Special Package

As he lay wide-eyed in the darkness, Afolabi’s mind danced back and forth to the incident that still had him trembling in trepidation. His eyes had defied sleep, his body was awake in anxiety, and his feet were restless and flung across the bed, like smelly socks from a busy day. If the doorbell suddenly rang, he knew that would be the end. If it didn’t, then maybe something worse was going to happen. Something like a deafening rattle on the door, a gunshot through the window, a honking alarm across the street…, no, something was sure to happen at least. And if the heavens had heard his prayers for mercy, mysteriously, and he heard nothing at all till the breaking of the day, he was getting on the first bus out of town. He was leaving his life behind; good, bad and pretty bad.
**
6:45 am
Lokoja, two days earlier.

‘Soji, I wanna try this out one last time. After this, I quit.’
A one-sided smile was starting to breakout on Soji’s face as he stroked his bushy mustache, making Afolabi uneasy.
‘Don’t give me that i-told-you-so look now, guy, you know how these things are. Besides, I haven’t even completed that money.’
‘Yes you have.’ Soji retorted. ‘Afo, you know the last thing I will do is judge you. Just take it easy okay?’
Soji was still smiling. His smile strangely never got to his cold eyes. ‘So, do you want to deliver the package one more time?’
‘One last time, Soji. Just this last one,’ he repeated, nodding as if to convince himself.

Since he had begun this job about three weeks ago, Afolabi had earned almost half a million naira, asides from the extra allowances on the side for transportation and phone calls. He had bought a few clothes with some of the money to step up his outlook a tad higher. He had so much use for the money he got that after a few days, he had just barely fifty thousand naira left in his account. He had vowed never to return to this point again, but after sleeping over it, he decided to give it a last shot seeing that there was more money where all that came from.

‘Afo, there’s an opening o..’ Soji announced in the room, jerking the young man out of his reverie. He had just finished talking on the phone.
‘Oh, good. When do they need the package?’
‘Two days’ time. How early can you mobilize?’
Two days! That’s too short a time to get the job done.
‘I’m not sure I can do two days…how much are they offering?’
‘Four hundred.’
‘Make it double.’ Afolabi said. If he was going to handle that big a task, it was going to be worth it. As far as he knew, their clients usually paid much more than he got at the end of the deal, it was Soji and his boys that were the middle men who chewed on his dough and gave him peanuts. This time he was taking no chances.
‘Are you out of your damn mind?’ Soji said in bewilderment.
‘I’m not. It’s eight hundred or no deal.’ He said curtly.
‘Alright then.’ Soji smiled. Afolabi raised an eyebrow. ‘I will give you eight hundred’ he paused again. Afolabi batted his eyelids in wonder. ‘In your dreams, maybe.’
Afolabi grunted, managing not to hiss in disappointment.
‘Look Afo, we have other guys who can deliver, and whose mouths aren’t as wide as yours.’
‘You’re kidding right?’
‘I don’t kid.’ Soji’s look was a stern one. ‘Five hundred. Deal or no deal?’
Five hundred thousand is good enough.
‘I’ll take it.’
**
He mulled over his assignment as he strode away from Soji’s flat, both hands in the pockets of his baggy checkered shorts. He wasn’t as experienced as the other guys who had been doing this job for many years, but he could bet that excuse would never count with Soji. Only a miracle could help him through this arduous task; a miracle named Ann Wakonzi.
‘Ann, how are your friends na, those ones that followed us out the other day?’
‘I just knew it. This one that you called me today, I know you want something.’
She rolled her eyes as she spoke into the receiver.
‘Ehen? Don’t you want something too? Abeg where are your friends, jare?’
‘They are available. What’s the deal?’
‘Okay. I need the four of you on Thursday night. The catch is good too.’
‘Err…’ it seemed she was checking with a calendar or something. ‘So I think Cynthia is booked for Thursday. She’s travelling tomorrow out of town for her sister’s wedding this weekend.’ she concluded lazily.
‘Get me someone else na. I know you can.’ He paused for a while. ‘In fact, get me three more. It’s six girls I actually need.’
‘Ahn…when did all these one start now? Look Afy, I can’t promise you anything sha, but I’ll try and see if some of my other girlfriends are interested.’
‘Correct babe! You know that’s why I love you…’ Afolabi was starting to say when the other end was abruptly disconnected.
Afolabi smiled as he removed the phone from his ears with a distant look on his face. If Ann got the six girls, his job was almost done. He had to pay them a little ‘staying money’ too, but that wasn’t a problem. Soji had immediately forwarded two hundred and fifty thousand naira into his account that afternoon, to balance up with three hundred thousand when the job was done. The fifty thousand was for extra expenses, which he usually didn’t make. Sometimes he wondered why these men spent so much money on one-night-stands, when they could just pick up prostitutes by the road.
‘These guys are very rich and influential, Afo. If they visited brothels, the paparazzi would find out, and that is not good for their public image.’ Soji explained painstakingly on the day of his first job. ‘Besides, the girls are young and sophisticated campus babes. These men prefer such girls to stroke their ego.’
Despite all Soji had told him that day, it still felt unreasonable for old men like that to pay so much money for things as trivial as one-night-stands. Okon had once said in passing, that these men were diabolical, and for some reason, Afolabi could not shake off the fact that the girls might be recipes for some evil juju. But again, that was none of his business, him getting paid was what was important. With a widowed mother and two younger sisters, the responsibility of the family rested solely on his shoulders and he had to deliver. An estimate of the family’s pressing needs going to about four hundred thousand naira was what brought him here in the first place. He had confided in his roomie, Obinna, who was one of Soji’s boys in the business, and was introduced to Soji without much persuasion, assuring his friend that he was only here for the five hundred thousand, after which he would never return. Now he had completed the money, but his eyes just couldn’t leave the money source.
On Wednesday evening, Ann had still not called. Afolabi assumed already that she had the girls complete and was only waiting for Thursday. He was helping his youngest sister study for her University Matriculation Examination when his phone rang at about 10pm.
‘Hey Ann, got some news for me?’ he chirruped into the receiver.
‘Afy, I couldn’t get six o.’ she said in her Hausa accent. ‘Two of my home girls came visiting today and I told them about the deal, and they are in, making us five, but they wanna know how much you’re offering sha.’
Shit! Afolabi muttered under his breathe.
‘Ann, but you know how urgent this deal is, why didn’t you tell me since afternoon? At least I’d have done something between then and now.’ His voice was raised in anger.
‘But I told you I wasn’t promising anything’
‘I don’t care!!! You mess up, you call me. How am I supposed to get one more person in less than twenty-four hours?’ he left the question hanging between them as he hung up lividly.
Mrs Clara Mayokun was alerted by his raised voice and was now walking towards the living room where her son was.
‘Afolabi, ki lo n sele?’ she said in her dialect, her forehead creased in concern, wanting to know if there was a problem.
‘Never mind, mummy. It’s nothing serious.’ He replied, and walked away from her to his room.

The following morning, a panicky Afolabi rushed off to school. Schooling in the same town as home gave him a chance to check up on his folks from time to time, but didn’t stop him from having his own apartment beside the campus. On his way in a taxi, he got a call from Soji giving him the specifics of the night’s job. He was to bring the girls to LeShaw hotel at 7pm, drop them and leave. His car was available for hire at 5pm at his place, and Afolabi was to return it before 9pm after the package had been delivered. Before Soji ended the call, he had asked if the package was ready, to which Afolabi had giggled and said there was nothing to worry about. Then he alighted and hurried off to his lecture room for the only lecture he would attend for the day. Hopefully, he’d find one of those sophisticated babes who would be up for what he had to offer. He had heard rumors about those ladies in Accounting.

‘Hi, I’m your classmate. My name is Afolabi and there’s something quite urgent I need to discuss with you.’ He said as he approached a certain pretty lady seating at the back of the hall right after class.
‘I know you.’
‘Of course you do. So do you wanna talk or what?’ the urgency was biting at him so bad he needed to cut to the chase.
‘What do you want?’ the lady seemed distant in her thoughts. Her hair was disheveled and she chewed gum. Her legs where crossed, though she gently shook the one above the other, like one who was tensed about something. Her makeup was however, properly done, and her eyelashes were longer than natural. She wore black leather boots with stiletto heels and a leather jacket to match over a green loose top. Her jeans stuck to her butt like a strapped child behind his mother. Afolabi did a quick survey on her with his eyes and decided she could be just the girl he was looking for.
‘I have these rich guys coming to town tonight, and they need gorgeous and smart campus babes for the night. They are willing to pay handsomely too. Thought you might be interested.’
He held his breathe for a moment and hoped she heard him. She still looked on in the distance.
‘Are you…?’
‘Well, I’m not. Anything else?’
He sighed.
‘Okay. Can you at least take my number, in case you change your mind?’ He looked at his watch, it was 11:27. His panic jeered at him.
‘Yeah, whatever’ replied the nameless girl.
‘89136589. Plus I didn’t catch your name.’
‘I didn’t throw it.’ She said with a final tone in her voice, as she pressed the numbers on her phone in a disturbing manner.
This bitch is crazy, he thought as he saw himself out of the hall.

**
5pm.

Afolabi had tried Obinna’s mobile to ask for a girl to spare to no avail. His phone kept ringing but no one was picking. He had called Ann too, who said she hadn’t still found anyone and the girls would be waiting for him at 6:30. He had even gone as far as call his sister who went to his school to ask her if she had any ‘promiscuous friend’. She had laughed and asked him what he needed such a person for and he had lied that he wanted to be sure she had none, as her big brother. Bisayo didn’t seem to buy it but he didn’t push, he simply ended the call before his inquisitive sister got wind of his recent shady business of girl trafficking.
His palms were sweaty. If he didn’t deliver tonight, not only was he going to incur the wrath of the wrong people, he was also going to refund the money he had been paid. That part he couldn’t bear to do. He needed the money so badly even though he couldn’t figure out any pressing need for it. Afolabi’s phone began to ring. He checked the time, it was 6:00. The number was not a familiar one so he ignored it. He was too jittery to answer. After a while, he started pacing about his room. Maybe he was going to deliver the package and then apologize for it being incomplete, or no, maybe he’d just pick up a prostitute at Asafa close to make up. Okon once said they had fine prostitutes.
Okon is just sick.
He pulled back his thoughts from wandering. Yes, that was what he was going to do. He took a bike to Soji’s to get the car, and then drove downtown to get the girls. After he had dropped them off at LeShaw whilst breaking all the traffic rules known to man, he hurried off to Asafa close. All the while, his phone had been ringing with the same number. He finally picked up the call in annoyance.
This had better be good.
‘Hello!’ he snorted disinterestedly into the receiver.
‘Hello…’ a timid voice sounded at the other end.
‘Who is this?’ he was running out of patience.
‘Thelma…I’m the girl you met in class today’
‘This isn’t a good time…wait what!’ he couldn’t believe what he just heard.
‘Is the slot still open? What you told me about’
‘Yes…yes…where are you now?’
‘I’m at Ivory hostel. Can you come?’
‘I’ll be there in five’ said an excited Afolabi. He leaped and beamed as he took the nearest turning back to school.
Thelma was dressed in a gold and green short gown that accentuated all her body curves. She wore high gold heels and looked a lot brighter than she was earlier in the day, though her hair still looked a bit unkempt. Afolabi couldn’t help looking her over as he came out to open the car for her. Their eyes locked for a moment, and he could almost swear he felt chemistry, but he blinked it off when his panic snickered at him. She was a beauty. As they drove on in silence, Afolabi turned on the CD player to relief the awkwardness in the air. The drive was a long one, and she seemed disinterested in starting a conversation since she sat facing the window. Moments later, he decided some small talk wouldn’t harm.
‘Hey, so…what changed your mind?’
She didn’t respond. It seemed as though she was deliberately ignoring him for the entire trip.
Is she always so maddening? Afolabi thought. He kept his cool for another two minutes and then decided to try again. Maybe she was just shy or uncomfortable.
Or crushing on me.
‘Hey Thelma, are you okay?’
No response still. He touched her arm which was flung to her side beside the seat belt buckle. No movements. He was getting concerned. Had she slept off in his car? Well, not his car, but…had she slept? He tapped her. Still, no response. He shook her. Nothing. Horror was gradually creeping on him. He turned her face to him. It was pale and numb. He held her palm, it was cold.
Oh God!
He parked the car, recounting all sorts of gibberish as he did. Could she be dead? His breathe quickened at the thought of that, and his panic was now bickering with his subconcious as to how much of a loser he was. Instinctively, he raised his right arm to check his watch. It was 7:15. He ran to the other side of the car where she sat lifeless and shook her. Nothing. He opened her mouth, attempting a mouth to mouth resuscitation, but the stench from in there wouldn’t let him. He closed back the door and threw his hands on his head. His life was over. Officially!
His phone suddenly began to ring. He glanced at the display and shivered. It was Soji. He muted it, and then switched it off altogether. Then he went into the car and lay his head on the steering, thinking. No one would believe that he didn’t do anything to harm the girl. In those movies, the victim always found a way to dispose of the body before anyone could find out, because the cops would always never understand. This was the moment when he had to go and do likewise.
You have to be a man, Afo. Be brave!
He turned on the ignition and sped off towards where he should have been thirty minutes ago- Asafa close.
As he navigated through the dark streets, he kept his eyes focused on the road sides, on the lookout for quiet and abandoned areas. He had devised a mental strategy: as soon as he found a good place, he would undo the seatbelt on Thelma, move across her to open her door, and push her out. Then he would speed up as fast as he could to the brothel in Asafa, get a nice looking girl and head for LeShaw before it was too late. He hadn’t finished running through his plans when he saw a lonely path along the road. It didn’t seem like one wide enough to accommodate a car, but he would take his chances.
Just as he had made his bend, an older man was coming along the path. A near collision took place, with the man jumping into the nearby bush for safety. Afolabi halted the car abruptly, jerking himself and the corpse beside him forward.
‘Are you blind?’ the man shouted in anger at the fellow who had almost activated his untimely passing.
‘Sorry!’ Afolabi shouted back.
The man had begun to cuss under his breathe in his native language. He dusted himself off and carried his leather bag which had also fallen in the bush.
‘Don’t you see that this is a pedestrian path?’ The man didn’t seem pacified by the loud apology.
‘I said I was sorry sir. Won’t happen again.’
The man looked at him for a while, as though something had caught his attention.
‘And that lady is still sleeping despite all that just happened?’
‘Err..’Afolabi stammered a little. He could feel the sweat in his pants despite the cold breeze. ‘She’s very tired.’
‘Hmm…’ the man said as he stood there like a thorn in the flesh that just won’t go away. ‘Are you not going to turn back to the road? Do you need a diviner to tell you that one too?’
Afolabi sighed.
‘I’m waiting for you to leave so I can make the turning. I don’t want you scrambling into the bush again.’ He said, managing to hide the sarcasm in his tone. The man made a contemptuous face at him and started walking out of the path into the main road. Afolabi saw his chance. He unbolted the seat belt on Thelma, and leaned forward to open the door.
‘What are you still waiting for, Mr man?’
Damn this old man.
Afolabi, already startled by the man’s latest chime, stopped in his tracks as he turned to look behind him. Apparently, the man had only shouted from a distance, he wasn’t close enough to have seen anything. He ignored the lousy rhetoric as he waited another unending thirty seconds for the man leave. Quickly, he opened the door and dropped the girl. He wanted to shut it back but the girl’s left foot still hung out in the car, preventing the door from closing.
Shit! He muttered out loud. He leaned over completely, kneeling on the passenger seat, and shoved the impeding leg out into the bush. Whew! It was a success this time. He hurriedly shut the door, returned to his seat and started the car, gusting off into the main road.
His head did a quick calculation- should he still go on with the plan or just go return the car and go home? He decided to go on with the plan. It was just 8:15, there was still hope, or was there?

Soon he had reached Asafa close. Scantily clad daughters of Eve paraded the region, leaning into cars parked at the roadside. The area wasn’t well lit, but his eyes still managed to spot a tall dark lady standing in a corner beside another shorter call girl. He wanted to get down and go meet her, but after looking round and seeing that no one else had done so, he remained in the car. A fat garish lady suddenly peered into his window.
‘Hey pretty boy, want some sugar?’ she said, wriggling seductively. Afolabi was irritated by her slurred speech. What was this crap?
‘Please can you call me the tall lady in that corner?’ he pointed towards the lady he had spotted. The garish lady rolled her eyes as she turned to summon the girl he wanted. The girl sashayed towards the car.
‘Yes?’
‘Get in the car.’
‘How much do you want to pay me, Oga?’ the lady didn’t move an inch.
‘Ten thousand naira. Can we go now?’ her face lit up at the sound of the amount, and she flashed her heterodont ivories at him. But she still wasn’t going in yet.
‘Our madam say we should not go with customers. They must entered the brothel with us.’ She sounded so naïve, he could almost swear she was new at the job. This wasn’t going so well. How was he going to lure her to LeShaw this way?
And this terrible grammar…
‘Look, it’s not me that needs you. It’s my boss. And he’s ready to pay you handsomely too. He’s waiting at LeShaw. If you defy your madam’s rules this night for some extra cash, I’m sure she would not mind.’ His edginess was rising fast.
‘But what of if you are a serial killer or a…’
‘Just get into the car already!’ he shouted. The girl shivered and lost her balance. She would have fallen hard on the ground except for the door of the car she held on to. She opened the door and hopped in, fear written all over her. As she buckled the seat belt, she noticed she was stepping on a gold purse on the floor of the seat.
‘Your purse?’ she flashed it into his face. He grabbed it and threw it in the glove box. How could he have forgotten to discard Thelma’s purse? Well, he was going to do that later, right now he just needed to get to LeShaw.
The next fifteen minutes saw them speeding off to LeShaw hotel. He told the girl, who he had found out was called Alifa, to tell whoever inquired that she was a first year microbiology student of the state University. As he reached LeShaw, he looked around for Ann, seeing she was the only one he knew. He couldn’t find any traces of her. What was going on? He finally turned on his phone to place a call through, after searching for over ten minutes. It was 9:05.
Seven voicemails trickled in as soon as his phone came on.
‘Afy, we are still waiting for them at the place you asked us to wait. My girls are getting impatient, where are you?’
‘Afolabi’ the tone was tense. ‘These guys don’t seem friendly at all o…we see them heading towards us. Who did you say they were again? Pleasseee, just call me okay?’
‘Afo, where is the last package? I called you and you refused to pick abi? Don’t mess with me, guy. Call me asap.’ He could sense the coldness in his voice. He’s mind had skipped several beats upon hearing the message.
‘Hey…please where is Thelma…?
Whaat!!!! He turned off the phone again as he pulled Alifa into the car.
‘Please Oga, what is happening?’
‘Just shut up, please’ he scurried for the key in his pockets and turned on the vehicle. As he approached the gate, the guards flagged him down.
What the…?!
‘Oga, someone dropped this note for you.’ He grabbed the note and sped off, not waiting to acknowledge the goodbyes from the two guards. He dashed towards Asafa close in silence and dropped the girl off, giving her a one thousand naira note. He knew for sure that he couldn’t go back to Soji’s to return the car, unless he was ready to sign a death note. He couldn’t hide for too long either, someone was aware that Thelma had been with him, and had even got his number. He thought of Ann Wakonzi. Where were she and the other ladies? Were the men ritualists, kidnappers, rapists? What was going on? He ran his hands through his overgrown hair recklessly. By every sense of it, he was dead meat. He had to act fast.
He rushed to his room, the one he and Obinna shared. He hoped to high heavens that Obinna was not around. It was 10:11. He opened his door and to his relief, found no one. He picked up his backpack, threw a few clothes into it, his laptop, his wallet and some important identification documents. Then he stepped out, hopped on a bike and zoomed off to the farthest hotel in town. The letter he was given contained a handkerchief on which it was inscribed:
YOU CAN’T MISS THIS ONE!
He was scared to his bones. This indeed was a setup. His tiny timid teeth chattered. He turned off the light of his hotel room and lay in the darkness, wallowing in misery.
God please, just help me through this. I promise, I’ll be good after this.
As he lay wide-eyed in the darkness, Afolabi’s mind danced back and forth to the incident that still had him trembling in trepidation. His eyes had defied sleep, his body was awake in anxiety, and his feet were restless and flung across the bed, like smelly socks from a busy day. If the doorbell suddenly rang, he knew that would be the end. If it didn’t, then maybe something worse was going to happen. Something like a deafening rattle on the door, a gunshot through the window, a honking alarm across the street…, no, something was sure to happen at least. And if the heavens had heard his prayers for mercy, mysteriously, and he heard nothing at all till the breaking of the day, he was getting on the first bus out of town. He was leaving his life behind; good, bad and pretty bad.

Still on that thought, the doorbell rang! It was 11:59. His heart sank.