by Chris Tilewa and Moses Olarotimi
In Komolafe’s arms his dying boss found strength to speak his last words. “Find Cynthia,” he said and tucked a piece of paper into his breast pocket, “she alone is the key!” He drew his last breath. Perplexed, Komolafe held on to the corpse as tears drizzled down his sad face until the police came and arrested him away on the charge of murder. The hands that gripped him were strong and unrelenting. They shoved and tugged at him but his mind was far from him. “Find Cynthia,” that final word, almost a command, took over his thought. But who is Cynthia, how is he to find her, especially now that he would be confined in the custody of the police? But amid the stream of thought an idea came to him like a revelation. And suddenly he halted, startling the policemen. In a swift, sharp move, he managed a firm elbow to the face of the man who was holding his arm and put a foot in the crotch of the second. The blow came so unexpectedly that they lost grip of him. Before they could regain, they saw him running away like a dog with its tail freshly cut.
As a chauffeur, Komolafe had been driving his boss for more than seven years; he sure had been closer to him, even more than any of his relatives. He had wondered if his boss ever got married or had a child of his own. No such discussion ever came up between them, and he never summoned the courage to ask even when, on several occasions, he attempted to.
A clue to finding ‘this Cynthia’ and the key to unravel the mystery before him must be in the piece of paper his boss tucked in his breast pocket before he died. He found a spot in a corner at a bar nearby, quietly sat at a table and retrieved the paper, only to meet another shock. He had expected he would find an address, a phone number, or some name that would help find Cynthia. But on the creased sheet of paper which was now held to his face with shaking, sweaty hands, none of such was written; three groups of digits, separated with hyphens, were barely scrawled.
Komolafe arched his brow as he read aloud: “01-10-013”, what could this mean? This is what a dying man leaves to help find his killer? He was tempted to think all of this was a kind of joke, one not funny. The police were after him, and he never remembered his boss, when he was alive, to ever make trivial jokes. Deep inside he was agreeing that this was serious and his only clue was a. . .a date? ‘Yes’, he said reassuringly, “this is nothing but a date”. October first, last year. He sighed and rested back on the plastic chair, trying to figure out where to begin.
Of everything the creator blessed Komolafe with was a retentive memory; he has a keen recollection of events and incidents. He ordered a bottle of beer, and as he drank from it ruminated on the events of October 1st, last year. The day had started with an exchange of Independence Day greetings with his boss, and then into the car. They both drove to the office to collect some files, then to the hospital for medical checkup with a doctor who was also friends with his boss. Komolafe was sure none of these places would pose a threat to his boss. He took a gulp to wash down the thought and picked his thinking from where he left it. From the hospital, that day, he drove the boss to see the Bishop of his church, and most of the day was spent there and Komolafe would have to stay for many hours waiting for his boss to emerge as usual from the path leading behind the cathedral; it’s usually a boring outing for him. “Purple!” He screamed, startling those around him. Not caring if anyone stared he drank what’s left of the beer in concurrent gulps, without a second’s pause to take the bottle away from his mouth.
“I must find the lady. Purple, that’s what boss called her that night at the club,” Komolafe thought aloud, and as he made for the door he spotted the two police men, who he had earlier evaded, approaching the same bar. He turned quickly, took the back door, paid the barman and fled.
Purple was a code name Akomolafe’s boss used for a woman Akomolafe, in the real sense of the word, did not ‘know’. Infact, Komolafe didn’t know any woman affiliated with his boss except that in the few times, when he drove his boss to the bishop’s place he, Komolafe noticed, usually walk stealthily, like one who do not want to wake the dogs, towards the quarters behind the cathedral, and returns after a while towards the car with a look of exhaustion and having about him the smile of a sated husband. Settling in the owner’s corner in the car, he’d call at Akomolafe: “remind me to give Purple a call.”
“Yes Sir!” Akomolafe would reply, asking no question. No driver questions his boss, they are meant to take only orders. But Akomolafe was not a fool; he had been observing, taking note. Could Purple be Cynthia? He thought within.
Club Seattle was known to accommodate wealthy personnel’s in the state, but being the driver of a prominent philanthropist, Komolafe was allowed in. When he mentioned that his boss had sent him to Purple, the name almost got the security man fidgeting as he opened wide the door allowing Komolafe in, to the welcome of jazz music and a colourful interior.
He wasted no time at all, after enquiring from one of the attendants of Purple’s whereabouts, his hurried steps soon find a stairway, and in two full strides he was on the landing, before a door. There was no sign of movement from inside, so he adjusted himself for composure. He knocked.
“Come in,” came a sweet accented female voice from behind the door; he hesitated and then went in. Komolafe quickly scanned the room; there were five men and a lady he immediately assumed was Purple. “What’s the code?” She asked as she stood up and worked towards him. At that moment, Komolafe knew he was in a deep trouble, he knew nothing of a code or password, “I’m here to see Purple,” he tried to explain, “and Oga Okorocha sent me here”. He noticed her eyes widen at the mention of his boss’ name but she quickly hid it beneath a bland smile, “blow off his brain if he cannot state the code,” she commanded.
“Wait!” Komolafe screamed, fear evident in his eyes. He thought about showing them the crumpled piece of paper in his pocket but thought better of it; if he ever tries to put his hand down into his pocket, they will think he’s reaching out for a weapon. But his good instinct got the better of him and with shot eyes, without knowing exactly what he was saying, he read out the digits he had seen on the paper in one breath. When he opened his eyes, he saw large arms lowering their guns that were once pointed at him. And Purple, with the same bleak expression, ushered him in with a wave of her hand. Purple retrieved a square shaped box that looked like a little coffer from under a stack of wine cartons and handed it to Komolafe.
“Guard it with your life,” she said, “and if the police ever know about this, you are gone. Guys see him out.”
All the puzzles and precision surprised Komolafe, did his boss know he was going to die? He sat on the bed staring at the box before him in the hotel room he rented for the night. The box was mechanized to open at the input of the correct combination of alphabets as indicated by the small, glassy screen over the lid. Komolafe tried Okorocha; his boss’s name, but the screen displayed error, he tried purple and some other words and names; the screen still displayed error. He’d even stupidly assumed that the password did not exist.
All hope to unlock the box was abortive, and it seemed the quest had finally come to an end. The thought of living like a fugitive so scared Komolafe; so much that he could no longer fight back the tears that formed in his eyes. “Find Cynthia!” came his boss’ voice again, a whisper to his ear, his eyes ignited. He did a mental count, ”oh!” he said, and quickly pulled the box closer and inputted the words as it displayed on the screen in capital letters: C-Y-N-T-H-I-A. The lid clicked open, the wide smile on Komolafe’s face was nothing short of relief, but he anticipated in his heart with a panic what awaits him in the box.
From inside the box was a pile of documents and a red envelope. On each document were two recurring signatures; Okorocha Patrick and Caleb Bankole. The documents showed a transaction of four billion naira, and of an illegal trade and transport of hard drugs. Beneath the signatures was the date: 01-10-13.
Okorocha had a dysfunction one might call date amnesia; he is forgetful of dates. So to make up for this he likes to appoint significant events like promises, meetings, and business appointments on holidays, dates observed by many. His business deal with Caleb fell on October 1st. Komolafe tried to recall all the places he drove Okorocha that day; from the office to collect some files . . . the hospital? He straightened. ‘The hospital!’
Perhaps this drug documents had something to do with the doctor; he probably has special patients he sells them to; celebrities, or even rich men like his boss. But then he remembered that Okorocha didn’t take the files with him into the hospital building, that the only place he remembered him taking them was to the cathedral. But he didn’t think anything happened in the cathedral that day to contribute to the death. Maybe they were files different from these ones.
So he searched deeper into the box to see what else he could find; Nothing.
Nothing but a red, fancy envelope that looked like one sent between lovers. “Oga had a secret lover?” he wondered, and felt like he was intruding his boss’s private life. But then what life does the dead have that is not lost already? He opened the envelope, and on a small card inside it was written “find Cynthia in the cottage behind God’s temple.” What’s this? Komolafe read again, and the puzzle began to connect in his mind, images reeling through his head; of Okorocha coming towards the car from behind the cathedral with that look of a satisfied husband. . . of the file. . . of his last word ‘find Cynthia’. . .everything pointed to the cathedral. God’s temple.
Komolafe picked up his hotel card and dashed out.
Komolafe had descended the stairs with all thought whirling around the mysterious Cynthia and the sudden misfortune she plagued his world with. He had barely stepped into the reception when he spotted the faces of the same men who had come to arrest him at his boss’ place. How could they have traced him here? He thought. Quickly, he bounded up the stairs back to his room, and shot the door behind him.
He knew he had limited time to figure out what to do, but then, he picked up his pen and wrote a long detailed letter; Explaining the death, the piece of paper, the box, the documents, the red envelope and its message. And he concluded by stating that only she can save him now, and that the police must have had him in custody by the time the letter gets in hands.
“The password for unlocking the box is your name. Please confirm the evidence in the box and bring them along to the police. My life is in your hands; please don’t let my boss die in vain.” Satisfied, he folded the letter and neatly put in the red, fancy envelope, packed the documents back inside the box and locked it. He dialed the intercom for room attendant, and one soon came knocking. Trying to conceal his haste, Komolafe handed the box and the letter to the confused hotel worker, and shoved into his hand an address slip and three notes of a thousand naira, “kindly help deliver this box to this address,” he said pointing to the slip, “please, it is important you do it now.”
The attendant smiled on seeing the money, “Oga, no worry. My shift is ending in twenty minutes; I’ll deliver it on my way home. You don’t have to worry, our job is to make you happy” Komolafe did not wait to hear his happy prattle; he left him, headed down the stairs into the waiting arms of the police in total surrender.
* * *
“…you seem to be the only solution to all of this. Please, lives are depending on you.” The nun read the last words in tears. Nothing had happened to Okorocha that she didn’t know of, but the news of his death came as a shock. The memory of their first meeting was still fresh, like it was only hours ago. She was taking a quiet, leisurely walk around the church when she saw him. He sat on the last pew at the back row. That cold night she saw him as a straying man who lacked affection of a family, the warmth of a home of himself. He looked rich but his soul was retched. But that night he poured his heart out to her, and from then on they would become more intimate than with the heart, but also with both their soul and body. He became her first; she was his last–his only Cynthia.
Cynthia changed from her vestments into a black dress, a show of mourning, and she sneaked out of the cathedral. The day was beginning to go to rest but she didn’t mind. All secrets were to be unraveled; she had made the resolution once and finally. She headed to the police.
The Bishop sat in meditatively on the front pew, a slim tall man in his sixties. He has a captivating mien and a kind of peace was in his eyes that could tame a beast. So was he, in quiet communion with the angels when Cynthia walked in with uniformed men. As if in a world oblivious of people around him, he said the Lord’s Prayer aloud so that the policemen got disconcerted.
“That is the man you came for,” Cynthia said bitterly, pointing at the Bishop. “He is Caleb.” As if her outburst gave them courage, one of them grabbed Caleb’s arm tentatively. Bishop Caleb rose in all honour, he looked like he was speaking from a trance, that same cold look and resolution with which he’d shot Okorocha.
He had gone discretely to Okorocha’s residence to convince him and, if he remained adamant, to make him pay for his sin; he went with a revolver in his garment pocket, and though he was sure he’ll use it, he still inclined more to persuasion. “You can’t back down on me now,” he’d said, “we have to complete building God’s temple.”
“We can find another mean,” said Okorocha. “We can do other business that is not illegal, and I think we have had enough money from drug pushing already. It’s time we stopped.”
“But not enough to reach my goal,” said Caleb, a little louder than usual. He moved closer to look into Okorocha’s eyes with an imploring face. “I have vowed to duplicate King Solomon’s success, I have promised God to single handedly build Him a house. And He saw my heart and decided to help me do it; He ordered your steps into the church that night when you needed money to pay your debt. . . to redeem your life. I saved your life, you owe me, and you can’t back down now.”
Okorocha appeared too tired to continue to argue. “This is crazy, Bishop, God dwells in holy places, not in a house built with ‘crack’ money. I am not going into this sinful business again, and that’s final.”
A heavy moment of silence passed.
“The Lord has justified his chosen,” said bishop finally, pointing a revolver at Okorocha, “they pay with their blood who come against him.”
“The Lord justifies his chosen,” said Bishop again, now with an ironic smile as he committed himself to the hands of the uniformed men. He looked at Cynthia without passion and stretched forth his hands to be cuffed. They walked him out of the church, and he never returned
MOSES OLAROTIMI is just a simple dude who loves writing stories, poetry and anything that comes to mind.
CHRIS TILEWA is a young Nigerian, a creative writer, social critic, and lover of aesthetics. He writes fictions, poetry and non-fictions. You may want to join him on Facebook: Chris Tilewa, or on Twitter @krislucid.