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I knew he was Micah’s brother the moment I saw him. He was a little taller and slimmer than his elder brother, but that nose, those dimples, the complexion had been part of Cemetery Lodge for eight months, engraved in my heart forever. He must have recognised me, because he smiled and began to make his way toward me. A rush of sadness darkened my face and sagged my shoulders. We shook hands.
I nodded and pointed at the okada man waiting to take us to the village.
“My mumsy said for me to thank you for everything you –”
“Please get on the bike. The village is actually far.”
He smiled a Micah smile. “Mumsy said she will like to talk to you…”
“Start the bike, you fool!” I shouted at the okada man.
I was overcome with grief; I needed to divert my emotions by creating artificial anger. Even at this, I was on the brink. One word, one blink and the tank would burst and the tears would come like in the days of Noah. I managed to hold on. I am a man. Men don’t cry, not in the centre of Ikirun, not elsewhere.
But on our way home, the tears fell. It wasn’t crying, I told myself firmly. It was the force of the wind generated by the speeding machine that caused it. It happened to me most of the time. I am still a man.
At the Cemetery Lodge, I jumped down the bike and hurried inside. It was now time to do something I had dreaded and put off for a week now. I unlocked Micah’s door. His wardrobe was stacked with an ambitious assortment of clothes. Emotions thrived in inactivity so I quickly brought out his box and began to fill it with folded shirts and trousers. Each entry pricked my heart with a grievous pin. It was like placing Micah in his casket.
“You may keep anything you want. Our major concern is his results and papers.” Micah’s voice came from behind me. The voice cut my heart into two sorrowful parts.
“Why don’t you wait for me outside?” I said. “This room is too stuffy.”
“I will manage.”
I picked out Micah’s crested vest last. I folded it with shaky hands and placed it in the box with painful reluctance. But I couldn’t bring myself to close the box and zip it up. “Carry the box outside,” I said.
Micah’s brother closed the box and drew the zipper. I watched him carry a part of me away. I turned to the shoes and books. The door opened and IBK put her tears-swollen face in. “I served food on your table,” she said, “for you and him.” She went away. She couldn’t bring herself to see the boy or even refer to him as Micah’s brother.
I packed the shoes and books inside a duffel bag. I was zipping it when Micah’s brother returned.
“Food is ready, enter the room opposite and help yourself.”
He smiled no. “I don’t eat before I do long travel.” He extended a smooth hand towards me. “Please manage this.” He was clutching a one thousand naira note.
“Look at this boy… I should be the one giving you money.”
“No na, you are a corper,” he said.
“And what are you, a staff of Dangote Sugar?”
He laughed as he forced the money into my palm.
“Check who’s at the door,” I said. As he turned, I quickly put the money in the side pocket of the bag.
“No one at the door,” he announced.
Outside, I instructed the okada man, “When you get to Ikirun garage, take him straight to where they load for Oshogbo.”
“Is there no direct Lagos car from Ikirun?” Micah’s brother asked.
“No. You get Lagos car in the Old Garage Oshogbo.” I hugged Micah for the last time. “Bye bye.”
“Thank you, sir.”
I didn’t watch the bike leave. I hurried away. No, I didn’t enter the Cemetery Lodge either. I made straight uptown. Entering the Cemetery Lodge just after the last of Micah had been taken away would be heart-wrenching. I would take a walk, walk until I got to the edge of the world.
After a quarter of an hour, approaching the city centre of the village, I heard someone shout, “Corper!”
I refused to hear and continued moving. But the voice shouted even louder and louder, like a goat with a knife in its throat fighting the final battle with death. I stopped, to save my sanity, and turned. A fat, almost old man, wearing just trousers with his bare potbelly reflecting the sunshine, was beckoning to me. I dragged my feet to him.
“Ah, corper, afternoon!”
“Afternoon, afternoon. I want to talking to you.”
“Hope it’s well.”
“Beni. I am Tunfari.”
What is Tunfari? I wondered.
“You have drinking my water. I am manufacture pure water.”
Oh, he was the owner of the only factory in the village, the sachet water factory.
“You are the Otedola of this village,” I said. The man beamed with joy. “What may I do for you, sir?”
“Corper, I am looking a graduate for my industry. I want to enlarging my industry and I looking for graduate to manager it.”
“You want a graduate for your pure water industry?”
“In this village?”
“In this town.”
“How much will you pay this manager?”
“I will pay you very well.”
“How much, oga?”
“Fifteen thousand dollars?”
The man laughed. He broke into swift Yoruba, then said, “Naira o, this present manager I paying him twelve thousand. A graduate, I pay fifteen.”
Nothing would have made me happier than sticking a fork in this man’s potbelly and leaving it there. I smiled instead. “I know someone who can do this job better.”
“Yes.” The best way to punish this man was unleash Gowon on him. “I will talk to General Gowon,” I said.
“He’s a genius. I will also talk to Agu. You may interview the two of them and choose the best candidate, Sir Otedola.”
“Thanks very much. You know no job in Nigeria. I helping graduates.”
I shelved a grin. “You are the Asian tiger. I will talk to my friends.”
I continued my journey in a lighter mood. A block to the village roundabout, I turned into a small road by my right. From this way, I would come out in the backyard of the Owa Palace, then bypass it to the road thence the market. To reach the Owa’s backyard, I had to pass by the bank. The bank – it is a bank because it does monetary transactions. But it is run manually, no ATM, no computers. When you pay in money, it will be registered with pen till the end of the day when they take the accounts to Ikirun and credit them. They used to allow withdrawals but they have since stopped, because crooks devised a way of robbing them: they would withdraw money here, then take a bike, rush to Ikirun and empty their accounts. That bank babe Micah was involved with works here.
Since I didn’t wish to be seen by her, I quickened my strides past the bank gate. I shouldn’t have bothered. She saw me, shouted ‘Hey’ and began to make for the gate. I stopped, waiting. She was attractive in her own right, except that she was tall, too tall; when she sat on Micah’s mattress, her stretched legs reached the door.
“Good afternoon,”’ I said.
“Good afternoon. So Micah is dead.”
“I suppose so.”
“I have been looking for you since I heard the news,” she said.
“I am here.”
“See, I saved a lot of money in Micah’s account.”
My eyes narrowed. “Why?”
“Just felt like.”
“How much is it?”
“I don’t know… Almost all the money in his accounts belongs to me.”
My nose sizzled with the insult. “That’s a stupid lie.”
“How can I lie against a dead body?”
I began to walk away.
“Wait now, how do I get the money back?” she called.
I stopped. What a question! Micah had his ATM card in his pocket when he died; that could have been destroyed. Imagine me going to his parents in Benue and saying, “Sir, please where is Micah’s ATM card. A certain girl in Osun with electric poles for legs owns almost all the money in Micah’s account. I need to withdraw everything for her.” The thought of doing this nearly made me smile. I moved on.
“Where are you going? I don’t have to involve the police o.”
I advanced towards her. I don’t know if I could have brought myself to hit a lady but I was glad she rushed away from me, back inside.
And just then, I decided I’d had enough walk to last the remainder of my service year. I turned towards the Cemetery Lodge. “This is crazy,” I said aloud.
“Aswear,” Micah replied. “These people just come to frustrate human beings.”
“Imagine that pure water man’s insulting proposal, and then this witch.”
“God pass them.”
And so Micah and I continued to exchange complaints and console each other. It felt better discussing absurdities with a familiar ear. But it was a short deceit. Just before I reached the Cemetery Lodge, Micah’s ghost left me forever.
Written by Kingsley Okechukwu, tweets @Oke4chukwu