Obinna Udenwe is a returning Brittle Paper Champion. “Twisted Luck” is a dark and funny piece told about the wife of a policeman who is also a thief. Because Udenwe writes in second-person, reading his stories feels like being a character in an absurd urban tale. If you liked “Fool” from a couple of weeks ago, you’re bound to love “Twisted Luck.”
Your husband is a police officer. He is a thief too. At least that is what people may call him, but you don’t care. Who is not a thief in Nigeria? Even in America? Everywhere in the world, people are stealing now. When he comes home with rumpled naira notes, you help him stretch the notes and count them, arrange them in five naira, ten naira, twenty naira notes like that. He gives you some of it, for the Ankara wrappers you demanded the other night, for the egusi soup that you need to cook, for that lap of smoked bush meat you saw hanging in front of Mama Kosi’s shop. Always, you smile and prepare water for his bath. And life goes on.
Today is Friday, like every Friday, he returns early in the evening, because he has another business to conduct. You count the money quick, quick and prepare his bathing water. He sits on the torn cushion in the sitting room, stretches his legs on the centre table and uses the TV remote to surf the channels while you boil the water for his bath. He will eat when he is done with business. His customers are on their way. He informs you. As soon as he is done saying that, there is a knock on the door. He makes sure you conceal yourself in the room; he moves quickly to the door. You turn down the stove so that the burning water will not make any noise.
He unlatches the door and they walk in. There are three of them today, you are sure, because you have heard three voices, aside that of your husband. He asks them to sit.
‘How far?’ he asks.
‘Fine, Oga O.C. How work?’ one of the visitors asks. He tells them that work is fine. They go straight to business. You strain to eavesdrop because your husband has tuned up the volume of the television and his customers have lowered their voices.
‘Oga O. C. We need the two guns, this time.’
‘Okay nah, no wahala. But na your money oh,’ your husband responds. They say no problems. He doesn’t need to talk about the price because they are already customers. He enters the room, and you look at him. He places his index finger to his mouth to tell you to be calm. He lies on his belly and draws out the two AK 47s from under the bed. A police officer is entitled to one rifle, but he has two. Once when he had finished making love to you, he had told you that he stole one from a police officer that was shot during a bank robbery, the police had been overpowered and they scattered in different directions. The gun had been reported missing in his office and the armed robbers were believed to have made away with it. Now he has two rifles, which is good for you both. Two rifles mean double payment from his clients.
You smile when he stands like a giant that he is. You admire the way he hold the rifles, with strength and agility, you watch him enter the sitting room. He drops the guns on the centre table. One of the visitors picks the guns and inspects them one after the other.
‘Good rifle. Oga O. C knows how to care for these Corns,’ you hear the visitor say.
“Corns” are the nicknames for the rifles. You peep through the keyhole. They put the guns into a guitar bag and bring out a black nylon and give it to your husband. He puts it on the cushion and locks the door after them. Outside, you are sure that they will not be noticed, as their car is packed just by the door of your sitting room. As soon as you hear the sound of their car engine you come out of the room. Your husband smiles at seeing you. He pats the black nylon. He does not know how to count money so you do the counting. It is ten thousand naira. Five thousand for each gun. You smile.
‘Business is good, Honey,’ you say.
‘Very good,’ he responds. ‘Take six thousand for all the things you need. Don’t disturb me for anything again till next weekend.’
‘Yes, Honey.’ You smile and your heart is filled with joy. You go back to the room where the stove is seated by the window, there is no kitchen so you cook close to the window in the room, the smoke evacuates through the open window. You turn up the stove and the water begins to boil. Your heart is filled with joy for there are many things the money in your hands can buy. You collect one of the flat pillows on the bed and put the money inside. You put the remaining one inside the bedside drawer where your husband banks his money. You dream of good life – tomorrow you will be able to buy that Hollandis wrapper that you have been eyeing for weeks. And yes, you remember that your mascara is finished and you need a new one. You make a mental note to get that too. You know that it is weekend and your husband could get lucky and his customers may come back on Saturday or Sunday to hire the guns. You raise your hands to the heavens in appreciation.
It is midnight or past midnight, you cannot remember because your wall clock is not functioning. The knock on the door is hard. Your husband wakes you and asks you to be calm. The knock turns to banging this time and he goes close to the door and asks;
‘Who is there?’
‘Segun!’ the voice calls. He hesitates, and then unlatches the door. Two men step into the sitting room. You had locked the door to the room when he went to the sitting room to open the door. But you can hear what they are saying because the night is quiet.
‘Oga O. C. Kasala don gas! Please keep this bag for us. Here are the guns. We will come tomorrow. Don’t go to work, till we come.’ Your husband does not talk and you strain your ear to hear but notice that he has locked the door. He taps on the bedroom door and you open for him.
‘Honey, what is it?’
He shoves the bag containing the guns under the bed and sits. He unzips the bag from his clients and some dollars fallout from the bag. You cover your mouth with your hands.
‘We are rich!’ You shout.
‘Shhee!’ he cautions. He dips his hand inside the bag and everything inside is money. Sleep leaves your eyes instantly. Your eyes swoon and the bag of money appears in seven places. You grab your husband’s laps tightly, and he touches your arm to calm you. You are dreaming of wealth – a lot of wrappers to buy, shoes and Brazilian hair for your head. You think of the new dress that you will buy for the next August meeting. Even your panties and brassieres, you need to change all of them. Perhaps, it is time you talked to your husband on the need for you to relocate to a flat in the centre of Ibadan. There is this new car you saw yesterday, or the day before, you cannot remember clearly. But you know that the name is Murano jeep, you will have to buy one.
‘My wife!’ your husband calls, jostling you from your thoughts. You sit on the ground, pouring all the money before you.
‘Jesus! Jesus!’ you exclaim at how much money that is before you. ‘How did they get this?’
‘I don’t know. It must be a huge operation. Perhaps they robbed a foreign firm or a white man. Count it,’ your husband instructs. He joins you on the floor. The money is in bundles of one hundred dollar notes. Each bundle is ten thousand dollars. There are twenty four bundles in all. You stand and pick your Nokia phone, scroll to the application and open the calculator. You do the calculation. What is before you is two hundred and forty thousand dollars. You multiply that by the naira equivalent and that gives you close to thirty eight million naira. You feel like fainting because your forehead aches and your hearts beats rapidly like you have just finished a cross-country race. The room suddenly becomes stuffy and you perspire, your husband wipes his brow. He stands and he walks to the sitting room and comes back. He is confused. He removes his shirt and sits on the bed.
You look around the squalor that you live in – small room with a steel bed occupied by a torn flat mattress. The wall is painted with blood from the mosquitoes that you’d killed on the wall. The fan is not working. By the side of the room, close to the window, are your cooking utensils, stove, pots, frying pans and cutleries. There is a cockroach feasting on the left over jollof rice on the plate close to the stove. You smile. Everything is fine now, you imagine yourself living in a big mansion. You imagine servants from Akwa Ibom serving as cooks and maids and security guards and calling you, Oga Madam, genuflecting to greet you.
Very early in the morning, your husband picks the money which he has packed into your travelling bag and both of you change into your Sunday clothes, you flag down a taxi in front of the house and zoom off to the centre of the town. You rent a nice suite in a hotel, order champagne and cake, and bathe in hot water, in a glittering white tub. Like in the movies, you make love in the bathroom. When you climax, which had not happened for over a year, you laugh aloud, so loudly that your husband pulls out and says; ‘You don kolo? Are you mad?’
In the evening you walk down the streets close to the hotel and buy suya and oranges and apples and water melons. You take everything to the hotel and order a nice meal of ora soup. You eat like you are in heaven and wonder why someone would want to die when heaven is here on earth. When your husband enters the bathroom to shower again, you call your friend who sells fabrics and ask her to keep different kinds of Hollandis wrappers for you. Your husband calls his friend who runs a real estate business and asks that he look for a duplex or a bungalow for you to buy. You hug him and kiss his neck and say; ‘I love you, Honey.’ That night, he sends the names and addresses of the two criminals to his friends at the Criminal Response Squad.
It is two weeks now and today you pack into your new apartment. Your husband paid the man who sold the house to you in dollars. You have not gone back to your former apartment, and your husband has resigned from his police job. He is planning on starting a block industry and you want to travel to Lagos to buy second hand electronics, you have asked the real estate man to look for a shop for you. You call Madam Ghana and tell her that you need a maid and a gateman; they must come from Akwa Ibom because they are the only ones that know how to respect their madams. She says no problems, Ma. Madam Ghana calls you Ma now because you have money and each time you go to her shop you buy all the clothes that catch your fancy.
The night you pack into your new apartment, you cook vegetable soup and prepare pounded yam for your husband. He is watching the news when someone knocks on the door. Both of you are startled because the gate is locked and you wonder how the person knocking on the door managed to gain access to the compound.
‘I thought you locked the gate?’ you ask your husband. He nods. But could it be that he did not really lock the gate, after all he had been drinking Red Label and eating fried chicken since afternoon like a big man that he is?
‘Check who is at the door. It could be the neighbours. Besides it is still 8pm.’
You stand to do as he says. Your huge buttocks sway from side to side as you walk to the door. You are sure that your husband’s eyes are following the side to side movement of your buttocks. You wiggle them as you move to the door. You ask who is there but the person knocks calmly and you open the door.
Two men step into the sitting room, pushing the door along with them. They are carrying pistols. Black pistols, pointed at you, and at your husband who is already on his feet.
‘If you move I will shoot!’ one of them orders.
‘Oga O. C!’ the other calls and approaches your husband who has knelt down and is begging for forgiveness. ‘Did you ever think you can run away?
‘Abeg, Sir. Abeg, Sir,’ your husband is saying repeatedly. You are lying down, facing the floor and begging God that they do no harm to your husband.
‘Greedy man! We robbed a construction company, lost three of our men. And made away with the money. A lot of money. We understood how poor and wretched you are and thought we should help you. What you ran away with was your own share. We did not want to tell you because we wanted to test your loyalty—’ your husband’s eyes flickers with hope, a smile crosses his lips. He approaches the men.
‘Segun, I am sorry, Sir. I was confused. I didn’t run away—’
‘Shut up! You think we are fools?’ He slaps your husband so hard and he falls to the ground. ‘We were monitoring your moves. You sent our details to your friends at the police headquarters. Look at you, a pauper; now you are a millionaire, you now live in a new apartment. You live big. And you tried to swindle us. You thought it was the only money eh?’ Your husband shakes his head and they slap him again, blood flies out of his mouth, a tooth drops on the floor and your husband’s hands covers his mouth unconsciously, there is blood all over his hand.
‘Please…’ Your husband is crying now. You are crying too. The tall dark man whom your husband calls Segun drops his gun on the cushion, he brings out a dagger from his trouser and begins to cut the covering of the cushion into threads, he cuts enough quantity and you watch with appalling dismay as the new cushion is desecrated, he ties your husband’s hands to the dining table and ties his feet too. He cuts the foam stuffing of the cushion and pushes them into your husband’s mouth. You begin to plead the more because you think they want to slash his throat. What happens next is what you never would have imagined in your life. He pushes his dagger into your husband’s stomach, just below his chest and he moans in anguish but his cries are muffled by the foam in his mouth. Then Segun turns towards you, you lie down immediately, his heavy boot rests on your protruded buttocks. They smile fiendishly.
‘Both of you think we are fools eh?’ he bends down and yanks off your Hollandis wrapper, you are wearing nothing beneath it. He uses the dagger to tear your short blouse, and your breasts jump out like balloons and stare at him menacingly. You shift unconsciously, pleading with your eyes and your hands. He slaps your face, blinding you and grabs your breasts with his two hard hands and squeezes tightly. You moan in pain and your husband makes awful but helpless sounds, watching with weak but dying eyes.
Feature/Post Image: Lemi Ghariokwu
Obinna Udenwe is a prize winning Nigerian writer. His works have appeared in the Kalahari Review, Tribe-write, Flair Magazine, Kadunaboy and in Literary & Travel Magazine. When he is not travelling all over the world, he shares his time between Abakaliki and Enugu.