“Oh Jesus! What are we going to do?”
It was Berlin gasping. But I could barely hear her.
Bloody hell! I was running into the Police—the never-listen, sometimes trigger-happy Nigerian Police—with a dead body sitting right beside me—and his body tilted against mine.
I was so done for! Prison cell here I come!
“Should I turn and we make a run for it, Tec?”
I heard Leye. I heard him but I couldn’t respond. And simply because I couldn’t think.
The pitch of his voice rose and that snapped me of my delirium. “No. Don’t turn. We are close already and there’s a car behind us. They’ll get suspicious if we start turning now.”
“Isn’t it better they suspect us than they catch us with John Doe?” Leye was practically crawling now.
A snail would have walked faster. The car behind us tooted its horn, impatient to move on, no doubt.
“Keep driving, Leye.” I ordered, and struggled not to allow my voice quiver. “He’s our friend and he’s sick, took some drugs and is now sleeping.”
“You mean he’s not drunk and passed out anymore?” Berlin wailed. “Wasn’t that supposed to be our story?”
“Won’t work. There’s no smell of alcohol on him.” I inched closer and slipped my hand around John Doe’s neck. Letting his head drop on to my shoulder even as I pushed back my shudder. “Let’s all remember to keep calm and no one panic. If we are calm, they will suspect nothing.”
“I am already panicked.” Petey whimpered. “I told you we shouldn’t carry him out of the house. I told you we should call the Police and report this.”
“This is not the time for I-told-you-so, Petey.” I gritted through my teeth. “And get a hold of yourself. He’s our cousin and he is sick, doctor gave him some medication and now we are taking him home.”
“But he’s not our cousin and he is dead.” Petey whinged.
“What if they ask us to wake him up?” Berlin wailed again.
“You two just stop whining and let me handle this!” I snarled. “Leye, obey every one of their instructions. Ask no questions. Hope you have your papers with you?”
“Here in the glove compartment.” Leye slowed to a stop beside the three Police officers.
One of them walked around to his side of the car and flagged his hand.
Leye wound down the windscreen. “Evening, Officer.”
The Officer gave a superior nod and blared his torchlight in Leye’s face. “Where to this night?”
“Coming back from the hospital.” Leye replied.
There was a hint of trembling in his voice, but I didn’t think the Officer noticed.
“The hospital?” The torchlight switched its focus point, flickered on Berlin and then swept to the back and fixated on us—John Doe and me. “Who is the sick person?”
“This one sleeping.” My voice was as calm as still water. “Evening, officer.”
“Evening, madam.” The torchlight concentrated on me. “Why is he sleeping?”
“Because he’s sick.” I allowed a smile that was mostly genial. “Doctor had to give him some sedative because of his earlier restlessness and the much pain he was in.” I scrolled my hand up and down John Doe’s arm in soothing movements. “He’s our cousin actually. He is a sickle cell patient, Officer, and he’s having a crisis attack. A very bad one.”
“Uh-hmm.” The torch flickered again to John Doe. “He looks like he’s in a coma. Are you sure he’s sleeping or dead?”
“Dead?” I laughed loudly. Mostly to cover Berlin’s gasp up front. “And we are still here with him? Who get that kain liver?” I joked with another laugh. “Abeg, God forbid, Officer. His mother will kill us if we don’t dare bring him home alive. He’s her only son.”
“Uh-hmm. And him, is he sick too?” His torchlight travelled to Petey.
I angled my gaze. And bit back my cuss. Petey was wide-eyed and quivering like a leaf in wet winter. Idiot!
“He’s got cold. He’s weak-headed one and can’t bear the smallest pain.” I snorted and shook my head. “He’ll be fine once we are home and he’s had a hot cup of cocoa.”
“Uh-hmm.” The torchlight strolled from Petey to John Doe, slithered over their heads to the back and then journeyed back to me. “What’s in your boot?”
“Nothing, Officer.” Leye responded. And at once had the privilege of the torchlight beam focused on him. “Just my spare tyre, jack and some old foot-mats.”
“Uh-hmm.” Torchlight fleetingly swung to Berlin and then centred again on Leye. “Your papers?”
Leye opened the glove compartment and drew out a bunch of papers.
The officer took them and scanned through them, sounding off his ‘uh-hmm’ as he turned paper after paper. Finally, he dropped his hand and raised his eyes.
“Anything to help the boys keep warm on a cold night?” A wheedling smile drifted into his face.
“Why not, Officer?” With my left hand, I pulled out two bills from my back pocket. “What will our streets be like without you dedicated officers to keep it crime-free, eh?”
“Ah, madam is generous oh.” He took the bills I passed and beamed at the faces of Mai-Bornu and Isong. “Some people don’t appreciate the work the Police are doing. They think it’s easy to stand on the road and face hardened criminals every day.”
“Easy kè? With the type of criminals we have these days?” I scoffed and then beamed a smile of gratitude. “Officer, I’m one of those who are daily grateful to the Nigerian Police for their dedication oh. I’ve met some good officers and they have always been helpful to me.”
“Thank you, madam.” He beamed, proud and happy. “Go on. Get your cousin home. Let him rest.” He waved and stepped back from the car.
Leye gave him a salute before restarting the car.
“We can’t go on with this plan.” I said as soon as we were out of their range. “I suddenly have a bad feeling about this. We need a new plan.”
“And what will it be this time?” Leye asked.
“First, cut into the next street. We’ll head back home from there.” My mind was scurrying in all directions but I had no concrete thought yet. “Dumping John Doe somewhere is out of the question tonight. We’ll have to think out another method to get rid of him. A method that wouldn’t involve us tempting fate.”
“Nothing we will do that won’t be tempting fate now.” Berlin’s voice was quivery as she spoke. “That Police officer took a good look at all of us, including John Doe. If ever his picture makes it into the news, or a Police report is filed, he’s bound to remember seeing him with four people who claimed he was their cousin.”
“Then they will have us arrested and thrown in jail.” Petey finished.
I spared him a glance. He wasn’t shaking anymore but the fear in his eyes was distinct. “No one is going to jail, Petey. We didn’t kill him. We don’t know what killed him.”
“But we are the ones catering his body about town.” Berlin murmured. “We are the ones the Police just saw carrying him in a car and saying he is sleeping when in actually fact, he’s dead. We are the ones Tracy saw practically dragging him into same car.” She made a sound—like a sob. “We are in trouble, Tec. We are all in deep trouble.”
“No, we are not.” Leye firmly countered. “I’m not going to be imprisoned for a crime I didn’t commit. Never. We must sort this out, and quick too.”
“Oh good heavens! There’s Tracy still outside on her veranda.” Berlin muttered, tone dismayed. “Why is she still outside?”
“Still nosing.” I pushed open my door and got down from the car, letting John Doe fall sideways on the seat. “Let’s get him inside, Leye. Petey, get down.”
“You came back with your drunken lover?” Tracy asked from her veranda.
“Not your bloody business, Tracy.” I snarled.
We pulled John Doe inside between Leye and me. Set him back on the floor of Petey’s bedroom, ignoring Petey’s whines. Then we all returned into the living room.
“I think we should bury him, Tec.” Leye said. “That is the only solution.”
“And when he’s reported as a missing person, what happens then?” I asked.
Leye shrugged. “Not all missing persons report goes wide. Maybe that officer won’t see the report. Maybe Tracy will never hear of a report like that.”
“Maybe they will. Maybe they won’t. But I don’t want him on my yard.” My voice was determined. “I want him out of here, not permanently laid here, Leye.”
“But how do we get him out?” Leye demanded. “Where do we take him to?”
“That I don’t know yet.” I answered.
No one spoke again. Silence loomed. Berlin and Leye stayed huddled together on my couch. I stayed on the one-seater. My thoughts roamed far and wide. I needed a solution, a permanent, no-consequence solution.
“What?” I snapped out of my reverie and turned to Petey.
He was standing in between the open entrance into the living room.
“John Doe… he’s gone.” He repeated.
I saw the fear in his eyes. It was mirrored in Berlin’s eyes, and crept into Leye’s.
“What the hell are you talking about?” I sprang up and sprinted past him.
My heart was thudding at an alarming rate.