BOOKHOUSE PRIZE-LICENSED CRIME
LICENSED CRIME BY CHIZI EZUGWU
Grandma, a no-nonsense Lagos based woman would not allow anyone to downplay her. But the greed which rules her life becomes her undoing. She succeeds in preventing her son, Frederick from marrying Elizabeth because the latter was an osu, an outcast. And as far as Grandma was concerned, a freeborn does not marry an outcast in Igbo land. This singular act plunges her into the ugly situation that later plagues her family because Elizabeth’s son stands as the only potential heir of her family. And an Igbo family should not ever lack a male child. This situation then forces her to swallow her vomit by bringing back an embittered Elizabeth. Elizabeth vows to wreak havoc on the family. She did not just kill Frederick and herself; she sets her son, Kosi up for an unbeknownst contest.
What happens when different persons contend for one child? This was the situation Grandma finds herself in and this leads to the clash between the contenders: Dr. Chuba, (Kosi’s original father) Veldine (Kosi’s aunt), Bartholomew (Kosi’s legal father) and Grandma (Kosi’s foster parent). Kosi’s endangered life had to end when Chuba kills him medically at the heat of the contest.
I did not know though whether she would be happy to hear the story I was telling Gloria. Gloria had shouted “Jesus!” when I told her about Kosi. How come nobody told her that we have seen Kosi, not even her mother?” She asked. And I also felt surprised that her mother did not tell her; her mother who was always looking for what to tell and who to tell. Gloria quietened as the story stretched. I saw tears trickling down her eyes, especially when I began to tell her about the clash and counter clash; how Veldine had come back with two men on black suits which she introduced as her lawyers and told the doctor without batting an eye that she did not come for troubles but to show us that she was ready to follow this issue legally. It was on a Monday, the beginning of the Holy week and Veldine who was a catholic had promised that since it was a Holy Week, she was incapacitated in doing anything. But she said to come back once the week was over and pursue this case with everything in her. She had added that Bartholomew was a slowpoke and a coward, and she was not going to wait for such a person before she took actions. She was going to show everyone that a hurting woman can get downright brutal when pushed to the wall.
“We are not handling any case yet and here you are talking about case as though I committed any offense.” Doctor Chuba had sneered. “If you invite the Chief Justice of the Federation and all the Senior Advocates of Nigeria, my point is still clear. We will conduct a DNA test to determine who owns the child. And mind you, I did not steal the patient to my hospital. He was legally brought into my hospital which is equally a registered one.”
“I will not bring the Chief Justice or any Senior Advocate, but I promise you that by the time I finish, you will be begging to release that which you are holding.” Veldine shot back at him. The firmness and the weight her words carried were shocking. I wondered why Veldine never smiled; whether she ever noticed the green lines on her neck, always jutting out whenever she talked with that firmness. Veldine beckoned on the two gentlemen who bowed and followed her closely as she left and I wondered whether they were her servants, whether she was actually the chief Justice and they, the senior Advocates the doctor talked about.
Then, on Thursday, the unthinkable happened. Hoodlums suddenly gathered round the hospital premises and started shooting guns sporadically. I was inside Kosi’s room when I heard it and what I did was to cover Kosi with thick blankets, lock the door and run out. I did not know where I was running to and I did not know where others were, but I suddenly found myself standing in front of a gun and my whole body shaking. It was the first time I was experiencing that and for that short moment, all my life played before me.
“Jesus! Helper of the helpless; help me.” I muttered and wondered if I should say my last prayers.
“Shhhh.”The gunman hushed me. “What is your name?” At that moment, there seemed to be a deafening silence. It seemed as though the other shooters had suddenly stopped shooting and I wondered if they had shot everybody in the hospital.
“What is your name?” The man thundered and corked his gun before me.
“My name is Kasarachi Maduabuchi.” My heart was pounding, head spinning from shock.
“Are you sure?”
“And what kind of name is that? What is the meaning of that?”
“Kasarachi means ‘tell it to God’ sir”
“Shut up! Did I tell you to translate for me? Now, where is the doctor?” I wanted to ask him which of the doctors he was talking about. There was Doctor Humphery, Doctor Lucy, Doctor Seyi and a whole lot of others. Good Heart was very big and had many doctors but Doctor Chuba was our own doctor and he worked specifically in the Accident and Emergency Ward. I was still thinking about asking him the doctor he was talking about or whether I should tell him that I don’t know where Doctor Chuba was when he shouted the second time, releasing a bullet in the air. “Do you think I am joking? I ask; where is Doctor Chuba?”
Just then, I saw the two policemen at his back and before I could say Jack, they had surrendered him and taken him away. I knew that everything had not taken up to two minutes, but it was as though it took a whole day. And as I stood still thinking about it, still seeing the gun vaguely before me and still seeing the man vaguely as he shot that gun, I felt hot urine between my thighs, my legs shaking and bringing to the floor.
Doctor Chuba was laughing when I woke up on a mat. It was in his office, Maureen and Gabriel sitting together and speaking in whispers. So, I quickened my ears, lying still as though I was still sleeping.
“No. I am equal to the task.” I heard Chuba say, “If they like, they should send Boko Haram to come and bomb the entire place, I still believe in the due process of the law.”
“Doctor, you know that this matter is not as light as you take it. This is hospital for God’s sake and there are patients with High Blood pressure here. Do you keep endangering their lives because of a selfish ambition?” Maureen asked.
“You call it a selfish ambition? Now, tell me, why will Veldine and Bartholomew send gunmen to a hospital when they told me they are legally ready and when there are legal ways to handle this issue? Tell me, is that not cowardice? Are they not the ones endangering lives here? It is even more ridiculous that the Holy week is still on. Did the idiot suddenly change her mind?”
“Somehow, I still believe this could just be a coincidence.” Maureen retorted, her voice trembling.
“It is possible that Veldine and Bartholomew have nothing to do with this. But even if they do, something has to be done quickly to avoid a further occurrence. Tell me, what would have happened if those policemen were not here on time to control the situation or if the situation had gone beyond their control?” Maureen asked.
Anaghi m e ti mmanwu a na-akwa aka.” Chuba said and I stirred because I didn’t know that he could speak Igbo. He was Ikwerre and Ikwerres didn’t count themselves as Igbos. How come he was using a correct Igbo adage that drove home his point of being fully prepared? But that stirring ruined my sleeping charade as the trio rushed to me.
“Where did you go my boy?” Chuba asked. “How did they get you?”
As I tried to answer, a vivid image of the gun flashed in my eyes and lingered, clear as though it had come to stay. Chuba turned to Maureen and said, “The investigation panel should conclude and give it any name they want to give it. But what I know is that I know fully well what is happening here.”
There were more gun shots on Good Friday so that some people vacated their sick ones from the hospital and Maureen quarrelled with Chuba about it. I also wanted this madness to end, to tell Doctor Chuba to stop the struggle and maybe concede defeat, but as the blurred image of the gun flashed across my eyes again, I knew it was a warning to keep my mouth shut.
On Saturday there were several succeeding gunshots. And so, the death of Aunty Joy became a good excuse for me to flee away on Monday to Aninri, away from the tensions.
I had not bothered to go back to Enugu but joined the bus back to Nsukka. Grandma had gone to the hospital that same day to warn Chuba about the way the whole event was turning out, asking him to ensure that nothing happened to her children. When she returned, she assured me that the gunshots had stopped since Saturday and because I wanted to make sure that Kosi was safe; I went back to the hospital the day after. Kosi still lay quietly on his exquisite foam, but quite odd. The tiny bursts of energy that had returned to him earlier had fizzled out. Although his voice now became clearer, he rather complained that the pains were creeping back.
Kosi died the following day, on the 7th being Easter Wednesday.
The doctor did not tell me directly. He had rather sent Maureen who took me to a lonely place and broke the news to me with tears. At first, I did not understand her. I thought she was talking about somebody else, but she took me by the hand and led me to the room where Kosi lay, motionless, dead as she had said it. Doctor Chuba was standing near the dead body as we walked in, his face tightening when he spotted us.
“It’s over.” He said. “We’ve tried our own best as medical practitioners, but God will always have the upper hand.” His gaze was fixed at me all the while he talked and I knew that he probably expected me to shout or throw myself about but I remained calm. I wondered whether my calmness troubled him.
“Are you okay?” He finally asked, moving as though to reach for my hand.
“Yes, I am okay.” I said and walked out. From the corner of my eyes, I could still see him watching me walk through the door. I imagined that he began to shake profusely after I had left and cringed at the thought of him slumping to death.
At home, Olachi was sobbing so that I resolved that she had heard. But she had not. She was sobbing because Grandma was strange. She had been talking to herself since I left for the hospital, neither eating nor responding to greetings. “She is going insane.” She said through sobs.
“Grandma is not insane.” I said, almost shouting. “She is just passing through mental stress.”
“Bartholomew had sent a message that he is coming for the DNA test.” Olachi said absentmindedly. “He thinks that is the only way his son would be let out of that dungeon in the manner of a hospital, even if Veldine is not ready.”
I paused, registering that she did not know. “There would be no need for the DNA test.”
“Why?”She asked looking disappointed. “Has the doctor conceded defeat?” Her two eyes were boring into mine, begging for explanations.
“No.” I drifted my face to where Grandma was sitting, her once full body, reducing to frailness.
“Then, what is it, Kasarachi?” She asked, her tone low enough to show that she was losing her patience already.
“Kosi is dead.” It dropped from my mouth like a bombshell.
Olachi rushed towards me. She pressed her hand to my mouth, her lips tightened into a straight line. “Stop allowing the devil to use your mouth for evil words. Ekwukwala!”
“Kosi died this morning.” I repeated, to let her know that I was serious, for it to sink. Then, she let go of my mouth and began to walk away. I thought she was going to break into a run, but she did not. Instead, she suddenly flung herself to the ground and began to wail. She was rolling uncontrollably; her voice pitched enough to alert the whole neighbourhood. Then, it began to hit me, my entire being begun to grasp that Kosi was actually gone. I didn’t know wailing could be envied, until I found myself wishing that I could wail the way Olachi did.
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