By Nnadozie Duke Onyekuru
Sunday, November 13, 2011.
“What shall we do now?”
Sweat drops snaked the wrinkles on Baba’s face as he threw the question.
“I’ve been dialling their numbers. Their phones are switched off.”
His eyes darted round his companions as they stood before a locked office that not long ago harboured their dreams. The men and women murmured.
“Let us call the police,” one of them said.
“No! Let’s not waste our time with the police,” said another.
“There is no way this group would have done this neatly without police cooperation.”
“Yes Oh! How can they open an office with the national flag and be operating for almost a year without the police knowing?”
“This is not a hidden compound. The police were aware of their activities.”
“But what shall we do now?” Baba asked again, his voice crying out. There was no answer. Baba let his head down. His steps lost pace as he walked towards the mango tree in the compound. Under the shade was a woman who wore a black hijab. She spoke between tears.
“I convinced the women in my area - to join – What would they think of me now – O Allah! – Why did you allow this?”
Her companions called her Hajiya.
“Hajiya, calm down,” they said. “Allah knows best.”
They opened a space for Baba on one of the benches. He sat down.
“My brother-in-law introduced the company to me,” he told them.
“He was among the early customers. His first deposit doubled in two weeks.”
“I saw their tract in a bar,” a man on jeans confessed. “It said that the company would issue limited overdraft ATM cards soon. So I signed up.”
Baba did not like the interruption. He continued his story.
“When I opened my account, the manager promised me a business grant if I sustained the deposit for six months……..I worked for almost thirty years in the civil service. I have never seen a thing like this.”
As Baba reeled out the details of his engagement with the company, his companions lost interest. Details brought individual sorrows, highlights told the larger story. So the men and women sitting and standing around preferred to listen to highlights.
“The juju that these guys used must be very strong. From the day their agents entered my school, I lost my sixth sense. I didn’t know what I was doing until today.”
“They came to our ministry. Their loan system was easier. No request for signatures from this Chairman or that Justice or this Bishop. I opened an account that day.”
“I did my youth service in Lagos where my eyes opened. So when this people came here, I understood their wayo. I rushed in and bought a plasma TV with my first bonus. I thought I would be able to buy a car before they left.”
Baba felt alone. He looked up.
“Heaven why?” he asked.
The skies shifted and tore and spread and gave no answer. He buried his head in the compound- his eyes found a large stone.
“God forgive me,” he said as he picked it. The crowd watched his steps. He paused at the office frontage and gave the shot. The reception window cracked.
“That’s for my pension!” he shouted.
Hajiya screamed. Their companions rushed to plunder the door.
Nnadozie Duke Onyekuru is a writer and a computer engineering student at the University of Maiduguri, Nigeria. His short stories have appeared in Sentinel Nigeria, Naija Stories (http://www.naijastories.com/) and Dreams at Dawn, an anthology edited by Helon Habila, Madeleine Thien and TsiTsi Dangarembga.