“Maybe you need to sit down, Ma?”
I stare at the tall young policeman. He has two big tribal marks that run down his face like big black tears but his voice is gentle. I think he is new in this job.
I am sinking. The room is spinning around me. The policeman tries to calm me down, as I prostrate myself across the blackened tiles of the police station’s floor, hands on my head as I begin to rock back and forward silently like someone in mourning. People are staring at me but I do not care.
Later on when they seat me in a chair I let myself think of you.
You were such a beautiful baby. A contented child and intelligent student. Such a loving, obedient and God-fearing daughter.
Yesterday, I had dreams of becoming the proud mother of a Doctor and saturating myself in the glory of having given birth to a child of such supreme intelligence. Voices would lower in respect when I approached. That is Mama Doctor. People would mention their ailments to me at parties and I would tell them not to worry as you would diagnose what their problem was.
Today my dream died.
The accident on the Lagos – Ibadan expressway, had caused a terrible Go – slow. It stretched along like a road, in a multicoloured collection of different vehicles, for hours.
My fingers clench tightly around the clasp of my handbag until they ache. The pain does not help. The Policeman said that the car was unrecognisable. That you both had to be pulled out from it. “Madam, there was blood everywhere.”
The car was headed for Lagos, two suitcases in the boot. They show me your pink overnight bag and point to another much larger one. Smooth black leather with the initials T W. It is the kind of suitcase that a man would carry.
He has been taken to the hospital too.
Security men in black suits are around and they lead us to a room. They ask us questions we cannot answer. They are joined by another man. A big man whose large drooping belly, strains against a jacket, weighed down by medals and commendations. He keeps shaking his head at us, as if we know more than we are telling him. The security men leave and are replaced by a policeman.
“An important man has been shot and is fighting for his life. Your daughter is found lying besides him in the car. I find out that she recently purchased a jeep with his card. His bank book was found in her bag with a drivers licence.”
I stare at the superintendents heavy jowls. They are shaking now, along with his head as he pounds the desk. I am shaking too, with disbelief.
You don’t even know how to drive.
He turns to your father. “Mr Oni. I am sure you understand the seriousness of this matter. I need you to co-operate and tell me everything you know.”
Your father sighs. “We have brought our child up as a studious, hard working God fearing young lady. I am perplexed myself as to what has happened here. She came home a few weeks ago. He puts his head in his hands. “I don’t know. I just don’t understand.”
The Superintendent points upstairs. “My boss, the Oga pata pata at the top, and the secret service people want me to send you people to Alagbon CID, pending further enquiries. This is a matter of national security. What do you want me to tell him?”
Your father throws his hands up in defeat, showing his palms. “Our hands are clean. We know nothing. We are just ordinary folk.”
The Superintendent signals to his sergeant, a small man whose uniform is several sizes too big for him. “Sergeant Innocent! Go and bring the case.”
Sergeant Innocent whose duty is to uphold the law and treat all suspects fairly until proven, to be not so innocent, has already judged and sentenced you. I can see it in the twist of his lips as he scurries to his boss’s side like an obedient child.
“Yes Sah! Which case Sah?”
His boss seems to glow from within. His eyes bulge out of his head. “The case that your mother brought here! What kind of a question is that? The case of the suspect of course.”
“Sorry Sah.” Innocent bows himself out of the room. Silence swallows us up and as we wait I hear steps echoing on the hard concrete floor.
He comes back with your pink travelling bag, which he presents with a dramatic flourish and opens it slowly, like a magician with a box of wonders and tricks, ready to tempt the imagination.
“Open it.” The Superintendent is waiting, eyes on our faces as if they would reveal the information our mouths refuse to deliver.
Innocent opens the bag, and brings out a red bra covered in black lace and matching panties with most of the area that was supposed to cover a woman’s decency, missing. It was like a rat had chewed at it and any hope I have – that this is a nightmare – that will end, the minute I wake up, dies a quick and brutal death. I remember the story I learnt in my secondary school days about a woman called Pandora who against advice, opened a box that brought calamity upon the world.
Innocence runs his hands over the clean neatly folded skinny jeans, which I brought for you last time I travelled to New York. They linger over the silk of a short red dress.
The quiet in the room is deafening.