The first police van drove into the fueling station with sirens blaring and headlamps glaring. Two uniformed policemen jumped down from behind it before it came to a halt very close to one of the fuel pumps. Esther drove in at a more reasonable pace. She didn’t know why policemen loved creating unnecessary awareness. Now everyone would think she was one of those high ranking politicians in the country. But before she could properly navigate her way into the fueling station, the van behind her had overtaken her easily and efficiently. The driver made a funny and almost reckless semi circle, before coming to a halt very close to his colleague. Two more uniformed policemen jumped down from the latter van, guns drawn. Esther laughed out loud inside her car. The policemen had probably been seeing too many Nollywood movies. Maybe they thought she was trying to intimidate some persons like she had had to do in the past, on some very rare occasions. They would be so disappointed when they realised that all this pump was simply to pick up a tiny, uneducated kid. Esther was still laughing when she got down from her car.
Eki thanked the young lady attendant that had helped her dial the number she found on Madam Esther’s card. Then she sat on the white coated concrete slab which served as a pedestal for the fuel pump her new found friend attended. She watched as several motorists came and went. She got a bit drowsy.
Blaring sirens broke into Eki’s subconsciousness. Without thinking, she jumped up and ran. She didn’t know where she was going. She had run a few meters before realising she had no reason to run. She stopped in her tracks. These days she was always running; it had become such a powerful reflex necessitated by her survival instincts. Eki looked back and saw two police vans drive into the fueling station. Then she saw Madam Esther’s car. She suddenly felt weak. Unshed tears rolled down her cheeks as she made her way back to the pumps, the vans, and Madam Esther.
“Hello… Landlord!” The man heard rustling at the other end of the line.
“Yes? Who dey call me?”
“Na papa Ehiabhi. Abeg anybody come look for us?”
“Iyeeeee! Papa Ehiabhi?” The landlord exclaimed. “Why you come change your number na?”
“Landlord na long story o. Na business center I dey sef”, he lied.
“I believe you my pikin. Because the fine fine cars wey come find una today ehn? No be here ooo. People just sara for we compound ooo. Dem nor even let person wake fess before dem begin knock anyhow. Wait o… Wetin una do? Where all of una run go? I no understand the whole matter sef.”
Papa Ehiabhi took the phone away from his ear and eyed it for a second. He had only asked one question and the landlord kept talking as though it was his airtime that was burning out.
“Erm, landlord, nor vex. Dem call us just this morning say my wife mama don die. So we rush go village. And we nor fit leave the children na, since we never know whether we dey come back today. Ehn… na the matter be that.”
“Month go soon end o, my pikin. Make I nor wait for you for house rent sha. Erm, wait o. Shey your wife mama first die dat year na. How many mama she get?”
“Landlord, na her step mama first die. Nor worry, we go soon come back. We go explain.”
“Yes oh. Better do. Ehn… come oh my pikin. You sure say una nor dey trouble? because na two police motor and many other motor I dey see so o. Dey just dey enter na na… Hello? Hello?” The landlord removed his phone just in time to see ‘call ended’ on the screen. “Osanobua!”
Papa Ehiabhi cut the call and turned to his wife. “He said some people came to look for us earlier. Hmmm. In fact, right now, policemen are in our compound. What have you gotten me into? We will be here for a very long time.” He handed her her phone.
Inibokun didn’t need to respond. She and her husband were under the mango tree in front of her father’s old house. It was as though her world had caved in. She had no idea who to call. Just then, the irritating sound of her Dad’s dry cough carried across to her ears.
Esther led her team through the apartment. There were two bedrooms and a sitting room in all. The sitting room had sparse furniture, though it was tidy. One of the bedrooms had a large bed, probably the master bedroom. The other room was smaller, with a children’s bed at the middle. Both rooms were untidy; as though someone had scattered the place without the time to arrange it afterwards. Esther had earlier secured a search warrant from the Police station before heading out towards Santana market, where Eki and her aunt lived. She had wanted to thoroughly inspect the place. Getting the apartment key was the easiest part. The landlord had been waiting with it as though he knew his tenants’ apartment would be searched. He kept smiling, like someone expecting reward for being so cooperative. Esther went into the store room which had been Eki’s.
“Na here you dey sleep?”
For this place without light and windows?”
Esther sighed deeply. How could someone treat her niece in this manner? “Where your bed?”
“I no get bed ma. Na ground I dey sleep.”
“Since I fit remember ma.”
Esther had tears in her eyes again. Eki had told her more about herself in the car as they made their way here. She got to know that the child knew of no other relations apart from her Aunt and her Aunt’s family. They had never travelled with her to the village since after the funeral of her parents. She didn’t know her Dad’s people at all. No one had ever spoken of them to her. Not even her Aunt. The most shocking thing was that Eki could read and write. She could even speak good English. So she said. But she had been in the streets for almost three years now, and her life with her real parents had quickly given way to the street life. The trauma of the loss of her parents, coupled with the separation from those she knew and loved had scarred her mind. Her psyche was completely shattered. Esther sighed again. She stared blankly into space as her team continued taking pictures and shooting videos of whatever they would need to develop into their campaign documentaries later on.
“You go like come live with me?” Esther asked after a long pause.
“Ma?” Eki hadn’t heard her.
“I say whether you go like come stay my house. Even if na only for some time?”
Eki couldn’t stand anymore. Suddenly all she could see were the dead faces of her parents. She knelt down and broke into nerve wracking sobs, as she held on to the one person that mattered to her at that moment.
To be continued…
God bless you greatly.