By Larry Sun
“I was not being a vigilante, that is one job I detest. I was returning from the minaret. Brother Daniel can testify to that, he saw me holding my Qur’an when I came to call him. That day was on a Saturday and I went to Tajjud vigil the night before, which was on a Friday.”
“Now, I want you to answer this question truthfully.”
“That I killed him? I have told you, I am not—”
“Will you stop flapping your flatulent mouth and let me finish?” Lot roared angrily.
The boy became mute. “When you saw the body, did you come across any weapon—any gun?”
Hakeem shook his head.
“Are you sure?”
He nodded, beads of sweat had begun to form on his nose.
“Before seeing the body, did you meet anybody on your way?” He spoke up this time, “I met many people, most of them were returning from church, but I did not see anybody when I turned into this street. The street was as quiet as a Shehu’s grave.”
“What about when you were going to Daniel’s, did you meet anybody?”
“I met nobody, but I felt the spirit of the dead man following behind me. It made me burst into a run with fear.”
“Okay, thank you, but before you go, how old are you exactly?”
“I will be fifteen by November twenty-eighth.”
“What’s your full name?”
“My name is Ciroma Hakeem Musa and I am not a terrorist.”
The reply surprised the detective, “Who says you are?”
Hakeem spread his hands, “That is the idea. Most people believe every Muslim is a terrorist.”
“Then you’re a devout Muslim, right?”
“A faithful believer in Allah and Prophet Mohammed, salla Allah alaihi wa sallam. I have never gone on a pilgrimage to Mecca, but I pray to Allah five times daily and I do not eat pork.”
“Are you from the North?”
“I am precisely a Fulani but my parents work here in Lagos. My mother sells Tuwo Shinkafa at the car-park and my father imports cattle from Kaduna to sell here in Lagos.”
“You’re a very smart and intelligent boy, I like you.”
The boy’s face brightened up like a Christmas light in a dark alley, “SubhanAllah. Allah be exalted.”
Lot smiled, “I want you to pray to your Allah or Mohammed to give us the wisdom to catch the murderer. Will you do that for us, please?”
“Detective Abdullot and Brother Abduldaniel, have faith in the Qur’an, first paragraph, book four.”
“Care to tell us what it says, Imam Musa?” Daniel asked.
“The feasts were brought among the unbelieving infidels and no longer were they unbelieving.” The boy quoted. “You see, all you need is faith and Allah will help you.”
“Do your parents know how intelligent you are, Hakeem?” Daniel said to Hakeem, the boy’s foibles he had always been finding charming.
Hakeem shrugged, “I doubt it, my father spends more time with his cattle than with me and my mother is always flirting with cab-drivers at the park. They are both illiterates, of course.”
“Thank you, Hakeem,” Lot said, “You can go now.” He pressed the ‘Stop’ button on the recorder.
The boy rose and bowed to the two men, and then he walked out like someone who had just rescued a drowning dog in the presence of an impressed crowd.
Lot turned to Daniel and asked, “What do you think?”
Daniel smiled, “That boy is funny and intelligent. He’s definitely one of those boys who do not mind exchanging banters with anybody they come across. And he speaks English almost perfectly. I mean he never uses contractions. Never ‘I’m’ or ‘you’re’ but always ‘I am’ or ‘you are’.”
“I know what contractions are,” Lot snapped at him, “Was he lying when he was explaining how he came across the body?”
“If that boy was lying, you would have known, sir. He spoke everything he knew.”
A bee buzzed past them and banged its face against the wall.
“The gun was taken away by the murderer.” Though Lot spoke out, he actually spoke to himself.
“Mr. Martins might have committed suicide.”
Lot cast a sharp annoyed look at Daniel and said, “Have I got to tell you thirty-six times, and then again thirty-six that he was murdered? Where were you when the Almighty passed out brains?”
“I’m sorry, sir. Who are we questioning this time?”
“The gatekeeper, of course.” Lot answered. “Wait a minute, Hakeem said the gatekeeper was already awake when you knocked on the gate, was that true?”
“It seemed so.”
“Then he might have seen or heard something.”
“Or he might know how the body reached the gate.”
The name ‘Eze’ meant ‘King’ to Chima, and he always acknowledged himself as a person of royal status, though he was a gatekeeper most of his life and had not even a chieftaincy lineage. He was dressed in his native Igbo attire; a red cap rested smugly on his head and a pair of black pointed shoes covered his feet. He sat on a chair as he entered the interrogation room.
Detective Lot watched him closely and coughed. He picked up the recorder and pressed the rewind button for a second or two, then he pressed the ‘Record’ button and began:
“What is your name, sir?” said Lot, calling upon all his powers of self-control to force the last of these five words through the barrier of his teeth. He believed Chima was an older man who deserved no much of a respect from him.
“John Eze Chima.”
“Can you please tell us about yourself, Mr. Chima?”
“I have nothing much to tell; I’m an easy-going man and I don’t cause trouble.” Eze said flatly.
“Is that all you’re going to say?”
“What else do you want me to say? I’m in perpendicular a man who doesn’t speak much about himself.”
Lot leaned back in his chair and looked at the old man opposite him intently. He could only see a calm but dangerous expression in the man’s eyes.
“Sir, how old are you?” Lot asked.
“I can’t remember, but I celebrated my eleventh birthday when Nigeria got her independence.”
Lot made a swift calculation in his mind, “Then you’re sixty years old.”
“Thou hast said.”
The detective slapped his forehead and groaned, the man was succeeding in getting on his nerves, he suppressed his anger. It was like gulping a mouthful of bile. “How long have you been working for the deceased?”
The old man lapsed into memory, “About half a decade now, I think.”
“Your relationship with the deceased, was it what one could call amiable, as in friendly?”
Eze chuckled, rivers of wrinkles flowing down the corners of his eyes and mouth. “That’s quite on the contrary. No one had a friendly relationship with Cain, except his lawyer, of course.”
“Now that he’s gone, do you miss him?”
“No, I don’t. I mourn his death though, but not the closing of his big mouth. He was as cruel and headstrong as an allegory on the banks of Nile. Nobody would miss a man who had visited the pearly gates with a CV that would make Saint Peter call for the celestial security guards to bundle him straight to hell.”
The detective shifted in his seat to a more comfortable position.
“Mr. Chima, let’s talk about that gun you possess. How did you come about the old rifle?”
“It’s my war souvenir.”
“Biafra,” Eze said, pausing to scratch his groin.”It was in the late sixties when I was still young and handsome,” he laughed, “I was about eighteen or nineteen years old when the war broke out. I was picked to join the army against my wish, then I was given an oversized uniform with a gun and sent to the warfront to face death—there was no shooting training performed, no combatant training, nothing. Yet, I killed about six dozen enemies with that gun, can you believe that? The more I killed, the braver I became. It was a sheer miracle that I was not killed in that war, I didn’t even sustain a scratch. Many of my colleagues, older and younger, were unlucky and got killed, some got their limbs blown away, some bodies could not even be identified because they were silly enough to face killing tanks with pistols and hunters’ guns.”
He smiled as a remembrance occurred to him. “There was time during the war when we were suddenly attacked with tanks, it was just like God’s attack on Sodom and Glocca Morra from the pages of the Old Tentacle, as brave as I was, I immediately turned and ran like hell, dripping with inspiration. I wasn’t turning chicken, and I wasn’t trying to be a superman either, I was just using my head for once. Those who fight and run away live to fight another day. So I ran, a bullet richshawed a tree and almost hit me in the head. There are times when you don’t need a priest to tell you that it isn’t sensible to take on a tank with your gun, because if you do, you’ll be standing there holding your gun and looking at the hole the tank just created in your belly. I think that was what really happened in the case of some of my silly mates.
“After the war, I kept my gun as a souvenir; its sight will always remind me of my youth, the days when men were still men.” He smiled, “I don’t think you can reprehend the meaning of what I’m saying.”
After listening patiently to the gatekeeper’s tale, Lot asked, “Have you ever shot the gun after the war?”
“Yes, twice. I shot a bullet in 1988 and another in about a decade and a half later.”
“What war were you fighting then?”
“No be war. I shoot the bullets up to the heavens because of the sound, it makes the memories of the Biafra fresh in my brain.”
“Did you shoot any recently?”
“Mr. Chima, do you have a family, any wife or child?”
“I lost my wife in 1992, she died of tuberculosis and Chidi, my only son, died in 2002. He was one of the victims of that bomb explosion at the cantonment. My daughter, too, died at childbirth.”
“Accept my condolence, sir.” Lot said dryly.
Chima smiled, “Many years ago, I would have appreciated your sympathy, but now, Amaka, Angela and Chidi are nothing but old memories to me.”
“We are investigating the death of Mr. Martins and I believe you are going to help us on the case. You are going to help, right?”
“Sure, why not? If he was killed, then the person who did it has done many people a great favour, yet, he shouldn’t have taken the law in his own hands. If I may say, I don’t even believe Cain was killed.”
“Can you please recount to me what happened on the night of the seventh?”
The old man began to speak his words in orderly sequence as if he had composed the speech on paper, then memorized and possibly rehearsed it. “It was about ten-thirty in the night when I heard the sound of a car engine,” he began, “I went to the garage and saw Cain and the driver in a jeep, of all the cars in the garage, Cain had always preferred to go out in a jeep.”
“Where were they going?”
“I have no idea, nobody told me. Cain only ordered me to open the gate, which I obediently did; he was my boss.”
“And the next morning Cain was found dead?”
“No, something else happened before that.”
“At exactly half past twelve that night, Oga drove back inside alone.”
Daniel, who had been silently listening to the two men was surprised, “Are you sure about that, sir?”
“Positive,” replied Eze Chima, “Cain came back that night without the driver. When I opened the gate and saw only Cain in the jeep I immediately sensed that something fishy was going on—honestly, I thought Cain had killed Richard and dumped his body somewhere before coming back. You see, Cain and his driver were like cat and mouse, so the thought that Cain had killed Richard was not really a surprising one to me. What really baffled me was seeing Cain lying dead outside, because I locked the gate from within when Cain drove back inside, and I put the keys under my pillow. Nobody could have taken it without my knowledge.”
“Maybe there were the duplicates of the keys.” Lot said.
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