The infection rate topped two hundred in Nigeria. Four people were confirmed dead. The Federal Government ordered two-week lockdown of Lagos, Abuja and Ogun States was still on. People were getting desperate. The council of elders still managed to convene. Papa Efe introduced the new tenants first:
“Inspector Akpan and Barrister Falomo.”
The two men stood and waved and sat back down.
The Inspector was a tall light-skinned man of forty-two. Clean-shaven as most officers were, had red eyes Wasiu would have known something about, and someone remarked that he somehow looked like Akunna. He wore baggy shorts and a basketball top which was to be his signature attire out of uniform. When asked to speak, he was quick to let everyone know what made him tick.
“I mind my business. I am not your everyday policeman. I am an officer that takes his job seriously. While I am here, I will also appreciate it if you all behaved yourselves. I have heard a lot about this compound but I still decided to move in but please, think again before you start your drama. I will be watching.”
“What does he mean by that? Behave yourselves and I will be watching. Wetin the man think say him be sef? Ordinary inspector! No be him mate be commissioner?” Castro later said to Irikefe.
“I don’t know. Him just wan show himself. We go dey wait for am.”
Barrister Falomo got up and immediately won everybody’s hearts with his radiant smile.
“I am a charge and bail lawyer.”
“ Seriously though, it’s not that long I got called to the bar and I will be working with your Council legal team. I hope I will like it here. I like a big happy compound.”
“Ah…you will like it! I promise you that.” Papa Efe said.
“I will be living here with my wife and baby girl. She is three months old. My sister will be with us until she leaves for youth service.”
“Though he is pleasant and good looking, I am only interested in his sister,” Castro later said.
“She is not for you. She is a graduate you hear. You, you cannot even fill JAMB form.”
“Next year will be my year don’t worry.”
“All right. Welcome our new neigbours.” Mr. Zubi said taking over proceedings. “You will get to meet everyone in due course. Please feel at home here. We the men gather here every once in a while to rub minds on the goings-on in the compound at the world at large. We practice communal living and watch each other’s back. We have a history here. This gathering was a fall out from one of our many challenges.
“Now, the government has said that we should stay indoors and practice social distancing. We know that will be more difficult with us more than it is with others. We still have to share toilets and bathrooms and kitchen, we cannot move through the corridors without contact. We have to accept the truth that if one person comes in here with the virus they are more than likely to infect everyone.”
“Nobody will bring the virus here Mr. Zubi,” Josiah said. “We don’t know anybody that came from abroad. Nobody here has reached the airport before. It is a disease that God has used to visit judgment on the thieving elite. Imagine a state where there is only one case and that case is the Governor of the state. And you say God is not alive.”
“That is not the correct attitude Josiah. Do you watch the news? If it gets to the general population we will be in big trouble. We all know we are not ready.”
“You will need connection to get tested and to get a bed at Yaba. We go die finish.”
“It will not get to us. God will not allow it. He that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.”
“Be quoting Bible. Where are all your miracle working pastors? They are waiting for corona to finish to resume business.”
“The government will not allow them. It is the trick of the devil to discourage the gathering of the brethren so that this monster will not be defeated. Those that believe are still receiving healing through these pastors. Our God is the same, today, yesterday and forever!”
“All I will say is that we try and stay as safe as we can.”
“But we are hungry. I have no savings. I must go to the bustop every day to sell my okrika before I will eat. Other governments are rolling out palliative measures for their people, helping small businesses, encouraging landlords to waive rent, and we are here telling poor people to stay at home. I will rather go out and catch corona and die than to stay at home and die of hunger.”
“I hear they are giving 20k each to poor families in Abuja. And people are donating bags of rice and all those other things.”
“When did those kinds of things ever get to the people that really needed them in this country? We only see them on television!”
“It is well.”
“It better be well.”
Nidifreke waited for the crowd to thin before approaching Papa Efe.
“Papa Efe. Good evening sir.”
“Good evening my pikin. This one you meet me like this. E good so?”
“All is well sir. Em…I want to ask about that empty shop. Agbonyibo former shop.”
“What about the shop?”
“I want to rent it.”
“What you want to sell?”
“I want to make it my office.”
“Which kind office?”
“I’m starting a new business sir. I would rather not say until everything is in place.”
Papa Efe thought for a minute and then said:
“I hope so no be football gambling?”
“No sir. I t is not a betting shop.”
“Alright. Na one hundred and twenty thousand a year.”
“Ah Papa Efe!”
“Go ask Mama Cowbell and Josiah how much dem dey pay. And ask around all the shop for this area.”
“Alright sir. I will do my homework. You will hear from me.”
Inspector Akpan could not wait for the gathering to disperse. He knew while the dark ugly man was talking that he had attended his first and last of such a gathering. All he could see was a bunch of lazy men with big mouths looking for whom to blame for their poverty. He went to the cage he kept in his parlour and opened it and stroked the head of his boston terrier – a parting gift from the American he last worked with and then took the cage out and put it on the corridor and returned to his room. He didn’t know whether to think of it as luck that he was on leave from work during the lockdown period. He had taken a month to get a new place to live and to settle in and just one week into it he had found the place at Katakata street. It was not ideal but it was what he could afford. He was grateful that he had left his wife and children back at Ikot-Ekpene and would ride alone in Lagos on this latest posting.
Inspector Akpan decided to go back out to the frontage for air before bedtime and ran into his new co-tenant on the corridor.
Barrister Falomo smilingly got to his room and as soon as he saw his wife his mien became grave. She was breastfeeding their baby and talking with her sister-in-law in low tones. The two women looked up and were not surprised to see the immediate change in the countenance of their husband and brother. Barrister Falomo’s sister excused herself and stepped out of the room. Falomo’s wife drew a deep sigh and spoke to her husband.
“So how did it go?’
“I’m sure they liked you. The smiling young laywer.”
The woman laughed and extracted her nipple from her baby’s mouth and turned the infant so that it could suck from the other breast.
“Don’t worry. We have only just come. It is only a matter of time and they will know who you are.”
Falomo opened his mouth to speak but changed his mind and left the room as well. He met his fellow new tenant on the corridor and together they walked to the frontage.
The seats from the gathering of the council of elders were still there. They both sat side by side.
“Yeah, my boy. Welcome to our new home.”
“Call me Jide sir.”
“Just Jide. When they call me barrister they use my surname.”
“I am Mr. Akpan.”
“Inspector Akpan you mean?
“Just Mr. Akpan until you see me in uniform.”
“So why did you come here?” Inspector Akpan said.
“It was what was available and I heard the compound had just been renovated,” Falomo said.
“Me too. All the agents I spoke to only talked about this place. But I heard that the people here are mad,” The Inspector said.
“Well, they looked alright to me. I think I will like it here.”
“I hope so” Inspector Akpan said.
Then they stopped talking and were looking at each other. They stared at each other for no fathomable reason until the Inspector began to smile. Barrister Falomo smiled too.
“I think I should go back inside,” Barrister Falomo said.
“Erm yes you should,” Akpan said.
They stood up and shook hands and Inspector Akpan held the younger man’s hands a little longer. Falomo withdrew his hand and chuckled and walked into the corridor. He looked back and both their eyes met again before he entered his room.
Back in their self-contain Mama Willy–willy was waiting for her husband. He sauntered in and stood in the middle of the room and decided to go back out. She ordered him to stop.
“You forgot something, oga chairman of elders council.”
“What was that?”
“The reason for the quarantine.”
“That you stay indoors with your family to avoid getting infected.”
“What of those that can’t stay indoors? Most of the people in compounds like ours only come back to lay their heads and go back out in the morning.”
“We are not them. There is no shame in being grateful for what we have and enjoying it.”
“The children will stay in the living room. I have already told them to steer clear of our bedroom.”
“What did you tell them that for?”
“Because, Mr. Zubi, you and I must quarantine like we have not quarantined in years,” Mama Willy-willy said and allowed her wrapper to fall to the floor.
“Stop this woman!. You are old now.”
“Oh ho! I am old now ehn? That is why you are running after the nurse?”
“I am not running after any nurse.”
“Okay. Come and prove it.
“What do you want to say? That you are tired? That you will be waking up early to go to work? What? What is your excuse?”
Mama Willy-willy shut the door to the inner room and grabbed Mr. Zubi by the belt.
“Not many people will say this but I thank God for coronavirus. Oya, come here and let me strengthen your immune system.”
Mr. Zubi only hoped that Castro was not listening.
Chisco waited until a few minutes before 11 pm on the night the lockdown commenced before he burst into his brother’s room, grabbed his midsection and toppled over. They were playing ludo after dinner. Evae and her mother gasped and rushed to Chisco’s side. Achike stood up and scowled as the two women attended to his stricken brother. As the women doted on him, Achike thought that he saw Chisco open one eye and winked at him and then shut it again.
“Bia, give him buscopan and let him go back to his house.”
“Haa, my dear, Chisco sick well well. How we go let am to go back? And government say make pesin no waka for road,” Evae said.
“His place is just down the road. The curfew has not started.”
“Him no well. Bro Chisco no dey do like this. Make him stay here make we look am.”
“Where will he sleep?”
“Me and you go sleep inside for bed. Chisco and Mama go sleep for this parlour. I go give am the second mat wey dey under bed.”
“No way!” Achike said.
“I mean, Chisco cannot sleep here with your mother nau!”
“But all of us sleep for one room before. Now we get two room you say we no fit sleep?”
“I mean, he is sick and may disturb your mother.”
“Him no go disturb me bro Achike,” Eyonyam said. “Him go drink medicine wey go make am sleep. For night I go look am.”
Now Achike saw Chisco smile. He gritted his teeth and went into the inner room.
He could still hear the two women petting Chisco. And when his mother in law said: “If e get as e do you for night make you call me you hear?”
Achike Scratched his head vigorously and buried his face in the pillow.
Maya looked at the fancy clock in her bedroom. 9 pm and again Jonjo had still not come. She had had enough. She picked up her phone to call Ndifreke. What if he behaved like he did the last time? The lockdown started that night and she did not believe it when they said it was going to last for two weeks. With the number of infections rising and with patients reportedly hiding their travel history and putting more and more people at risk, there was every chance that there would be an explosion in cases and the lockdown would continue. She was grateful she had taken the option of letting her sister Clementina stay on in the boarding school facility she had put her. Now it was just herself and Ndifree’s baby to worry about. Ndifreke’s baby. Because she was sure that it was his, and because she did not want to be holed up alone in a flat waiting for a will-o-the-wisp lover, she picked up her phone and found the uber app and entered number 225 Katakata Street as destination and requested a ride.
Ndifreke was already thinking about his new business. He could easily afford the rent for the shop. Now what he needed to do was to have his business registered and then start adequate publicity and with Elizabeth’s contacts, as soon as lockdown ended, he would be off changing lives and making money.
He would hold weekly auditions at his office and select the best talents. He would go out there and find jobs for them. He would draw up contracts that would benefit everyone and himself in particular. Didn’t a lawyer just move into their compound? Ndifreke was going to make friends with the man first thing tomorrow morning.
As he was still thinking about it, the lawyer’s sister came out of their room and walked past everybody and went to the front of the shops and sat all by herself.
How was it that everything was just falling in place for Ndifreke. On top of everything, he had also seen who was definitely his first model! But as soon as he walked up to her and started a conversation, an Uber pulled up in front of them and the first actual model to come out of Katakata Street alighted and their eyes met.
TO BE CONTINUED.