The police station is dirty, stuffy and heavy with the stink of sweat, human waste and deprivation. There are two policemen at the counter when Ike is brought in. They asked him to write a statement and then told him to take off all his valuables. Ike took out his phones, his card holder, and his gold plated Cartier pen and dropped them in the grimy bowl they offered him.
“You no wear watch?” the booking officer asked him.
Ike takes off his Patek Phillipe wristwatch, the one he bought for $2,000 dollars in Barcelona a few months ago and motions to his stupefied driver to come get it but the officer raises a hand to stop him. “You are now in the care of the state. When we discharge you we go return all ya personal effects.”
Ike drops the wristwatch with the sweat proof leather strap in the bowl with a sinking feeling that he would never see it again.
“Oya comot ya belt, we no want you to commit suicide inside cell. You sabi say all una aje butter no get liver,” the policeman said and laughed tickled by his gallows’ humour.
Booked and divested of his jacket and tie and with his shoes taken off, they ask him to go to the cell but as he squeezes past the space between the counter and the wall into the dark corridor with the heavy stink of sweat and the murmur of interminable voices, a policeman places a hand on his chest. Squinting to adjust to the lack of light, Ike sees it is the shorter policeman.
“Haba, you be oga. We can’t put you in the cell with common criminals. Come, you will stay behind the counter but you know that if I scratch your back, you will scratch my own.”
He leads Ike down a corridor to a hard, weather beaten bench shiny with grime. Ike flinches as he settles into it but is happy not to be in the cell. The corridor is dirty. There are packets of biscuits, empty bottles of soft drinks, and unwashed plates with leftover food. The windows are grime covered and the burglary proof bars are crocheted with spider webs.
This is not a five star hotel, Ike says to himself in a forced attempt at humour. He is not quite sure what to make of his present circumstances. An unexpected question and the tide had turned against him. As they arrested and cuffed him on suspicion of having a hand in the disappearance of Miss Flora Obodo, he had thought of the words he spoke to her that dusk at the bus stop:
“Hey, can I buy you a drink, please” and wished that he could take them back, open his mouth and swallow them whole. Unsay them and reverse the curse that was now leading his life far off track.
As they got in the car, he had asked them to let him put a call to his lawyer. Okon was the one who helped him sort out his deed of assignment and Governor’s Consent on the property he was developing.
“I am not a criminal lawyer,” Okon said as Ike’s desperate stream of words dried up. “But I will speak to a friend. Where are they taking you?”
Ike told him where and hung up. Then he called his wife and told her as little as he could. A girl he had given a ride weeks back was missing and the police had come to arrest him as part of their investigation.
“Blood of Jesus, arrest ke?” his wife screamed. “Let me call Pastor Andy. We will get back to you.”
As Ike sat there in that dingy space with the mosquitoes buzzing around him, he was suddenly overtaken by the enormity of his altered circumstances. He thought of his colleagues watching as the policemen led him out. Of his driver crying silently but powerfully the way only an old man bewildered by a sudden turn of events would.
He thought of what his church members would say and then the press, if they got wind of this. His company wasn’t well liked. The last contract they got had led to the demolition of houses as they built a new row of government approved town houses. The construction had created bad blood and reams of bad press. This would be cannon fodder. Then his thoughts turned to his job. HR would need to investigate and only God knew what would happen.
He sat there, his head in his hands and let the tears flow. One night. A few kisses and now what? He didn’t even sleep with her. He thought of the accommodation she had found and for which he had written her a cheque. Would it still be there or had the person gotten tired of holding on and not hearing from her given it out? He remembered the thoughts he had entertained on the drive home after he dropped her off.
How he would furnish the place, make sure it was super comfortable. He had planned to go there twice a week, on the days he went to the gym. He would drop by at the gym, say a few hellos then go over to her place sweat it out there.
All those plans looked useless now. All he wanted now was to be back in his office, poring over figures as he prepared the budget while the minutes ticked by until it was time for him to go home to his family.
“Mr. Iroche, your lawyer don come,” he heard someone say and he reached into his pocket for his silk handkerchief. It wasn’t there. He had dropped it too into the grimy bowl with the rest of his valuables.
He snuffled and wiped his tears with his sleeves.