Monday, 8 December 2014

The House My Father Built 5

The House My Father Built_front

We were all gathered in the charge room, Prince and his friend on one side, me on the other. The officer sat in front of us with a woman detective beside him. He read my petition then turned to me.

‘So what do you say happened?’
‘This man has refused to pay me any rent for almost four years now and when I finally told him to go, he threatened me.’
He nodded and turned to Prince. ‘And what is your own?’
‘OC, it is not that I don’t want to pay, only that I don’t have any money now. I am a politician. When my aspirants…’
‘Can’t you even pay something?’
‘Like I said, I am a politician and I have my aspirants…’
As he spoke, the charge officer turned to the woman detective and said something to her, then looked back at Prince.
‘Eh heh, what were you saying?’
‘My aspirants have promised me a post once they win the election.’
‘I think you should try and pay something,’ he said. ‘As you see me here, I also have to pay rent. Even this year, I had to beg my landlord to give me some more time to balance him, but I had to first give him something so that he could hear me.’
‘Like I said, OC, once my aspirants…’
As he spoke, the officer leaned over to the woman and said something and she replied.
‘He’s not listening to me,’ Prince said, giving up.
‘I think it is a matter of self-respect,’ the officer said. ‘Everybody must pay their rent.’ He shook his head in bafflement and wrote on a sheet of paper and handed it to Baba Ibadan, who beckoned us all to follow him, including the woman detective. On our way out, we collected a wretched-looking young man in handcuffs. At first, I thought we were going by police van, but we left the station and crossed the main road and stood waiting for a taxi. It was about 11 o’clock and people were going about their normal business, hustling in Lagos, as The Poet would say. Suddenly, the man in handcuffs legged it. Baba Ibadan and the woman detective tore after him. Prince laughed and said something to his friend. It was surreal. Here we were, standing on busy Western Avenue not far from where Pepsi was killed by a runaway bus, and there was nothing in the world to prevent Prince himself from taking off. He wasn’t even handcuffed.
Baba Ibadan and his colleague caught their quarry and we hailed a taxi. Prince and his friend squeezed in the front; the rest of us squeezed in the back. The price hadn’t been discussed but, as usual, I would be paying. There was some initial confusion about which of the four courtrooms we would still find a magistrate sitting. It turned out to be the other one in the same block where I had been coming and going with the Alhaji and Pepsi, with the same spreading almond tree in the middle, the same old man sitting under it and the same charge-and-bail lawyers looking for custom, one of whom quickly latched onto Prince.
It seems that the court had to be reconvened because the magistrate was getting ready to leave for the day. While we waited, the man in handcuffs, who was sitting on the concrete floor, made a drinking gesture. A shop nearby advertised ‘pure water’, so I bought two sachets and gave them to him. The woman detective smiled in approval; Baba Ibadan said that the man had raped an eight-year-old girl left in his care by his master. I don’t know what became of him because our case was called first. Prince stood in the dock, just like the tout who had run away with my phone money and looking just as bewildered. The charge was read out: hiring suspected assassins. Even I went a little weak at that. Prince was asked whether he wanted to plead guilty or not guilty. He looked to his newly acquired lawyer, who was himself getting to his feet. The lawyer gave his little speech but the magistrate, who seemed to be in a hurry, set a date for hearing one month hence and remanded him in custody on N100, 000 surety to be guaranteed by two people with landed property in Lagos State.
‘Oga, bring money,’ Baba Ibadan said to me.
‘What for?’
‘Abi you no see as we dey take N15 biro put person for prison,’ he said. ‘I wan’ take am go Ikoyi.’

© Adewale Maja-Pearce
Adewale Maja-Pearce is the author of several books, including Loyalties
and Other Stories, In My Father's Country, How many miles to Babylon? A
Mask Dancing, Who's Afraid of Wole Soyinka? From Khaki to Agbada,
Remembering Ken Saro-Wiwa and Other Essays, A Peculiar Tragedy, and
Counting the Cost, as well as the 1998 and 1999 annual reports on human
rights violations in Nigeria. He also edited The Heinemann Book of African
Poetry in English, Wole Soyinka: An Appraisal, Christopher Okigbo:
Collected Poems, The New Gong Book of New Nigerian Short Stories,
and Dream Chasers.

Click here to see Maja-Pearce's page:

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