He started to understand why the voice on the phone had picked the market, the road leading to it was gridlocked and the traffic in front of him was packed full with vehicles and people oblivious to the plight of the people stuck in the slow moving afternoon traffic, except their own. He had failed to put into consideration the fact that it was a festive period and the market would be busier than usual, dread began to swim around in the pits of his stomach like ants on sugar; doubt started to claw at him, gradually stripping him of his confidence. He should have involved his superiors in this, maybe they would have come up with a better plan than his but deep down he knew involving them would have given it the sort of publicity that could have gotten his niece dead. He might be in over his head but at least he still had a chance to get his niece back alive.
He finally found a parking space and had to negotiate his way through a crowd of “okpa” sellers and sellers of small items, who could not afford to pay the rent of a shop in the market, so they set up small stalls in front of the market, they were subject to constant raids by the government task force, they were illegal occupants and caused unnecessary traffic.
“Oga bia go okpa di oku. (Come and buy hot okpa.)” A woman with a raffia hat said showcasing her ware, her okpa soiled knife, oily and caked in her hand, waiting to cut into the yellow flesh of the bean cake.
He just shook his head, clutched tight to the backpack and walked into Abuja line. As was the exterior, the little space between shops that ran for about fifty meters served as a pathway and was packed full with humans; some people had even displayed their wares on the pathway, making an already difficult act, even more so. The roofs of the one storey complex were covered all the way through, to shield customers and shop owners from the weather and so it was cooler in here than it was outside, the sounds of different generator, somewhere someone was playing the music just too loudly, but in the midst of all the other commotion, no one seemed to be bothered. In front of a shop that specialized in men shoes, it seemed, a couple of boys in the mid twenties were discussing football and seemed so engrossed in it. The path was littered with debris from opened cardboard boxes and strings of all kinds; a job for the cleaners, because nobody paid it any mind.
He squeezed his way through the crowd of people, wondering how people did this every day, shop owners beckoned at him as he passed by, immediately turning their attention to the next person when he did not oblige. He kept walking, that was what the voice said keep walking; he noticed side entrances that led to other corners and he hoped that they were manned by his men, he had noticed a couple of them in the crowd and that reassured him.
“Oga come check us na.” A man said pointing to a shop that looked like Aba had thrown up in it. “This one na grade one Italian and e cheap well-well.”
“I am not interested.” He made to move on but the man blocked his path.
“Oga oya come test this one, e go match this trouser wey you wear.” He said holding up a shoe and wearing a huge grin.
“Oga I say I no want!” That seemed to finally get to the man and he moved aside to allow him pass. Just then a young man moved in alongside him, his face cap drawn tight over his head and his face down.
Emeka did not think much of him, there were hundreds dressed like him here, so he continued to walk.
“Give me the bag, slowly, be careful I see all the police hiding in plain sight, we all know what is at stake.” He still did not lift is head.
“So how do we know you will keep your end of the bargain?” He asked tentatively.
“Take this.” He said handing him a phone. “You will get a call on this when she is on her way home.” He took the phone, a 99 Nokia. Who still uses these?!
When he looked up the boy was gone and with him the bag, he searched for him in the crowd and caught him dashing into one of the side streets, he immediately reached for his radio. All units be on the lookout for a male wearing a brown jacket over a blue jean and a palm slippers, he is carrying a black bag, approach him with caution, do not capture him but follow him.” He dashed into the path after him but he had disappeared.
He swerved through the crowd, taking his cloth off as he walked. He stashed the jacket and cap in a refuse dump and continued on; he looked around and began to search for faces that looked out of place in the market. When he reached the designated place, he ducked behind a pillar where another person was waiting to continue the journey. They moved the money into a new bag and the guy in the brown jacket, continued on with it, till he got to the parking lot where trucks were loading and offloading goods. He found one that was about to leave and dropped the bag in the back. Let the police have fun with that, he thought gleefully as he sauntered away.
“Sir we have no visual on the suspects but the bag is still in motion, it just left the market now.” Obidi said over the radio.
“Alright follow them, till they lead you to their hideout. I do not need to remind you to keep your distance.” He said firmly.
It had been a long and hectic day for Chima; it was the festive period and jobs came at him thick and fast and he loved it. More jobs meant more money and more money meant peace for him and for Christmas all he wanted was peace. His wife was already on his case demanding money for the purchase of Christmas clothes for the children, as if his parents bought him any when he was their age! He shook his head in anger but he had to do it, especially as his neighbor Ekene who was just a mere laborer had already bought for his kids the week before. His nagging wife would not let him hear the last of it, it was Ekene this, Ekene that, forcing him to spend most of his nights at a bar parlor and getting home drunk enough not to care about her bickering.
But he knew he could not shirk from his responsibility for too long, his kids deserved to look nice on Christmas day like other kids their age, there wasn’t any need denying them that pleasure, his childhood should not determine theirs.
He reached under his chair and felt the money again, that was more than enough to buy Christmas clothes, a small goat and still have some to spend on his girlfriend Nkechi. He felt a stirring in his loins, they were to meet tonight, she was finally going to allow him visit her after many weeks of asking, she was a waitress at the beer parlor he frequented. For weeks she had given him many a sleepless night, his dreams were often filled with images of her tight young body and he always hated waking up next to his wife with her sagging body. Tonight was the night to make his dream a reality.
He pulled up at his home and was just getting down from his truck when he was surrounded by armed men, shouting commands at him. Thieves he thought to himself, they had come to steal the money he had spent all day daydreaming about. His wife would never believe him!