The year my father murdered a man, a plot of land had been allocated to him by the newly constituted democratic government. Democracy had returned two years prior, and governors were granting certificates of occupancy to anyone who had the capacity to build, in a bid to develop the urban centers. My father’s plot was sizeable. He had plans to build a four-bedroom duplex on it. However, he began by developing a two bedroom boys’ quarters at the rear and we moved into that first. My mother grew a garden on some of the free land in the plot. It was not a garden of ornamental flowers; she planted ugwu, kpologi and utazi, all essential vegetables for preparing various soups.
The neighbourhood was filled with families like ours – nuclear enclaves with parents who had professional jobs in banks and government ministries, ajebo kids who attended private schools and played video games for leisure, and house-helps who made the meals and did the laundry for these households. Some families had dogs, two or three kept birds, mostly parrots. One kept a rabbit. None kept a cat.
Now, armed robberies were such a customary vice at that time. In our small city, they were fast becoming a norm. Robbers attacked homes and stole everything from money and jewelry, electronics and household appliances, to bags of rice and pots of the evening soup. On more traumatic encounters, they raped the women and girls of the house. Once or twice, they had shot a protesting husband.
Even though the police paraded suspects in boxer shorts every other month on the evening news, with locally made guns and machetes sprawled on the earth floor before them, the robberies did not decline. People said the paraded suspects were innocents who happened to be in the wrong places at the wrong time, and the police was simply keeping up appearances. People soon began taking matters of their safety into their own hands and our street was not left out. Barrister Edozien, the man after whom our street was named, called for a meeting of all the men in the neighbourhood. Our street had not witnessed any case of armed robbery at the time. But Okelue Drive, two streets away, had, and chances were not to be taken.
As a teen, I could not attend this meeting, yet when my father returned from it that night, a few minutes after Cyril Stober had read the headlines of the NTA network news, he called everyone into the living room and held a miniature security meeting.
‘I’m just returning from the meeting of landlords on our street,’ he began, after muting the TV. He called it a landlords’ meeting but I was sure several tenants had attended as well. Perhaps he said this to make their gathering sound more authoritarian. Present and paying him rapt attention was yours faithfully, Nkem my eight year old sister, Onyinye our domestic help, and Momsi who sat closest to him.
‘I don’t have to tell you people what is happening everyday in this town, you watch the news,’ he said, pointing at the television. Then he went on to tell us what was happening.
‘Everyday, thieves are robbing people in this town. Sometimes, they kill people. We have to be very careful. Everybody has to be very careful. The resolution of our meeting this evening is that we will set up a vigilante group for the street and place a curfew on movement as from nine o’clock at night. All the men living here are members of the vigilante group,’ he said.
‘Tomorrow, I will buy a whistle and hang it there,’ he pointed at our Julius Berger calendar. ‘It is for use in case of an attack. All we have to do is blow it and the neighbours will know we are in need of help. Every family on this street is getting a whistle.’
‘You,’ he pointed at me, ‘always, ensure that the doors are locked before you go to bed. Even after Onyinye has locked them, go and double-check.’ I nodded.
‘You,’ he pointed at Onyinye, ‘I don’t want to hear that salt has finished, Maggi has finished, and then you will go out at night to buy them. Anything that finishes at night will be bought in the morning. Do I make myself clear?’ he said the last part in Anioma. Onyinye nodded.
He turned to Momsi and tapped her knee, ‘We will talk later.’ Then to us he said, ‘I have finished, you people can go to bed.’
I can count on one hand the number of times my parents had quarreled by the time I was fifteen years old. The first time was when a boy came to the house to see Onyinye. As her personal person and the only one at home with her, Onyinye had informed me of her visiting guest. I negotiated for an extra piece of meat in my lunch and she said, no wahala. My parents had been out attending the wedding ceremony of a friend’s daughter; they had taken Nkem along as she was playing the role of Little Bride. Onyinye entertained the boy in the living room with a bottle of Fanta and a plate of jollof rice. I could see the elation on his face. They played Whot afterwards and talked about little nothings. I reckon that Onyinye did not want the boy to get any ideas, for she had me in the living room with them all the while. Onyinye had calculated that my parents would return by 4PM-ish since wedding receptions naturally end around that time. But my parents came back around 1:30PM because Nkem was suffering an abrupt headache. Popsi was scandalized; he said Onyinye had turned his house into a brothel. Momsi smacked Onyinye across the cheek and chased the boy out of the compound with her shoe. Nkem cried because suddenly no one had her time. And I feared that I’d be called an accomplice.
That night, roars came from my parents’ bedroom. Popsi wanted Onyinye to leave. Momsi disagreed; Onyinye was her relative and exiling her would not achieve anything, she needed to be cautioned. Popsi kept throwing up words like brothel and prostitution, but Momsi would not budge. In the end, they called Onyinye into their room and gave her a scolding. That was the end of that.
The second time they quarreled was over a dress Momsi had worn to church. A man had smiled and made a pass at her. Popsi waited for us to get home before he went wild, like Tupac in 1995! He cursed and barked. Momsi begged him to calm down. Then, he said Momsi was never to wear that dress again and Momsi’s feathers rose like a hen provoked. Their back and forth lasted for twenty minutes and it only ended when Popsi slammed the front door, got into the car and drove out of the compound. When he returned later at night, they refused to speak to each other. It took them two days to reconcile. Momsi wore the dress many times after.
The third time was the morning after the night we had our family security meeting. Their voices woke us from sleep. The sound of Momsi stamping the floor could be heard in our bedroom. Onyinye pretended like she did not hear them and went about her chores dutifully. I followed her model and went outside to wash the car. While we rode out to work and school, my parents did not speak to each other. It was days later that I discovered the crux of the matter. I knew this after Popsi had bought a Remington.
‘After all I said, your father still went ahead to buy a gun,’ Momsi told me while I pounded yam for supper. This was the first time Popsi was winning an argument.
You needed to see Popsi heading out for vigilante duty in order to understand how proud he felt about it. He moved out at nighttime on Tuesdays and Thursdays – those were the days assigned to the group he belonged to. He mostly wore the combat shorts Uncle Emeka had bought him from America and a black polo. He carried a bag with a long strap in one hand and his Remington in its case in the other hand. The bag contained a bottle of brandy, a pack of bullets and one of those red rechargeable lanterns that came with stereos.
Every night, before I locked the gate behind him, he looked straight into my face and said, ‘Ugo, you’re the man of the house now. Check all the doors and windows. If you hear anything, blow the whistle. Do you hear me?’
‘See you tomorrow.’
It was customary for Momsi to hold night prayers in the living room. But Tuesday and Thursday nights were special. Theirs lasted longer.
‘Every agent of darkness, I command you to die in the mighty name of Jesus!’
‘Amen,’ we chorused.
‘Every thief, seeking for a place to plunder and pillage, I command you to die in the mighty name of Jesus!’
‘Every witch, sending her vicious vipers into our neighbourhood, I command you to die in the mighty name of Jesus!’
She went on and on like this, commanding several people to die. Afterwards, she called on angels to shield Popsi and all the fathers outside. Some nights, I noticed tears in her eyes at the end of prayer. I sat in the living room after we were done, looking at the whistle hanging from a rope over the Julius Berger calendar, half-expecting to hear some sinister noise and rush to it. I sat like this until my eyes were heavy with sleep.
In the morning, before 5AM, Popsi’s signature three sharp bangs came at the gate. The expectation was that our street would be robbed on one of those nights and the unfortunate thieves would be scapegoats for Popsi’s double-barreled gun. At least that was what Onyinye and I thought: we talked about it. What happened was so far from this.
You see, the indigenes of the city where we lived were not ecstatic that the government was giving out their lands; it was an unintended consequence of urbanization. Their youths were especially troublesome. When they could, they bullied developers to pay them outrageous and undocumented levies. They claimed these monies went to their traditional council for the development of the city. If one refused to pay, they beat up the bricklayers and masons they found at one’s site and seized their shovels and head-pans and bags of cement until such a person succumbed to their demands.
During the time Popsi built the two bedroom boys’ quarters, he had paid his due. Now, he was laying the foundation for the duplex and they came again.
‘Oga, you need to see us,’ their leader said.
‘I saw you people when I built this one,’ Popsi pointed at the boys’ quarters.
‘Old things have passed away, Oga. This one na new house. You go pay us for am.’
‘Hmmm. Oya, how much?’
They told him.
‘It’s too much. As person when don build before, una suppose consider me customer.’
‘Customer no dey for this kind matter.’
They reduced it by a notch.
‘Hmmm. E still high oh.’
‘Oga, I don try for you.’
‘Okay, you go give me some time to gather the money.’
‘Like one month.’
Now, the thing with these youths was that they were numerous and operated in different groups. You could have an agreement with one group today and tomorrow another group would harass you. And this was exactly what happened.
Less than a week later, a disturbance of youths invaded our compound. It was a Saturday afternoon, Onyinye, Nkem and Momsi were out at the hair salon, while Popsi was reading a paper in the living room. The youths got into a brawl with the masons working for Popsi. Everything sort of happened in a flash. The next thing I saw was Popsi standing on the front porch, gun in hand. One of the youth rushed at him and Popsi fired a bullet into his chest. Both
Popsi’s workers and the invaders ran out of the compound at the sound of the gun. Popsi’s victim didn’t writhe in pain or struggle for his life. I suspect he was hit right in his heart. His body hit the earth floor and laid still, blood seeping from his mortal wound, soaking his green t-shirt. I was standing on the threshold of the entrance door.
Popsi turned around and said to me, in the calmest voice he had ever used to speak to me,
‘Lock the door and stay inside.’
I co-operated, still shocked by what I had just witnessed. Popsi opened the gate for himself, got into his car, drove out and closed the gate behind him. Lots of thoughts flooded my head in that instant. Was Popsi running away? Was he abandoning us? Was this the end? Why did he shoot the youth? What will happen now?
I stood by the window and watched the dead body as it lay lifeless on the ground. I thought about the man’s family then. I wondered if they knew he was dead now, if his colleagues had reported the matter to them, if they were coming here with torches and clubs to serve justice for their son. My bladder told me I needed to pee, yet I could not find the will to move, to leave the window.
Minutes later, Popsi came back. He drove into the compound and a van drove in behind him. It was a police van.
People say, no be who first call police na im dey win fight. Yet this was the case in Popsi’s escapade. The police classified it as a breaking and entering and stated that Popsi was well within his rights to have fired his weapon. The family of the deceased had to pay the police for their son’s body, for burial. After this matter, nobody came around again to disturb Popsi for the development levy.
Some days I would stare at Popsi while he watched TV, or ate dinner, and find it difficult to believe that he had killed someone; shot them dead right where they stood. He never spoke about it. Perhaps it was shame, guilt, disregard, or a hybrid of all these emotions. I could never tell. And rather unfortunately, I could never find the courage to ask.
Bio: Nnamdi Anyadu’s work explores human relationships within the texture of futurist possibilities and re-imaginations of the present. A joint-winner of the inaugural edition of the Reimagined Folktales Prize, his works have also appeared on Omenana, Iskanchi, Ake Review, and Down River Road. His short story, The Mask and the Woman, was longlisted for the Afritondo Prize in 2020 and published in the prize’s anthology under the book title, ‘Yellow means stay’. Nnamdi keeps indoor and outdoor plants, collects autographed books, and owns a small hat collection. He is always writing something new. He lives in Asaba, Nigeria.
Blog Title Image Credit: Gideon Oluwole Wise.