I tried to stop the deluge of tears, cascading down my forlorn cheeks but couldn’t. Many men would weep like I did if they came in contact with Japheth Prosper’s The Burglar. I know some mistook it for fiction but for me it is as real as daylight.
Japhet exposed the rut in us when he narrated his emotional encounter with an intruder, who broke into his home on a wet, lonely night; I wept and I’m still inconsolable.
Unfortunately, due to space constraints, I can only serve you the abridged version: It was about to rain. The sky was thick with a storm. I opened the main door and closed it carefully. That door needed repairs but I hadn’t bothered to fix it. If you shut it from the inside without sticking a paper in it, it would be difficult to open from the inside. Someone would have to open it from the outside or else you would remain trapped inside.
Because I was alone, I was careful to put a piece of paper in it before closing it. And because I had no plans of going to bed immediately, I didn’t bother to lock it with a key. Never in my wildest imagination did I think that a burglar would break into the house that night.
I went into the bedroom and sleep found me there in no time. It was the shrill cry of a baby that woke me up later. The rain had stopped. Darkness still enveloped the sky.
I began to wonder what was wrong with the child that was crying. Her voice tore miserably into the silence of the dark and made me feel very uncomfortable. What could be wrong with the child? I thought as I crept out of the bed towards the window.
The cry was coming from the house adjacent mine. It was a small building without a fence. In front of it was a rickety Golf car painted in taxi colours.
I was still wondering why the baby was crying and disturbing the entire neighbourhood when I began to hear the sound of the front door opening. I wanted to scream but intuitively decided against that. The cry of the child continued to waft into my ears and I suddenly began to tremble. I hadn’t seen a thief in real life before.
What if this thief had a weapon? I thought miserably as I quietly ducked behind my bedroom door. When the intruder began to tiptoe into the kitchen, I put my eye through the tiny opening between the door and its frame.
I heaved a sigh when I saw that he was not armed. His silhouette figure moved in the dark like a walking tortoise. The light from his small phone led him into the kitchen. I wanted to scream now but something held me still; perhaps, it was the fear of the unknown. I was paranoid now like never before.
I was still wondering of what to do next when the burglar came out of the kitchen carrying a black polythene bag. The cry of the child from the house adjacent mine continued to waft into my ears. I felt creepy. Even though the weather was cold, I felt sweat drop from my forehead in rivulets. My palms too were damp with sweat. I hadn’t sweated like that before. This could happen to anybody who was alone with a thief in his house; a thief who could have been in possession of lethal arms.
Suddenly, I heard him begin to hit the door and it struck me that he had just jammed the door without using the piece of paper. Certainly, he was trapped. I could hear him curse under his breath. Just then, the lights came on.
When he walked back into the kitchen and I saw that he was not armed, I came out of my hiding place.
“Who the hell are you and what are you doing in my house?” I thundered feigning courage. The fear in his eyes was palpable.
“I..I..I, please, sir!” his knees dropped on the tiled floor. His head was bowed and buried in shame. He could only stutter.
“You had better talk to me before I shoot you dead right now.”
He jammed his palms together and began to cry. “Sir, I have never stolen anything from anyone all my life. But if you could put your ears down right now, you’d hear the cry of a child. That’s my only daughter. She is a year and two months old. We have not eaten since yesterday morning. I haven’t worked since this coronavirus thing began because of the restriction on movement. I am a taxi driver. Even if the lockdown ends today, I still won’t be able to work because I have sold my car battery and bought food to feed my family with it last month. I heard from a friend that you people left the house and won’t be back until Monday. I couldn’t stand the cry of the child anymore. So, I decided to burgle your house to fetch her some food from here. She won’t stop crying until she gets something to eat. My wife too is crying helplessly in the house. I just couldn’t take it. I had to become a thief if only for tonight…”
He was crying as he spoke. I took the black polythene bag from him and my heart dropped when I saw the things he had stolen from the kitchen in it; three packs of noodles, half a loaf of bread, some milk powder and beverages.
My wallet, which had about thirty five thousand naira in it, was lying conspicuously on the chair.
Pointing at the wallet, I echoed; “Why didn’t you take the money or did you not see it?”
“I did,” he replied with his head still bowed. “It was the first thing I pointed the light from my phone at but I have no need of it. I came here to get something for my daughter to eat not to steal money.”
A tear fell off my eye. I held his hands and told him to get up. “You are not a thief, my brother. You are just a father whose love for his only child is without blemish. For your daughter’s sake, I will not do anything to you. Just call your wife to come here with the child so she could open the door for us from outside. That way, she could prepare something for her here to eat.”
Tearfully, he knelt down again and began to cry. He hadn’t airtime on his phone; I gave him mine and he called the wife with it. Before she arrived with the child, I had prepared a beverage for the child while I let him cook some noodles for himself and the wife.
It was my turn to cry when the woman was feeding the child, who was dragging the bread from her mother, as if all her life depended on it. She wolfed down her beverage with the speed of light and as soon as she had had her feel, she crept into the arms of her father and immediately fell asleep.
I gave him all the money in my wallet and told him to buy and stock his house with food with the money.
When my wife returned with the children and I told her what had happened, she cried on end.
“We are just privileged. We are just lucky,” she broke down emotionally. “We cannot be this blessed by God and watch our neighbours suffer. We must help them.”
My wife was right. I bought him a new battery for his car and gave the wife money to start a crayfish trade.
Sometimes, all that we need to completely eradicate crime isn’t to keep buying guns for the police, isn’t to keep pushing people into prison but just to lend a helping hand to our neighbours.
What a story, in a land of plenty. Our commonwealth has been confiscated by misfits in power content to spend a whopping N27b on renovating a building that’s as solid as ever while people are hungry! The suffering of masses is just as imaginably terrible as our leaders’ insensitivity. Sometimes, I truly wish Nigeria could be recolonised. Talk of one BIG ‘Sithole’!