“ when someone washes your hand often, begin to get ready for days when it would be your turn”
Alhaji Rasaq strongly reminded him of his late Uncle Chiemeka. Stern, no-nonsense and sensitive could not even begin to describe the old man.
He remembered once, when he had been accused of spoiling a Neighbor’s TV and then, convincing the children to lie that it was all NEPA’s fault.
The said Neighbor had figured out the truth after beating her children senseless and then, had reported him to his own Parents.
His mother, who prided herself as a disciplinarian, had refused him dinner for that night and told him to kneel and raise his hands.
Though hungry, he had at least been happy that he wasn’t receiving lashes of Koboko on his bare back – that was usually his mother’s favorite punishment for him and his brothers.
But his happiness had been short-lived when Uncle Chiemeka, in his wisdom, thought to pay them a visit and share his opinion on the matter in their household.
“Hian, you are now soft o” he exclaimed, dramatically removing his red cap with one hand and tapping his fingers in abomination with the other hand. “Tufiakwa, no son of mine would perpetuate a crime and get away with it”
He’d wanted to point out to his uncle that it wasn’t a crime. But he knew he was going to rest in peace if he dared. So he kept his eyes glued to the old battered rug on the floor, hoping the man would ask his father for money like he always did and then, be on his way.
But of course, the forces guiding the Universe chose that day to show him pepper.
“Mercy, when did you become so merciful? You were always so merciless. Wonderfully merciless. What is happening that is changing you? Bia, is everything okay?” and when his mother had shaken her head and explained she was too tired from the day’s work to beat, he offered himself. “Please get me Koboko!”
Uncle Chiemeka had flogged him mercilessly that night and he could swear even his mother winced as the whip hit his bare back in quick successions.
When he was done, he balanced himself and ate his dinner.
Yellow didn’t forgive him for that scene till he grew up.
Although he knew Alhaji Rasaq probably never beat Hakeem, he just somehow reminded him of his stern Uncle from childhood.
Hakeem emerged from the interior of the huge house now, his gaze darting from him to Ajayi.
Yellow could see the unwelcome look in his eyes and he was aware that he wasn’t expected and welcome. But Hakeem had to think twice if he thought he could be rid of him just like that.
He still needed cash.
“Your friend said you have an Exam in Beijing” Alhaji Rasaq said and Hakeem nodded.
“I told him we write it online. This man that you helped from an Accident also confirmed it.” Ajayi quickly added.
Yellow nodded for emphasis.
“Yes Dad” Hakeem said
“You say there is a professional exam that allows you work anywhere in the world, I say let me see proof.” Alhaji Rasaq said, his lunch had arrived now, a plate of white rice with carrots and onions generously added in tiny pieces and, another plate of stew with many chicken chunks.
The aroma threatened to make Yellow hungry.
“I am trying to open the website on my phone, network here is bad” Ajayi muttered.
“Use my phone” Alhaji said, grabbing a Spoon with which he generously put pepper on his rice.
Yellow saw Hakeem and Ajayi the exchange glances. He wasn’t sure he could save them from this wahala.
“Alhaji, I’m still using the phone” Ekanem said
“Do I have one phone? Use the other one” he barked and Ajayi slowly walked to the couch where Alhaji’s phone lay.
Yellow’s phone rang then, he picked it “Hello, Nurse Titi”
He listened, horrified, as the Nurse told him his wife had suffered complications.
Sometimes, he thought the harpy Queen of the Universe decided it was time to start her shift by taking over from the happy Queen of the Universe.
On those days, he believed she chose to begin with him just to teach the world a lesson.
Because how else was he to explain the bad luck that was sometimes his portion?
Interestingly, he never got it bad, he got it horribly bad. Like so bad, he wondered if someone somewhere had a thing against him.
Grabbing Alhaji’s phone from the couch, he shivered slightly.
It was not the Split AC which was working tirelessly to ensure the room was a sharp contrast to the extremely hot temperature outside that was responsible for his shiver. It was the fear that engulfed him.
What was he going to do?
How was he going to create an exam in Beijing that didn’t exist?
Shit! Did Hakeem always have to do this?
“Is there anywhere in the house I can go to maybe the Internet would be better?” he asked the old man who now wrestled with a small chicken wing doused in stew.
Alhaji waved him away with a hand, busying himself with the food before him.
“I’ll show you where” Hakeem said quickly and showed him out of the sitting room.
They were soon in the corridor, a large space with high walls and a long staircase at the end of the long passage that strongly resembled the Lekki mansion.
The moment he was certain they were nowhere close to his father, Ajayi faced his companion, “Hakeem what the fuck do you think you’re doing getting us into trouble again?”
“Dude calm down” Hakeem said gently as if they weren’t neck deep in trouble.
Ajayi wasn’t surprised, the boy had spent his entire life causing trouble, this was just another Season in his award winning trouble series.
“What are we going to do? I was supposed to come get you out of this mess and see how both of us got caught up somehow” he was scared, his shock at Hakeem’s calm demeanor couldn’t even override that. No matter how hard it tried.
“How Beijing take enter the matter sef?” He asked as they ran up the long stairs that wound up endlessly.
Ajayi gave him a quick summary.
Hakeem chuckled, “I got us into trouble but you got us into way bigger trouble.” he said when he was done.
“If you hadn’t felt the need to throw a party in your father’s house, we wouldn’t be here” Ajayi pointed out, “You’re even lucky that Driver stepped in. Shit almost got worse” he added.
“Really? What did he have to say?” Hakeem inquired and Ajayi briefed him on how he’d been saved by the Driver’s testimony of his niece who took same “exam”.
Hakeem laughed, “I swear we should all be a crew or something. The way we cover for each other in seconds without thinking. Sugar Baby was trying to do same by holding on to my Dad’s phone”
“Who is Sugar Baby?” Ajayi asked, they were on top of the stairs now. Ajayi was panting, he hadn’t tried to work out in a while and the stairs had easily worn him out.
“The fine chic from the other day”
Ajayi gasped, “You got her into this too?”
“AJ, my Dad doesn’t have an email address that he uses personally. He has a company email that his PA handles and that we cannot use for obvious reasons. And seeing as this is urgent and He’d have my head before letting me get close to his phone, I decided to use someone he wouldn’t see coming.”
Ajayi saw the sense in his explanation. “Promise me that would be the last person that would know. We’re already four in this”
Hakeem raised his hands, “Promise.” then he chuckled, “So back to our troubles, my Dad wants to see proof?”
“Hmm… do you have anything in mind?”
Ajayi shook his head and then, it hit him. A smile slowly spread across his face, “I actually think so”
“Oh, what’s that?” Hakeem asked,leading him into a smaller sitting room, one that bore a resemblance to the one downstairs and that had portraits of Hakeem, his father and other two people he guessed were his mother and sister.
“Watch and learn. We’d need your laptop though”
“I’d get it” Hakeem said and disappeared through the door.
When his father had walked through the door earlier, fuming and yelling on top of his voice, he’d been worried he would be forfeiting some of the liberties he was allowed as Alhaji Rasaq’s son.
However, with the turn of events, he was almost certain his problems were solved.
He slumped into the bed and scrolled through the messages he had gotten from his friends, Ifeanyi and Khamil, and his girlfriend, Nadia.
Nadia was particularly worried about him and what his father could say to her own father.
Nadia’s Dad, Governor Arowolo, was Alhaji Rasaq’s good friend. Both men had been friends since University and before Hakeem’s mother passed, she’d been besties with Nadia’s mom.
As kids, Nadia and Hakeem had been close. They kissed once when they were ten, because Nadia had been the prettiest girl in School and he, Hakeem had been the cutest boy.
At the time, all the girls wanted to be friends with Nadia and all the boys wanted to offer her lunch.
On the other hand, all the girls wanted to talk to Hakeem and all the boys hated him because of that.
It was only fair that he and Nadia got together somehow. They were family friends, they were the finest things in their world and they needed to get together because fine people got together.
It was what Hakeem had told Nadia, after helping her finish her homework one day in School.
They had been in class, Nadia’s hair nearly pulled in a bun, white roses adorning it.
They had briefly kissed and had dated on and off since then.
It started like child’s play, literally, and it graduated to something more serious in their SS3.
Then in their first year at the University, they’d both had sex, becoming each other’s first.
“I don’t want him to go and tell my Dad anything” Nadia was talking to him on the phone now.
She had an American accent when she was worried sick, slight British accent when she was excited and spoke Spanish when they had great sex.
“Don’t worry, N. Hopefully it won’t get that serious.”
“Should I come though? I’m still in the Area”
“My Dad is still here, that’s a bad idea. What are you still doing around though?”
“My Dad is Governor, remember? I’m staying in a new Hotel nearby. Couldn’t go to School high and nervous about how things turned out”
“I’m sorry babe” he apologized. She easily got stressed, he hated when she became like that.
“It’s fine. When do you think you’d be done though?”
Ajayi burst in then, a wide smile on his face.
“In ten minutes. Text your address, AJ and I would pick you up”
“Who?” she quizzed.
“I’d tell you later.” he said, “Bye babe” then he hung up.
He joined a grinning Ajayi at the door. “Wassup?”
“I’ve been able to create a fake interface for a fake website. That should get us off your Dad’s hook” Ajayi replied.
Hakeem shook hands with him, “You’re officially the best wingman ever! I should replace Khamil with you”
Both stepped into the smaller sitting room and Hakeem glanced at the website Ajayi just whipped up.
Both were giggling like little boys when Ekanem joined them.
“Guys” she called, startling them.
“What’s going on?” Hakeem asked, he looked worried.
“Mr Ejike just got you off the hook”
“Who is Mr Ejike” Hakeem asked with a frown.
“Must be the Driver guy” Ajayi replied, “What did he do?” he asked facing Ekanem.
“Showed Alhaji a message his niece forwarded from her school in Beijing.” she replied, then added, “I created your email as requested”
“Fine. Thanks. I’ll keep in touch” Hakeem said as he made for the door, “Let’s go AJ”
Then both guys pushed through the door and made for the stairs.
Ekanem watched the duo leave. It took her about thirty seconds to realise that once Hakeem left, she’d be at the mercy of whatever phone calls or messages he chose to send her.
She was not about to let him do to her what his father had been doing with his promises to her.
Darting out of the room, she raced down the stairs.
They were at the bottom of the stairs when she raced out of the room but in seconds, she’d caught up with them, her legs barely jumping through each staircase.
“Oga” she called, Hakeem turned. “We haven’t finished our talk”
“What talk?” he asked
“The part where you pay me”
He smiled. She had to admit, she like him when he smiled. Smiling Hakeem was better than rude and unsmiling Hakeem.
“I’m not running with your money, Sugar Baby. But your job isn’t even finished yet. You have to click a link remember?”
She remembered that part. However, she also worried about losing Hakeem once he got what he wanted.
This was a chance she never thought she’d get. It worried her that if she lost it, she just might never get that lucky again.
“But how do I get in touch with you?” she asked.
“Give me your number”
When she was done typing her digits in his phone, she demanded to have his too.
“My Phone is in my bag” she said when he asked for her own phone. Making their way through the passage, the trio soon made it to the sitting room.
Alhaji and his companion were discussing football.
“Ekanem” Alhaji said when he sighted her, “I’ll see you in Lagos. Take this for transport” he fished for crisp naira notes in his pocket and handed it to her.
She quickly calculated the money she she realized it was less than N10,000.
But she knew protesting or asking when he was going to give her the money he promised was a big waste of her time, so she grabbed her brown bag that had been sitting on the coffee table since she walked through the door.
“Thank you Sir” she said, disgruntled.
“Let me drop you people” She heard Mr Ejike say and she followed Ajayi and Hakeem who seemed to be in a hurry to leave Alhaji’s presence.
Alhaji mentioned something about punishing Hakeem still as she neared the door but she lost the words that followed.
Stepping into the hot afternoon sun, she reflexively covered her eyes with her hand.
“Thanks Mr Ejike” she heard Hakeem say, “I appreciate it” he added and for the first time, she saw a guy who seemed to have another side to the arrogant one she’d once experienced.
He wore his pride like strong perfume but he clearly still had manners, even if he chose to use it whenever he felt like.
“Call me Yellow” Mr Ejike said and shook hands with him and Ajayi.
“Alright. Thanks Yellow”
“My friend brought a car we can use outside” Yellow began to say, “I can drop you people off and start going to Lagos”
“Can I follow you to Lagos?” Ekanem asked and Yellow nodded quickly.
Stepping out of the tall gates of the Rasaq mansion, Ekanem saw waiting for them, a wine Camry. It was an old model but it also seemed neat and in a pretty good condition.
Not like she minded, she had no choice.
“Please let me have your number now” she said to Hakeem and he punched his number into her phone. “My pin if you want, I’m not running away” he added.
“So this one he sent me back to Lagos, what are we going to do?” she inquired as he handed her back her phone.
“No problem. I’ll just generate another link that we would use when you are with him. Just holla whenever that happens.” Ajayi answered.
“Or better still, ensure you see him as soon as he gets back in town. We don’t have a lot of time. My Dad is very sensitive and petty, bet you already know that. A sudden appearance of a new App on his phone would make him wonder how he got there. I don’t even want him getting the slightest hint about this, about us. I don’t care how remotely unrelated it seems.”
Ekanem nodded, she didn’t have a full grasp of the whole plan yet but she knew Hakeem was up to something really shady.
And as much as the moral side of her was uncomfortable, she was not going to care. There was money to be made and she was going to make it.
Plus, if she didn’t know the whole story, if they ever got caught, she could claim anonymity. After all, installing Gmail wasn’t a crime.
Getting into the front seat, she fixed her seatbelt as Yellow fired up the engine.
The car’s interior was as neat as the exterior – shiny dashboard that seemed like it just got polished, clean footmat and seats that looked like someone had dedicated time to vigorously clean – the AC hit her as Yellow sped out of the Estate that housed the Rasaq mansion.
Indulging herself, she let her eyelids close, gradually easing herself into a short nap she was willing to get before she arrived Lagos and life took over again.
She was going to head to the Station first, bail her brother with all the money if she could and, her stress could be eased a little.
She hadn’t slept for long before she heard the noises in the car. It was Hakeem’s voice that rang through her head and jolted her immediately.
Startled, she looked around and found Ajayi and Hakeem yelling at Yellow on top of their voice.
It was then she looked around and realised they were close to Lagos.
“Oga, please calm down. I brought you with me because I got robbed and lost the money you gave me” Yellow was trying to explain, yet without slowing down.
“and how is that my fucking business?” Hakeem roared. Ekanem could see that crazy Hakeem emerging again.
“My wife suffered complications during delivery of our twins. I need money desperately.”
“And this is how you get it? How are we sure you aren’t trying to rob us or kill us?” Ajayi asked, he was very angry as well.
“I helped you with your father, please. You owe me this. I swear, I am not trying to do anything stupid. I came back because I was robbed”
Hakeem cussed out loud, “Fuck!”
SQUADI: The Originals
– Tomilola Coco Adeyemo