The ambulance came with officials in full personnal protective equipment – hazmat suits, N95 respirator masks and face shields, gloves, and even foot protection to remove Papa Efe’s body from number 225. The sight of workers wearing full “corona uniform” caused panic on the street. Parents dragged their children into their rooms and adults stood as far from the event as possible. Mr. Zubi, Mr. Cosmas and Josiah went close enough to question the health workers.
“But why are you people dressed like this? The man did not have coronavirus!”
“Who conducted the autopsy?” The leader of the team said and shunted Mr. Zubi aside.
“Right now we are not taking chances. Everyone is a carrier until proven otherwise.”
It was that that made Irikefe to really grieve. He wept as they loaded his father’s body into the ambulance. The sight of the white suits on those people made it look worse than it was. Compound members wept too because Papa Efe was a good man.
Irikefe decided to snap out of his grieving. Now he was caretaker with potentially the hottest girlfriend on Katakata street. He needed to grow up.
He wiped his tears, went inside and changed his clothes and came out of the room dishing out orders.
“Hey, enough! Hold your wife. Papa Efe is gone. There is nothing we can do about it. Mister, stop being a sissy. He is gone now. We will be alright. Madam put yourself together. The Lord giveth and the lord taketh.”
Everyone was surprised to see Irikefe from one moment to the other stop crying and taking command. Maybe being caretaker was going to mature the rascal many thought.
That night, 225 Katakata Street slept uneasily. It was a compound that had seen more deaths in three years than any other on Katakata Street. First it was Awero and her four children, then Mama Akunna, Mama Tobi and Agbonyibo. The only consolation this time was that Papa Efe’s was a normal death and people grieved honestly.
Irikefe slept in Ndifreke’s room together with Castro who begged Mr. Zubi to allow him sleep out with his grieving friend and Mr. Zubi acquiesced. They talked about everything that night but Irikefe was careful when they probed him about Funbi.
Her parting words to him were “I am a very private person. I know you boys like to talk about your conquests and all that. Remember that I am not yet your girlfriend. Go about talking anyhow and we will not even be friends again.”
“It was nothing guys. She came to tell me sorry as Papa Efe just died.”
“And she sent us away?” Castro said.
“She is shy.”
Castro did not believe him, but it was not in Irikefe’s DNA to be discreet. It was only a matter of time.
The following morning the council of elders convened early. As Mr. Zubi stood up to begin Irikefe stopped him short.
“Uncle please hold on. I don’t know why you start and finish these meetings when there is a caretaker in this compound. Yes you call yourself chairman of the council of elders. But is that right when the caretaker is in this meeting?”
The men began to mumrmur and Mr Zubi started to voice his protest but Irikefe was not yet done.
“Please sit down sir. I called for the meeting in this first place. With all due respect, under your leadership too many things went wrong in this compound. All of that will end now.”
“Irikefe please bridle your tongue. Mr. Zubi is old enough to be your father, like most of us here.”
“Mr. Cosmas please bridle your own too. I am coming to you just wait.”
“I don’t know the type of ogogoro that Alhaji Sirika drank to make him make this kind of decision. Is anybody here surprised at this conduct? As good as Papa Efe was, this was the one thing he did not do well,” Josiah said.
“Oga Carpenter abeg keep quiet. Small thing you will pack your load and run. Allow men to talk abeg.”
Josiah sprang up and charged at Irikefe but the men held him down.
“Calm down gentlemen. Your caretaker is speaking. Let him tell us why he has brought us here,” Mr. Zubi said and sat down.
Irikefe adjusted the collar of his shirt and looked around the gathering.
“Who is not here? Let me make it clear that attendance to this meeting is compulsory for all men from now on. We may excuse nursing fathers like Achike so that he can carry the baby for his wife. But the rest of you must attend and you must all contribute . I mean you must say something. Mr. Kingsley, Undertaker, do you hear me?”
Now it was becoming clear to the men that they were dealing with a nutcase. Mr. Zubi reasoned withim himself that it could be part of the grieving process for him. It was the boy’s own way of release. So he made eye contact with everyone and tapped the ones close to him to be patient and quiet.
Mr. Kingsley then said “Misery is the end of those with unbridled mouths – Euripides.”
“Abeg make we hear word. Who be Euripides?”
“Impudence is the worst of all human diseases – Euripides.”
“Well, I don’t have your time yet,” he said and then cleared his throat and continued.
“Like you all know, Papa Efe is gone and I am now the new caretaker. You see all that nonsense you people have been doing in this compound, it will all end now. My father was a lover of peace, but like Indaboski, I am a war!
“All of you old men were here and witches and wizards were climbing you every night! Because you think I am a small boy nobody listened to me. I and Papa Efe caught Mama Akunna red handed and I told you people and what did you do?”
“So you are wiser than your father?” Someone said.
“Keep quiet let me finish. All of you, Papa Efe inclusive kept quiet and the woman wreaked havoc in this compound. Who here doesn’t know that she killed all of Awero’s children? That woman did whatever she liked! If you people had listened to me and acted like men, we would have stopped much of the misery she caused. The same with Agbonyibo!
“We all saw how men will be entering his shop and the whole place will be vibrating. All of you thought they were holding devotion in there. But right under your noses he was practicing evil. It was when he damaged Achike’s nyash that your eyes became clear!
Everyone in the gathering gasped and looked at Achike. Achike got up and went into the compound without saying a word.
“Truth is bitter my people. But I will say it. Now the ghosts of these two wicked people have come back and I have told you and what have you done? Nothing. Now what has happened… Agbonyibo’s ghost came and did to the policemen exactly what he did to Achike!”
It was then that the gathering erupted. But Irikefe was not yet done.
“Mr. Cosmas and Mr. Zubi. You think anything can happen in this compound and I will not know? They hid it from you people. Why did they tie the man wrapper? It was because his nyash was leaking like a rusted water pipe at Iju.”
“Oh heavens!” Mr. Zubi exclaimed.
“Is it a lie? Mr. Zubi na lie I talk? Mr. Cosmas you are the teller of truth. Oya deny it.”
“Irikefe. There are ways to handle sensitive matters differently from the way you are going about this. This is not information everyone here needs. And you only know half the story.”
“That is why we are in a meeting. Tell us the full story and let us understand and find a lasting solution. The way you people were doing it before did not work. Now we will name and shame and tackle!”
Mr. Kingsley turned to Mr. Zubi and said “Because impudence is a vice, it does not follow that modesty is a virtue….– Benard Mendeville.”
“Patience my friend” Mr. Zubi said. “His father just died. It will not take long for him to understand that people once thought the earth was round.”
Mr. Cosmas went and conferred with Messers Zubi and Kingsley and then spoke again.
“Alright Irikefe. We get what you are saying. Of a truth the evidence is that our method was not working. So how will you have it now?”
“Good. I knew you would be the one to reason properly. First things first. If there is any allegation against anybody, that person must prove himself or herself innocent. What we have learnt is that there is no smoke without fire. If we suspect anybody of witchcraft, I know of a baba we can go to and he will come and administer something that the accused will swear to. If they are innocent, they will be fine and we will apologise. If they are guilty, ifa will roast their nyash before they can cause any further damage.
“Secondly there will no longer be any secrecy. What are you hiding? You always hide the truth until somebody dies or gets raped. If you know anything speak up when we meet. If not, I will tell Alhaji that you are an enemy and you will look for another accommodation. In the light of that, please tell us what you know about the attack on the police officer.”
Mr. Zubi made to speak but Mr.Cosmas held him down and stood.
“Alright. I don’t know what you heard but it is not conclusive that Agbonyibo’s ghost did anything. The man saw a human being and fired at the person. I don’t think he would fire at a ghost.”
“A ghost that has prick can be shot. Agbonyibo is capable of anything. He escaped! Didn’t the man also say he did not see the person? It is only a ghost that can come and hammer somebody like that and remain unseen!” Irikefe surmised.
“In the end, we do not know for sure.”
“Okay. I will set up a committee to look into the matter. This committee will be made up of all of you that caused this problem in the first place. Mr. Cosmas, Mr. Zubi and you Mr. Kingsley if you go gree talk. Find out.
“But most importantly we have to remove those ghosts from this compound. We don’t want them here. if they are dead, they should stay dead!
“That is the main thing I wanted to discus today – a departure from your old ways. Does anyone have anything else to say?”
It was Papa Kike’s husband. “That oga olopa get one small dog. I never see that kind dog before. E nor dey shout but e dey cry for night. If we no comot am for that room the dog go die dia.”
Everyone then remembered the exotic dog from the day the inspector moved in.
“Let us break the door and remove the dog an give to Mkpoikanna for peppersoup” Castro said. “Calabar people no dey spare dog.”
“Abasi umia fien ufen!” Mkpoikanna said.
“Same to you o, whatever you said.” Castro said.
That brought a few smiles to some faces. Then Irikefe said “If indeed the dog is there, then we have to force the door open and rescue it.”
“Let us thread with caution. There might be some legal implications to that,” Mr. Zubi said.
“Na wetin I no dey like be this,” Irikefe said. “Thread with caution means what na? Are we going to steal his property? Will there not be witnesses that we are only rescuing a poor animal? We will open the door, remove the dog and lock the door again. Him thing no go loss!”
“Alright. You may have a point there,” Mr. Zubi said.
“I know I have a point! I always have a point it’s just that you people never listened!
“Find out what we will do about the ghosts by tomorrow morning. I have an idea but you people will have to find a solution to one problem for once. This meeting is adjourned,” Irikefe walked out of the meeting like a conquering heavy weight boxing champion. Castro sprang up and bounced behind him.
A new era had begun.
While the men were meeting, The women were also in a discussion of their own in Mama Willy-willy’s place. She was the convener and was speaking now.
“The men can say what they want but we will maintain the tradition of number 225. Luckily they did not discharge her yesterday while Papa Efe’s body was still here. Now it has been removed. We may be grieving but we must also not deprive ourselves the opportunity to celebrate. God may have even given us a replacement already. So my ladies, let us find out when Evae is coming. We know how we do it.”
So later that afternoon as the taxi Achike chattered pulled up in front of the compound with Evae and their new born son, the women, all in wrappers and sleeveless tops with nzu on their bodies came out from different directions ululating and singing. They rendered number after number in different languages, spread their wrappers on the floor for Evae and poured perfumed powder on her as she alighted from the taxi. The whole street came out to watch this new show from the inimitable number 225. It was the only compound that inhabitants would be crying in the morning and dancing in the afternoon of the same day.
Achike basked in the attention he and his new family enjoyed.The men also came out to meet and congratulate them. They shook hands with him but the new parents did not allow anybody to touch the baby as they were advised at the hospital. They still lived in perilous times.
Irikefe decided that he was going to return to his room immediately. There was no need being holed up in Ndifreke’s. He missed his father already but if he was honest with himself, his father’s death may have been what he needed all along. Like Castro pointed out, he already had an employment of sorts that came with respect and responsibility. He now had freedom and somewhere in the South-south, he had an eight million naira property he was going to sell as soon as the lockdown was lifted. His life was finally going to take off. It was only now that he forgave his father for not doing more for him in his lifetime. How poor was Papa Efe that he could not educate an only child? Instead he turned him into a laughing stock by insisting he became a carpenter. Now he needed to confine all that to past and get on with life. So he went back to his room, gathered all of Papa Efe’s things into a travel bag and shoved them under the bed. He hung all his clothes in the small wardrobe in the bedroom and started thinking how best to make his sitting room look. Then he remembered something. Funbi. Is that not the sort of things people consulted their girlfriends about? He would go and look for Funbi and bring her into the room and ask her opinion on where he should place what.
He did not find her at the backyard so he went to the frontage. But he saw her jumping excitedly at something Ndifreke was telling her.
Irikefe did not like the sight of that.
As Irikefe and Castro exited the meeting Ndifreke remained seated with the old gang. The men looked at themselves and wondered what was ging to happen next. As Mr Zubi started talking, Ndifreke noticed Funbi coming out of the compound. She went and sat in front of the shops at the same spot he found her the day Maya arrived. Ndifreke excused himself and walked up to Funbi.
“Sorry about the other day. Strange that our paths never really crossed again since then.”
“I understand. A lot has happened.”
“I wasn’t expecting her. Maya I mean.”
“You don’t need to explain.”
“Okay so this is what I was going to tell you. I’m starting a modeling agency and I’ll like you to be my first model.”
Funbi’s eyes widened and she looked around to see if anyone was listening.
“Why acting surprised?”
“I didn’t see that coming.”
“What? The agency or you being a model?”
“Me being a model. It’s something I have thought about but…”
“Am I not too old now?”
“How old are you?”
“Never ask a girl that.”
“If you are working for me I have to know.”
“Over here you are a baby.”
“I know abroad they start as teenagers but we in Africa are typically late bloomers. Besides, twenty-three is still a baby in professional terms. So what do you say?”
“I don’t understand. Just like that?”
“It will not always be like that. You are lucky. Very soon, they will be falling over themselves for a chance to audition for an opportunity.”
“But I will be getting my NYSC call up at any moment soon.”
“You seem to have forgotten what is going on in the world now.”
“I know. Coronavirus and lockdowns and all. But if you are thinking business, it means that you are confident life will return to normal soon. That will also mean we can travel again so NYSC and everything will happen.”
“Do you want to be a model and work with me or not?”
“Yes I want to.”
“Good. One thing at a time. Give me your number and we will take it from there.”
“And since we both live here we can begin to do what we have to do.”
Ndifreke got out his phone and they exchanged numbers.
“Nice to meet you Funbi.”
“Nice to finally meet you Ndifreke.”
When he turned his back she jumped in excitement. That was when she noticed Irikefe looking at them with a face like thunder.
“He wants to start a modeling agency and has asked me to be his first model!” Funbi said to Irikefe.
Irikefe was no longer listening. Model? How would Ndifreke do that to him? Was it not the same modeling nonsense that caused his breakup with Maya? From the first day Maya left the compound to go and do modeling they started fucking her! Now that was what Ndifreke wanted for him.
That had to be jealousy at work. Ndifreke would have sensed that the girl did not want him and then he decided to bait her with modeling.
Irikefe was not going to let that happen!
TO BE CONTINUED.