Pulse Blogger James Ikuku debuts his thrilling short story 'Banks, Cops and Robbers' on Pulse; try to keep up with the suspense!
It was an exceptionally busy day. The banking hall was full and a few customers even had to stand outside. This was a typical scenario whenever students were going home on vacation. They all came to withdraw their transport fares. The few who had ATM debit cards were the lucky ones because the queues at the machines were shorter and moved faster. Better still, it took less time to complete transactions.
To make matters worse, the split unit air conditioning systems had packed up; the last of them, just the week before. The crowd that afternoon was one impatient, sweating mass of people.
So it was quite understandable that John Akporoghene was in a foul state of mind. But that was not the only reason why.
He had been writing his first semester 300 level examinations over the past week and they were not the best exams he had written in his short sojourn on the planet.
Then there was the issue of his transport fare to Warri. It would cost him N4,500 to get to Warri and he had N5,000 in his account. However, the bank had a nasty habit of deducting N600 as transaction charges every month. He hoped they had not done that already. Travelling from Abuja to Warri on an empty stomach was bad; but being stranded without transport fare? He didn't even want to think about it.
It was also understandable that Sanni Mai-Angwa, a day guard at the bank was not in his best of moods. His job became a whole lot more difficult during these periods when the bank was crowded. There were two other day guards but Sanni had been on the job for eight years. So in a way, you could say he was head of security. He had to make sure every customer entering the bank was frisked with a metal detector. He also had to make sure those customers who came in cars were parked properly and he had to keep an eye out for anything suspicious.
Emeka Obazie had been branch manager for three months and this was the first time he was experiencing the end of semester rush. Already, he was beginning to feel the strain. Previously, he had been in the Maitama branch of the bank where there was virtually no commercial banking. All the customers he had handled before now were people who had platinum master cards, members of the mile high club, men who had cash delivered to them in their homes and offices by bullion vans. Now he was here in Gwagwalada where even fish selling market women demanded to be accorded the respect due customers. But he could deal with that because he was on his way up the corporate ladder. Back in Maitama, he had been a banking officer; and here he was, a branch manager. He considered all the stress a necessary part of his climb to the top. After all, nothing good came easy.
John Akporoghene was at the counter just about then. The last thought that had crossed his mind before the cashier told him he didn't have enough in his account to withdraw the amount he wanted, was that he should have checked his account balance first.
''I'm sorry but you have to withdraw a lesser amount'', the cashier was saying.
John knew this wasn't going to be an easy one, but he wasn't going to go back on his personal motto; ''Warri boy no dey carry last!'' (Boys from the town of Warri in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria can never be cheated)
''Madam you see ehn, (ehn is a word used in Nigerian English for emphasis) I need the money for an emergency and any amount less than that just won't do'', he started. ''You really have to help me here''.
''I'd really love to help, but I’m just doing my job'', she replied.
It was at that moment that John had what he later told his friends was the best idea he had ever come up with in a tight spot. An epiphany, if you like.
''Okay, I want to close the account''.
The cashier at first did not understand exactly what he meant.
''You want to do what?'', she asked.
"I said I want to close the account". ''Now'', he added for emphasis.
''Well, I’m sorry I can't help you with that right now''.
''I'm asking for my money, and you are telling me you can't help me with that right now? Who put you in a position to decide when I can or can't have my money?''
''Look young man, there are channels you have to go through. I can't just count out money and hand it to you over the counter because you want to close your account. It’s not done that way''.
''I want my money now oh! And I don't want to hear anything about channels'', John said, beginning to raise his voice. ''Just give me my money right now. Do I have to go and see your board of directors before I can get my money?''.
Sanni was at the door at that moment and he heard John arguing with the cashier. This was a scenario he had to handle every time the bank was full of students. They always had one problem or the other which they expected the cashier to be able to deal with over the counter. They never seemed to understand that some of these problems were administrative ones.
This was only going to take a moment. All he had to do was calm the young man down and get him to agree to see someone in administration. Personally, he would kick them out of the premises, but the manager had this principle of making sure the customers were always shown respect.
''Kai ! Aboki ! (Hey! Young man!) Na wetin dey haffun por hia ?” (What is going on here?) Sanni asked John in his heavily accented mix of Hausa and broken English.
''This is none of your business'', John replied.
Yes, Sanni thought; they were also very arrogant, disrespectful and full of self importance.
''Any frovlem wen you get, na only oga por inside go pit helf you'' (Whatever the problem is, only the boss inside can help you) Sanni tried another approach.
''Look, just leave me alone. I am not going to see any oga (boss) inside. I just want my money right now''.
John looked around and noticed that a few people were beginning to look in their direction. That was good. All he had to do was cause enough trouble to embarrass the bank. Then they would want to solve his problem just to get rid of him. There was always the possibility that they would get him arrested, but that was a chance he was willing to take. After all what he was doing could not exactly be called a criminal offense.
The night before the operation, Johnny was nervous. It was only his second time out with the guys. The first had not been an experience he would want to relive.
He had been shot at and Hakeem had been killed on that day. Marcus had told him it was just part of the hazards one had to face on the job. He would give anything for the opportunity to get drunk, but Marcus had strictly told him when he first joined the gang that there was to be no drinking, snorting or smoking the night before an operation. He looked at the bedside clock next to him and saw that it was 2AM. He lay there staring at it and then his mind began to drift.
He was just nine when his father died. He saw it all flash before him; his mom passing out when his uncle had broken the news to her, the endless days of tears and having to finally stop school a year and a half later. After dropping out, he had gotten menial jobs to help support his mum and his baby sister, Karen. Karen had continued schooling up till her fourth year in Secondary School when she had been impregnated by a boy in his final year in the same school.
Johnny remembered waiting for the boy on his usual route back home from school; beating him up so badly he had passed out and continuously stepping on his face until he thought he heard something crack. He hadn’t gone back home for a whole week. And when he finally did, his mom had told him with tears that the boy had died the day before and that the cops had come looking for him. He left home that night and he had not returned since.
The last image he saw in his flashback was his mum’s crying face, and then he was finally asleep.
Three and a half hours later, he was awake. He took a quick shower and had three slices of bread and a glass of water. He went back into his room after breakfast and opened his closet. He took out both boxes lying on the floor of the closet and moved aside the wooden panel. In the space below was a flat metal box. He took it out, laid it on the bed, and opened it up.
Inside it were two guns; a Makarov SP Pistol and an AR15 assault rifle. He reached into the box and as he pulled out the assault rifle the irony of it all struck him. Back when he was a kid, he used to play a game called ‘’Police and Thief’’ with his friends and everyone always wanted to be on the police side. Now, here he was being a real life robber. Again he flashed back and this time, it was to the day he had met Marcus.
It was about a month and a half after he had run away from home. He had taken odd jobs to keep body and soul together until finally, he had ended up as a bus conductor for a guy who ran the Ojuelegba-Ketu route in Lagos. He would work till 9pm and then sleep in the bus when it was finally parked in Ojuelegba till the next morning. There was a public bathroom in the park where he took his bath; and what little possession he had, was in the trunk of the bus in a plastic bag.
That night, he had just laid down when he heard gunshots. At first they sounded distant. A few minutes later, he heard the shots again. This time, they sounded really close. Then he heard footsteps. Someone was running in his direction, and then he heard other footsteps right behind the first. His first thought was to keep quiet and lie very still. After all, this was Lagos, and poking your nose where it didn’t belong especially in the middle of the night could get you killed.
Watch out for Part 2, next week.
Wrriten by James Ikuku