MORE TO IT
Shortly after Malcolm ended the phone call, a young woman within shouting distance probably eavesdropping, in blue jeans, cream woolly jumper and black baseball cap approached him.
“Mister, may I have a minute of your time?” she asked delightfully as if she was a receptionist at a five star hotel.
And easily, the charm worked on Malcolm – he nodded in approval.
“So, who were you talking to on the phone?” she asked Malcolm sticking out her thumb and little finger in a form of a phone and putting it to her right ear.
“The district police command,” Malcolm answered looking at her quizzically.
“Please, if you don’t mind let’s step aside for a minute,” she started walking and strangely Malcolm followed. “You said you just spoke to the district police command?” she asked again demurely, this time patting Malcom as if to tell him, ‘It’s okay Mal, you can tell me everything’.
“Yes, I did. I needed him to intervene.”
“How and why would he do that?”
“I engaged that driver in handcuffs to transport cartons of shea butter to a factory at the industrial area. Honestly, I don’t know what he’s done for the police to descend on him in this dramatic manner. The police will not listen to me, so I had to call the district police command for help.”
“Shea butter?” she asked to confirm what she heard.
“Yes, it is shea butter. That’s what the driver told me.”
“Ah, you’ve not seen what’s in the truck with your own eyes.”
“I contract truck drivers to transport goods for my customers. Most of the time I meet the driver at the delivery point, so it’s not unusual that I haven’t seen the goods personally.”
“Hmm, what did the district police command say when you spoke to him?”
“It is hard for me to believe that he says there is nothing he can do about the situation.”
“So why did you call the district police command in the first place?” she asked.
“I’ve known Command for months and he’s been very helpful especially when I encounter crook officers. I’m surprised tonight he says he can’t help me out. He knows I have genuine permit and up to date documentations to transport goods across the region,” Malcolm answered still under the charm of the soft spoken young lady.
“Yes, I knew it!” She sighed happily stepping away from Malcolm.
“Excuse me?” Malcolm asked, finally coming back to his senses.
“I knew the district police command had to be in on this,” she said punching her left fist in the air. When she was through with her brief celebration, she turned to Malcolm and removed her cap for him to get a better look at her.
“Who are you?” Malcolm asked. It started drizzling again and as if the water washed away the charm, he realized he had been talking to a complete stranger.
“Look over there. Have you seen that black Benz parked under the street light?” she said pointing to the direction Malcolm came from.
“That’s my car. Take the key and get out of the rain; go and sit in the car and switch on the ignition, I’ll join you in a short while,” though she said to him in a masculine tone, she held his hand and put the car key in it as daintily as possible. Malcolm was a bit at sea; why did this softly spoken lady come from and what did she want from him.
“I didn’t catch your name, honey,” Malcolm asked and stretched his arm to block her way.
“It’s because I didn’t give it to you, honey,” she retorted.
“I’m confounded. May I know your name, please?”
“Gentleman, take my kind offer and get into that car over there. You’re running out of time,” she instructed him again pointing to the car as if she was ordering a six year old to go to bed.
She gave him a stern look, from his face to the stretched arm then back to his face; Malcolm quickly got the message so he put his hand down and allowed her to pass. The stranger who charmed him to talk did not give him the sympathy he wished to get but rather she was offering a mystery to unravel. The rains had stopped again and Malcolm stood silently gazing into empty space thinking. If that young lady was an angel, then she was one without compassion; he said to himself.
Gradually, Malcolm’s misery was giving way to self-pity. Obviously, the lady was not there to give him a shoulder to cry on, neither did she look like she was ready to answer any question from Malcolm. She left him, moved away from the police barricade and walked towards the highway. She looked at her wrist watch then the highway repeatedly as if she was expecting somebody who was running terribly late. The few cars that drove by were allowed through the barricade without any major inspection, except to check their driver’s license. The police did their best to reduce the attention their arrest was causing.
“Who are you waiting for?” Malcolm followed her to ask.
“I don’t think you really cherish your freedom of movement, gentleman,” she replied after a while with her eyes still fixed on the road, and occasionally stealing glances at her watch and the police who were offloading the boxes from the truck.
“How do you expect me to get into a stranger’s car in the middle of the night without knowing why?” Malcolm protested, but deep within him he was also afraid that the lady could be military, and she could be waiting for the backup Command spoke to him about. But again, his protest fell on deaf ears.
Malcolm looked at the key in his hands, the young lady, the pacing officers, thought for a while and walked some few steps towards the Benz at a sedate pace, but turned back to ask the lady the same question he had been asking all night.
“Who are you?” undoubtedly out of frustration, Malcolm came back to ask her.
“You are kidding me?” she yelled when she heard his voice again.
“I need to know who you are.”
“I’m your Messiah! If you know what’s good for your soon-to-be-sorry self, you’d stop interrogating me and do as I say. Some other time we can meet to have a good natter, but right now, you need to obey a very simple instruction and get into my car.”
“I can’t abandon either the goods or the driver. That’s out of the question. I deliver. That’s my proud hallmark. It will ruin my business if word gets out that I failed to deliver because the police arrested my driver. That’s bad for business. I have to do something about it,” Malcolm had mixed feelings of anger, confusion and distress.
“Clearly, you have no idea of what you’re talking about. Just by saying you hired him to transport those goods puts you into trouble worth several years behind bars,” she answered softly reverting to her charm.
“Please, just this once – who are you?” Malcolm pleaded.
“Are you a drug pusher? Do you deal in ammunitions? Do you trade in fake currencies?” she turned and looked straight into his eyes and asked.
“I need answers not questions, please,” Malcolm implored her.
“Well, those questions are the closest to answers you’re going to get from me. For crying out loud, don’t they have enough clues for you to figure something out?”
“Your puzzles are only making my head spin the more”.
“How can you be involved in this and not be an adroit pleader or convincer? You’re really horrible at this. Do you ever get anything you desire in life?”
“What are you talking about?” he asked innocently.
“I can tell you have no idea what is going on here,” Sabrina said with a flash of sympathy in her eyes. She pulled out a purse from her back pocket, reached for an ID and shoved it into his hands.
“Heavens above! Command was right,” Malcolm exclaimed in shock.
“Yes, he was!” she rejoined.
His eyes lit and his hands started shaking when he read Lieutenant Sabrina Fosu Ottoppah on the ID. Malcolm stood stunned, unable to believe his eyes. He looked at both sides of the ID repeatedly, not knowing exactly what to do.
“We have less than a minute to get out of here, pronto!” she said and moved on ahead to her car when she saw a fleet of cars with unusual large headlamps speeding towards them.
That was her cue to leave. They hurriedly got into her car, but Malcolm couldn’t bring himself to put the key in the ignition let alone start it. He got instantly dazzled after catching a glimpse of the military trooping in armed to the teeth. Whatever Papa Oteng had gotten himself into was way bigger than Malcolm had imagined.
“Let’s get out of here, please,” Sabrina tapped him to start the car.
“Who do we have at the steering?” an old man in a raincoat and a folded umbrella sneaked up on them in the car.
“Hide my ID,” Sabrina whispered but Malcolm wasn’t swift enough. Whilst Sabrina kept her cool Malcom was startled to the bone by the man’s intrusion. He was having a horrible time.
“Lieutenant, why are you in a hurry to leave?” the old man asked her.
“Colonel, we were about to leave the scene. I will call the office and get you a written report first thing in the morning,” Sabrina sat up and answered the old man.
“Who are you mister?” he asked Malcolm again and disregarded Sabrina’s response.
“A cousin,” that’s all the disconcerted Malcolm could come up with.
“Is that what we are now, cousins, really? Don’t mind this philanderer,” Sabrina said, putting on an act to save the day.
“Sorry sir,” Malcolm quickly apologized not too sure what exactly was going on.
“I have an unfinished business to attend to. See you on Monday, Sir,” she answered.
“Sab, today is Monday,” the old man retorted.
“Drive! Don’t tell me you don’t know how to drive,” said Sabrina impatiently.
“Where are we heading to, madam?” Malcolm was revived quickly by the old man’s inclusion to the night’s puzzles. He could sense the tension between Sabrina and the old man, but he absolutely didn’t want to find out why. Not another puzzle.
“Let’s go anywhere out of here, fast! That old man is my former boss and he knows all the four members of my nuclear and extended family,” she told Malcolm as they sped off.
“So he knew I was lying.” Malcolm was not really sorry for lying to an old man he might possibly never meet again.
“Yeah, the cousins lie was very dumb to him and if we had stayed there just for another second, his next question would have betrayed your identity.” She switched off the air conditioning and rolled down the window for fresh air.
“I didn’t know you could get nervous when the shit hits the fan,” Malcolm was able to afford a smile in a very long while.
“He deliberately called me Lieutenant upon seeing my ID in your hands. Later, I would have to explain to him how and why my ID got into your hands. It’s the last thing an undercover soldier should do – carry an official ID, let alone show it to a stranger. I’m bound to face censure from him, that I can’t escape.” she explained.
“Sorry for putting you into trouble,” he felt bad.
“I can only tell the depth of my woe when I meet my boss but I should be able to gracefully swallow whatever comes my way. I only hope you’re worth the trouble anyway.”
“I’ll be forever thankful, Sabrina.”
“Can I have your cellphone number, please?” He pulled his double-chip phone with his left hand and handed it to her.
“Why not, I’ve done the worst.” She keyed in the digits, and called the number so she could also have his number.
“I live at Old Freeville so when we get to the town centre, I’ll alight and get a cab home.”
“That won’t be necessary. We’re going to Old Freeville.”
“Where do you live, Sabrina?”
Just when he thought he had seen enough for the night; just when they thought the whole horror of the night was ebbing away; just when they thought they were going to have a quiet drive home, they heard gunshots. They had driven for some few minutes away from the checkpoint.
They had two distinct instincts. Whilst Sabrina was shouting ‘turn around’, the car was already purring up accelerating at top speed – Malcolm was getting as farther away from the gunshots as possible.