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Esprit de Corps

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Once Upon a Recent  Time

This week, we begin the serialisation of “Esprit de Corps,” the second story from Ogaga Ifowodo’s work-in-progress entitled The Hostage. We began the series with  “The Treasonable Parrot,” his fiction debut featured in the AGNI Portfolio of African Fiction, edited by E. C. Osondu and William Pierce, published in volume 72 of the magazine in 2010. Ifowodo, a lawyer, is an award-winning poet, columnist and activist. At the heart of the work-in-progress is the title story, a novella. The stories are set in Nigeria’s recent history of dictatorship as experienced by characters privately and in unsavoury social encounters caused by the relentless logic of the radical curtailment of freedom. Keep a date with Saturday Vanguard!

As the familiar sounds of ambulance wails  and woebegone cries came from the car radio, Corpo Giwa returned his full attention to the street and recalled with surprising unease his days in the police. He had been scanning the curbside for passengers with just the corner of his left eye, something he had very quickly learned to do instinctively whenever his cab was empty. The transition from police officer to taxi driver had been smooth.

It was one reason why he often thought fondly of his time in the police despite the many disappointments, narrow escapes from death and the physical memory of a gun injury that led to his untimely retirement. Yet even he had to admit that the public had good reason to see the police as “a force for lawlessness and disorder,” the way a populist politician with an acid tongue had put it.

And then there was the matter of checkpoints, called roadblocks by all but the police, which littered every street and highway. The Inspector-General had defied every call to scrap them by issuing an ultimatum. Affronted citizens, he said, could either accept the inconvenience of stopping at checkpoints or the happier prospect of surrendering to armed robbers. But the plain truth, which shamed Corpo Giwa even in retirement, was that they had become no more than extortion points and, too often, scenes of cold-blooded murder of uncooperative commuters.

Corpo Giwa realised he had stopped watching out for passengers altogether as the car radio induced him into deeper reminiscences of his days in the police. He had always been able to dismiss the more dismal recollections by summoning the heroism that ended his career. But now, for the first time, he was unable, even unwilling, to do so. The wails and cries that came from the radio were the soundtrack, so to speak, of the half decade before his untimely retirement.

Under pressure to do something about the alarming turn in armed robberies across the country, mostly in Lagos, the police had launched a massive awareness campaign that relied almost entirely on saturating the airwaves with a jingle. Now it seemed all the radio stations had been ordered to play it every quarter of an hour. And although he knew every word of the jingle, had heard it so many times already today that it was no longer distinguishable from the noise of his car engine, still he listened to it with renewed interest, as if hearing it for the first time.

Armed robber not be spirit o! the radio shrieked. Na human being like you and me! He fit be your neighbour sef! Make you report any suspicious activity near you to the police. Otherwise, you, your family or friend fit be his next victim ooo!

And now Corpo Giwa thought he had found the reason for his suddenly troubling turn of mind—quite a rogue happening, given his generally buoyant temperament that eighteen years in the police, the last five in SARS, the special anti-robber squad, had not managed to dampen. The jingle had not led to the decline of armed robbery. Not when he was in the force nor now. On the contrary, Lagos seemed to be under siege. Robbers were still as hell-bent on money, jewellery, prize electronics, cars, and on raping, killing and maiming as they had ever been. And so despite the best efforts of the police, the public had begun to think that armed robbers were spirits after all. The belief persisted no matter how many “notorious” robbers were reported killed, or arrested and paraded in front of cameras together with the arms and charms “recovered” from them. Now he thought he could detect in the jingle an underlying tone of desperation in the way the voice-over urged vigilance. And maybe the police was aware of it, hence, the need for calm reassurance at the end: This is a message from the Nigeria Police. Never forget the police is your friend.

Corpo Giwa saw two raised hands and swerved to a stop. A man and a woman standing at the right elbow of the roundabout that marks the end of Allen Avenue and the beginning of Opebi Road had hailed his cab. They were going to Gateway Hotel in Ota, just outside greater Lagos. A fair distance but also good fare to end the day. It was ten past seven now and he knew that there would be checkpoints literally a pole apart on every busy street, the officers manning them ever more merciless in their extortion at night. Now that he was a cab driver, he could see them as roadblocks. Oh, he got a free pass all right whenever he uttered the words that identified him as one of them, but he resented the indignity of having to plead special status in order to be spared each time. Since he hadn’t registered his car as a taxi, it fell into the category of private city transports known as kabukabu and was an automatic stop-and-search target. He knew well enough what grief the police gave their owners, cashing in on the lack of proper registration.

As he had expected, there was a checkpoint at the junction of Aromire Street and Adeniyi-Jones Avenue. Approaching it, Corpo Giwa slowed down, shot his left hand out of the window, gave a clenched fist salute and said heartily, Esprit de corps! All the men at the checkpoint knew him, even though it was now three years since he was discharged from the force. His face had been on the cover of all the national dailies, with some of them publishing a full size picture of him leaning on crutches. He had also been celebrated on the Nigeria Television Authority prime time show, Newsline. The officers hailed him back.

“Aah, Corpo, na you? How de go dey go?”

“My people, I dey patch am o! We thank God.”

They let him pass without demanding the obligatory levy extorted from other transporters, driver’s licence and vehicle particulars in order or not. His popularity and the magic words esprit de corps had come to symbolise his passport to the free pursuit of a living. Sometimes, as he passed while fellow citizens fruitlessly sought to negotiate their way through police barricades, he would feel remorse for the devilish time he and his colleagues gave commercial drivers while he was still in the force. They would never let anyone go without parting with the twenty naira levy. In the last two years before his deployment to SARS, the minimum levy had become a wazobia or fifty naira, and not a kobo less. He could not now imagine himself by the side of the road pleading with an officer who held his particulars and would not release them until he had paid up. He thanked God that he could just say three funny words and keep his dignity. Still he wondered if he might not one day be faced with a crew that did not know him or that resented his celebrity cop status and easy retired life.

He knew that ogogoro, eighty per cent proof local gin, and Indian hemp, needed “to boost morale,” especially on night duty, were almost always in the patrol van and the men might be drunk or “high” on any given night. What if he ran into such a crew in an evil hour? The thought was not to be dismissed, as he knew from experience. Yet he would sooner die than allow himself to be extorted. And so, although the odds of his dying of “accidental discharge” at a checkpoint were remote, he always prayed that those three magical words would never lose their potency.

As Corpo Giwa pulled out of the checkpoint, the jingle came on again. Armed robber not be spirit o, na human being like you and me . . .  and he remembered the day he would never forget. After two years of pursuing the vicious Axe Gang without netting a single one of “those Lucifers with Lugers” as he called them, even he had begun to entertain doubts. While not yet gone over to the side of those colleagues of his who had no doubt whatsoever that a human being with the right juju could transform into a spirit, he was no longer able to mock them. After all, he had “a practical belief” in juju, as just about everyone he knew in the force, a belief that cut across faith, creed and rank, fed by the hazards of the job. He had not thought twice about visiting a babalawo recommended by his commanding officer for “gun-shot insurance.” And even now, he still couldn’t tell if he owed his life to that insurance or plain good luck. But that was where he drew the line.

After two frustrating and dangerous years of pursuing the Axe Gang, an anonymous tip had proved dead right. He recalled the words scrawled with a blunt pencil by a laboured hand on a ruled sheet: “If yu wont to kach Axe Gang, go twomoro nite 2 oclok to Palm Groove motell, Shangisha. Go strait to challet from entrans rite wit carshoe tree in front.”

Although the gang carried guns, very deadly ones like AK-47s and Uzis, they never left a victim, dead or alive, without an axe wound. The Axe Gang robbed and maimed and murdered with a demonic fury. When the trail got too close they laid low for some time, only to reappear and blazon a tale surpassing their last in goriness. But the police had made some progress. Three of its members had so far been shot dead and the two captured alive tortured till it was useless to kick in their ribs, break their shin bones with a hammer, burn their fingers with a cigarette lighter, insert hot copper wires in their genitals, lower them into the lagoon upside down from ropes tied to their feet from the Third Mainland Bridge in the dead of night, or devise any other advanced interrogation method to loosen their tongues. And then came the tip. Cornered at last, the gang went down fighting and in the shootout Corpo Giwa had the distinction of killing Red Axe, their leader. But Red Axe had made his mark with an automatic that shattered Corpo Giwa’s left leg. Overnight, he became a national hero. Rich survivors of the gang’s mayhem who had lived in terror for two years vied for the chance to bear the cost of flying him anywhere in the world where his shattered leg could be put together again. He had been flown to Germany, to a military hospital in Dresden where, it was said, the uncanny secrets of putting together the limbs of soldiers which had been so fragmented during World War II that the pieces had to be picked up and sent after them in surgical bags had been carefully preserved.

He returned three months later to a brief period of peace followed by an even more fearsome siege. Desperate for a way to inspire his men and give the city some hope, the Inspector-General had come down from Abuja to personally present Corporal Giwa with his active duty disability reward. And to announce a new “no-nonsense anti-robbery squad” code-named Operation Fire-for-Fire, OFF. Off with armed robbers. He warned robbers to quit the path of violent crime “before it was too late.” Then he added, “Always remember, armed robbers are human beings who live among us; they are not spirits.” The Inspector-General had also decorated Corpo Giwa with his new rank of Inspector, after which he was honourably discharged from the force. He had been due for promotion the last five years of his service and had finally earned it at the price of a leg. Well, better late than never. In any case, he preferred to be called Corpo. He had insisted on that when he attained the rank of Corporal in order to distinguish it from “Couple,” the corrupted pronunciation handed down by the illiterate pioneers of the force from colonial times when it was known as the West African Legion. And it had become his nickname, so that when he attained the rank of Sergeant no one took notice. It hadn’t bothered him the least and, anyway, Corpo sounded like the name of a tough movie star.

Corpo Giwa’s leg had healed very well and soon he was able to walk without crutches, and then to drive. With his reward, he had bought his cab. But the new wave of terror washed Lagos anew with crippling dread. The helplessness of the city was spelled by the name Timmy the Spirit bestowed on the reigning king of robbers, Timothy Anenih. Corpo Giwa’s reminiscences were temporarily halted when his passengers who had been so quiet all along he thought they had fallen into a drunken sleep or drifted into a private heaven—they looked like the type that lived on Indian hemp—began an animated conversation about the harm armed robbers were doing to Lagos night-life. “Musicians down on their luck,” he thought, and wondered if they would be able to pay the fare, if he had made a mistake stopping to pick them up, and at night for that matter. It was getting darker and the traffic snarling into a tighter knot as commuters seethed in steamy vehicles. By now Corpo Giwa had passed two more checkpoints and each time he had needed only to say the magic words esprit de corps to be waved through. The dashboard clock gave the time as half past eight. He had spent over an hour snailing through the gridlock traffic of Ogba and he wasn’t half-way to his destination yet. He decided that after dropping off his passengers, he would head straight home.

No, he did not fear the roads, and was still very much a policeman, but he was above all else a practical man. The mood of the Lagos cops had soured considerably since Anenih came to double the terror of the Axe gang days by targeting police officers. Besides, he really did not wish to get into an argument with his seventy-year-old mother who had finally agreed to move in with him and his small family of four but who wanted him home at twilight every day. A retired headmistress, she deserved the credit that he always claimed for the substitution of “spirit” for “stranger” in the crime-busting jingle of the police. Corpo Giwa had been one of the officers selected to preview the jingle and he never lost the opportunity to bring conversation to the point where he could boast of his role in “composing” it. “Armed robber not be stranger o,” went the original line, but the trial audience had unanimously agreed that “spirit” drove home the point with greater force than “stranger.” As more and more robberies began to occur in the less affluent parts of Lagos, Corpo Giwa had begged his mother to move in with him but she had insisted on living alone long after her youngest child married and left the house. She would concede only to have the ten-year-old daughter of a distant relative sent to her for education in exchange for cleaning, running errands and “another human voice in the house.” Then there was a fatal attack on Iya Resi, the rice trader at the far end of the street in their low-cost government housing estate usually spared robber anxiety. Shaken, the old woman had asked her son what the police was doing to let poor people sleep at night. At first she had been sympathetic as only a mother could be towards an officer of a police force plainly failing in its duty while her son recited a long list of problems hindering their efforts. Then he made the mistake of trying to calm her nerves by recounting the number of times the police had been within pouncing distance of “Fine Boy” Sanusi, then the reigning king of robbers. Even at close to seventy, her mother’s tongue was still a whip and she lashed him. “Tell me,” she said, “this Sanusi, is he a spirit or a human being?” And Corpo Giwa had caught the spirit of the anti-robbery jingle.

Nor did Corpo Giwa wish to keep his wife who was nursing month-old twins, a boy and a girl, awake, wondering about him when she should be getting any sleep she could between endless breast-feeding and diaper changes. In any case, he was tired. The monstrous traffic and the wet-hot air had sapped his last bit of energy and all he wanted now was a cold bath, his favorite supper of pounded yam and smoked fish egusi stew, the soothing softness of his twins asleep and of his bed.

Corpo Giwa looked again at the dashboard clock. In two minutes the network news at nine would begin. He raised the volume of the radio, enough to hear above the noise of the traffic. The jingle welcomed him back to the airwaves. Armed robber not be spirit o! And Corpo Giwa laughed. Those colleagues of his might be right after all. How had Anenih evaded arrest for so long? A harried and perversely admiring public had renamed him Timmy the Spirit, and he saw now another reason for his growing disquiet. Until Anenih was caught or killed, the police was wasting its time bombarding the airwaves with its exhortations. Not when Anenih was carrying out dare-devil raids, such as the attack on the Ikoyi home of a serving commissioner of police, killing him and a sergeant on guard duty.

“Who fit rob police commissioner for him own house, kill him with his orderly, then escape without trace if not Timmy the Spirit?” the growing army of believers in the magical powers of armed robbers affirmed more than asked. The Inspector-General was once again under intolerable pressure. Returning from Paris where he had gone for his annual medical check-up, the head of state replied his Inspector-General’s “Welcome back, your Excellency; I’m sure you got a clean bill of health” with a curt, “My friend, where is Anenih?” Right at the airport! The query solidified Anenih’s spectre of invincibility.

Corpo Giwa had made it to Gateway Hotel by ten, which was better time than he had feared. As he drove home, with the jingle now about the only music from the car radio, he thought some more about the saga of Timmy the Spirit. Of all the gangs the police had pursued, Anenih’s was the most intriguing. Corpo Giwa had put together a narrative of the gang from bits and pieces of intelligence given to him by his friends still in the force, official police bulletins on the new public enemy number one, newspaper reports and plain street lore which straddled fear and admiration. But there was one report that had the ring of veracity to it. The journalist claimed to have conducted his investigation for five months and cited an autobiographical account by a member of the gang who, according to him, wished to tell his story to the public. The issue of The Insider magazine with the cover “The Inside Story of Nigeria’s Most Dreaded Robbery Gang” became an instant collector’s item.

By the time Corpo Giwa had finished recounting to himself the Anenih saga he had carefully stitched together, he was no longer sure what to believe.  Every detail played in his mind like a bloody crime thriller, its thrill so strong that he would exclaim every now and then, “Kai, that Anenih, na proper Lucifer!” or “Ah, Osato—first son of the devil!” As if addressing an imaginary audience, the ghosts of passengers he had ferried across Lagos all day. But was Anenih really transfiguring into a spirit to evade arrest and bullets? It wasn’t the sort of thing a policeman should believe, yet how could Anenih have been within shooting range so many times and eluded capture or death?

Corpo Giwa was now in Abule-Egba on his way home. Loud fuji music borne by the light night breeze reached him from some spot down a narrow street to the left. It was Saturday night and some intrepid Lagosians were defying fear to party, against the fretful reminders of his car radio. Armed robber not be spirit o, and he smiled, too tired to laugh. He was passing the small stretch of vacant land with low bush on either side of the expressway that marks the increasingly indistinguishable end of the western suburb of Lagos from Ota in Ogun State. Flames from two burning oil cans mounted on empty drums used by the police to set up the barricade warned him he was approaching a checkpoint. He wondered how many more he would have to cross before he reached home in Ikotun. He tried to stifle a yawn by lightly beating against his widening mouth with the back of his right hand. He was still at that losing effort when the raised rifle of a sergeant who wore his bullet-proof vest over his uniform signalled him to stop. Corpo Giwa roused himself for the checkpoint ritual, something he could do even in his sleep by now. He thrust his head out of the window, raised his clenched left hand and said the magic words. Even to his ears, the words didn’t sound quite right, not the way he insisted on saying them in clear contrast with the pronunciation of his fellow officers who would say without any care in the world, eh-spi-ritte-dey-corp-se.

What happened next baffled him and for a moment he thought he had fallen asleep at the wheel of his cab and was dreaming.

“Eh?” the officer who had begun to approach him said, pausing to cock his ear and understanding what his former colleague in the battle against armed robbers had just said. And on ascertaining what he had heard, dropped his gun and made a dash for the bush. As he did so, he called out to his checkpoint mates, “Run for cover o! Corpo say Spirit dey come o!”

In less than ten seconds, the entire five-man crew at the checkpoint had disappeared into the bush, their guns on the ground. Corpo Giwa broke into uncontrollable laughter. At last, when he could manage it, he came out of his car. He looked at the guns on the ground and then at the still shaking bush where the law was busy concealing itself from the spirit of a robber. The ludicrous scene, made almost surreal by the bright silver of the moonlight against the dull red oil flame and the mournful wisps of smoke it puffed at the sky, made Corpo Giwa wonder why he had found the behavior of his serving comrades funny. He looked up, then down at the oil drums, the smoke seeking in vain to blacken the brilliant eye of the moon. He shook his head, as if to make him wake up from his dream. Then he tried to form the words to dispel the fear and panic of his comrades but his mouth opened and closed without a sound.

The lights of an approaching car isolated his lonely figure in the road. He would have to explain what he had just witnessed to whoever was in the car. He had no desire to do so, even if he could, and he clearly couldn’t. He took one more look at the guns on the ground, the now quiet bush where men sworn to return fire-for-fire with armed robbers had taken cover. As he turned to re-enter his cab, he stared directly at the oncoming car. It had broken speed but was still moving too fast so close to the checkpoint. Then the car’s headlights flashed three times, and somehow it did not seem to Corpo Giwa a mere gesture of impatience. Hadn’t he heard or read something about a signal that warned policemen of Anenih’s approach, giving them time to “bugger off” from checkpoints? Yes, yes, that was it! Well, the policemen had indeed buggered off, so was he about to meet Timmy the Spirit?

Inside the oncoming car, Osato could barely contain himself. Some idiot policeman in mufti was eager for glory. Leaning out of the car window, he took aim with his Mini-Uzi and fired. Corpo Giwa, whose sense of danger had been dulled by his tiredness, the scene he had just witnessed and the effort to decode the flashing lights signal, managed to duck in time to avoid the bullet meant for his heart. But Osato had not missed his mark entirely and seeing Corpo Giwa crumple to the ground, he decided not to kill him after all. Instead, he would make sure the glory-seeking bastard never stood at a checkpoint again. One of the policeman’s legs was out of view, under the car in the middle of the road, but the other leg was splayed out and twitching with the pain of bullets burning flesh and tendon and breaking bones. Osato pressed and held the trigger and as more bullets poured into the leg, he pronounced his act of mercy. “Okay, brave robber-catching officer, I go spare your life but make sure to tell I-G about your leg and who you see tonight,” he said.


Corpo Giwa feels the melting heat of Osato’s bullets as they travel at snail-speed through his right leg, the good one, and thinks he can hear his thighbone fracturing into a million pieces. He can also hear himself scream, though, strangely enough, it appears the cries come from his double lying just by his side under the car. One leg almost lost to a demon robber when he was an anti-robbery operative and now the other about to be blown off by a spirit robber after he had left the force to become a private cab driver. He wasn’t now a hero policeman risking life and limb in pursuit of robbers so that rich Lagosians could sleep at night and dream of their next getaway to London or New York. No one would be vying for a chance to take him to the Igbobi Orthopaedic hospital here in Lagos, not to speak of flying him back to Dresden for a repeat of German bone wizardry on his second leg.

As the bullets crawl up his good thigh, Corpo Giwa realizes that he would not be able to get up. And now that Lagos went to roost earlier than chickens, nobody would come by until the next morning. He would bleed to death, choke on his own blood, but in the meantime death was not in a hurry to shut off his mind and close his eyes. His mind, now a bright silver screen, is showing him pictures of Anenih approaching checkpoints and of police officers dropping their guns and fleeing into the bush or jumping into roadside gutters. In a feverish fight to keep him conscious, his mind has made a movie of Anenih’s story, the one he had pieced together, and, with it, was trying to distract him from the raging fire in his leg. Well, he likes crime movies and it didn’t matter if Timmy the Spirit was no Al Capone and Lagos no Chicago. If that was his mind’s last wish, he would indulge it and review, in vivid colours, this local crime thriller, one in which he had the non-starring part of scriptwriter.

And there is Anenih at the beginning of his career in Benin but soon to find the city of red dust too small for his guns and relocate to Lagos. There is the fateful meeting with Osato, first gun-shy, then trigger-happy and soon to become the most excitable and lethal member of the gang. Osato, son of a chief superintendent of police and a brilliant university bound youth until his father and two other men were ambushed and killed by Fine Boy Sanusi’s gang. And there is Osato, his hope of university education gone, watching his mother lose her mind under the weight of caring for a family of six alone. There he is drifting in the streets, learning its survival secrets very quickly. From first growing and peddling Indian hemp to the occasional burglary, then becoming tired of the small pickings and forming a gang of three to rob rural banks. There he is revelling in the success of his first operation, the spells of lazy living it brought and the attention he got in The Observer stirring his blood as he basked in his new status as a robber with serious street cred. And there he is in front of Anenih, the undisputed lord of the streets. A short, light complexioned man in his early thirties with restless hands that were still only when he pinched a cigarette or held a gun, was planning an operation or receiving the attentions of any of his many women. And his eyes! Red and steady, like two dead pools shrunk to the size of small palm kernels, a chilling contrast to his outward restlessness, a perfect decoy for his lightning quick mind that anticipated every possible danger, knew the bank with bulging vaults, the perfect hour to strike, the best getaway route and possessed the animal instinct to make a gang thrive.

The movie cuts to their first joint operation, a raid on a bank in the heart of the city. And there is Osato unable to make himself shoot a cashier too slow to stash the bags and Anenih swearing to correct that flaw. There they are on the way home and slowing down to a stop, like good citizens, at a checkpoint. And Anenih shooting the policeman about to approach them in the head then ordering Osato, a speed demon, to “fly.” And about two miles away, telling him to pull off the road so they could lay an ambush, suspecting rightly that there would be a chase, even though the police would most often be content to shoot aimlessly at the rear tyres of the robbery vehicle speeding away. And a member of the gang rolling a wheel into the road as the police patrol van enters their view. Oh, the sight of the officer driving the van as he screeches to a halt to avoid the wheel rolling towards him and the rain of bullets from Anenih’s AK-47 and two other submachine guns that follows. And there is Osato sweating, trembling, as they re-enter the highway, so he is replaced at the wheel, though not before he blurts out, “But why kill policemen?” And Anenih taking his time before answering with a question of his own. “Who kill your papa?”

“Armed robbers!” Osato says. He catches himself and pleads, “Okay, I understand killing somebody in the heat of action, but why kill a policeman, and in cold blood?”

And there’s Anenih lighting a cigarette, saying nothing more until they are back in his lair. Then he lays down the law.

“Number one, never challenge me. That is law you must make sure to never forget, even if dem put gun for your head. Number two, only pidgin English for this gang, even though you know book and nearly go university. I surprise say after all the book you read, you no know who kill your papa. Okay, tell me, which kind gun your papa carry the day armed robbers shoot am?”

“Mark IV pistol,” Osato mumbles.

“And which kind gun the robbers carry?”

“Kalash,” Osato replies, chastened but still steaming.

And Anenih roaring, “AK-47!  Now tell me, who kill your papa?”

And there is Osato stunned by how much Anenih knows about him, Osato looking tortured and excited at once, now raging that he will kill the Inspector-General of Police, then the Head of State, a general who styles himself president, but will never kill an ordinary policeman.

“Okay, I see your point,” he says, calming down, “and I don think like that so many times till I nearly go mental. But those policemen na small boys, dem no get any power, no fit do nothing. So why kill dem?”

“But na dem govment dey send to pursue us, to stop people for road and take bribe, to kill us any chance dem get. Since I-G and head of state no dey stand for road, who be our enemy? And I want to make sure say by the end of this year, no policeman go ’gree stand for checkpoint if dem know say we dey come.”

A bullet has crawled from the kneecap into the hollow of Corpo Giwa’s shin bone, another is shattering glass just above the knee up to the midpoint of his thigh and Corpo Giwa can no longer focus on the screen of his mind. But he knows every detail of the plot, knows that he is now at the point where Osato is delighted to have found the perfect hand to guide him towards sweet cold vengeance. And that once stirred, Osato develops a mighty bloodlust. Such that Anenih feels the need to warn him of the danger of losing self-control. Such that when they hear that policemen have begun reporting for checkpoint duty in mufti, an odd reversal of roles occurs as the boss urges his sidekick to “cool down,” to kill henceforth “only officers that want to be heroes.”

“But they must clear from road when dem see us.”

“Yes, yes, but how dem go know say na we dey come?” Anenih who was yet to work out that little detail asks his protégé whose eyes have no whites now, just two black pebbles set in blood-red clay.

And there is Osato with the answer at the next checkpoint, submachine guns firing from all four windows of the car but only to scare the “useless” policemen off the road. And Osato dropping a note that says, “If you don’t want to die for nothing, then don’t let us see you for roadblock again. Anytime you see headlights flash three times, know it is Timmy the Spirit coming and run for cover.”

As the bullets crawl ever so slowly through the dead tree trunk that was once his leg, the soundtrack of the movie that Corpo Giwa’s mind is showing him becomes the words spoken by the two people standing right over him alternating with the voice of an old woman in a far-away house hidden by a fog so thick it seems to him like a cloud of cooled lava.

“E don do!” one of the voices above him orders. “Abi you want to shoot petrol tank when we never pass?”

And then a familiar voice from the distant house which has now drifted with the fog to just above his head, saying over and over and louder and louder two things, Armed robber not be spirit o! and “Tell me, this Anenih, is he a spirit or a human being?

Mother!” he cries, as his mind-screen turns black.


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