Backgroud Picture by Ari K

(Backgroud Picture by Ari K)


Malcolm was reluctant to open his eyes, let alone get out of bed. He lay on his double divan wishing he had the luxury of switching off his cellphone at least when going to bed. He knew very well the world he lived in did not permit that; not all the businessmen who brought him money were on the Greenwich Meridian. Now he hated the tempo and lyrics of his favourite song and ringtone, Jamie Grace’s ‘Beautiful Day’.

Though Malcolm had an early night to get enough rest, he was also aware those midnight disturbances were not improbable. They were often good disruptions. The phone kept ringing and ringing although nobody was answering; it became evident that it was a local call. He had no other option than to go for the phone. It was the wee hours of Monday morning; how unkind could the caller be? he thought.

Malcolm was expecting the ace truck driver, Papa Oteng to call him early in the morning after the delivery, but certainly not in the middle of the night. Experience had taught him that a local call at that time was often far from awesome; good news hardly came via phone calls after midnight. He could bet his last coin on the hunch that if the call at the time was from Papa Oteng, then it meant the end of his sleep.

Malcolm opened his eyes to utter darkness and was suddenly peeved at his younger sister Chloe for turning off his light and tucking him in. He was even angrier at whoever was calling at that ungodly hour for abruptly ending his sleep. He pushed away his duvet and sat on his bed in the darkness livid with anger dabbing his eyes, as he waited for his retinal and opsin to recombine back into rhodopsin so that he could find his way to the buzzing phone. ‘It’s high time I took this ‘vitamin A advice’ seriously,’ he said under his breath.

Usually, whenever he planned to wake up at dawn, being a heavy sleeper, he did away with quilts and comforters, kept the lights on and the windows slightly down to get his room cold at night and unconducive for sound sleep. But Chloe on the other hand, a light sleeper, needed the whole house to be completely dark before she could sleep. So she made it her business to turn out every single light in the house before she went to bed, even Malcolm’s, if he didn’t lock his room.

“Papa, why are you calling me at this time?” Malcolm answered the call in a gloomy bass voice not hiding his displeasure, just so Papa Oteng understood that his call was not A-OK.
Malcolm wiped the journals off the study table to the floor with his left arm to create space, sat in the armchair, lifted both legs onto the table, and kept his eyes on the ticking second hand of the wall clock.
“Hello, thank God you’re awake. Master, I’ve a trifling situation here but disturbingly, I need your help to handle it,” Papa Oteng said too petrified to notice Malcolm’s tone.

“What kind, Papa?” Malcolm asked in a less sullen tone.
“Master, it is the police but you don’t have to panic at all. Somehow, without any tangible reason, they’ve purposefully decided to get stroppy only to give me a hard time. They’re the most irrational bunch I’ve ever met,” Papa Oteng started rattling. The absence of the usual composure in Papa Oteng’s voice was a sure sign of malady.

“Specifically, what have the police done, Papa?” Malcolm asked. Papa Oteng was never grouch, so his whine and call for help was unlike him.
“They’ve held me up and are putting up unthinkable reasons to confiscate the goods. I’ve provided every single document they’ve requested for, yet they are bent on keeping the truck here,” Papa Oteng continued whining.

“What goods are you transporting?”
“Shea butter; I’m transporting cartons of shea butter, master.”
“So, where exactly are you now, Papa?”
“I’m at the Brofo Customs Barrier.”
“Papa Oteng, why are you at the checkpoint at this time?” Malcolm asked, astonished.
“Master, I haven’t erred in any way. It is the police. You know I’ve been doing this business for years and I scarcely get into trouble with the police. It’s not my fault, master.”

“Oteng, you were scheduled to leave the village at dawn so you’d get to the checkpoint after five in the morning, why are you there before 1a.m.?” Malcom was baffled as to how Papa Oteng, a habitual late comer would be at the checkpoint at that time.
“Master, the problem is the police, not my timing. Mind you, I’m on your side not the police.”

“Papa, you’re adept at handling the police, why do you need me?”
“Master, this is a bit different. If it was not absolutely necessary for you to be here I wouldn’t have called. I’ve done all I can, yet it doesn’t look like they’re going to give in any time soon. I need to introduce an external factor to the equation.”
“I’ll be with you soon.”
“Master, please hurry. I’ll tell you what to say when you get here, so don’t worry.”

Malcolm put his cracked iPhone screen back on charge and made a beeline for a warm cup of coffee. He got dressed, wrote a note for Chloe, shoved it under her door, fetched his glasses and an old Samsung double-sim phone with torchlight, and left the house into a chilly wet night. Old Freeville never completely went to sleep, but it was no easy task convincing any cab driver to go to Brofo Barrier and back at that time of the night in that inclement weather.

Malcolm was anxious as he stood in the drizzling night looking for a cab. Papa Oteng was extremely deft at handling the night patrols whenever they confronted him, and he was also in the good books of almost all of them. He could also call the district police command if things really got out of hands, so Malcolm wondered why he called him for help. After a while, Malcolm got a young driver in his twenties who was enticed by the fare he offered to pay.

“Director, what business do you have to do at Brofo Barrier at this late hour?” the driver asked boldly. He turned down the volume on the cab’s radio set, so that he could hear Malcolm well.
“A truck full of shea butter heading the industrial area has been held up,” Malcolm replied. It was going to be a two hour or even more journey, so Malcolm could use a distraction. Cool reggae music and an interesting conversation was all he needed to get his head off what could possibly be the problem with Papa Oteng.

“That’s smart business, manager. You want to add value to it before exportation. You know the growth of our economy is directly related to exports, huh?” the driver asked and peeped into his rearview mirror to catch Malcolm’s response.
“Yes, it sounds logical. Export is very vital, I reckon,” Malcolm replied nodding and smiling.
“This is how it works, chairman. If we increase export, we increase foreign exchange and this will increase the nation’s purchasing capacity in the international market.” the driver shared his sage opinions happily.
“Impressive!” Malcolm was genuinely enthralled with the young man’s insight.

“Currently, milk is cheaper than water in Europe because Russia has stopped importing dairy products, and their ally China has also reduced the importation of dairy products from Europe. Boss, your countenance says you expected me to be dim-witted,” the driver said with his eyes on the road when he noticed Malcolm was a bit surprised at what he was hearing.
“Far from that, I’m rather impressed to meet an economics buff driver,” Malcolm rejoined.

“Well, times have changed since Grandma was young. Knowledge is not the preserve of the schooled or elite. My work keeps me glued to the radio all day and night. By listening to international news and discussions, I’m forced to learn a lot,” the cab driver proudly explained.
“Keep it up; this acumen will surely come in handy sometime soon,” Malcolm encouraged him.

“I know you may be used to this, but I would still like to thank you for all you’ve been doing for the community. Director, we need people like you in our society. The low interest rate loans you give to traders – all the stuff you supply on credit. You have no idea what that means to us. Chief, don’t you think all rich men should do same for the poor?”
“You’re welcome.”
Unluckily for the driver, Malcolm couldn’t shake Papa Oteng off his mind. Malcolm had divided attention throughout the whole journey. He resorted to listening rather than talking. So he took most of the driver’s questions as rhetorical and smiled, nodding to his intelligent ideas.

The driver addressed Malcolm by every title that came to mind but never asked his name; neither did Malcolm bother to ask for his.

“Manager, this is exactly the reason nobody wanted to bring you here,” the cab driver said at the sight of beams of rotating beacons and halogen lights about two hundred metres away from Brofo Customs Barrier. He started panicking and pulled over at a signpost that read ‘WELCOME TO BROFO’.
The cab driver had agreed to take Malcolm to the Brofo and back but changed his mind the moment they drew near the barrier. The blue and red rooftop flashing lights and the alley lights of the police cars parked on both sides of the highway made the night sky as bright as noonday. It was an intimidating sight, even if you didn’t have any cause to fret.

“You don’t have to freak out. A heavy presence of police shouldn’t be a menacing sight if you’ve done nothing wrong. Let’s go and find out exactly what is going on,” Malcolm tried his best to hide his own fright.
“Go where, to do what, boss? This is where the road ends for you; please give me half of the agreed fare and find a different cab back to the city,” the driver stopped and waited for Malcolm to pay him and get down.

Malcolm couldn’t fault the driver for being terrified. He also easily understood why Oteng had to call him. It wasn’t a normal police stop. The cab driver made an illegal U-turn, took a bypass off the highway and sped away whilst, Malcolm walked to the customs barricade. Fortunately it had stopped drizzling.

Amidst the incessant drizzle and even the time of the night, the police could not prevent people from gathering around, but could only keep them at bay. Though people were not trooping in by the score, the crowd was huge enough for Malcolm to elbow his way through to the front.

Malcolm saw Papa Oteng and two other guys sitting in the mud in front of the truck with their hands behind them handcuffed and legs wide opened. There was only Papa Oteng’s truck so he concluded that those two were with Papa Oteng. About a dozen officers were either inspecting or offloading the content of the trunk and a few others engaging Papa Oteng and his friends. Strangely, the truck was full of boxes instead of cartons which Papa Oteng had told him of.

“Go back! Go back!” screeched an armed policeman who spotted Malcolm hurriedly drawing near the blockade. He put up his left hand to signal Malcolm to stop coming any farther. Papa Oteng saw Malcolm walking towards him and bowed and shook his head down in shame.
“Officer, calm down I’ve only come to talk to you,” Malcolm said firmly with all the courage he could muster. He kept walking and didn’t budge.
“What! Go back gentleman!” the grim-faced officer shouted louder drawing attention to Malcolm. Whatever his rank was, it was palpably clear that the policeman was not used to people talking back whilst he spoke. He was astonished Malcolm had the guts to talk back to him.

“Have patience officer,” Malcolm responded but stopped walking towards him when he saw the officer’s right hand moving to his holster.
“This is a restricted area. Go back!” a different officer re-ordered.
Malcolm gave up, sensing he was only arousing the ire of the police. He could count six Nissan Navara patrols cars, three unmarked police cars and a couple of civilian cars. They were not the regular night patrol he knew.

“Hello Command, this is Malcolm,” Malcolm walked few metres away from the crowd to call the district police command. That was the only solution he could think of – call the one person who has been taking twenty percent of the money he earns per trip.
“Hello, Mal. I’ve been waiting for your call for over an hour since Oteng called,” the district police command responded.

“He didn’t mention that he called you. I’m at the checkpoint now and we need your help.”
“Well unfortunately, I can’t touch this case. He explained everything to me but I’m afraid to say that he is on his own, Mal.”
“What do you mean by he is on his own, Command? The police have put handcuffs on him!” Malcolm began to raise his voice without realizing it.
“Oteng informed you after the fact. Mal, have you seen those civilian cars?” Command ignored the tenor of Malcolm’s question and asked as if he was watching the whole situation live on TV.

“Yes, three or four of them,” Malcolm answered after taking a look again, but didn’t count nonetheless.
“Well, the people in those cars are military and I learnt backup is on the way. They want the military police involved in this case. Oteng is in trouble and you can nothing about it right now.”

“Command, what are you talking about? You’re only fogging my perplexity. What’s going on here, please?” Malcolm asked trying to calm down.
“I’ll advice you to immediately get out of there and let us find means of getting Oteng out of trouble later. It is a showery night. Go home Mal,” Command spoke as composed as he could but the measured cadence in his speech ensured that Malcolm didn’t miss the gravity of the situation and the urgency for him to leave straightaway.


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