Chapter 2: the current

It was abnormal to see the streets of Ikeja, Lagos, free of cars and idle on a weekday. I had thought that I was in the wrong place, and I was hesitant to gas the Avalon. An hour’s journey had turned into a fifteen-minute drive but I took it as the heavens, giving me a chance. It was a windy morning, and the weather was reaching meat-locker standard. It also wasn’t a good day to get on Commander Young’s bad side.

Driving through a highway, my eyes wandered about. I embarked on this route to work every day, but today, I was feeling nostalgic. It didn’t happen all the time. I had buried the truth about where I came from at the back of my mind. But at every point and part of the landscapes I crossed, there was a story waiting to be told. I knew the drill. I was born and bred on these streets; It was my home as a proud Lagosian.

Yellow Danfo buses struggled for passengers at the curb. A ride in one of those could be the craziest thing a person experienced in their entire lifetime. You’d get into one, holding your bags tight like you held a bank in your arms. Sometimes they would even steal the person and their bags together. Then you’d see the self-ordained preachers rambling about salvation in a two-minute drive. In the same bus, two others would pitch their herbal medicines capable of curing all diseases. There was nothing like quiet or peace on these rides; it was pure madness.

I reached a two-way street where a covey of hawkers and people begging for alms milled on each side of the road.

The Avalon slowed to a stop at a red light and a soft rap on the driver’s window called my attention. A little boy stood there. He wore no shirt under this terrible cold, exposing his swollen belly and protruding ribs. His arms and legs were only bones, no flesh, and his skin was dry and scaly. Through the glass, I looked straight at his pair of watery and empty eyes. They were devoid of life, and I had to avert my gaze when I saw someone else in him.

A Ghanaian writer once expressed that children like him wanted a roof over their heads more than they craved for a meal any day. They starved, but the need to feel protected prevailed. They longed for comfort.

The light knock came again, and I snapped from my thoughts. It had been years since I shed a tear. Working for the ICS made you tough and unaffected, yet the sight of this child alone had filled me with strange emotions. It was normal to see mendicants, but since this day began, I had thought about someone from the moment I opened my eyes. Guilt played me like a violin.

I took out a wad of cash, rolled down the window, and smiled at the little boy. His eyes filled the second he saw. They gaped at the money I offered, wide as geometric circles. I never counted it. I had given this child everything I had on me that morning.

Noticing his discomfort, I searched for a black polythene bag in the backseat. Now hidden, I handed the naira notes to the boy and pressed a finger to my lips. He seemed dazed as he took it reluctantly. He had forgotten how to speak, then ran off to where a woman I assumed was his mother sat on the sidewalk, looking exhausted with life.

This woman opened the bag her son handed her a little and stopped halfway, like she couldn’t believe what she held. Tears rolled down her black cheeks. Her hand covered her mouth. But then, as the little boy pointed at my car, and she rushed over to thank me, the lights had turned green. I snapped the Avalon into gear and never saw them again.

I completed my journey.

A reserved neighbourhood contained the military barracks, and even the checkpoints had begun from the outskirts. I underwent about six of them before reaching the barracks gates. Its parking lot was outside the fifteen-metre concrete monster shielding the buildings. A large land space, of which bouts of vehicles occupied most of its lots.

I parked and approached the entrance. I couldn’t sight the media.

Men in black hawk pythons and armoured vests made the last checks.

I queued up, awaiting my turn. I had expected the tight security. This was an issue involving National Intelligence and the armed forces, who were the highest defence operators in the country. They meant business, but so did we.

Impatience pricked my insides at every second. They were taking their damn time. I was about to dial a number when a startling commotion ensued at the front of the line. Heads turned to get a better view, some craned to the right while others to the left.

I noticed the black coat flapping under the wind first and I squinted in disbelief, disentangling myself from the queue.

Taking a few steps forward, I observed the side profile of the man involved in the battle of words with the army man.

I knew that jawline and that impressive height. I knew this man well.

“You dare talk back at me. Who do you think you are?” The soldier said, grabbing the man by his collar.

“Get your filthy hands off of me!” said the man in the long trench coat, as he fought the soldiers’ tight hold on him.

“I will deal with you today.” The soldier looked confident.

He didn’t care that he had an audience. The soldier was more focused on flaunting a broken ego. A law enforcer, an upholder of peace, was breaking this law all by himself. Nationals and a few foreign individuals watched the scene with interested eyes. It was the most inauspicious place to cause violence. They had manned this entrance for a reason. Now, the scene had distracted everyone.

I could imagine that this fight was over something simple, not in any way worth the disgrace that it resulted in. A misunderstanding that the two men could easily fix through dialogue. We had pledged our actions to this land as banners of defence, but there were still thickheads that thought otherwise. Over the years, reports of situations where law enforcers had slaughtered the people they were supposed to protect, grossed in high rates, and soldiers like him were to blame.

The words of a famous writer had called it allying one’s self with power. This soldier had allowed his position of power to intoxicate him like whiskey on a drunk—he wasn’t even top ranked. A second lieutenant was about to ruin an emergency rendezvous before it even started.

I eased forward again and became alert when I noticed the soldier’s line of actions. He kept shifting his hand to his back, growing antsy. He had attempted those movements three times in a row and, as I presumed, the thought of using his gun was consistent.

I reached the front of the line with a mission on my plate. If I hadn’t stepped in then, things would have gone South way faster than time. The other five guards clutched their weapons with intent. They noticed what the arguing soldier intended to do, and it put me on edge to see that they were not trying to stop him.

I had a clearer view of the scene, but the man in question still backed me. I noticed the guns spread on the plastic table beside him. The shiny surface of the silver 40 calibre Smith and Wesson caught my eye. A Sig Sauer P238 was also among the clump and no one had to tell me. I sure as hell knew who this man was.

There was only one person in this world that could carry as many weapons as these and still forget his ID and license. This time, I could imagine he would say he had left it on a kitchen cabinet or in his fridge…

I had stopped the chuckle in time to save face. With more conviction in my strides, I approached the middle of the scene. The army man had finally acted on his thoughts. He didn’t consider the eyes watching. He didn’t even flinch as he drew the MP5 strapped to his waist.

It played out in a blur. I deflected the hand that held the submachine gun with a sock on his wrist. The weapon fell from the force. Then I twisted the soldier’s hand behind. A crack had sounded before I grabbed the other one.

“I was handling the situation. Can’t you mind your business?” The man in the black coat turned to me.

“I just saved your ass, Emeka. A ‘thank you’ would be nice,” I said in an undertone, flashing a smirk.

The soldier squirmed in my firm hold.

It had taken me a blank second to register with my surrounding. I couldn’t stand the weight of their stares. All eyes gaped at us. But there were also five big guns pointed at our heads. Red dots appeared on my chest, even Emeka faced the same problem.

Snipers were in sight, I had to tread with caution.

At a slow pace, I retrieved my ID from the under pocket of my coat and put a hand up, using the other to maintain my hold on the soldier. The man at my side didn’t care to surrender. He tightened his face and challenged them like a fool.

When the five saw the ID in my hand, they retreated. One of them keyed his transceiver and those little dots disappeared. The ICS wasn’t recognized like the army, but those who knew us knew to respect us. Our agency was versatile, not to mention my rank as a D3 agent. They trembled at present because they knew they had just messed up big time.

“Who’s in charge?” I asked in a voice like steel. Roles had reversed. The cloudy expression on my face always got the job done.

A guard with soft eyes spoke up first. He pointed to a building around the corner and I didn’t wait for any second. I threw the piece in my hands to the other guards with extra force, not caring to be gentle.

“This must reach the disciplinary committee’s desk. A soldier on guard duty attacked an ICS agent and threatened the lives of innocent civilians.” I came to where the soldier in question was gathering himself and said, “I will ruin you. Mark my words.”

The tag on his ID called him Idris Abubakar, and I captured the name, even as he glared at me with dark Toltec eyes. My last words were a promise for him alone to hear.

The guard that carried him away saluted in respect for the both of us. The remaining three resumed their position, and the line was ready to move again.

“You can’t be serious.” I flicked my eyes between Emeka and his unregistered weapons and raised a brow.

“It should be somewhere in my dining room…I think I left it there.” He seemed deep in thought, biting his lips.

“Mmm,” I said, folding my hands.

The look on my face made him guffaw, but he had stopped himself too soon and behaved.

The surrounding crowd murmured about the past minutes’ events. To think a shoot out would have ensued in their presence was terrifying enough.

I led the apology and spoke on behalf of the soldier and Emeka, the clumsy agent. We had delayed a minute more to assure them that all was fine and that nothing would harm them. It was ten-forty-five when we entered the main building. Emeka and I had dodged the thorough search in the end, but we had run out of time.

Turns out, the heavens weren’t on my side. I was still going to get on Commander Young’s bad side on this chilly morning.

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