Angels & Demons
The smoke from the industrial neighborhood mixed with fog created a surreal ambience, combining with the street lights to cloud Allen Avenue in a haze. The young man who suddenly appeared in the distance walked as though he expected zombies or aliens to appear at any moment.
The low chuckle floating from his figure sounded eerie as he wrapped the jacket tighter around his lean frame, shrugging the backpack higher on his shoulder and walking in brisk strides across the road. He could hear loud music from the nightclubs that littered Ikeja.
Bashir shuddered and spat distastefully. He hurried across a junction, footsteps ringing loudly as he climbed the sidewalk. Suddenly his heart left his chest and showed up in his mouth as bright lights surrounded him. For a crazy second he wondered if the aliens he imagined earlier had come to get him. The loud drone of an automobile engine announced a car, and he waved anxiously, hoping it was a taxi.
A Mercedes Benz came hurtling out of the fog; howling as though mad dogs and not an engine were beneath the bonnet. Bashir jumped back swearing – and lost his sense of direction as he bumped into something heavily. Covering his nose against the sudden sharp smell of local gin and weed, Bashir spent a moment wondering if he wasn’t drunk as he staggered around, disoriented for some seconds. By the time he could stand properly again what he saw was the rapidly disappearing back of a weaving figure clutching something in his left hand.
“Stupid drunk,” Bashir muttered and walked on, brushing his suit impatiently in a vain attempt to clean away the smell that embraced him with filmy arms. His backpack once again returned to its original position, and he hurried towards the junction where the traffic light’s glowing red looked like home to him. He would definitely get a taxi –
He smelled her long before he saw her.
His stomach recoiled and he almost lost his supper of Indomie noddles and eggs – a supper thrown together professionally by the Hausa man next to the office. His stomach recoiled in reaction to her smell – and he spent a moment wondering if she had been baptized in cheap perfume earlier that evening. His strides slowed, then he hunched deeper in his jacket and picked up the pace.
He didn’t plan to look at her – he just wanted to go by and go on, but his gaze was inexplicably drawn to the last street light before his corner and there she was, looking just like he knew she would – black dress throwing her light skin into sharp relief and leaving nothing to the imagination, lips and fingernails dripping blood, neck and earlobes blinking and winking in the light.
She chose her spot well.
She wasn’t standing directly underneath the street lights, but she was close enough to be on display for whoever wanted to watch. And; Bashir admitted, there was a lot of her to watch.
He danced out of reach of her fang-fingers and hurried along on his way, not looking back for fear she would look past his frown and see what was really in his heart.
“Oga.” At first he thought someone was grinding stone – and then he realized she was talking. “Oga, make we go house na. You no dey cold?”
He almost missed his footing as he scrambled away from her, to get to his – the corner, and get a cab.
The corner lit up again and his hand came up – almost of its own volition before he took control and commanded it to stay beside him. For the vehicle approaching was nothing like a cab, and if the bulk was not sign enough, the ‘POLICE’ scribbled across the side in crimson letters quickly cleared that up. He looked back in the direction it was coming from, hoping it would just drive past – and his head jerked back as it screeched to a halt and a door opened somewhere to his right.
“Who are you?”
Policemen. They were made of the same ingredients everywhere – only worse or better variants; depending on who you ask.
Bashir smiled and responded. “How can I help you officer?”
A frown descended on the policeman’s face with the speed of rain. “I’m asking who are you you’re asking how you can help me. Do I need your help?!” He exhaled. “I say who are you and what is in ya bag?!”
Bashir couldn’t keep a quiver out of his voice – a quiver that became more pronounced as two other policemen appeared as though from nowhere. “It’s…it’s my laptop and some books…”
The policeman closest to him rudely pulled the bag off his back. “You have receipt abi?”
Relief poured over Bashir in waves of air. “Yes I do. Let me just…” he reached in his jacket pocket, intending to pull something out and therefore did not understand why his hand closed on air.
Trying not to look desperate, he patted his chest pocket again and then all of the pockets on himself and his bag. His wallet, containing his cards, receipts, money had simply disappeared.
He closed his eyes and tried to remember the last time he saw it. He paid for the noodles with two fifty naira notes, recalling the feel of the notes as he handed them to the alhaji. He saw himself clearly putting it back in his jacket pocket, the stroll down Allen Aven…
By the time he could stand properly again what he saw was the rapidly disappearing back of a weaving figure clutching something in his left hand…
The drunk he collided with had taken his wallet.
Bashir slumped on the sidewalk, eyes stinging from hot tears. The policemen were yelling and waving their guns at him but he couldn’t hear them. He kept thinking about his laptop – six years of work, leaving with the policemen and not being able to do anything about it. His chest heaved and he would have started sobbing.
The voice came from somewhere to his left and he, along with three other policemen turned to look.
They saw a girl, a finely made girl who looked like she just got out of bed hurrying towards them. Beneath the oversized t-shirt she wore, her breasts jiggled gently. Bashir quickly wiped his eyes as it occurred to him that he’d seen her before. Something about her looked familiar…
“Officer,” she said again as she stopped beside him. “Please. He’s my boyfriend. We just had a small fight and he got upset and left. I just threw on a t-shirt and ran after him.”
She turned to face Bashir and he almost gasped out loud. He knew where he had seen her before – a few minutes ago standing next to a street light…
“Madam,” the first officer said. He sounded a lot gentler than when he was speaking to Bashir earlier.
“Yes, officer?” she responded and Bashir marveled at the accent with which she spoke.
“Na because of you o. You know how Ikeja is hard. All these boys –“ the policeman indicated Bashir disdainfully. “Whether they’re thieves.” His eyes rested on her bosom, and Bashir wasn’t sure but he could swear she pushed it out more. “Be careful o.”
“Yes officer. Thank you officer,” she curtsied and grabbed Bashir’s arm none-too-gently. “Let’s go, Seun,” she said.
The sound of the police truck driving off came to them but they kept walking till they turned a corner. “My name is Bashir,” he mumbled through confused lips. The girl gave no response, just stopped walking and let go of his arm. He felt ashamed and she looked at him unsmilingly.
“How do you want to get home?” she asked.
“Um…I think I’ll just go back to the office. I have the keys.”
She cocked her head. “And what if those policemen see you again?”
Bashir had no answer.
“You better come with me,” she said. Bashir gasped and looked around as though there was someway he could just disappear. The girl frowned and started walking.
“I don try,” she said quietly and Bashir ground his teeth in frustration. What were his options?
“Wait!” he yelled and started running after her. She didn’t respond, just continued walking. She stopped just before the traffic light, reaching into a corner and picking up her bag and other things before continuing to walk. Bashir fell in stride beside her and reached for her bag.
She stopped and looked at him. “I just want to help,” he said.
After frowning up at him for a bit, she let him carry the bag and they walked together.
“Thank…thank you. My name is Bashir,” he said.
“You’re welcome,” she smiled and he wondered how he ever thought she was ugly. “I’m Miriam.”