The weather outside was hot and dry with the humidity sucked out of the atmosphere to the very last drop of moisture, very much like the insides of Mallam Musa’s mouth. He could not believe it had come to this. How could this people do this evil thing to him? His own family? But how could they be so callous?
He scanned the room carefully, narrowing his gaze so everyone he looked at knew just how serious the situation was. They were all crammed in the office of the Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) in the D-division of Biriniwa Local Government area of Jigawa State.
“So you’re saying these are your suspects, eh?” the DSP, Mr. Shekarau said in fierce, fast flowing Hausa.
Musa would not be fooled by the hypocritical machismo. He knew the only reason this useless police man was listening to him was because Salah was fast approaching and he was again hoping for a sizeable discount when he came to purchase ram for the celebration.
“So you think one of them did it, or they all worked together to commit the crime?” Shekarau asked again, simultaneously dusting a tattered notebook he had just rustled out from beneath a stack of files with the top one marked: ‘Unsolved Cases’.
“I don’t care if it was just one of these people or if they are all bloody accomplices, all I want is my property!” Musa was getting impatient. Something however tickled on his insides. He doubted if anyone else in the room understood what the word ‘accomplice’ meant. He prided himself to have been the first male among his peers as far as he could tell who made it as far as the final year of senior secondary school. Even though he flunked the final S.S.C.E exams, he always insisted that he refused to carry on to the university because he continuously was barraged by information that was contrary to his religious beliefs. He was after all, a devout, practicing Muslim man. That was one more thing he lied to himself about.
On hearing the word ‘accomflice’, Aisha immediately clutched her chest with the cup of her right palm. She could not believe her own husband was associating her with that word. Did it not refer to common criminals? How could he say such a thing? After all the nights he had spent lying on her bosom? After she had given him four children, all of whom were boys?
“Mallam, haba, Me your first wife?” She cooed softly to him, baring her teeth in astonishment.
Musa stole a glance at her before his gaze drifted off. He could not help but notice that as at current count, five of her teeth were already gold plated. He wondered what happened to the slim looking Fulani woman he married 20 years ago who had barely seen her first menses at the time, and screamed that witches were after her life the first time trickles of blood ran down her spotless leg. Those days, her legs were slim and long like the Hadejia-Kafin Hausa River. Now her tummy was bloated as if that nonsense doctor from her delivery last year had forgotten another baby in there. He never trusted the man anyway, with his funny accent and beardless chin. What kind of man shaved his beards anyway? He thought, stroking his impressive beards.
“Yes, you” Musa spat in her direction.
Ever since he purchased the Nissan Murano, making him the first man in the three compounds that constituted his extended family to buy a brand new car, Aisha never failed to show her dislike of the car. At the time she had wanted him to give her money to go to Mecca for the sixth time so she could come back and oppress her friends with some more gold teeth. He just hoped someday she would not come back with golden eyes when there were no more teeth to plate. Well, that would cause some trouble. How would she see properly when she was making him a bowl of Tuwo Shinkafa?
Musa shook his head at the foreboding feeling that one day, he might not get to eat the well-cooked Tuwo Shinkafa she was so great at preparing. His thoughts were interrupted by a familiar voice.
“Yaro Mu, let us think this thing over before we say things we should not say. Fighting with family and friends is like walking blindfolded in a maze of dark tunnels. It is impossible to trace back your steps once you set off.”
Only one person in the world called Musa that. Just as he was the only one Musa knew who could come up with wisdom nuggets like that on his feet. Sanni had been Musa’s closest friend for as long as he could remember. Since his mother died in childbirth, word had it that Musa’s own mother had breast fed the boy as an infant as they were born at about the same time. They had rolled worn out tires down many dusty roads together, chased the smelly goats of Sheikh Abdulgafar round the market squares and even shared Tsarance partners in their youth.
Sanni sat cross-legged on a mat in the corner of the office with his back leaned against its dirty walls as he spoke. He was wearing his favourite white Jalabia, now brownish from repeated wear, so had no fears of the wall staining it. His square, muscular chins and soft eyes had made him the toast of many yarinyas in their heydays. Ever since Musa had bought that damn car, all had changed between them. He particularly remember how Musa’s eyes went from a mildly jaundiced yellow to fiery, sulfuric red when he joked about Musa’s choice of car while they sat in it.
“Why did you not just buy a good Honda, like a respectable Hausa man?” He had said jokingly that day, making reference to the automobile brand common among their ilk. Unfortunately, the joke was lost on his dear friend. He was always one to argue that White men had their own brand of black magic no matter what the literati said. Well, here was the proof. Musa had been bewitched by his own Murano!
Danjuma babbled something in a language only eight months old understand. He moved his small mouth in the direction of his mother’s breasts but when it did not touch anything settled back to sleep. Mariam, Musa’s youngest wife smiled lovingly at her child and then coyly in the direction of the DSP. The way her chest heaved quietly up and down, it was clear she was the only one other than Musbau (she insisted this was the boy’s name, and not Danjuma) who had no inkling what on Earth she was doing in a police station. She had barely ever held a pencil in her entire life not to talk of learning to read. Hell, she might mistake it for something used to grind pepper if she saw one. Sometimes when Musa mused on her stark illiteracy, he wondered what attracted him to her, seeing how he believed someone with his wealth of knowledge of the ways of the infidel Westerners should marry someone of similarly impressive education. However, as he looked at her once again, the memories flooded back to him. Her thin lips and dimples, the way the shawl moved with her round, innocent breasts as she breathed; her fair, aquiline features and perfectly assembled dentition.
Musa suddenly snapped out of the reverie. She was as much of a suspect as anyone else in the room, and there was a simple reason for this. Barely a week after he had bought his beautiful, ash coloured, air-conditioned Nissan Murano with its leather interiors and buttons left, right and centre like a contraption that could take off into the air if you pressed the right ones- he had sneaked into Mariam’s room and discovered something very shocking in her closet. She had always guarded this closet more secretly than the concubines of the Pope. Yes, he never for once believed any man could do without the warm embrace of a woman, but that was another story altogether.
Well, that day he found an impressive stack of two sachets of macaroni, his missing reddish-brown praying mat, a small pile of religious magazines and even a machete! He had a sudden epiphany. For someone who could not differentiate between the letters of the alphabet, it was strange what mental illness it was that empowered her to know which objects started with the letter ‘M’ and what magical spells they held over her. Another thought suddenly hit him like a quick blow. That was why she insisted her son’s name was Musbau and not Danjuma, and more shockingly the way her demure disappeared as she screamed his name whenever they were getting to know each other better in his chambers! Well, he was not having any of that this time around. She had just touched the last ‘M’.
He still had not gotten to play that ‘aboki’ song in his car. He wanted the ground to shake with a boom-boom whenever he drove by the thatched mud houses of some of his distant relatives. Unknown to him, his face was currently curling into a frown as he remembered that ‘Izeprinze’ or whatever it was that rapper called himself did not mention his name along with Dangote and his other favourite ‘abokis’ in the song. Musa was certain his name belonged to that list. Weren’t his cows the fattest on this side of the Niger Delta? Did the herdsmen not confess that the milk they secreted from their udder were more delicious than fura de Nunu sold by Fulani hawkers. Just yesterday, he had given Usman, Aisha’s teenage son some money to help him buy the CD and insisted the boy should not return home until he had gotten it. Well, Usman was yet to say anything about it. He was tapping his fingers anxiously on his laps as he leaned against the wall at the back of the room, sandwiched between Sanni and his step mother.
“Usman!” Musa barked at the boy, and asked in Hausa. “Where is the thing I told you to buy, and where is my car?!”
“I don’t know anything about that” Usman responded defensively, in a somewhat incoherent mixture of Hausa and English. He always wanted to impress his father with his mastery of the English language whenever he could but in his current state of confusion instinctively fell back to the language he spoke in his dreams. He wondered what had come over the man this time around. The last time he had seen his father this angry was when he asked for money for registration for JAMB examinations. His father angrily asked if it was because of his own university degree that the Emir of Ilorin had ordered for 5 of his fattest cows when Arsenal Football club played in the Champions League finals.
“What do you know about life?” Musa had said to the startled boy that day, in between a mouthful of cola nuts. “You better begin to learn the family trade. Who do you think will take care of my cattle when I’m gone?”
That ended the discussion that day, but somehow Musa knew the boy never forgave him for that. Secretly, the real reason he did not want the boy to advance in his studies was that he could not bear knowing that someone in his household was more learned than he was. He was after all the head of the house and had to be at the fore front of every aspect of their lives. It was enough that at 5 foot 10, the boy was already taller than him, even though not yet fully grown. He could not bear to have the boy become proud with knowledge also. Never! Who has ever heard of such a thing? Never!
“Mallam”, after scribbling only God knows what in his small notebook for a couple of minutes, Shekarau suddenly looked up at Musa.
“You know how we like to be careful in our line of business so we cannot make any arrests at the moment. We would have to carefully interview everyone one by one, to find out where they were between yesterday evening… that’s when you saw the car last, not so?”
Musa nodded lazily, a slight headache announcing its presence as he did so. The question however continued to linger in his head as he suddenly started to ask himself when it was he saw the three month old car last…
“Listen, you this bloody civilian! You think I don’t have better things to do with my time?”
A constable was screaming at an otherwise calm young man in the reception. Shekarau, in a move that defied his enormous potbelly, sprung from where he sat and trotted into the waiting area. The young policeman was seated behind the wooden reception desk with his legs crossed on a stool in front. He had an old newspaper in his hands. On the wall behind him was a green cardboard paper with the scribbled words:
The Police is your friend
“Sorry sir!” The constable jumped agilely to his feet, saluting the DSP at the same time.
“What is the problem here?” Shekarau drawled his words the way he knew Ogas had to so as to sound important.
“Sir, it is this man here”, the constable said, pointing in the general direction of the bewildered man standing in his front with a perplexed look on his face.
“He said he wants to report a lost and found item, but…” The constable’s words trailed off.
“But…?” Shekarau reinforced
“But”, the constable’s voice dropped to a shaky whisper
“…but he has refused to pay the Listening fee”
Shekarau almost jumped out of his skin when the stupid policeman said those words. He was not sure whether to jump across the desk and strangle the bastard to death for not being more discreet with their unwritten policies, or whether to run outside to buy a cup of daddawa and soak the man’s lumpy eyes in them. He quickly looked around the room, beyond the stranger in their midst to see if anyone else around might have heard what was just said. Other than the three of them, no one else was there. His eyes finally settled on the Good Samaritan. He almost choked when he recognized the man.
“Sir”, the man started, immediately wiping the subtle smirk off his face when he noticed that the DSP had recognized him.
“My name is Vincent. I run the …em…em, adult English class on the outskirts of town. I’m sure you have heard about it”
“Go on!” Shekarau half yelped, half pleaded with a wave of his hand.
“Well, Mallam Musa is one of my students” His words were interrupted by a sudden short snicker from the constable who immediately started to cough violently when Shekarau sneered in his direction.
Who did they think they were fooling? The constable thought to himself. He knew all about the Adult English Class on the outskirts of town. For heck sake, he was a student there himself! Who wanted to face the wrath of their stiff Sharia laws by getting caught with beer in this their hypocritical town? Weirdly, he had once caught a disguised Sheik Danladi sipping a bottle or two in the place along with this his corrupt oga. Well, he made a quick resolution to play along. This was after all Nigeria. Nothing was as it was meant to be.
“…It appears Mallam was …em, really tired after last night’s session” Vincent continued his tale unperturbed, dressed in a blue bubban riga, brown leather palm sandals and white skullcap. “I saw him walk past his new car as he chartered a commercial motorcycle, got on it with his hands in the air, and ordered the rider to start moving”
“Wait”, Shekarau interrupted. “What do you mean by his hands in the air?” He asked.
Vincent lifted both his hands and placed them on an invisible steering wheel above his head that he turned it from side to side, the furrows on his forehead deepening as he concentrated on what he was doing.
“Sir, it would appear that Mallam Musa drove only his car keys back home!”
“Hmm…” Shekarau sighed, scratching his head. How strange it was that the first case to be solved in this police station since he was appointed DSP 3 years ago should pass by very quickly.
At this rate, he would become a commissioner in no time at all. He definitely had a way with mysteries.