I wished I had super powers to hover above the crowd in the park just so I could scan the entire property in one fell swoop. I made my way towards Mr. Sunday’s office where I believed the lady would be at this moment. I could picture Mr. Sunday hand over the handbag to her, and she was just leaving the park. I panicked a little and my heart skipped a few beats. I increased my pace.
The door to Mr. Sunday’s office was opened although the burglary proof gate was locked with a padlock. It was empty but bore traces that Mr. Sunday had finally made it to the office today: the whole place smelt of fried plantain and beans that could easily have been lunch for him. The clock on the wall said it was a quarter past one in the afternoon.
I stuck my head through the narrow space in between the iron bars. I could see the box hanging undisturbed on the wall. What I wasn’t certain of was if it still contained the bag and all its contents. Not that I cared about the rest of the stuff inside the bag save for the time piece. If my fears were true, then my last possible hope was to get to the gate before she left the premises.
I must have been very dramatic in my search outside the high fence of the park, because I had scared a few visitors and even some security men. I apologized and painstakingly camouflaged my panic mood with a forged smile. The young lady was nowhere to be found.
I felt I was going to drop dead. My head pulsated with a banging headache, my heart hit hard on my sternum. I sat for a few seconds at the gate house to catch my breath. Facing the gatehouse on the right was the online radio station in the premises. Was it possible the lady had dropped by to pay them a visit? Everything seemed to be moving so fast only for me to keep playing catch-up. I stood up immediately and headed for the entrance of the station, with only half my usual resolve.
Inside the reception was cool and cozy, somewhat of a different feel than what was obtainable in most parts of the park. The front desk lady looked up at me from her work, and demanded how she could help. Apparently being a guard within this premises didn’t mean one had unsolicited entrance into any part. I couldn’t really answer her question; I just pressed a smile on my face and swiftly scanned the office area. Sorry, routine check.
I headed back towards the other side of the park, not necessarily to the clock gallery. Frustration was now clearly written on my forehead. I was beginning to speak aloud angrily at myself.
I sat down on a concrete slab for another breather. Why was I so obsessed with returning to my future? Why was it that as soon as I gave up trying to return, another chance showed up wherever I went? It seemed now that my future was hunting me. I didn’t ask for this! I had banged my fist on the slab before I became aware that a few people had actually heard me speak out loud.
I wiped the spittle that smeared the side of my lips, as I cursed my grandfather and the stupid alarm clock he had betrothed to me. I knew I had told myself more than a couple of times that all I had, was the present, and not the future, but the thought that I wouldn’t be able to see Suss, and Dan, and Joko, and my entire glorious future again was something I couldn’t bear. I could tell the sweet tale of yearning to be with these people again, although inside of me, it was only an escape from here.
My wondering mind drifted to the brutal truth that if this was my future, then I didn’t need to be worried living it now. Wouldn’t it all eventually come to me? Didn’t I raise a good family and a great child who became a leader of some sort? In fact, I even knew when I died! I know!
Maybe that was the problem; maybe man wasn’t meant to be omnipotent; to be alpha and omega. Maybe having a glimpse of the future however lofty it may seem, was itself a curse. Wasn’t that the reason the whole of life was broken down into days and nights? So that man may attend to his purpose with a sense of hope, and not a full knowledge of how it would all turn out?
But come to think of it, wouldn’t knowing the future itself change the future?
I walked back to my station, with slumped shoulders. My grey beret was tucked in my armpit, and I wished I could just leave and go home.
A short play was going on at the amphitheater, but I had walked through the centre stage before I realized my error. I just walked on till I got to the other end, like I was part of the play. The audience didn’t seem sure what just happened, and the actors for the true performers they were simply went on with their acting. Off stage, I received a few reprimands but I just kept walking.
I entered into the clock gallery, and the first person I saw was Old Rhoda. As grateful as I was to her, I didn’t have the strength to express my gratitude. I just kept walking to my post.
“What happened?” Old Rhoda asked, her voice taking a pitch. “Nna, isn’t it you I am talking tooo? Nna, are you okay?”
“Yes, ma. I’ll be fine?” I never could call her Rhoda by name. She couldn’t be younger than my mum.
“What happened na? Or did Mr. Sunday give you query?”
Did Mr. Sunday dish out query like a plate of hot eba? To think of it, was a query the end of life. I’m sure you’ve heard the word ‘fire!’ before, right? This guy here had been fired once. And what in the world could be harder than that?
“No.” I wished I said yes. It seemed she was expecting that
“So did you find that girl?”
“No.” I had just become the king of One-Word.
“What did the girl do?”
“Do? Did I say she did anything?” I sounded a bit irritated.
“So why you come dey run up and down the whole place as if the girl steal something?” Old Rhoda switched to her comfortable Pidgin English.
I stood at my position, now looking at the thin crowd within the gallery. So far, they all seemed to be well mannered. That was if the shouting on the phone by some people wasn’t considered unethical.
“She forget something for here yesterday. Abi no be wetin she tell you be that?”
“Yes, ehen,” Old Rhoda stood beside me as if we were both placed on a weighing scale. I was about to ask her something when I saw at the distance the lady in the red colour top.
“Is that not her?” I must have startled Old Rhoda, because she immediately straightened to attention.
“Where?” she was looking everywhere at the same time. I figured out there was a chance Old Rhoda suffered from myopia.
“I will be right back, hold on. Please.” I jumped down again from the elevated platform and headed as the crow flies towards the lady at the far side of the hall.
I seemed to have shoved a few people on my way, but my apologies were already out in the air before any impact.
I finally stood beside the lady, watching her for a few seconds before I announced my presence. A wisp of hair had escaped from her barrette, hanging delicately below her shoulder. She smelt expensive, and from the memory of her face I once saw, she was beautiful.
She seemed absolved in her world. Focusing on every word of history tagged beside a clock on the wall. I stood beside her, but she must have thought me to be one of her fellow tourist. She didn’t look my way, or move a muscle, except for her lips that moved like that of a Jewish rabbi murmuring the Torah.
“Hello madam,” I cleared my throat and adjusted my pair of boots.
“Hello, officer.” She neither looked my way nor was surprised that anyone observed her. I remember one of my female friends once told me the strength of a lady’s peripheral vision was a hundred times a guy’s frontal vision.
“Miss, please. May I have your attention for a minute?” I said this, and immediately got distracted by what she was looking at. Wait, was it possible that there was a clock here I hadn’t found which had the magic words? I had spent more than an extra hour yesterday scrutinizing every clock piece in this building. I hoped I didn’t miss any.
“Your time’s counting, mister.”
Wow. I was brought back to the present by the sassiness I sensed in her tone, which wasn’t a bad thing at all. I adjusted my weight on my left foot, as I bent my posture in an attempt to keep my voice low.
“Did you happen to find Mr. Sunday?” I asked, the words curling around my lips like I could decide to retrieve them anytime.
“And Mr. Sunday is supposed to be…?” I didn’t realize she asked me a question. I thought she was still reading from the history on the wall.
She turned to look at me for a second, then returned to the wall, tracing the words with her index finger. My lips quivered just a little, having nothing immediate to say.
She immediately stood upright and headed towards the other side of the wall. As she walked, I discovered she was counting with her fingers. I just followed her, hoping she wasn’t going to put any blame on me if she lost count of whatever she was doing.
As much as I indulged in her act, I was very much disinterested as a guard. In fact, I should be asking her questions right now, whatever it was she was trying to count.
“Miss?” I tried to get her attention again.
“Sshhh,” she shushed me with her slightly pouted lips and a tiny index finger.
Whatever she did, as long a she didn’t violate any of the tour rules, I couldn’t actually do much. She got to the other end, and immediately started tracing her fingers in the air, looking for the history of another clock. I guess.
“Ahh,” she must have realized something. She looked me in the eyes like she just discovered the vaccine for malaria. “Between this George Jones Regulator and that Seth Thomas over there, which do you think is exquisite enough?”
“Ahm,” my mind raced like a car’s speedometer in overdrive. I found myself trying to impress this lady, all of a sudden. Whatever answer I gave had to be a statement made from fact, or at least some knowledge base. “Ahm,” I looked over the head of the tourist between us and the age-old pendulum clock that hung on the other side of the wall. “Ok, since they were both designed roughly about same year, give or take a few years gap, George Jone’s lyre configuration and the woody feel makes-”
“You mean the walnut burl,” she correctly me there.
“Exactly! The wall not burrrr-” I just mumbled the words there. “I would go for that any day.” I looked at her as I made the final statement. Inside my trouser, my knees knocked.
“Hmm,” She breathed. I wasn’t sure if she was considering what I just said, or she was just making a mocking sound. My father’s words at this time would have been Akika!
I was thinking hard now, hoping she wouldn’t ask another offsetting question. But these clocks aren’t for sale, right?
“You plan acquiring them?” I observed her body language. She began to walk towards the exit, a bit of satisfaction showing on her face.
“Na, not me. I’m just checking around. My granny is an horologist.” My mind paused for a second in response to what I just heard. What did she just say?
“Aaahm, did you say your granny?”
“Yup,” she looked at me, raising one almost completely grazed eyebrow. She stopped by a small arcade, one her head could reach. The tip of her hair barely touched the concrete above her, while I needed to bend a little to achieve the same purpose.
“I mean, your granny, granny?”
“Yes. My grandma. Should the word mean something else apart from what I know?”
I paused a little, more to take a deep breath than for effect. “Your grandma,” I stressed the word for emphases. “Was here yesterday, right?” This was just me trying to leave no stone unturned. There was no mistaking her for someone else. Not again.
“OK,” She said abruptly. I would probably get tired of her briskness if she continued with it. On the other hand, was I to blame her? Maybe I took for granted that I wore a uniform, and that most people didn’t find it a fanciful career to have a tete-a-tete with a stranger. More so, one in uniform.
“I’m sorry,” I re-strategized my plot. “Last night before I left for home, two middle aged women handed over a handbag to my boss. So I was just… Never mind.” I restrained myself from going further.
“My grandma comes here every day.” She seemed to mellow a little. “Or rather, every day for the past two weeks. Since this thing started.”
“You don’t say?” I felt it was my turn to be dramatic, but I didn’t want to rub it in. “So where is she today?” I asked. I noticed the look on her face which meant, how does a security man get to speak that impressively?
“I didn’t allow her leave home. She’s not feeling fine. But I had to come here today just for the handbag she forgot here yesterday afternoon.”
I let all that this lady was saying sink into my head, while I thought of what right words to say to get me my desired endpoint.
As she mentioned the handbag, I remembered as I put it up in the tiny box just the night before in Mr. Sunday’s office.
“So have you met with my boss?” I was sure not to mention Mr. Sunday’s name again. It didn’t seem it rang a bell.
“I was at his office some minutes ago, but he wasn’t on seat. So I just needed to hang around. Plus my grandma had to make me do the herculean task of choosing for her what time piece to purchase.”
I squeezed the flesh on my forehead. I had a strong feeling this lady, who I hadn’t even been gentlemanly enough to ask her name, was saying a lot, however trivial she sounded.
“Oh, you meant –”
“I told you she’s a horologist. H.O.R.O.L.O.G.I.S.T.” She made that eye that meant I should know what a horologist was.
“I wouldn’t have guessed that we have in this country, clock collectors. It seems to me a passion only the elite could pursue. And not just any elite for that matter. It doesn’t even sound African.” I looked her in the eyes and added a smile.
“Well,” was all she said. I could see she had a different and perhaps a broader perspective, but she rather not argue. Didn’t seem like I worth it.
I could have pursued the conversation on that direction, but I didn’t come here to make acquaintance either. I no come Lagos come count bridge. I needed to find a way to get that damn watch, and this was the lady, more like the key to my future. If I stay with her, I would find the old woman who… In fact, I would stay with her, talk with her, even do anything she asked me to do. I already had a plan in my head, what I would do as soon as she had in her possession the handbag. There mightn’t even be any need to meet the old woman after all.
“I would like to go back to Mr. Sunday’s office, if you will excuse me.” She walked off, not minding we didn’t conclude on our conversation. She was just whiling away time, waiting for Mr. Sunday. Who was I anyway, a bloody uniform man.
“So you knew who I was talking about all along?”
“Maybe I just figured it out,” She smiled. “I sniff the air for information.” She must feel so proud of herself as she walked away without even saying goodbye.
I had reasons to doubt all she’d said all the while, but I had even more instinctive reasons to believe her for what she’d never opened up to. Truth was I enjoyed the little chat we had.
I watched her take a few steps away, not even bothering to look back for once. I knew I wasn’t going to let her just go like that, but it was as if there was nothing to cue me in. I felt helpless like I didn’t have a script to follow through with the conversation.
“You know, I was wondering who on earth still used an ilarun and locally made shea butter in this age and time.”
The lady paused midway. “Really. Like really really.” She almost rolled her eyes like one of those Unilag babes.
“Is the word ‘really’ suppose to mean something different from the real meaning?” I hope that she got the sarcasm.
“Wow.” She turned fully towards me and waited till I looked at her. “Ain’t you too smart for a guard? That’s your job here, right?”
“You mean guards are meant to be dumb?”
“Woow, hollup, I didn’t mean that.” She went defensive.
“Yes.” I paused. This time, for effect. “To answer your question, that’s my job. I’m a ‘watch’ guard.”
All of a sudden, she walked back towards me, and stretched her arms. “My name is Sally.”
“Great to meet you, Sally. My name is Eli.” We shook hands.
“So,” her voice seemed to be more homely now. Making acquaintance of people didn’t seem to be her forte. “Let’s hope Mr. Sunday is back at his office,” she began to walk towards the office, this time around, urging me along.
“By the way, I used shea butter too. Not just my grandma.”
“No way, you have to be kidding me.”
“I kid you not.”
“Ok. Maybe it’s something you use only during harmattan.”
“Every day. I use it every day.” She said as a matter of fact.
Not that I was eager to talk about any brand of body lotion for that matter, but if it was what would get me conversing with this lady, I wasn’t just going to stop there. I was going to ask if she used it for cooking, or even as bread spread. Just maybe she had it packed up in a snack pack for lunch.
We met Mr. Sunday at the door of his office this time. We could have missed him the umpteenth time, because he was just about to leave again.
“Hello Mr. Sunday, this is the lady who came asking for the handbag that was brought in yesterday.” I introduced Sally to him. At first he was reluctant, but he took her hand and smiled.
“Oh, that’s true,” he raised his index finger, recalling the incident the night before. “Sorry, I’ve been very busy all day. I haven’t even had a minute for myself today.” Mr. Sunday’s breath smelled of cooked palm oil.
“So sorry, but I will just pick it up and leave.” Sally didn’t seem to be in any casual mood either.
“Thank God Eli is here. He wrote out the contents in the bag, so you and I might just double check them. Then I’d need your ID.
“I will be glad to oblige, sir,” Sally was immediately digging into her pause for her ID. “Actually, the handbag is my grandmum’s. It contains her salon combs, phone, mirror, lotion and her watch.”
“No problem, miss?” Sunday was eager to be done with her and be on his way. He brought out the handbag from the box on the wall, and checked the content in the bag to make sure it tallied with what I had written down yesterday in the log book.
My eyes inspected every single move everyone made on the table. My hands shook lightly in anticipation of seeing the tiny silver watch again. Sunday emptied the content on the table just like we had done the night before.
Everything except the wrist watch was on the table. A little grease from the shea butter case had smeared the inside of the bag, but the wristwatch wasn’t in the bag.
The combs and the rubber threads were complete, but the silver watch was nowhere to be found.
Sally looked up at Mr. Sunday to be sure of the contents of the bag. She also gave me a weird look, but felt Mr. Sunday was suppose to answer to the question.
“Are these all the content of the bag? Isn’t there supposed to be a chain wristwatch too?” She opened her palm before Mr. Sunday.
“Well, I’m not sure myself. Thankfully Eli here wrote down all the content into the log book when it was brought in, right?” Sunday looked at me with bright affirmative eyes.
“Yes,” I said. This was the hardest ‘yes’ I had ever said in my life. I picked up the logbook which laid on the table. I opened it with a bit of doubt, sensing what might happen if I was faced with my looming fears.
I flipped the pages till I got to the page that had my handwriting. Nothing had been written in the logbook today. The last handwriting was mine. Or did it look like it? I read the contents of the handbag I had written with my own hands but lo, the wristwatch wasn’t listed.
This was incredulous. Sweat began to pour instantly down the sides of my head. But I wrote it down here last night. I saw the silver chain wristwatch with my two korokoro eyes. I wasn’t told. I felt it. I read the mysterious letters around the circumference of the inner lining of the watch. I was certain this was no dream, or a figment of my imagination.
I tried to speak, but my voice buffered, sputtering out saliva. I was dumbfounded. The wristwatch was missing. But more than that, the list written by me just a night ago had been edited.
How could that have happened? How had they done it, that my hand writing was copied? I opened my mouth again, but nothing came out, only air rushed in.
“Was a wristwatch listed?” Mr Sunday asked me.
It was listed. I listed it just last night, but it’s not here. I wrote it with my own hands. I looked up Mr. Sunday, then at Sally. “No. It’s not listed here.”
A light in Sally’s face went dim. It seemed my words hurt her just as it had somehow given her succor a few minutes ago.
“So, young lady,” Mr Sunday said as he returned the ID to Sally. “Sorry something is missing from the handbag. It must have been taken out before it was brought to us by a good Samaritan. Or let’s just say an evil Samaritan. So sorry.”
I watched Sally pick up the bag by the handle and dragged if off the table as she went out the small office.
I wanted to follow her, but this time I knew for the first time that something was wrong somewhere.
I wanted to tell her that I saw a watch. A silver chain watch with the word Angrandasu. I wanted to tell her that perhaps the watch meant more to me than to her. Or her grandmother. I wanted to accost Mr. Sunday, but I knew better. I had to think things through.
I thought to myself, if the dream I had a few days ago was real, as I knew it to be, then the present life I lived here was a nightmare. And I needed to wake up.