They will call Benji into the office and offer him his sack letter. They will be unapologetic about it. There will be no severance package, no pension scheme, no arrears to fall back to. He will feel the pain in his chest. He will be out of breath and will search for words, bitter with bile. His eyes will roam his slowly emptying office desk looking for answers. He will not find it. He will look at the time–it will be too early to go home. He will wander out of the office building, blink at the foreign sun, and walk down a few blocks to clear his head. He will find a seat in the park, near the fountain. He will watch pigeons pick at human leavings. He will wish for their freedom from care, sustaining on the charity of tourists and bird lovers. He will wish for their wings to fly back into the past twenty minutes and unsay some things that he had said. He will become focused on their journey–their quarrels, their songs, their startled flight when a body moves too close, too fast and too big to ignore.
The heat will reach him first, then the untenable breeze. He will hunger for sustenance. He will consider the damage it will cause if he followed his train of thought to the logical conclusion–he will cast his fear aside. He will find the music, follow its meandering path, its crescendos and diminuendos, the ringing falsettos, the obscure soprano opening the alleys to him. He will find his feet where he had always been heading to when he left the office. It is too early, he will think but he will loosen his tie. He will push open the door and from light, enter into the gloom of a morning just ending. The music will be loud there. They will be fewer patrons to greet, less questions to answer. He will find the loneliest table, at the back, near the toilet.
They will bring the bottle of beer and others will follow. He will tell himself that he is drowning his sorrows. He will know that his wife will hurt. He will not care. He will drink until lunch and then men will come in, dressed like him, dreaming as he used to dream, wanting and praying for the same things he used to want and pray for. They will order for cold bottles and food with arrogant voices. The constant sharp interruptions of phones pinging phones–Whatsapp chats, Facebook comments, twitter likes, Instagram follows– will fill the air. The men will gleam eerie green like ghosts in the gloom, their faces pressed to their phone screens. They will have finished lunch and settle into gossip before they will notice him.
Benji, they will say, how is work? They will pretend the news has not reached them. Benji will know the lie. Their circle is a small one and everybody gossips everybody. He will nod his head. He will hide from the pity in their eyes and close his ears to the innuendos they will make to the avalanche on its way to hit his home. They will leave in droves, heading back into the cold cubicles where they churn numbers, pick figures from the ceiling and make them into money for other people’s pockets. He will find the sudden silence comforting, the music stopped by distracted fingers. He will find the silence deafening and seek the traffic outside the bar. He will pay too much for his beer and the bartender will not give him his change because he is drunk.
The sun will be hotter now. The asphalt will be black and filled with mirages. Cars and buses will fly pass, hungry to get away and get to. He will walk along the pavement, his head between his shoulders, his hands lost in his pockets. He will try to think. His head will be full with too much alcohol for anything to matter. He will stop to make a call and he will find that he has no phone in his pocket. He will stagger back to the bar, find his phone on the floor beside his chair, feel the need to urinate and assuage the need in the toilet behind his former seat. He will see the fourteenth call from his wife and he will know that she knows that he has been fired. He will end her call, damning the consequences. He will consider the fact that his options have been whittled away by the nefarious lips of supposed friends. He will sit back on his seat, place his head between his hands and weep.
The bomb will explode, rattle windows and roofing sheets. Benji will rise from his stupor to see the gloom peopled by dust motes rising in protest from the unswept floor to the ceiling. In droves, they will rise seeking escape from the sudden trauma of the earth. Benji will rise to his feet, his eyes wild with curious fear, and he will see the bartender stagger from the back room, blood on the side of his face. The man will speak. Benji will only hear the eternal ringing of an unhooked phone. The bartender will point out through the window and there, on the other side, Benji will see the smoke blacking the sky. He will run out into the new night and the carcass of office blocks will fill his eyes with dust and tears. The skyscraper that stood tall in the new noon light some minutes ago, will stagger to its knees before him, bow its head, among steel pilings and fat rods, concrete blocks like heads of some colossus and shattered glass spread across like diamonds on the asphalt.
Benji will cover his mouth with his hands. He will see people running out of the dust and smoke like fingers sticking through a burnt casket, seeking for air. He will not recognise any of them. He will want to go into the battle before him, to save whatever remained then a scream, louder than an airplane letting loose a projectile will flee his lips. His wife will be around that place, at the mall where she works as a hairdresser. She will be within that debris, a body part, a blank stare at the sun. He will begin to run. He will hear his heart pound in tandem with his shoes on the pavement, a throb assisting the calls for help, the whimpering dying, the survivors shouting for friends and loved ones. He will run into the smoke and then he will stop.
Before him, the smoke will part, assisted by a sudden wind. He will see the crater where the building used to be. He will see deep into the wounds of the earth. He will care only for his lover. He will walk along the edge of the new canyon. He will call her name like a prayer, trembling each consonant, each vowel, each inflection. He will pray that she did not come, that she came and left, that she survived somehow. He will forget his sack letter. He will forget his fears for tomorrow. Soon he will be knee deep in concrete, seeking to save any life, hoping that as he fought for others, someone was fighting for him. He will save a mother and son, a bus driver and three passengers, a blind beggar and his bowl, a secretary and her boss still naked, caught in a tryst in their office toilet–he will not find his wife.
Benji will think of how he had prayed for the divine hand of providence to help him and how the universe works in mysterious ways. In one swoop, the cosmos had solved his problems–his bosses either dead or in a state beyond effective calculations of profit and loss margins; his wife is missing and even if she is found, there are bigger tragedies than his sack to occupy her mind. He will not be happy. He will not feel free. He will want to know. He will stagger back, after years of digging through the debris, after discovering how much strength still existed in his forty plus old body, and head back into the bar, to think, to reflect, maybe to eat something, maybe to drink some more. He will find the bartender face down on the ground, a big hole in the place where his brain should be and a strange man standing beside him with a shotgun in his hand. The stranger will point the gun at Benji and he will step back into the afternoon fleeing away from murder.
He will run for what feel like days. He will stop and begin to walk then he will begin to run again. He will weep as he runs, thinking that his wife is dead. He will find home, quiet, unassuming, unbothered by the cacophony of alarms ringing in the not so distant place. He will wander into his home to find his wife on her favourite chair, watching the television with scared eyes. He will hold her in with hands and tears, mumbling every good thing he has always forgotten to say. She will rub his head and murmur at him, pressing him to her bosom as his body shakes with the release of all the fear. He will tell her everything – the sack, the drink, the bomb, the dead body in the bar. She will listen.
She will take him to the bathroom. She will bathe him, then she will feed him as he talks on and on of suspicions, of calling people to check on them, of whom the stranger at the bar was and why he had killed the bartender. They will hear together like everybody else that it was not a terrorist attack. They will hear on the news that the bomb was set off by robbers, robbing a bank situated in the bombed building. The robbers did not know that the building also sheltered a construction company who despite rules stored some of their tools in the storage room at the back of their cafeteria. The storage wall on the side of the construction company was the bank vault on the side of the bank. Bodies are still being recovered, the news will insist to Benji and his wife.
That night, Benji will dream. He will dream of being chased by a man with a shotgun. Anytime the man shoots, a building will fall and his wife will pour water over his head. He will not sleep until morning. He will watch his wife breastfeed their baby and he will hear the knock on the door. He will go to the door to find policemen. They will drag him away in their van and at the station accuse him of murder. He will deny it. They will leave him in the cell until his wife will trace the policemen to the police station–find him there battered and tired. She will find a lawyer, someone cheap. He will come and demand for fundamental rights of his client. The police will tell him of the murder and the robbery– one billion naira was relocated from the vault.
The lawyer will lick his lips. It will be his first big case. He will have to win this. He will make all the legal sounding threats until the police will bring testaments from witnesses. In those damning documents, the lawyer will see that his client, Benji is not as innocent as he thought. He will realise that Benji was sacked because some plans designed by the architectural firm he used to work with had gone missing. Among those plans will be one for the building that was bombed. In the testament, will be witness accounts claiming to have seen him take those plans out of the office. It will also come to light that Benji and the bartender were seen talking several times in days before the bombing and it is a known fact that the dead man was a criminal, who helped criminals get rid of stolen items. Benji will deny all of these things. His lawyer will say a lot of lawyerly things.
Benji’s wife will visit him and she will look at him with curious eyes. Did you do this thing, she will ask. She will know that her husband lacked the guts to pull such a heist. The confidence of the police will make her question her judgment. Benji will be angry. He will deny it vehemently. He will weep and call on all the gods to come and see his innocence. Before she will leave him for the day, she will be called into the D.P.O’s office. In there, she will be told to be careful. She will be informed that there is a strong suspicion that her husband was a conman, a very good one and that she is being conned. She will deny it before them and after she has left them. At home though, when the lights are off and the noise of the night does not intrude on her thoughts, she will think about it again. She will wonder if she was not being naive. She will wonder into sleep.
The case will be dragged left and right for months but nothing will be made out of it. The commotion of the bomb will take the limelight from the robbery. The thieves will have taken advantage of the bombing and its after effects to disappear and there will be no evidence to hold Benji beyond the fact that he was in the bar when the bomb went off and he was the last person to see the bartender alive. Benji’s wife will be glad to see her husband back home after the drama. She will be thrilled when she hears of his heroic efforts to save people. She will know he did it because of her and it will give her a secret pleasure. She will look at him sometimes and wonder, if it is true what the policemen had told her. She will watch for any signs to show that he is pretending to be what he is not and she will find nothing.
Benji will find a job as an assistant to one of the men he saved, a wealthy industrialist. He will be in charge of the man’s day to day activities as well as financial transactions. Large amounts of transfers will enter the man’s account without his knowledge and disbursed without his knowledge. Benji will go home straight to his wife after work every day, no more bars, no more drinking. It will not be enough. She will wonder until she is old and grey. When Benji will be buried, after the diabetes will have killed him, she will rummage through his things. From day to day, she will, with her rheumatic hands, pick through Benji’s life, for things to discard and things to keep. It is there that she will find it, the evidence of things.
It will be in a shoe box, hidden among boxes of old papers. Inside the shoe box, she will find the plans detailing the process involved in setting up a bank robbery and the disposal of the stolen funds. She will find herself filled with elation, at discovering that her intuition was correct. She will marvel at the skill of her husband then she will wonder about the money. Benji will not spend money while he is alive. It will become the fire in her stomach. She will begin to hunt for clues to find where the money went. It will be the passion of her remaining years. She will dig deep into the man that was her husband and as the revelation begins to pile up, she will realise that she never really knew Benji. On her bed, about to exhale her last, the truth will come to her. Her children will be standing before her, educated and placed in well connected positions, her own family members living great lives all because of a certain trust fund that will be set up by an unknown family member to cater to their needs. She will have always thought that it was her uncle who lived in the abroad, who provided the money. Legends will have said that he was very rich. As her eyes will close to death, she will realise that it was Benji, it had always been Benji.
Her children, Benji’s children will say that she smiled before she passed on. They will say that her spirit is at peace and that she is in heaven. They will bury her near their father and return back to their lives. No one will remember what Benji had done, the people that died, the stranger with the shotgun, the sheer cruelty of that distant afternoon. In time, Benji and his wife will be deified. Stories will come of how he helped those affected by the bombing. He helped some get loans to start businesses, paid some through school, helped with burial costs, found jobs for those injured by the blast. Not one of them will ask how he was able to access people with funds and why he cared so much. It will be believed that his wealthy boss supported him and the innocent man will be canonised by everybody. By the time, the truth will out itself, long after, Benji’s grandchildren have turned businesses into international firms, it will be too late. Those who will have done something, those who were there, will be dead and forgotten. This, my friend, will be called philanthropy. This my friend is how history is written.