behold, she had run into him in Lagos traffic of all the places on God’s earth.
“You didn’t change one bit, Awazi,” Samir was saying, looking at her with open admiration.
“And you haven’t changed, Mr. using your eyes to say all the nonsense in your head. I’m married now o, so tell your eyes to stop talking” She retorted.
He laughed. “Kai, I wish it was in these days of all manner of connectivity, we would have kept in touch. Now your dad has finally succeeded in shipping you off to some lucky Eggon man.” He made a sad face as he said this.
“Ah, you’re right on that one, we would have kept in touch. But you’re wrong on that one. My name is now Awazi Banwo” she replied.
“What! A Yariba man,” he said. “Noooooo way your dad agreed to you marrying someone who isn’t even a northerner. What did you do to the old man? Is he dead? Paralyzed?”
She laughed so hard her sides hurt. “Oh Samir, you will not change, ever dramatic. No, I didn’t inject my dad with secret mind control poisons. And yes, he is dead now, but he was alive when I married Derin, and he gave his blessing. My Derin’s a charmer.” She said with a twinkle in her eye. Then she remembered how things were with him and she sighed deeply.
Samir was too sharp not to notice.
“Things not rosy with the husband?” he asked.
“Well, that would be normal. The ups and downs of marriage, what can we do?” Awazi said.
Samir wanted to probe, but he didn’t think it wise. If it was something she was comfortable talking about, she would have mentioned it.
“So my father says I have a deadline to marry this year. Any good girls in your circle?” Samir said.
“Haba, you haven’t married? Fine man like you. What have you been doing?” Awazi asked, surprised.
“Reading the plenty book I need to enter politics at the top in the north. Been in the US since,” then he switched his accent into some oyibo accent Awazi couldn’t place and said “and this brother couldn’t find no black sister to marry.” Then he switched back to his Nigerian accent, and said “so I’m back in Naija, wife hunting. The deal with my dad is I either find me a wife this year, or he gives me one next year.”
Awazi laughed again. “Samir, you are a case. But, I will look through my archives and see what I can do. Most of my friends are married now, abi you expect women of my age to be single ni?”
Samir rolled his eyes.
“Why are you rolling you eyes Mr.” she asked.
“See you saying things like ‘ni’. Your husband has removed all the north in you and replaced with Yorubangbati ngbati.” He responded incredulously.
She said in mock seriousness “Ba turenchi, Ba Yariba. Hausa ne”.
He laughed and laughed.
“I’m sure there are one or two little half-caste children wondering who is keeping their mummy now.” he said.
Awazi was silent, and a tear fell from her eye before she could control herself to catch it.
“Haaaa, Kai Awazi, Minini? What did I say to elicit tears?” Samir said frenetically, worry lines appearing on his brow as he frowned.
“It’s not you Samir, it’s not you aboki”. She said, her voice shaking.
“I’m not taking that, you need to tell me,” Samir said forcefully but softly.
“I lost my only child, at six months old, two days ago,” Awazi blurted out, and then the wellsprings opened and the tears poured out without restraint.
Immediately, Samir crossed over to her side of the table and helped her to her feet. Heads turned towards them in the eatery so he quickly chaperoned her outside into his car and then went over to the driver’s side and sat down after starting the engine and running the ac.
“I’m so sorry, I couldn’t imagine, Sanu Kawa,” he said, confused as to whether it was appropriate to even say anything. The tears kept flowing, but he didn’t ask her to stop. He sensed she had been bottling it all up and would only find relief after she cried her heart out.
“Why should I lose my child? Of all the people selected by God to lose a child, he chose me, who has only one, and who searched for that one for twelve years. Samir, how can I believe there’s any purpose in this? If there’s a God, how could he allow this?”
Samir almost said something, some explanation, but then realized it was just the grief in her speaking. He allowed her continue.
“And as if losing my child is not enough, I’m losing my husband.”
“He’s dying too?” Samir said, brows drawn in surprise.
Awazi dabbed her face with her handkerchief, but it only ebbed the flow briefly.
“No, he isn’t, but I don’t know which is more painful fa, losing someone who is dead and gone, or someone who lives and sleeps with you in the same house. He’s consumed by getting justice against the hospital. I’m alone, Samir, so alone. I can’t grieve, I don’t feel loved, I feel like my child was taken because I’m not a good mother, I feel like…”
The tears drowned the words again.
After some minutes, she calmed herself down
“I’m so sorry Samir, I shouldn’t have dumped all this on you. I really should get going. It was good seeing you.”
“There’s no way I’m going to allow you drive yourself home in this state.” He took the keys in her hand from her and then led her to her car. “I’ll leave my car here and drive you home. I can take a cab and come back to get my car.”
“Haa, you don’t need to worry about that, I don’t want to bother you with my wahala,” she protested. But he was having none of it. He was already in the car and she was too exhausted to protest really. The drive home was to Surulere was quick, most of the traffic had cleared.
“I don’t think it’s wise for me to drop you right at your gate,” Samir said, when Awazi told him they had turned into their street. “At least, I wouldn’t want strange men dropping you off in your car if was your husband.”
Awazi managed to laugh weakly. “Nagode, Samir. It was really really good seeing you, and I mean every word of that. I haven’t laughed in days, and I feel really relieved.”
He pressed his card into her hand. “here’s my number, I’m in Lagos till the year runs out, it’s the one place my old man hates coming to. Call me, if you ever need a familiar ear to talk to.”
She reached over and hugged him, and then he got down, and waited for her to get into the passenger side.
He watched her drive for the few seconds she needed to reach her gate and then turned and walked slowly the junction to get a cab back to his car.
It was Wednesday morning that Dr. Ajanaku sat with his council in his office. Derin’s statement of claim had finally come in and he had hurriedly called the meeting.
“Rasheed, please break it down for us in simple, regular people English, what are his demands?”
“Well, he wants the following. First, he wants Hakeem’s license withdrawn. Second, he wants the operating license of the hospital withdrawn. And finally, he wants financial compensation of fifty million naira to enable him and his wife to pursue fast-tracked conception options to ensure delivery of another child. He basically stopped short of trying to institute criminal charges against you for murder. I’m sure if it was within his power to sue you for murder, he would have.”
Bintu, the head matron sighed. The boy wasn’t playing at all, he wanted to shut them down patapata.
“Why isn’t he being reasonable. We are offering him those fast tracked conception options, on a platter of gold, and he wants to go to court to fight for it? Isn’t that plain stupid,” Hakeem said with contempt.
“Listen to yourself, calling somebody stupid. A pot calling a small kettle black. Anyway, we will come back to your own matter, abowaba” Doctor said.
“I said it before that the boy won’t negotiate. We have no choice but to fight to save ourselves in this matter. Oga Rasheed, you said something about a pretrial conference, I think that’s what we should be looking at now” Bintu said.
“Yes, that’s the next step.” Rasheed responded
“Do you possibly think we can kill this case in pretrial by any means?” Doctor inquired.
“I will attempt to. One of the new rules is that we have to do what we call front-feeding for evidence. It means we have to submit our evidence before going to court. So, we will ask for the autopsy report at pretrial if he still insists on being unreasonable. Let us see how willing he will be to dig up his child from the grave.”
“Has anything about this appeared in the press yet?” Bintu asked
“No, we haven’t heard anything and I have my people monitoring,” Rasheed responded.
“I hope they are checking on blogs and social media?” Hakeem asked.
“Blogs? Social media? Which one is that again?” Bintu asked.
“You don’t know about social media? I really hope you are monitoring it, it’s the fastest way news spreads these days. One person says it, and everyone spreads it. I’m surprised it’s not one twitter yet.” Hakeem said
“Wise Hakeem, that knows about social media, you are surprised it’s not there yet or you are doing something actively to make sure it doesn’t appear there?” Doctor said and then said to no one in particular “this is sha my cross, I will carry it.”
Hakeem became hot between the ears. “I was just pointing something out, Dad, there’s no need to make me look stupid,” he retorted.
“Like you need any help with that. You cannot manage to hold on to your license abroad and at home, and you are here talking about being made to look stupid.”
Bintu saw that this would devolve into a distraction and she quickly brought the meeting back into focus.
“So Oga Rasheed, you believe this your measure would save us the court wahala?” she asked.
“He has constrained us to that choice now. I have an ace up my sleeve though, but I don’t think it is ripe for revelation just yet, I would rather keep it up that proverbial sleeve. I also need to research this his lawyer. If he or she put together stuff of this quality within the few days between now and when he or she must have been briefed, then we have one formidable opponent in our hands.”
“I will trust you on that one Rasheed.” Doctor said.
Derin couldn’t believe how excited he was about having lunch with Ope. He could count the number of words him and Awazi had said to each other since Sunday on his fingers. The woman was being stubborn; she always wanted it to be him that would apologize first whenever they quarreled. She seemed to have gotten into that habit since he had gone after her that time she left the house, and now he saw many instances in retrospect where this was the case. Well, she wasn’t having her way on this one. He would do this, and she would have to come to terms with it.
They had selected the new chic restaurant inside Osborne Estate, minutes from his office. He got there minutes to one, a little earlier than they planned to meet. He was surprised when he got there and met Ope. She had selected a corner away from the door, arranged so that they had a good degree of privacy away from most of the other customers. She was in a figure hugging black gown that hugged the contours of her body like it was sewn onto her frame. Her hair was neatly packed and she was wearing her glasses, peering into her iPad. She looked up as he got to her.
“Ah, Derin, you came in early too. I anticipated traffic, but as God would have it, the road was sort of free, so I got here some minutes ago. You don’t look so good. Have you been eating properly?”
Wow, Derin thought. His worries were beginning to affect how he looked.
“I’m a married man, and my wife makes sure I eat jo.” He patted his belly without any enthusiasm and then sat down.
“So straight to business, what is this that you’d like to discuss about your office?” Ope said, her tone businesslike.
Derin had expected that they would banter a bit but since Ope had chosen to be all business, he decided to be that way too.
“My boss has effectively asked me to end the pursuit of the case.”
“Derin, how exactly has he done this? There’s a fine line between the legal and the illegal there, and it’s how he has framed this that would determine it.”
“Well, he didn’t say ‘Derin, if you continue with this case, you are fired’. No, he basically said that the case should not affect productivity, I should ensure that I met all deliverables and that I was not going to get any days off work to go to court.”
Ope rubbed her chin, pondering for a moment. “Your boss is one smart fox, he’s trying to get you off the case without exposing himself to the possibility of a lawsuit. Thing is, you have a duty and a right to answer court summons where it is material to a case before any court, and your employer has no right to stop that. Now, if he can prove that your appearances in court are affecting your productivity, he might have a case to disengage you, especially where the reasons for drop in productivity are not directly caused by your appearing in court, but by the pressures of pursuing the case. So, you walk a fine line here Derin. You’ll have to make sure that for the duration of the case, you do not goof on deliverables at work. And where you have to appear in court, and your boss threatens you with a sack, tell him he’ll be hearing from your lawyers. If it’s what I think it is, he will back down.”
“What do you think it is?” Derin asked.
“I don’t know for sure, so I won’t insinuate. Give me his name, and I’ll do my research. Would tell you when I’m certain my about it.”
Ope didn’t say anything further and for some reason he couldn’t understand, Derin ran out of things to say. There was an awkward silence between them for a few minutes before she began to pack her things. “I guess we should be going then, you do have to get back to work on time.”
“Yes, yes, true.” He responded.
She got up, and then as if it was an afterthought, she turned to him and said “Oh, and Derin, you should be prepared to travel either Friday or Saturday, as we’ll be invited for a pretrial meeting around that time. They’ll try to make you look unreasonable for wanting to go to court, in spite of their offer, and would try to convince the court to throw out the case as a waste of judicial time since they’ve made a compelling offer. So be ready.”
Then she got up and left, smiling a knowing smile. She didn’t have to look back to know that his eyes followed her to the door.
Derin got up slowly after Ope had gone. He wondered how he would be able to tell his wife he was travelling alone with Ope.