Una Nina Nine
“Ritualists Invade Cemetery, Make Away With 49 Heads”
“Police Arrest Cemetery Attendant With Human Skull”
With headlines like these, I really shouldn’t be in a cemetery with my cousin again, on this warm, Wednesday night.
“Dem don dey come,” Tidime whispers to me.
We scoot behind the moss covered tombstone of one Mr George Olubande. He was apparently a Court Interpreter in the service of the Lagos Colony “who died mysteriously, aged ninety five in 1925.” According to the plaque, “May God punish those behind his unexpected death with Sopona, wherever they are until they all come to confess, one by one.”
It was signed by, “All the children of the first wife, Mrs Victoria Olubande.”
I am of the hope that although I have taken cover here three times now, I had no part in his mysterious, unexpected death, and will therefore be safe from the tag team punishers, God and Sopona, the god of smallpox.
I can tell you that I’m not here by choice. I would have gladly presented any capable private investigator with a blank cheque. But this is Nigeria, my beloved country.
The best referral I got led me to a dusty little office in the Brazilian quarters of Obalende. It had a kiosk in front selling ‘fairly used’ plastic custard bowls and midget goats. The multitasking owner, after enquiring about the nature of the required services, offered to drive me to my cheating husband’s office in the company of two ferocious looking area boys. They would then set upon him in a time trusted manner to extract a full confession.
“That will be faster and cheaper for you.”
I found his grasp and attention to detail, to be scant.
Just two weeks ago, my life was fine. Ticking along exactly how I like it. Shower. Work. Dinner. Television, magazine or book. Bedtime. Twenty four hours, done. Repeat next day.
Some might call it boring. But in my opinion, there’s enough to kill you in what is considered a ‘normal’ African day, without seeking more thrills. Drinking water, malaria, eating beans, sleeping with your windows open, not counting suicide…
It is so very us to resume work after the weekend to victorious greetings of “Happy Monday,” having survived the preceding week.
I consider Mr Olubande lucky to have lived for ninety five years. A century after his demise, the average life expectancy has been revised downwards to fifty three. With much prayers.
He must have been a sage to safely navigate the white water known as family interference for that long. In my case, family has sent me here, to a cemetery, thrice, before my death.
My husband works as a very senior detective in the Anti Fraud Unit. His office is opposite the oldest cemetery in Lagos.
After he was promoted and put in charge of a whole new team, the name of a new transferee began to feature during our television tray dinners.
“Daisy made new inroads into a group of internet love scammers based in Festac.”
“Do you know Daisy drew up and successfully defended the reintroduction of jettisoned budget items like cyber security training at Monday’s presentation?”
I’m not the wife to worry too much about what my hubby gets up to in the course of his daily life. In my opinion, the event of a wedding may be catalysed by tingling feelings which include love and passion but one must have the outlook of a supportive partner for a successful lifelong contract.
And as for the professional side, pertaining to classified information, the assumption that official secrets aren’t revealed to spouses, is completely false.
I’m told everything in such minutiae that it goes in one ear and out the other.
The name Daisy became an irritant only because stories about her coincided with when my television favourite, Judge Judy, was laying into one of her feckless victims with her one liners.
They walk past us, not quite three graves away and I wonder why they can’t smell Tidime who is sodden with drink.
I am not suicidal and actually was going to give today a miss when he arrived to pick me up at home. Tidime is an okada rider, easily distinguished from other professionals by the fine face mask of dust over his face and hair. He also bears a personal halo of flies which can probably still sniff the pineapple used in fermenting the burukutu on his breath. The booze certainly weighted his tongue down phonetically.
“Sister, I’m ready,” slurred out as,
“Lister, I’m leady.”
As to my concern he did not look sober enough to drive this sister anywhere, he assured,
“Don’t wolly. God will plotect us.”
I didn’t want to hurt his feelings and a big part of me just wanted this whole thing to be over. So I took my life in my hands again and hopped onto his Simba Titan 125.
We arrived at the cemetery, but I think I’ll walk back home.
As they have in the last two weeks, the naughty pair of my husband and Daisy, disappear around the corner of the haunted looking bungalow without doors and windows. Smack in the middle of the estate, it was previously some sort of administrative office for, I don’t know, grave or ghost-busters?
We give them five minutes, plenty of time to compromise themselves and then this time, we follow their route.
Except that when we turn the same corner, there’s a ha-ha, an unexpected flight of stairs in an opening the size of a grave, leading to something or nothing, underground.
I think that the much touted speed of the fastest computer processors is as nothing in a human fight or flight situation. The synergy of my mind and brain runs in any and all directions:
What if the British government proactively designed and built this cemetery to accommodate the future requirements of body parts dealers and zombie prophets.
My cousin isn’t so drunk that he doesn’t also pause to consider his range of the possibilities that could confront us at the end of this flight of stairs. He holds on to my knotted wrapper for courage and nods in acknowledgement of fear.
With the benefit of hindsight, I should have turned around and left. But instead, by the light of my keyring lamp, we progress like ghosts into the darkness at the bottom of the stairs.
We are now so deep into Hades that the weak light of my torch does not penetrate the night above.
It is no place for a claustrophobe and I’m not one, but I need to get past the smell of rotting vegetation, the scraping of millipedes and little snails under my slides. I imagine wet cobwebs must be hanging right over our heads and millions of questioning eyes of offended spirits boring into us.
I push aside the crudely fashioned, wooden door in front of us, hanging off one half of a pair of hinges.
Only to be faced with a modern, intimidating metal door. I may not be superstitious but I swear, if there were hieroglyphs or some strange writing on the walls, I would probably have turned and fled at this point.
I don’t know why dead people need multiple doors except to ensure that the living who come looking for them, never leave.
I’m under the influence of uncut adrenaline now so I remove my head tie and tie it around my waist to serve as a belt should any manner of a kerfuffle ensue.
With all the courage I can muster against a troop of mini Frankensteins, I turn the door handles fully and accidentally launch Tidime and I halfway into a fluorescent lit, air conditioned office, complete with a dozen desks and swivel chairs, occupied by several hostile looking men and women glowering at us, with guns at the ready.
“What are you doing here,” my startled husband asks. “Did something happen at home?”
Is there any good way to explain one’s self out of such a situation?
I could have been at home with Judge Judy. I could have been working out models and modules to deliver inventory, faster.
See me nah, looking and feeling stupid. Wondering, “Why, oh why, did I listen to my family and ‘helpful’ neighbours.”
Immediately after military rule, there had been headlines along the lines of,
“Underground Detention Centre Discovered In Ikoyi Cemetery!”
It had been decades and I had completely forgotten.
My husband could have told me that his new squad had an office in a cemetery instead of rabbiting on about Daisy…
Maybe he did.
So this is my unplanned introduction to my newly promoted husband’s teammates:
A visibly drunk young man in a stained sleeveless vest, is leaning against me for support. I’m in flip flops, a head tie is tied around my waist, showing my patchy, unkempt hair and a purple keyring is dangling from my stained fingers.
In a cemetery.
As realisation fights its way through, my head drops. I take the opportunity to try some quick thinking in the attempt to fabricate a rational excuse.
He blabs, “Lister, I told you uncle can lever have anyting to do wit Daisy.”
May God punish all those behind my shame and embarrassment with sopona, wherever they are, until they all come out to confess one by one.