The sound of people cheering wasn’t in congruence with my state of mind. Fear, more like terror tore through the fibre of my being. The string I held on to, although it was some sort of lifeline, tossed me to and fro two gnawing endless depths: one blazing with flames, more like a furnace made of hot coals; the other, a pitch black abyss that personified nothingness. I was between the devil and the deep blue sea.
I clung on to the string, which was getting hotter by the minutes. It seemed it feed on my fears. Now my skin was beginning to pull off its sinew and glide down the thick rod. I held on because it was better than to be swung into either side. The oohs and the aahs from the crowd made me feel mad, it was like I was in some sort of Hunger Games, only that this wasn’t a movie.
Tried as I may, I couldn’t remember any face even though all of them seemed to be familiar. The mocking sound they screamed meant that I was done for, even if I refused to belong to either side, doom was the only thing that was certain to descend this place.
Suddenly, I heard the clanging sound of a bell. It resonated through the stem of the string. Another oscillation between the two awful ends made me realize where I actually was. I clung to the swing of a giant pendulum clock, as the hour finger struck a certain hour. Before I could brace up for another clang, it came hard on me like a hammer descended on my head. I shook vehemently, and almost released my grip on the string. The laughter this time was deafening. I looked to my side and realized there were a thousand more people watching me from the stands. All of them I was sure I had seen before. I could even remember where I encountered them in my twenty seven years of existing, but the memory only lasted for a few seconds like some kind of amnesia camouflaged the frontal lobe of my brain.
The clang sounded again, and the vibration almost shook me off the stem of the string that held the giant metal bulb. I held on only by the strength of a finger, and was finally ripped of all hope by the time the next clang made its way through the oscillatory rounds of hitting the top of the hour.
I fell off my anchor and a terrible scream of hopelessness broke the chords of my vocal cavity. I must have been dead before I hit the bottom. By the mere fact that my scream was swarmed by the cheers from the crowd, I lost all hope of being saved.
It was then I was hoisted up from a pit. It was sudden. And painful. I jerked up from the dream with more than a trhousand Joules of energy surging through my head. It was like a shock therapy to the head. I was drenched in my sweat, with my heart doing a double with half the usual time. I must have screamed right out of my dreams, and perhaps a neighbour would have heard me.
I sat up in bed trying to catch my breath before I tried to make sense of what I just experienced. I recalled the dream again, remembering how I sat on the pendulum bob, screaming for help. Then the two extreme ends it swung to. I also recalled the number of times the clang sounded. Now I was not so sure. Was it three? Was it two? Did it matter?
I climbed off my bed, sat on my rickety chair and tried to balance my weight on it. It screeched at the hinges a bit too loudly. I checked the time on my phone. It was five minutes past two in the morning.
I tried recalling the activities of the past day. It had been well highlighted with the event of meeting Sally, and all hope was once again lost with the loss of the watch that bore the strange words. Although it had been a while I thought about the entire sentence, I realized I still remembered the mysterious words, even though I still didn’t know what they meant.
What if simply put them up on Google Translate on my phone? There was a possibility that I was going to find something. How come I never thought of this? How come? Until now. I should have picked up my phone right there and then, instead, I made a mental note of doing that later in the day.
I felt sleepy, more like drugged, but I knew I had to ponder for a bit what could be wrong. Something isn’t right. Something is conspicuously missing.
I would have had no reasons to suspect Mr. Sunday, but that stunt he pulled at the office was well crafted. I hadn’t gone back to ask him what really happened with the watch, because I believed he must have been involved with its obvious disappearance, I just decided to ponder things a little bit. The most painful part was watching helplessly as Sally walked sadly away after she was told her grandma’s watch wasn’t part of what was retrieved when the bag had been found.
She must have seen something in my eyes. Perhaps the truth. The lies. She must have also seen betrayal. Perhaps all this was a test. A test I now realized I failed. I wished I had got her number, or some form of contact, but I knew nothing about her save for her name. SALLY. I enunciated each syllable of her name as the image of her laughing face and the tone of her voice pitched through my senses. The last thing I thought of her was the sad smile she gave me before she turned to leave.
I made a resolve to find out a little more about Mr. Sunday. There could be more than meets the eye about him, and Andrew might just be the person to ask.
I was as early as dawn to the park, with zero mood for casual talk as the security men who were about rounding off their night shift greeted me with some expectation. They probably would die if they didn’t find someone to buy them their sachets of synthetic juniper berries before the sun rose. The lady who sold them the hot drink had a face as straight as a light beam.
I squeezed a fifty naira note into the hand of man closest to me. He had hailed me with more than ten different names and titles within six seconds. I must be gone into the park before he straightened out the note and realize how much I had given him. It was just a twenty minutes past six in the morning went I checked in. It was my earliest so far, and anger was my morning motivation. Or was it the nightmare I had?
I sat right on the concrete slab Sally and I had spent our passing few minutes yesterday. It was hard for me to even mention her name. Dressed in my uniform and ready for another day, I wished I could have another chance to make a different decision. But such was life. We live with our choices and actions. Sometimes we have another chance do good, but it hardly ever happened again with the same person.
I had at least an hour more to myself before any of my colleagues resumed for today. So I decided to take a stroll through the park. I walked towards the garden, tiptoeing past the litters on the lawn, tempted to kick an empty can or two. I remember my footballing days as a teenager.
There was more than the regular handful of stone sculptures on the sides of the lawn. A few had their brief histories inscribed on them, but I was in no mood to strain my eyes to read. Just wanted to feel the morning breeze.
I scanned the area out of curiosity. The cleaners were just beginning to do their job. I spotted two of them on the far side, towards the main stage of the park, and thought of the work they would have to do.
I remember the first and only time I had visited this park as a fun seeker. That was about three years ago, when the park hosted Taruwa on one of its anniversaries. I could still picture the artistes who came up to perform. That very heavily endowed lady was the MC. What was her name again? Very loquacious somebody she was. I could even recall a few of her comments that evening …
…You come here and be forming chic, because you think you are busty. Oya na, if you think you busty reach me, come front make I see you. See them, them no get liver. Anyway I’m just kidding, so don’t be threatened. Wetin them they take boobs do sef. It’s overrated. Or isn’t it? It’s too much weight to be carrying about. Sometimes, I wished I could just leave them at home, and feel free. God bless you if you understand what I am talking about…
Just as I had laughed that day along with everyone, I found myself giggle now. My best performer that night was Miss Wanna who managed her felinity on stage quite well, in spite of her plus size figure.
Little wonder that only a few years from then I was going to be working here. As a guard. A clock guard. I thought of what part of the park I would be transferred to as soon as this clock exhibition was over. I had a slight feeling I was going to be sent to the gate house. But I was rest assured I would still have a job because the park had security of its own and didn’t outsource the services like it was now prevalent of companies.
I now walked over a concrete path overlooking the patio of photo gallery. The tall trimmed garden that tailored through the length of the path made me stretch just a little to enjoy the view from this end. Just then, I heard voices coming towards me from the curved path. I was just in the early mood to listen if it was familiar. It sounded a little bit foreign. Would the park be opened to tourist even before seven in the morning? I decided to take the turning to my immediate left, away from the path. I couldn’t tell why, I just did it.
Behind the shade of tall greens was where I focused by attention from. I strained my ear to listen to the voice. The closer it came, the more clearly I realized it was a conversation. And a hushed one for that matter. Even as the footsteps came closer I wished I could see who they were. Why didn’t I just come out of hiding and approach them? Was I not a guard?
I stayed rooted to the soft loamy soil under me, not moving my sole one bit. I think it was just mere instinct that made me do what I did, because I still couldn’t find a rationale behind a guard hiding from view.
As the footsteps faded away with the distance, I came out from behind the gardens and followed in the direction. Just before I got to the open, I peeped from behind the garden and saw two men walking down towards the other end of the park. One was familiar, the other wasn’t. I looked closer and saw that it was Mr. Sunday with another man who walked side by side.
Mr. Sunday seemed to be explaining something to the other man, who wasn’t so interested with what he was hearing. They stopped abruptly, and I ducked back behind the green leaves. I thought for a second who it was Mr. Sunday was with. I couldn’t make the face yet, because it backed me. Wasn’t it too early to find my manager in the park?
I made another attempt to peep, wishing my eyes were on the tip of my hair, and not below my forehead. This time the man was standing facing my way, while Mr. Sunday was backing me with arms at his back. I couldn’t make out their conversation, but it sounded like Mr. Sunday was being tongue lashed.
“Do whatever you need to.” Was that what I just heard the other man say to Sunday? I prayed the early morning wind favoured me now. I pressed my ear to the ground.
“It’s okay sir, I will keep an eye on him.” That, I was certain I heard Sunday say. I looked at the other man again. He wore thin rimmed egg-shaped glasses which was half the size of his face. As he stood, he kept moving his left knee like it was held together by a metal clip. Who was he? The MD? The Overseer? What does one even call these people?
There was much I was yet to know about how things ran here, and who called the shot. From what I just saw, Mr. Sunday was a boyboy to this man, but I didn’t cancel the possibility that the man was only doing his job as well. Someone else must be dictating the tune in this park, and that person was hardly seen early in the morning, looking half asleep, with five o’ clock shadow creeping horrendously up his face.
The man suddenly looked up towards me. I ducked my head into the garden and hoped I was swift enough before he marked my face. I hated myself for doing this nonsense. What if this implicated me? The man and Mr. Sunday had stopped talking at that moment, and perhaps waited to see what move I made next. I silently walked away from where I was and reached quickly into the next building. Three minutes later I was back in front of the park gate, nervously feigning a good morning smile at workers who just arrived.
I guess I was the only guard who didn’t get the memo about today’s activity. All of my colleagues made it to work quite early that day. Thanks to the nightmare I had, I probably wouldn’t have woken up that early. I was literally saved by the bell.
Before I could grasp what the whole punctuality was about, I had began to see different TV crews assemble with their gadget outside the clock gallery.
The usual morning drill headed by Andrew was replaced by a meeting in front Mr. Sunday’s office. Old Rhoda shushed into my eyes about the day’s event just before Mr. Sunday started to speak. My eyes dramatically popped open. Today was supposed to be the Special day. What special day? I asked myself.
Mr. Sunday stood one light of stair higher than the ground floor, so he was able to scan through the little cluster of security operatives from all the sections of the park. His face didn’t settle on me as I expected him to. He began speaking without any good morning courtesy.
“This is very impromptu. We were hoping this would come later next week, but it’s here and there is nothing we can do.” With puzzled look we exchanged glances with one another, and waited for him to break the ice. Apparently, I wasn’t the only person here who didn’t know why we were gathered.
“The governor will be here this morning on a courtesy visit. Cliff Adegoke has proven to be more than a horologist. He has been able to pull a few strings in the corridors of power, and now His Excellence, would be visiting us today. That’s the first part.” Mr. Sunday was too unpredictable, and I admired that quality, even though lately, I had every reason to hate him. Since the last occasion we had about the missing time piece, we haven’t seen one on one. No, I didn’t feel he was avoiding me; I was too unimportant and too negligible to cause any problem in his life. So he felt, and I knew it.
“After the tour this morning, His Excellency would be back again in the evening for the auction party. You all can envisage what that means. Never had it been that a governor would visit us for more than an hour; we would be hosting him twice in one day. I can tell you that most of our lives here wouldn’t remain the same.” Mr. Sunday’s smile was as wide as his lips would allow him, and he sure got the feedback he expected.
“As against the initial plans, a few of the artifacts here would be opened for sale to the highest bidder.” He paused to let the information sink in.
“So you see, there is work today. All the work you think you have been doing these few days is just rehearsals.” There were a few side comments gathering volume. “I didn’t ask for your comments.” We immediately stopped the rumbling.
“So security operatives from the Nigeria Police and military would be around. A hundred percent cooperation is what they require from us. Andrew and Apkan would brief you further on what we have on ground.” He paused before he took his final words. “So after this, pick up your phones and call your family, if you’ve got one. Tell them you won’t be coming home tonight.”
He walked off the stairs, and the noise went up before Andrew and Apkan took over the process. I let my mind drift on its own, not minding to pay it any attention. I was trying to remember something. There was an existing puzzle my mind I was trying to fix. Something wasn’t really making sense here. Or was it that things were beginning to make sense? It was like the puzzle was complete, but my vision just went blurred. Tried as I may, it still couldn’t figure it out.
I felt maybe I was trying to help my mind think. I was interfering with my subconscious. So l let go and tried listening to what my chipped-lip supervisor was trying to say. He seemed to be applying too much strength on his wind pipe. His veins were pronounced and thick, although I didn’t see the need for this. He obviously didn’t take a cue from Mr. Sunday’s tiny but commanding voice.
After forty five minutes of unnecessary morning drill, I returned to the clock gallery, which was now opened, and undergoing some rearrangement. I held my breath at the site before me. For the first time I realized I hadn’t taken note of one of the walls on which the clocks were hung. Now it dawned on me what Andrew meant when he told me inside inside, just yesterday. This wall was moveable, and I could see a little inner cellar.
My primary station for the entire day was just outside of the gallery. When Andrew first told me I wouldn’t be posted inside the gallery today, I thought of the heat from the sun that would burn all day on my back. Now I was taking in the site of the gallery and the cool air conditioning, and saying to myself, this isn’t fair. Why me? Why not ND, or Old Rhoda… No Old Rhoda would die under the sun.
I walked on into the inner gallery, digging my rubber sole on the marble floor, feeling quite familiar with things around. I was the kid in the block; I knew the alley and the dark corners. I knew the secret escape routes and the dead end zones, but like I said I was just a kid, and the powers that be didn’t seem I was right for this job. I would be good outside the gallery. So they thought.
I kept walking casually, inspecting the changes done in the little time. I even assisted one of the guys pushing a scaffold. I asked for his name, just to make a little impression.
The alarms and the sensory lines on the floor wouldn’t matter today, as there was now installed a glass shield that would keep reaching hands off the time pieces.
I walked all the way to the far side where the walls already had some clocks newly arranged. I looked around. In fact, everything was almost set. Oh, I wish I was assigned here. Instead of a frown on my face, I had a sheepish smile- I was sure the assigning was Mr. Sunday’s handiwork.
For the first time since my first time here with Mr. Sunday, I allowed myself look at the time pieces with the eyes of a visitor. Truly, it was breathtaking. How could one person collect all of these enigmatic and exotic pieces? It contained both medieval and advanced time pieces.
I remembered my first encounter with Sally. It was right there, just yesterday. She was asking me to help her choose between one of those clooorrr …
Wait a minute. Did she not mention that she was going to buy either of the clocks? Wasn’t that why she was… Her granny was going to buy a clock. That was why she had come to the gallery, to choose for her granny who…
Where were the clocks? My pace increased just a bit while I scanned through the clog of ticking devices. The drowning effect wasn’t really …
So she knew. She knew all along that these time pieces would be sold? She had said so, but I thought I knew better. Apparently, this wasn’t a spore of the moment decision to sell or auction the time pieces, as they had made us believe. This was planned. Of course, who wouldn’t plan this kind of event properly? There has to be a monetary purpose to these. Now, it all made sense. It did: A few weeks of showcasing, and then an auction party, hosting the number one man in the city. Perfect business sense.
I walked a few steps towards another glass shelve to observe another set. These ones were smaller clocks and a few neck watches made with medieval stones and metals. I wished I could hold them and feel the rare gemstones they were made of. I just stared in awe.
As I did, I realized a watch stood out familiar. I looked closer, and lo, I recognized it. It may have been sprayed and polished, but I recognized it. This was Sally’s granny’s watch. My fingers clawed on the thick glass but it just slid down with no effect on the content it protected. I wanted to scream, but I couldn’t find my voice. I hit on the glass, made a dull thud with my fist, but it was all I could do.
I could read the words written inside the watch but that was all I could do. I couldn’t reach it and pull it out. For the first time, I didn’t think about my need to take the clock for myself. I didn’t think about my future. I recalled the sad smile on Sally’s face the last time. And all I wanted to do now was change it.