Life happens to us… even if we run.
For 32-year-old Dikachi Ugwu, life came in the form of a brash, portly lady that ran into his shop on a cold November night. He was just about to close for the day when she barged in, nearly ripping the sliding door at the entrance with the force she used to open it.
“Your restroom. I need your restroom,” she said, with a tone laden with entitlement and in-between short pants.
Dikachi should have been annoyed. Humans irritated him and even someone asking nicely would have gotten a scowl for starters.
This time, his slightly bent forefinger pointed her in the direction of his restroom. Barely regarding her benefactor, she made for the promised land. No sooner had she gone, than Dikachi recoiled in horror, his fingers had felt a smile on his face. Why? He and smiling were like fish and dry land. And the supposed reason for this foreign emotion was not particularly pretty, Dikachi thought with disgust.
She was one of those humans that were two or three tweaks away from being attractive. Tweaks that would have been carried out on her nose alone. It had the odd quality of being hawk-like at the bridge and flat at the base. A smaller nose would have been a start. Whatever he felt for her was not superficial.
A few minutes later, she was back from relieving herself and to Dikachi’s surprise, had a smile on her face. A smile that was as wide as the plastic candy tray in the corner of his shop. Her smile was as warm as smouldering fire in harmattan. The type of smile that elevates the mood of a gloomy room and for a second, Dikachi wondered if it was the same rude person that came in minutes ago. Her dimples caught his eye, the left one, more prominent than the right. Mulling over her appearance put him so deep in thought that it made him miss her effusive apology. It also left him oblivious to something she slipped into the breast pocket of his faded blue shirt. It was only later, at home, that he realized what she gave him.
“Why did you give me your number?” he asked, his mouth full of cold spaghetti, leftover from breakfast. He was studying the haphazard scribble on a neatly folded piece of paper. He wondered if she folded it while relieving herself.
“Cause, you couldn’t stop staring,” she said. It was obvious from her voice that she was smiling that smile of hers.
“Restroom girl?” he asked, barely containing a chuckle.
“How else were you going to remember? But I go by Iyanu some of the time,” she added. “Iyanuoluwa Adesanya”.
Months later when they’d become an item, she would occasionally tease him about this day. It didn’t matter how many times she did, it always made Dikachi roll up in laughter, keeling over and holding his ribs.
Emeka flipped his pillow for the umpteenth time that night. Just like other times, nothing changed. His pillow was still as wet as ever, soaked with cold sweat from his neck and back. His throat was parched and after trying futilely to moisturize it with saliva, he dragged himself up to drink something. As the liquid from the bottle flooded his throat, he wondered for an instant if the caffeine in Coke was enough to worsen his insomnia. What difference would it make, he thought? His was not a chemical issue. It was psychological. The kind you see a shrink for. But this was Nigeria.
He let out a deep sigh of resignation and went back to bed. After some minutes of tossing and turning, he finally let his mind wander. Away from his cold, air-conditioned room to the uncompleted building on Elite Road two years ago. To the reason he couldn’t sleep. Chidinma.
Then and even now, he found it strange that he didn’t puke immediately at the sight, instead emptying his guts into his bathroom sink later that day. Was that why he was suffering two years later? Another delayed reaction?
Before the distress call on Elite Road, it had been a regular day for Sergeant Emeka at Eleweran Police Headquarters, Abeokuta. He had had nothing to do all day except handle the release of a travel agent accused of defrauding people for fake visas. He hated his job. He hated that none of it involved actual detective work. But this was Nigeria, he thought with a resigned sigh. And like every day of the twelve days he had worked here, he regretted reading Criminology at Babcock University. What did he think he was going to be? The next Sherlock Holmes? He should have listened to his dad and read engineering.
“It’s more practical,” his father would tell him but all of that fell on deaf ears. Now his most exciting day here was when it was time to process a prisoner. That was until the call came in.
“Oga, oga, she’s dying. Chidinma is dying! My baby–” A hoarse voice trailed off in agony.
“We are a police station, not a hospital,” Emeka replied curtly. “Take her to a hospital.”
“But he’s getting away!” The anger was palpable from his raised voice and agitated tone.
That was all Emeka needed and fifteen minutes later, he was at the scene of the crime staring in horror at the mangled face of Chidinma. Her dad was crouched beside her silently weeping. Her eyes were popped out of their sockets the same way basketballs would be if the hoops were too tiny for them. Chidinma. Beneath the blood flowing from surgical-like cuts on her face, he could tell she was young. Not older than thirty, he reckoned, trying in vain to suppress a shudder. What kind of sick fuck would do this? Her face looked like her killer had performed plastic surgery on it with crude tools. This looked like an Oyinbo crime. The type Emeka saw on his favorite show, Hannibal. For a brief moment, he wondered if the killer was a fan of the show.
Weeks later, when the nightmares were still few and far between, he wondered why the murder happened but as weeks turned to months and the nightmares became more frequent, his focus shifted to how she died. Apart from the cuts on her face, no part of her body had signs of trauma. She certainly wasn’t drugged to death, her tox screen came back negative but this was Nigeria. Maybe the lab scientist on duty that day was in a mood because his son needed some extra money for something at school. Or just simply, the reagents were dated. The police department had given up on solving the case and why wouldn’t they? Those fraudulent visa agents weren’t going to arrest themselves.
Sleep pattern aside, Chidinma changed Emeka. He started to obsess about the case after that and suddenly, there was a reason to go to work. Like a junkie, he went through details of the case, and before long, he knew Chidinma like she was a close friend. He used his free time to question people that were around before and after the crime was committed. It was on one of such interrogations that he struck gold.
Deji was a 12-year-old boy that had come to retrieve his ball in the uncompleted building the day of the murder. He and his friends were playing a five-a-side game on the street next to the building when he kicked the ball away. As was customary, he went to get it. Interviewing Deji gave Emeka his first lead.
“E get one man wey bin commot the house before police show.”
“How him dey? You fit describe am?” Emeka asked.
“Him fair small come tall, but no be well well. I fit say you and am na the same height” Deji’s eyes were darting now, the conversation was boring him.
“E get any other thing?” Emeka asked.
Deji didn’t answer. His attention was now on a group of boys opposite the building. They were about to play a football match and the selection of teammates had just begun. Emeka rolled his eyes in indignation. The attention span of children, he thought as he fumbled through his pockets for a 200 naira note.
“E get any other thing?” this time holding the crumpled 200 naira note for Deji to see.
“Him bin get mark wey dey like moon for him neck.”
You should have led with that, Emeka thought stuffing the money in the boy’s grateful hands as he walked away.
So, his obsession intensified. All roads led to a man with a moon-shaped mark on his neck. A scar shaped like that was either a birthmark or a scar. He’d find himself subconsciously checking the neck of any man he had a conversation with. On the street, in the market, in the bus, his eyes would dart around necks hoping for his breakthrough.
Two years. He kept this up for two long years. As the second year wound to a close, Emeka knew that he had to make a change. So, he resolved to stop looking. His moon-branded culprit was possibly the figment of a child’s imagination. A child in dire need of money. He had to stop punishing himself.
But as he lay in bed in his dark room that was just starting to see the first signs of daylight, he wondered if he had truly stopped. His nights were now an endless cocktail of nightmares and insomnia.
The air was rife with the impatience of a Monday morning when a new prisoner was brought in to Eleweran Police Headquarters to be charged to court. His crime, murder. Sergeant Emeka standing in for Sergeant Feyi was in charge of processing.
“Victim is Iyanuoluwa Adesanya, a 32-year-old banker–” Emeka trailed off reading. He was bored already.
“Name?” Emeka asked the prisoner, barely looking up.
Irritated, Emeka looked up, “Full nam–”.
Like face art on the prisoner’s fair skin, sprouting from his collar and nearly making its way to his face. A black birthmark shaped like a crescent moon. The prisoner was smiling now.