The armed robbers climbed through the high fence of No. 50 Ziks Avenue and jumped inside its premises. Musa, a long-nosed Hausa gateman, wasn’t at the gate. He had travelled last week to cast his vote, Hausa chaps liked travelling on time during election periods. Only the Igbo’s in Hausa land stayed, slept, woke up, pitched high tents and often ended up killed. The compound was calm save for a dog on a leash barking, stretching its jaw wide. Scorpion, Jericho and Spider were the three able-bodied, but hungry youths from the slums who had gotten information that the owner of the house, Chief Izegbe, had made a huge withdrawal of countless Naira notes at the bank earlier the day, despite the scarcity of cash that had ridden the economy for two weeks.
Chief Izegbe, a man with a bushy moustache and scanty eyebrows, was one of the wealthy businessmen in Enugu metropolis. His wealth spoke for him. And he wasn’t one of those rich men who got their monies in an illegal manner. He toiled and hustled for his cash since his youth. His long years of importing electronic goods and countless consignments from China into the country were paying him off. In fact, his daughter, Mirabel, would always call him a business tycoon. Chief Izegbe had a distended stomach. He walked like one who was pregnant. His late wife, Rebeca had often teased him, when she was heavy with Mirabel’s pregnancy, saying that the nurses at the hospital might be confused on who was due for delivery between her and Chief. Because Chief’s large stomach could be compared to hers.
The armed robbers shuffled their feet to the entrance door, the crickets chirping as if they were in a nocturnal contest. Scorpion, tall and with the face of a horse, pulled his mask firm on his face. Jericho the one with slender fingers like toothpicks, tightened his hand gloves, stretching it so his fingers looked like chopsticks. Spider, short and tepid, was running around like a cockroach, surveying the crew, making sure their guns and every other thing were intact. The plan was to go in, extort the money from Chief and scram.
Boom! Boom!! The knock on the door sounded. Chief, who was sitting on the sofa in his agbada, flipping through the pages of his favourite newspapers: the daily sun, called on Chioma, the plump chef, who was in the kitchen preparing dinner. Soon, the dark-skinned chef showed up by the door. The eyes of the guns the robbers held gazing at her. Frightened, she shrieked, “Chim ooo.” She shouted, bending on the floor. Chief stood up, the guns pointed at him too.
“Shhhhhhh. Lie down!” Scorpion ordered.
Chief’s stomach was plastered on the floor as if he was sailing on cold water. Jericho stamped his foot on his back and he huffed.
“We come in peace. We no go hurt any of you if una comply. Wey the money?” Spider’s voice melted into Chief’s ears.
“Which money?” Chief said.
“You dey ask me which money? You want make I waste your life?” Jericho threatened.
“No, no,” Chief replied, shivering. “I’ll give you anything you want.”
“Oya na, tell us where the money dey make we begin dey go.” Jericho lit a cigarette, each of the crew came forward to light their sticks. Jericho takes a whiff before he continued. “You know say town don red like this. The boys need to feel all right. POS dey collect 3k charge to withdraw 10k. Filling stations dey sell half liter fuel for the money wey suppose buy full liter. Wetin boys wan do? Boys gatz survive, shey you understand. Abi no be so?”
Chioma was lying silent beside Chief. Jericho moved his leg on Chief’s body and Chief was roused. His brains seemed to have gone on an exile. “I say no be so?” Jericho repeated.
“Na so, na so.” Chief said without bating an eyelid.
A figure swished on the staircase. Spider was the first to notice.
“Who be dat?” Spider asked.
“Una get any other person with una for this house?” Scorpion asked, pointing his chopstick fingers at Chioma and Chief.
“Ye—ess, Yes.” Chioma replied in quivering lips.
“Who be that?!” Jericho’s voice rose. It didn’t sound twice before Mirabel came to the staircase, a piece of cloth tied around her face. It was her mother’s hair-tie, the one she wore the night she died during childbirth.
“I’m the one.” Mirabel glided down the staircase, her legs moving slowly like a cat.
“And who are you?” Spider asked, walking close to her.
Mirabel was a smart kid. In her results in school, her teachers would always comment that she was as shrewd as a serpent, yet as slow as a cat. She knew exactly how to meander her way through thick and thin, how to push and pull her way out during difficult situations. Mirabel had once left her class boy in an unfathomable maze. One morning, the boy had stolen her pen. Since stealing was a law against the school, the proprietor sounded a note of warning to everyone, more directly to the boy in Mirabel’s class, who Mirabel had somehow found out had stolen her pen. After the warning, the boy didn’t budge. He was being hideous about the pen. The proprietor granted a search warrant to all teachers if the thief did not deliver the pen after school.
The morning of the next day when the search was to commence, Mirabel endeavoured to come to class early. She sat bending her head on the desk, surveying the whole class through her eyes, waiting for her class members to arrive. The boy entered and saw the class was empty except for a class girl who was bending her head on the desk and, he thought she wasn’t watching, she could be dozing off or something. He stealthily withdrew Mirabel’s pen from his bag and stuck it inside a hole on the wall where everyone could see it. Mirabel, upon sensing his departure from the classroom, went and took the pen back inside the boy’s school bag.
When the search began, unluckily for the boy, Mirabel’s pen was found inside his bag. The bright-eyed boy was duly expelled for disobeying the school rules and regulations. And somewhere inside, Mirabel felt she had punished the boy for his negligence of the proprietor’s order.
Now, as Spider charged after Mirabel on the staircase, asking her who she was, Mirabel feigned blindness.
“I’m blind. I can’t see.” She said.
“You mean you no dey see me?” He waved a hand across her face.
“Of course, I can’t see you. If you’re blind do you see?” Mirabel’s words struck a humor chord inside Spider and he beamed behind his mask.
“Oya, help me climb down the staircase.”
“Small girl, you no dey fear? Na armed robbers dey there o.”
“You too, are you not afraid of a mysterious blind girl like me?” Mirabel asked, Spider placed a hand on his mouth to stifle a ball of laughter rolling inside him.
“Little girl, wetin be your name sef?” He asked.
Mirabel beamed. Her plans were right on track. She had not only succeeded in igniting the spirit of pity on one of the armed robbers, thereby shifting his focus, also she had alleviated his interest in knowing her. “You already know my name.” She replied.
“No, I no know am.” He insisted.
“You called my name now now.”
“Okay, remind me.”
After a short silence.
“My name na small girl.” She said.
The ball of laughter rolling inside Spider rolled out uncontrollably. He laughed now, tilting his neck to a corner, clenching his forehead.
“Na who be that Spider?” Jericho’s voice boomed.
“Boy this girl funny die, aswear!” Spider kept saying, laughing as he dragged the girl down the staircase. The crew watched as the girl groped beside Spider. When they descended the last staircase, Jericho’s voice rose in chides.
“Oboy, why you dey laugh like that for operation? You don forget where we dey so?”
“Why won’t he laugh? Do you want his teeth to smell?” Mirabel responded.
Scorpion had an outburst, including Spider. The air was no longer tense with Mirabel’s presence. Chief Izegbe and Chioma began to feel the cold tiled floor they were lying on soothing. The long laughter lasted a while before the horse-faced Jericho shouted, interrupting them.
“Guys, guys. Stop. No be wetin bring us come here una dey do so. Una don forget say hunger bin don dey hammer us for ghetto since two weeks now wey dey say make everybody go change their money to new naira. Una don forget how to soak garri don tire us? Now we don come hia, come dey fall for this small pikin pranks.”
“Who be small pikin for your side, Ogbeni?” Mirabel fumed.
Spider who was beginning to fall back to his goofy side owing to Jericho’s words, opened his eyes wide at Mirabel’s pidgin. “Small girl, so you sabi speak pidgin so?”
“I be small girl, but I no be small pikin.” Mirabel added, Spider laughed again. “See if no be this blind wey I blind so, I for find something hit that your big head with that toy gun wey you carry.”
Toy gun? How she take know say na toy gun we carry so? The robbers looked at each other in wonder, but they didn’t breathe a word of it. The girl’s random surmise could be true.
Spider stopped laughing, and in between his gaining composure, he said “I gbadu this girl abeg.”
Jericho took a whiff from his cigarette pipe. “See, Spider, no gbadu anybody ooo… Las las, na for your body e go enter if they catch us. We no get time again oo.” He took a quick glance at the wall clock, the time was 1:30am. “Oya, carry the girl go upstairs go bring the suitcase make we leave here.”
Spider yanked Mirabel’s arm after he took a last drag from a cigarette in his hands. He asked the Chief where the money was. Chief, shivering, confirmed the money was inside the suitcase in his wardrobe. Mirabel and Spider traipsed the staircase, conversing. On the last staircase, she paused.
“Open the door for me.”
“Wetin you mean?”
“You no be gentle man again? Open the door for your lady naa.”
“Who be lady? You? Small girl like you?”
“I’m not a small girl at all.” She motioned close to Spider, leaning forward to his face. “I can take you to paradise. Oops… I know you don’t know where paradise is. When was the last time you go church?”
“Who tell you say I no know paradise? I know, but e don tee when I go church last.”
“You know paradise? Oya tell me.”
Spider walked to the door and pushed open the door which squeaked on its hinges. As he waited beside the door for Mirabel to enter, he said, “Paradise na heaven.”
“Heaven, heaven. Yes. Paradise is heaven, and heaven is paradise where everything happens. My daddy’s room is paradise, right? Let us do something naa.” She bent by Spider’s trouser flap, licking her tongue.
“Wetin you think say you dey do sef?” He asked more amazed than aroused.
“I want to take you to heaven.” She beamed.
“No. Stop. You still be small girl.”
“Wait till we climb the ladder to heaven, you won’t care anymore. Besides, which rogue worries about that? Except the impotent one.”
“Na lie o. I dey strong kakaraa… for bed. I no just wan do.” He turned to the wardrobe. Ransacking through, he found a beige coloured briefcase. He nodded and opened the briefcase. Bundles of five naira notes greeted his eyes, he shouted, “What!!” The sound of his voice skipped the room, down the staircase, to the sitting room.
“What is it?” Mirabel asked.
He didn’t say a word to her. He dragged her down to the living room.
“Guys, we don waste our time for nothing. The notes na only five five naira full am.” Jericho and Scorpion took turns watching the folds of five naira notes, their face were sour.
“Chief, I think say you go bank go withdraw cash?” Jericho badgered.
“Yes,” Chief was shaking. He didn’t know what was to befall him.
“Then, wey the money come dey?”
“They said the maximum amount I could withdraw was five thousand, according to the authorities. And they could only pay me in five naira notes. I had no choice but to return with the money.” Chief pleaded, crying. Mirabel went and sat behind him.
Jericho, embittered, pulled off his mask. Spider was rotating the whole sitting room, menaced. Scorpion threw himself reserved on the sofa. The plan was in shambles. Mirabel beamed beneath her blindfold. The door handle twisted downwards. Three uniformed policemen opened the door.
“Place your hands where I can see them. I repeat, place your hands where I can see them. You are under arrest for armed robbery and you have the right to remain silent for anything you say will and can be used against you in the law court.”
Scorpion’s tiny fingers went on air. Jericho too, resorted to surrendering by raising his arms. Spider pushed his way to the dining room, pining for an escape route from the impending arrest. He was reaching for the kitchen door catch when a shot landed on his back. Mirabel knelt beside his body and wept bitterly.
An hour ago.
Miriam had heard their footsteps when they jumped in. The window curtain in her room was drawn closed. She peeped through and caught sight of their figures dotting the night. She picked her phone and dialed police emergency numbers.
Later on, she had hurriedly gone through the secret exit door leading to the backyard, to open the gate, so the help she sought would not be futile. Few minutes later, in a bid to save her father and the house-help, she had emerged on the staircase. Her face covered with a cloak of survival.