On her morning trek to work, Rebecca found herself more and more convinced of the first, and less of the second. War was fought by soldiers. Who could she summon at a moment’s notice to wage war for her? Her brother was fourteen, struggling with junior secondary exams, her father was diabetic, a reformed drunk who had lost his leg up to the hip due to wild living. They were both in the village, supported by her mother who had a stall in the market; as far as they all knew she was doing well here. To bring them this news would be to plunge them into unspeakable despair. She could not go to the Police, either. Not without the tips and bribes that ushered justice along. The case could just as soon be thrown out, or turned against her. One of her cousins was arrested for “making false accusations.”
By the time she neared the house, Rebecca was almost going mad again at the thought of Uzor going unpunished.
“That’s when I came to you, sir,” she said, “That’s when I said let me tell Oga Samuel. He knows book, he knows the law, he would… he would be able to do something.” Her voice broke off and Samuel feared that she might cry again. She dabbed the handkerchief over her cheeks, gazing at him with moist, red, expectant eyes.
“Err…” Samuel said, taking a deep breath. He was moved by what he had heard. In all the years he spent in the practice of Medicine, the one thing he’d failed to teach himself was that quality most essential to doctors: the gift of distance – how to disengage, how to view a person with Stage Four Prostatic Carcinoma as simply a case, papers in a file, not a human life inexorably on its way to being over. It was key to the survival of any doctor; he had lacked it, and paid the price, suffering from one casuality to the next. His father’s death was the last swipe that left his link to medicine severed. Emboldened by a hefty inheritance, he relinquished his post, content to spend the bulk of his days in a manner he knew his former colleagues could only comprehend with words like “weak” and “failure.”
He penned political commentary for periodicals. It was easy work. He didn’t need the money. Besides, he spent so much time already observing. The opinions were all in his head, merely awaiting an extraction to paper, and a weekly dispatching to the various editors. His pieces were scathing commentaries on life, politics and religion that more or less arrived at the same conclusion week in week out: life was a cycle; the world was shit; humanity was its own undoing: the day of reckoning was coming.
“First things first, you should have a place to stay for the time being. If you could prepare the guest room for yourself. We will talk again later in the day.”
Holding a hand over her mouth, Rebecca dropped to her knees. After a long pause, she said she hadn’t been expecting this.
It was alright, he told her. Of course, she could stay here.
“Thank you, sir. Thank you.”
Driving through GRA Samuel reflected on all Rebecca had just told him. In his forty plus years he’d been a witness to horrible things that repetition did not make easier. Who was that idiot who had said, The one constant in life was change? It was, of course, evil. It ran all day and all night, and never changed.
He made a turn into King Perekule Street, and immediately came upon a familiar array of Pine trees. He wound down the glass, as he would often do in his teens, and inhaled deeply. After passing the trees, he rolled the windows right back up. His alma mater Emmanuel Secondary school lay several blocks ahead, a congregation of low buildings, the head of which bore a large signboard that said, Emmanuella Hotel. He passed by, averting his eyes, not wishing to face, right now or anytime soon if it were up to him, the mess the present had made of the past.
Soon he was easing into the parking lot of Prime bank, where Belema worked. As soon as he parked, he fell back into his seat. He felt like he had just driven through a city under siege. He shut his eyes for a moment, and running his hands over his face he took a deep breath. Voices, near and distant, fused with the honking of cars to form a drawn out groan, that sounded in that moment like the cry of the city. Eyes closed, Samuel saw an image of Port-Harcourt as it used to be when he was a boy, when flowers lined the highways like soldiers on parade, when Emmanuel Secondary was Emmanuel Secondary, when neighbours wielded garden shears, and beamed with pride at the state of their hedges, when people found security in the thickness of their hedges, Pitanga cherry, but mostly Hibiscus, red and pink, flowers with a distinct call that Samuel and his friends were powerless to, going to them on their way from school, picking their seeds, chewing them. How many stomach aches had they endured eating the seeds of inedible plants? He bore the burden of his memories proudly. He was born here, and had never left. He would pass his days here.
His phone rang. Samuel felt a rush when he saw who it was. With a weary smile, he picked up. “Your spirit is strong. I swear I was just about to call you. I’m outside.”