By Bar. Kenneth Ikonne

An intense fight immediately broke out between me and Chike, my cousin who was visiting from Aba. All through the forty – five minutes or so that the robbers tormented me and aggressively ransacked my room, he had remained on the bed, sleeping! But immediately the robbers ordered me to “go under the bed”, as they were about to leave, Chike sprang out of the bed, and was attempting to make for the inner recesses of the under – bed, to then leave the vulnerable outer space for me. Lying there, I was going to serve as a buffer for him, in case the robbers decided to spray the under – bed with bullets as they exited!

That was not going to happen in my own room. I read him instantly, and stopped him with a timely tackle. He tripped and fell. I then made straight for the very space he was eyeing. He bent under and dragged me out by my leg. “Is this your house?” I yelled at him. “Did you buy any bed for me?” A full blown fight ensued between us, watched by the robbers who were now guffawing at the spectacle.

Involuntarily, we enacted a modus vivendi, both of us going under the bed head first, instead of sideways, with the soles of our four feet jutting out – and straining to receive the bullets!

Immediately after secondary school, my uncle who was a Director at Golden Guinea Breweries Limited, Umuahia, had offered me a job as a clerk. I was posted to the Purchasing and Clearing Department as a Purchasing Clerk. When I first arrived Umuahia from Aba, I lived in the boys quarters of his corporate mansion, in the Government Reservation Area, on Michael Okpara Avenue.

But I was soon to discover that my department was a goldmine. My supervisor and I travelled to Aba one day to make purchases for the company; we travelled in the department’s pick – up truck, driven by the department’s driver. At the end of the shopping, before leaving Aba for Umuahia, money was shared, and I was given N500, and admonished to keep shut. This was late 1982, and N500 was a staggering amount in those days, especially for a lad just out of high school, and whose monthly salary was just N200. Subsequent shopping sorties, and our now frequent trips to the Onne wharf in Portharcourt to clear the brewery’s imports yielded me more such funds.

I soon found myself a girlfriend. But smuggling her into my room in my uncle’s mansion proved a tough call. I would first have the guards to contend with, and then madam, my uncle’s wife, whose darting eyes were nimble enough to spot a needle in a haystack.

The solution was to find myself my own accommodation – away from my uncle. And I found one in Afaraukwu village, right behind the Brewery fence. It was a one – room suite, with a kitchenette and toilet facilities. It was situated in the servants’ quarters of an uninhabited luxury bungalow. In the course of the following one month, I set about “furnishing” the room, as we made purchasing trips, and money kept coming in. I had now even grown myself some chutzpah, and had even begun questioning the supervisor on why I had to be given only N500 out of our usually large kills. So my share began to increase, hitting N2,000 at a point. I was therefore able to afford the latest three – piece Kenwood turntable, a tv set and a video set, amongst other jet set accessories of that era. All these were unknown to my uncle.

So, when the time came for me to leave my uncle’s house, his protective instincts kicked in. He hated the idea, and wondered how I was going to find enough money to fend for myself. He reminded me that a generation earlier, before i was born, while my father had served as a tutor at the Christ the King College, Onitsha, he had lived with my father while he, my uncle, schooled, and had had no cause to leave my father’s house – until the time came for him to travel to England for further studies. “Have we wronged you in anyway, Chiboy?”, he asked me. Ofcourse they hadn’t, but there was simply no way a “big boy” like me was going to continue to live the life of a pampered hermit, unable to express myself in a way that reflected my “status.”

Nevertheless, my uncle gave me his blessings, and even some money, and reminded me that the job he gave me was a stop gap measure, and that he expected me to sort out my JAMB quickly and go to university. But a wry smile was playing on madam’s lips as the husband spoke. “Chike”, she began, “I see that these days you are always wearing expensive perfumes and shoes, and always coming late from work. You got yourself a house because you want freedom!” I wasn’t even listening to her. My whole thoughts were on Edith, and her enchanting comeliness!

My days in Afaraukwu were lovely days. I had learnt fast, and matured on the job, and was even now being sent alone by my manager to make bulk purchases in Aba, Portharcourt, Enugu, and Onitsha. Twice or thrice, I had even gone as far afield as Lagos. Inevitably, young friends, who had heard about my new status, started visiting me, and staying over, sometimes for weeks. One of such visitors was Chukwuma, my former classmate and Vice Principal’s son! I always feted them sumptuously, especially at Edith’s mummy’s eatery and pub.

My preferred mode of payment after each splurge, especially on the days when Edith was in attendance and in charge of sales, was to heft out all the funds in my pocket, sometimes amounting to thousands, so that she will see it and be impressed, and then I will pick out the tiny sum from there sufficient to pay the bill.

One day, while Chukwuma was still with me, I was asked by my boss to apply for funds to cover the purchase of four first class return tickets to Frankfurt, on Lufthansa, for four German expatriate staff working on the Brewery expansion project. They were returning to Germany on vacation, and had written our department to procure the tickets. I duly requisitioned for funds from the cash office, and was given the cash, preparatory to travelling the following day to Enugu, the nearest travel agency to Umuahia then. I can’t exactly remember, but the funds were then in excess of six thousand Naira.

That evening, I went home with the funds, and together with Chukwuma, visited Edith’s Mummy’s shop, and drank and ate to our fill. And I paid the normal way, barring the whole air ticket funds for the world to see – and be impressed. The following morning, an internal memo arrived, asking that purchase of the tickets be stayed, pending the furnishing of a new itinerary to our office. So, for the next one week, I was carrying the funds about!

One day, during that period, Chukwuma went out and came back with two strange faces. One, according to him, was his cousin. He was smallish, as black as charcoal, and looked fiendish. His name was Santana Apollo Bugana, and the other one was a very good looking Fulani boy, Yaro Danladi, who impressed me instantly with his perfect and idiomatic Igbo. I got dressed immediately and took them straight to Edith’s Mummy’s place, for lavish entertainment! At the end of it all, I paid the usual way.

We all returned to my House, in Yaro’s car. Chukwuma picked his things and bid me farewell, and left with Bugana and Yaro.

The following day, while at work, Chike came visiting from Aba. It was while we went out for lunch that he noticed the huge funds and asked me how come! When I explained, he insisted that I pay it in at the cash office at once, while awaiting the new itinerary of the Germans. Reluctantly, I obeyed, and felt like a man totally defrocked when later that day, we visited Mummy Edith’s place.

We eventually retired to my home at about 10 pm, showered and slept off. Four hours later, the robbers came. I was jolted by a kick to the door which had now been ripped open. I made to clamber out of my bed, but was met by a blinding beam of light, and a stern order to “lie on the floor” and keep still. Two of the robbers were in the room, and the other one was at the door, covering the corridor and me with his gun, and barking orders. When they pointed their light beam briefly away from me, I noticed that they were all wearing masks.

The two robbers in the room had commenced an aggressive and thorough search for “The money”, pulling down clothes from the wardrobe, throwing the stereo and television sets off their racks, and turning everything over. In the kitchen, they opened the soup and stew pots, saw the luscious contents, and muttered under their breath that “This boy is a thief.”

It was only when they couldn’t find “the money” on their own accord that they returned to me. “Stand up”, they barked in unison. “Where is that money?” I went to the wardrobe floor, picked up the trouser I had worn to work, and fished out my entire salary – minus the last expenses at Edith’s Mummy’s’ place – and gave them. It was month end, and I had just received my salary. They responded with a vicious slap across my young face. I began to cry, pleading that I had no more money on me. Then, the one at the corridor spoke to me in a guttural voice: “Kenneth, we know you have the money. Bring out the money and save your life.” In that instant, I realised who they were, and “the money” they meant. But I would not let them know I knew them. They made me stand, facing the wall, with my back to them. Pointing their guns at the back of my head, their leader began to count: “Bring out that money now, one, two, three…”

I stiffened my back to receive the shots, and possibly, repel them by the stiffness of my back. I collapsed in a heap by the time the leader counted ten. On the floor, I began to wail, as they began to flog me mercilessly.

“Kenneth, do you want to die? It was this kind of stubbornness that made us kill John”, the one with the guttural voice revealed. John was my next door neighbour and older friend, who had a lover in a nearby compound, and was always sleeping over at her place whenever her husband travelled. The robbers were claiming that they had killed him there!

I suddenly remembered the receipt issued me earlier that day at the cash office in respect of the refunded airfares, and begged them to permit me to show them something. Permission granted, I opened the side drawer of the bed and brought out the receipt and showed them. The one who took it from me went across the room and showed it to the robber at the door. All this while, much to my bewilderment, Chike, my cousin, lay still on his face, on my bed, motionless!

It was only after examining the receipt that the flustered robbers decided to leave. And that was when they issued the order that we go under the bed, and Chike astonishingly sprang to life, seeking to gain a strategic advantage under my bed!

But the robbers only locked us in, and went away with the key!🤣🤣🤣

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