“Mum, I’m off.”
Martha looked up from her fashion magazine and eyed her twenty-two year old daughter from head to toe.
“I see,” Martha muttered. “And why are your arms exposed like that?” But Sharon raised a brow in surprise.
“The casting director wants us all in black tank tops and jeans – both guys and girls,” Sharon readily replied. She knew her mother all too well. “But I have my jacket for the road,” she added raising it to view.
“Good,” Martha remarked. “Because I can’t imagine what our neighbours might say,”
“Let them think or say what they like,” Sharon readily rebuffed flicking her brown hair. “I don’t need to explain myself to anybody. Not even if I choose to step out naked,”
“Not when you’re under my roof, you hear me?” Martha stated now sitting up on the sofa. “You already know my reservations concerning this modelling nonsense. I’ve already told you to get a real job and get serious with your life. At twenty-two years of age, some of your mates are already settled in their husbands’ homes.” At that, Sharon tightly gripped her bag as the blood rushed through her temple. This talk of marriage always got to her.
“Mummy, you keep talking like getting a husband is all that there is to life, and that getting one is just as easy as strolling down to the market to buy a couple of fresh tomatoes,” she said. “And believe it or not, my appointment this morning is concerning a high-paying job, no matter how uncool that might seem to you,”
“You call dressing naked a job?” Martha sniped with a scoff.
“Modelling is more than nakedness, Mummy,” Sharon affirmed. “And these your remarks will change once the big money starts rolling in. Just have a little faith in me, or is that too much to ask?”
“Spare me the details!” Martha was quick to retort. “God knows I didn’t put you through school with no help from your no-good father to start parading yourself for the highest bidder.” It was then Sharon let her jaw fall open in astonishment. “That’s what I get for giving you an education – to use the grammar I paid for back at me,”
“I don’t believe this,” Sharon muttered shaking her head. She was accustomed to her mother’s dramatics, but this was too much coming from Martha this Saturday morning. “I just came to tell you I was off, Mummy,”
“Nobody’s stopping you,” Martha replied with a scowl. “But hope you’ve washed up those plates and that pot in that sink. You know you can’t leave this house without doing those,”
“Long ago, Mummy,” Sharon answered.
“Good,” Martha said with a nod and then reclined. “Because I can’t have a daughter of marriageable age in my house and still be doing her chores for her.”
Sharon stared at her mother and then took a deep breath as she stood upright.
“I’ll just be on my way before I’m forced to say something I might have to apologize for later.” And then Sharon turned and strutted out of the living room with her mother quietly staring after her.
Looking unperturbed, Martha felt like biting her tongue again. She knew she had agitated her only child again with her acerbic words, and she never realized her deed until the words were already out of her mouth. But this time, Sharon had decided not to indulge her which meant one thing, Martha’s daughter was getting fed up.
All Martha desired was for her daughter to bring home a man. If only she would get this silly thought of a modelling career off her head. But Martha knew that was close to impossible for there was no stopping Sharon Uzoh when she had an idea in her head. She sighed loudly and went back to her magazine. But a part of her wished her daughter would come back with good news.
“She just doesn’t know when to stop,” Sharon vented into her phone as she strode down the large compound and towards the gate. A male voice was heard laughing on the other end, but Sharon held her frown. “It’s not funny, Austin. I promise you, the next time I hear word of this marriage again, I’ll shoot myself,”
“Aren’t you dramatic?” Her best friend asked from the other end with more laughs. “But she should let you breath though,”
“Thank you!” Sharon called now stepping out the gate. “She’s the one who always told me to pursue my passion, and that’s what I’m doing. She’s the one who always said I should never rush into marriage because it’s a “lifetime” project – in her own words! I’ve done everything she’s ever required of me, Austin. I went to school, concluded my Youth Service, but still nothing ever seems to be good enough. If I get a man today, I know she’ll still have an issue with either his tribe or his financial status… or something else. I know my mother well.” Austin was laughing again. “Marriage doesn’t guaranty happiness, my dear,”
“I understand you, Sharon,” he said. “You’re her only daughter. I guess she just wants all the best in the world for you,”
“I know what I want, Austin,” Sharon called back as she approached the road. “And all I want is to live a little, okay? I’d rather be single and content than to rush into a relationship just to prove something to the world,”
“Yeah,” Austin said. “Life’s too short to try and please everyone,”
“Thank you!” Sharon called raising a hand and some passers-by glanced at her direction but she could not be bothered. Then she looked towards the road. “You know what, Austin? Let’s talk later, okay? I’m about to get a cab or something,”
“Oh, okay. And I’m sending much positive energy for your casting,”
“You’re a gem,” Sharon smiled, and even Austin knew it without having to see her face. They knew each other that well. “And thanks for listening. Bye, love.” Then she put the phone in her bag and approached the road, looking out for the next available vehicle
Taofeek was not having any of this. Not today. Despite his dark complexion, his face visibly fumed red in frustration behind the steering wheel of his commercial bus.
“Why?” He called out at the police officer. “Why must I give you any money? Have I committed any crime? You’ve checked all my documents and they are valid. I have passed four checkpoints this morning already, and I’ve had to drop money for you people,”
“Ooh!” Police Officer Michael Ogudi nodded at the bus driver. “So, you want to claim right, abi?”
Most of the passengers began murmuring from behind as their patience began wearing thin, while the police officer faced ahead. “Officer Anu, don’t remove that barricade, you hear?” He called out to his colleague. “This driver wants to claim stubborn,”
“Oga Driver! Pay the man his money and let’s be going now!”
“I’m running late for my appointment!”
“It’s just common hundred Naira!”
“Common hundred Naira?” Taofeek instantly barked back turning. “How much do we drivers make in a day? I drive from morning till night and these people put all these checkpoints just to extort us for our hard-earned money. Enough is enough! I have done nothing wrong, so let me pass!” Taofeek was getting more frustrated by the minute.
“Oga Michael, dat one still dey blow grammar for there?” Officer Anu called, slightly amused. But Officer Michael was not. Then the second officer approached the vehicle now. He seemed younger than his colleague. “Oga Michael, maybe we should allow this one go. His wahala is too much,”
“NO!” Officer Michael barked with blazing eyes now. “If he doesn’t drop something, he will sleep here. Nobody must move that barricade unless I say so.”
More murmurs emanated from the impatient passengers now while Taofeek shook his head at the men in uniform.
“On what grounds, Officer?” He demanded. “Listen, don’t think I’m some illiterate driver you people think you can manipulate. I’m a graduate of Business Admin. And I wouldn’t be here if not for this country and its condition of no jobs,”
“Ah! No wonder!” Officer Anu muttered with a nod. There were two other police officers present as well, but they simply sat under the shade of a tree by the road sipping on their cans of beer.
Both Taofeek and Officer Michael’s eyes stayed locked in a glaring match now.
“So you think you’re better than us because you went to school,” the officer let out. “You think you’re stubborn! Park this bus over there! Let other cars pass. ” He pointed.
“What for?” Taofeek frowned raising a hand. “I know my rights and……..”
“I say park!” Officer Michael’s eyes bulged out and then he raised his weapon to the dread of the passengers and they began calling out in panic. “Don’t let me repeat myself!”
“Or what? You will shoot me?” Taofeek was not deterred as he stuck his head out in defiance. The frustration of being constantly extorted and harassed had hit its limit. He glared back into the officer’s eyes now. “Go ahead then. Shoot me!”
And with that, Taofeek stamped on the acceleration pedal and the bus sped forward to everyone’s horror. The passengers exploded in cries of panic now, but barricade or not, this driver was going through.
“STOP THERE!” The enraged Police Officer barked now. “I say stop!” Then he raised his heavy rifle and fired.
Mercy glanced at the passenger seat as she drove and then smiled to herself.
“You’re doing it again,” she mentioned. Seth looked away from the car window and faced her.
“What is it?” He asked.
“Wandering,” she replied. He was thirty-one and she, twenty-eight, and had been married for over a year now, and Mercy still sometimes found her man cryptic. But it was this same persona that drew her to him the more. “Where does your mind fly off to when you’re like that?” But Seth simply chuckled at his wife and sighed.
“I wasn’t thinking of anything,” he replied resting his head. “I’m just tired, that’s all,”
“They really wore you out from all those book seminars, didn’t they?” Mercy asked but he shrugged.
“Still, it was fun all the same,” Seth said. “I’ve never met such brilliant and ambitious students before. I had a chat with a couple of them and you should hear them talk passionately about their dreams and future plans. Such minds are what we really need to be nurtured, and to propel our society forward. They said my speech inspired them, Mercy, but the truth is they were the ones who actually made the impression on me,”
“Wow,” Mercy called as she drove on. “To think there was a time you hated public speaking,”
“What can I say?” Seth shrugged. “You never know how much you can accomplish until challenge yourself, and your weakness.” Mercy nodded in agreement. “And to think I have to prepare for a Writers’ Conference next month,”
“Well, until then, I’m going to spoil you for the next two weeks we have together,” Mercy called flashing him a grin. “I got us a bottle of wine and prepared your favourite Ofada rice this morning before coming to pick you at the airport.” She noticed his eyes flash open. “And after that, I have some Brazilian Citrus scented candles and a new Negligée waiting in the room,”
“Ooh!” Seth’s eyes flew wider and his wife flashed him a sultry smile this time. “You know, sometimes I forget my very own wife is an army Sergeant.” Then Mercy instantly threw her head back in laughter, and her husband joined in.
“I might be a soldier, Seth,” Mercy said before glancing at him. “But I’m still a woman, madly in love with her man.” Then Seth grinned, reaching and squeezing her hand.
“I love you too, Mercy.” Then they drove in silence. “I really wished I’d made it to your decoration though,”
“It’s fine, Seth. We’re both already much married to our careers as well,” she said and Seth nodded with a chuckle. “But not to worry, you have more than enough time to make it up.” She flashed him a grin and he reciprocated.
“Who would believe my own woman led a squadron that saved a village from some savage Fulani herdsmen?” There was such admiration in his eyes, but Mercy was laughing now.
“Honey, please!” She called blushing and then sighed. “You can’t even begin to imagine the rush one feels on the battlefield. People often think we don’t get scared too.” But Seth was not enjoying this talk anymore. A part of him strongly wished his wife would quit the army and lead a regular life, but he knew that was asking for too much. Not when her career had gained a step forward.
Then Mercy’s eyes flashed open. “Oh, look! Roasted plantain and groundnut! It’s been a while. I want some,”
“Me too,” Seth said and she pulled to a halt. A white bus was parked not too far ahead and they noticed the police checkpoint. Seth pulled down his window to call out to the roadside vendor – and that was when loud gun shot rang out!
“Get down!” Mercy called to her husband as her soldier instincts kicked in. She reached for him and they both instantly ducked. There were screams allover the street now, and then Mercy slowly raised her head. Another gunshot rang out and then she sighted the erratic police man bellowing at the bus and firing warning shots at all directions. Passers by fled in all directions and the passengers flew out of the bus in terror, and not just from the doors. “I don’t believe this!” Mercy called out.
“What’s going on out there?” Seth called, daring to raise his head. Another shot was heard.
“OH, MY GOD!” The piercing scream came now. “Somebody, help!” It came from across the road, and then they saw her on the ground by the roadside. Someone had been struck down by a bullet and some people were rushing towards her now.
The police officer appeared horrified now at the sudden mishap, and then they saw him fling his gun away and flee – towards the direction of their vehicle. The other officers scattered and ran as well.
His heart pounding hard, Officer Michael Ogudi tore off his uniform and flung it off as he ran off without looking back. He had accidentally shot an innocent person and the last thing he needed right now was to be identified on the spot. He knew he was done for if caught. Now clad in his white polo shirt, he dashed by the black SUV, and then the driver’s door suddenly flew open, and before Michael knew it, both his feet were swept off the ground with one kick, and he fell forward unto the road, and hard!
Turning on the ground, his eyes flew open in shock of getting tripped hard by a woman. Then Mike tried getting to his feet but she was swiftly atop him, pushing one knee against his back and he groaned. Mike struggled but she grabbed one of his arms and painfully twisted it behind his back, and he cried out in pain.
“Stay down!” She called down to him. “Seth, I need my phone, and the cuffs in the glove compartment!” Her husband hurriedly complied. “I need to call for backup at the Barracks.” Then Michael Ogudi gasped out and his eyes flew wide open at the mention of that, realizing the severe hot water he had landed in.
Now fully cuffed behind him, Mercy dragged him to his feet and shoved his face down against the hood of the vehicle. “You will answer for what you’ve done.” Some of the angry spectators began to cheer at the arrest of the trigger-happy police officer.
Seth had raced across the road towards where the crowd gathered, and upon pushing his way through, he gasped out at the gory sight before him. There was blood everywhere and the young light-skinned lady cried out in agony. The stray bullet had gone through and shattered her kneecap. The more helpers tried to move her, the louder she screamed out in pain.
“We can’t move her until the ambulance arrives!” A bespectacled man called.
“But she’s losing blood!” An elderly woman called back. Without hesitation, Seth pulled off his shirt and bent over, attempting to wrap up what was left of her leg, with the lower part hanging lose by the torn ligaments. He had to stop as much blood as he could.
“Please, call my mother!” The victim cried out in agony.
“We will!” Seth tried talking to her as he bound her leg with trembling hands. “But I need you to tell me your name,”
“Sharon!” She cried out in tears. “Sharon Uzoh! Please, call my mother!” Her bag lay nearby and someone picked it up. Then Seth knew he could wait for the ambulance no longer.
“We have to get her to a hospital now!” He called. “We can’t wait anymore or she’ll lose blood.”
“Where is my daughter?”
Both Mercy and Seth turned to see the frantic woman rush into the hospital reception and approach the nurse behind the counter. “Sharon Uzoh? She was rushed here this… “
“Mrs. Uzoh?” Mercy called as they approached her and She faced them. “My name is Mercy,”
“The soldier who called?” Martha asked and then she paused as her eyes befell the blood stains still on Seth’s white T-shirt. “My God!” She held her face. “Please, whose blood is that?” But both husband and wife exchanged stares. “Where is my daughter, please? What happened to her?”
“She was hit by a stray bullet,” Mercy painfully explained to the mother’s horror. “From a reckless police officer,”
“What??”Martha exclaimed. “Stray what? My daughter? How is that possible?”
“I assure you, madam, he’s been taking into custody and will face the full extent of…. “
“I want to see my daughter, Sharon,” Martha said shaking her head and then she frantically held Mercy by the hands. “Where is she?” Then she frowned at Seth’s bloodied form and he instantly seemed uneasy.
“She’s still in the emergency room,” he replied. “Maybe you should sit and wait for the doctor.” But Martha shook her head in objection.
“I don’t understand,” Martha muttered. “She was on her way to her modelling… thing this morning. How can this just happen?” The couple glanced at each other again. Then the surgeon stepped out with a nurse behind him.
“Doctor?” Mercy called and Martha immediately charged at him.
“My Sharon? Where is she?” But both Mercy and Seth already saw the answer in his eyes.
“We did all that we could, I’m sorry,” he gently said lowering his head. “But she’d lost a lot of blood when they wheeled her….” But Martha was already wailing before he could finish, and then slumped into Mercy’s arms and clung unto the soldier.
“No! No! That’s not true! It’s not true!”
“Thank you, doctor,” Seth said before they walked away and then turned to the two women. Mercy knelt beside the elderly woman now wailing out of control now. No doubt, this was the worst day of her life.
“They’ve taken my only baby away from me!” Martha cried out. “God! Why are you so wicked?”
Seth shook his head in empathy now as his gaze met Mercy‘s, and he also noticed the tear slip down his wife’s cheek.
“I’m sorry.” That was all Mercy could utter, but both she and her husband knew it would take much more than that to pacify this grieving mother.
TO BE CONTINUED.