He had many things on his mind. Too many that he could not even isolate and clarify even one of them. His mind swarm with them and his head ached with the bristling noise of it. He kept his eyes down; did not look at the scenery he was sweeping past with his steady, brisk-paced steps. And he did not speak to the very few people whom he streamed past on the near deserted street.
The sun had gone west on the evening sky, and was slowly sinking beneath it. Shadows of it remained, but not enough to cast light on the broken-tar street. He couldn’t tell the time, but he figured it was closer to seven pm than sixty-thirty at the moment. His stomach rumbled now.
Hunger. Then a mild thirst.
He hadn’t eaten since morning. Not if you don’t regard three packs of cabin biscuit as food—and he didn’t. He’d accompanied the three packs of biscuits with two water sachets, and then another two sachets in the afternoon. That was possibly a little over three hours ago. He was hungry, very hungry, and thirsty too. He had only a hundred naira note on him. That could get him a super-pack of indomie noodles and then two more packs of water.
The thought of another miserable dinner sent a sigh through his slightly-parted lips.
He hated the term. Hated even more the meaning of it. And he hated, beyond word and meaning, the taste of it. He’d lived with it the most part of his life. He’d been born into it, had grown up in it and now a full-fledged man two decades on earth, he still lived in it.
No education—not when he didn’t count the miserly years in a public primary school as getting one. No properly trained skill. He was a mason now. But he’d been a car mechanic once, a plumber at another time and even a welder for the briefest time. They weren’t skills he’d learned and they weren’t skills he was especially good at.
He’d gone out early and he’d gone through building sites. In one he’d found work, but they paid on a three-day basis not daily. He’d left the site. He needed money for the day. No other had taken him. Not many people seem to have work on sites these days. Could be the fall of oil price and alarming rise in foreign currencies.
Hard currencies. The thought of dollars, euros and the British pound sterling sent his mouth a-water. He didn’t need a formal education to know them. Didn’t need a formal training or acquired skill to dream and hunger for them. One piece of them meant three times the money he had in his faded and torn jeans trousers, he knew that. And knowing that, he hungered even more for them—any of them.
He saw it almost immediately. Saw it as soon as it went through the curb. He hadn’t been looking but he saw it. It lay inside a pothole provided by a broken and sunk tar. It lay on the red-mud earth uncovered and gleaming.
A coin. A gold coin.
His footsteps quickened and then stopped when they arrived at its place of abode. He crunched on his knees, but before he reached for it, he cast a glance about him. He wasn’t sure why he did so, but he did. And seeing no one around, he dug two fingers into the small hole and slid out the coin.
He felt the warmth on his fingertips before it slithered up into his palm. He stared at the coin cushioned on the centre of his palm. It was warm, the heat from it warmed his palm and the warmth seemed to spread through him. It was weird since the ground had not been hot, or warm at all. The sun had gone down and the atmosphere was cool.
But it was warm and felt a trifle heavy.
He heaved up to his feet. The coin flashed off a sparkle. He looked around to find what was igniting the sparkle. No light came from the houses flanking the near-dark street. He looked again at the coin. It shone bright. Maybe because it was gold. He didn’t need to be a goldsmith to know it was one. It was gold, pure gold and not just plated-over gold trimmings like those that abound in the market stalls.
Did someone drop it?
The thought struck and with the strike, a quick feeling of possessiveness. If they did, that was their bad luck then. It was his now. He’d found it and it belonged to him. The possessiveness came with conviction; with the surging pride of ownership. He cast another look around. Still no one in sight. Satisfied, he slipped the coin into his pocket and with his hand holding it secure, he started on his way, his steps brisker and swifter.
He responded without looking up to the greetings of his neighbours. He would have lingered but for the coin. He usually lingered to lament the injustice of poverty. It was the tradition of the face-me-I-face-you neighbourhood. You came back and you stayed outside to moan over the despairing events of the day. The usual blackout in the area of course lent purpose to these lingers.
But he did not linger. He swept past and walked down the narrow, dark corridor until he got to the last door and with his key, he unlocked, entered and relocked the door. Absently, he slipped out his key and pocketed it.
His heart was thumping. He felt oddly excited and the excitement came with an odd surge of power—energy. He didn’t feel the hunger anymore. Or the thirst. He felt instead the instantaneous satisfaction of one who’s made a new discovery. Who’s found a treasure.
He treaded his way to the rickety-legged table and flicked on the rechargeable lantern. The light came on but it was weak. He would take it for recharge if Papa Onome put on his I-better-pass-my-neighbour generator this evening.
He slipped out his hand from his pocket. Even in the dim light, the coin sparkled and flickered with brightness that dazzled and dazed. The heat seemed to pore from it now and they seemed to sear through his fingers. Yet there was no burn, no harm.
The word echoed in his head and his mind repeated it. His. The gold coin was his now. He’d found it and to him alone it must belong.
What will he do with it?
The question came after the self-possessive declaration.
“Keep it.” The words were a mutter as they came through his lips.
He would keep it. It was his, forever to remain his.
A key rattled and then the door pushed inside.
“Why lock it again when you know I’d be coming in soon?” Adamu asked, shuffling inside, yawning and muttering as he did so. “Any luck today? I’m almost dead on my feet with hunger. Did some weeding work for a woman who gave me one-five. We have to manage it.”
He gaped, startled by the entrance. He was about to slip it back in his pocket. That was what his instinct told him—hide it. It was as if he distinctly heard those words. But it sent off one of its sparkling flashes and caught Adamu’s eyes.
“What is that?” The quick interest was apparent. “Is that a gold coin? Alabi, where did you find it?”
He felt the singe of instant resentment. He didn’t want to share. Not the story behind it—not that there was much of a story. And not the possession of it. They were friends, brothers even, and they shared everything. They have always done so. But this, he didn’t want to share.
“It is mine.” The resentment doubled as Adamu came forward and he sent him a glare. “I found it and it is mine.”
“I didn’t say it wasn’t yours. But my God, it looks real, so real.” Adamu reached out a hand.
He slapped off the hand and fisted his hand over the coin. The heat of it seemed to intensify and burned through his fingers. “Don’t you dare touch it! Didn’t I just tell you it is mine?”
“What is wrong with you, Alabi?” Adamu eyed him with a mix of amusement and puzzlement. “Let me just see it and then I’ll give it back to you. It’s probably not even real gold this one you’re hoarding it.”
“It is gold!” His sharp tone was in defence of his new treasure. He won’t have it belittled and devalued. “I know gold when I see it and it is gold. I found it and it is mine.”
“This one you’re chanting ‘it is mine, it is mine’, did you hear me contest ownership with you?” Adamu let out a hiss and then made as if to turn, then swiftly grabbed his right hand and pinning it underneath his arm, started prying his fingers apart. “Let’s see the coin, my friend.”
“Keep away from my coin, Adamu!” The coin pulsed in his palm and his clenched his fingers even more around it. “Leave my hand, Adamu! The coin is mine. It belongs to me. I won’t show you. I won’t share with you. It is mine alone!”
The wild words poured from him, heated and furious.
“Mine alone indeed.” Adamu’s voice rang with laughter as he dodged a blow. “I must see this coin that’s making you crazy. And then I’m taking it straight to Aboki so he can value it and know what he can pay us for it.”
“No!” The denial sputtered out of his mouth with as much horror as he felt. “I am not selling it!” The thought alone was horrendous. “Leave me and get away from me!” He yanked his hand to free it.
But Adamu was bigger, stronger and he held his hand bound with both of his. The coin on his fisted palm was now pulsating. He felt like it was breathing, breathing fire—and fury. The intense, wild force seared through his fingers and burned rage and vile anger into him. He fisted his left hand and ploughed it into Adamu’s side. The need to defend what was his burned.
“Ouch!” Adamu groaned. “So, you want to fight for the coin, right?” He laughed. “Okay now.” And still cackling, he sent his elbow into him.
It was a weak jab. Which told him Adamu was just having fun since everyone knew he was a mean fighter and his blows could daze anyone. But knowing his friend and brother was fooling around, did nothing to the rage and blind fury that soldered through him. The coin was becoming heavier in his palm. The temptation to let it drop tugged. And the tug, unthinkable as it was, increased the mad fury and the heat, that was now smouldering fire, gave strength to that fury.
He pulled back his left hand, reigned in every strength and force inside of him into it and them ploughed it into Adamu’s ribs.
“Ouch!” It was a sharp cry now and Adamu instantly let go off his hand as he spun around to and slammed his own fists into his chest. “What is wrong with you? Why would you hit me like that?”
He staggered backward at the shove, and because the rage was still boiling in him, he used the intensifying force and shoved back. Adamu stumbled backward. His feet slipped. His hands flayed forward and then he went down, backward and his head touching the bare hard floor first.
There was a thumping sound. It was the sound of something hitting hard against a concrete surface. “Alabi.” His name came from Adamu’s lips even as his feet wriggled and his body started to jerk.
“Alabi!” the cry of horror was from Papa Onome.
He turned to find him at the door. Not just him. His wife, one of their sons—Ochuko, Ikenna the mechanic and then Doris. They were all staring at him with horror in their eyes. It was Doris who moved first. She ran to where Adamu was jerking like one having an epilepsy attack and crunched beside him.
“Hei! He is dying o. Adamu is dying!”
The coin slipped from his hand. He saw it slip through his boneless, weakened fingers and tumble to the floor. It seemed to dance in circles in the air before it landed. And the landing was without a sound, not even a hum. It just dropped to its side, then it winked at him—a single flash of sparkle—before it started to roll like a rolling wheel towards the door, and through it.
“You have killed your own brother.” The proclamation was from Ikenna and there was horror and astonishment in his eyes.
“The coin.” That was all he could say. All he could think as he stared at his friend and brother lying now in a pool of his own blood. The blood he had spilled.
Hunger and thirst have returned and with them, poignant fear and guilt.