Mark looked up with weary eyes at the projector screen, the words were beginning to blur. It was early in the morning, he couldn’t be caught dozing. It wasn’t his fault though; he had been working with barely any sleep for three days. The UNICEF team came in early and were doing some ground work which meant he was doing some ground work. Today’s meeting was supposed to be the final one before everyone moved to Yobe. If it was this tough in Lagos, he was not looking forward to going to Yobe.
“I read in my report that as much as sixty people died at a point, what happened?” Kirk Helink asked.
Kirk Helink was the head of the UNICEF team and he was a lot like Dr Aderoju. He wanted results, the means as long as it was legal was none of his business.
“Mark, do you want to take this?” Dr Aderoju.
“Yes sir.” Mark said, hoping his drowsy face was not giving him away. “A few months ago after a major relief exercise, people started to get sick. We brought in several medical teams but they did not find anything wrong with the sick people. Unfortunately a lot of them died.”
“I see here all of them were men.” Kirk said.
“I was just about to say that. All of them were men which was strange.”
“Do you know why?”
“No sir, we don’t. Eventually we found it had something to do with their food.”
“Only the men ate the food?”
“We did not share any food exclusively to the men. We are not so sure why it affected the men.”
“This is true Tobi?” Kirk asked, turning to Dr Aderoju.
“Yes Kirk. That is why the government has banned any sharing of food items except by registered organizations.”
Mark rubbed his forehead and hoped his boss would close the meeting now. He needed sleep and he needed it now.
“I think we should take a break.” Dr Aderoju said.
Mark could not believe his luck, finally he could get some well-deserved sleep. He picked his iPad and rose from his chair. He could not wait to get to his office.
“Mark, come with me please.” Dr Aderoju said.
Mark gasped and everyone in the room turned in his direction. He cleared his throat and followed his boss out of the conference room. What was his offense that made nothing go well for him? All he asked for was a little shut eye.
He entered Dr Aderoju’s office and slammed the door behind him. Dr Aderoju looked at him with a raised eyebrow.
“Sorry sir.” Mark said.
“I want you to go to Ikeja with the driver.”
“Ikeja?” Mark asked.
“Yes. Is there a problem?”
Yes! I want to sleep! “No sir.”
“Good. You looked distracted in the meeting. We are expecting a special guest at the airport, I want you to go with the driver. You know, show our guest they are important.”
Mark waited for more information but his boss said nothing. He turned around and left the office. Sometimes he wished he too had someone he could boss around and send on this kinds of errands too. Why did he have to go with the driver anyway?
“Oga, oya let’s go.” Mr Kazim, the driver was already waiting for him.
He sighed and followed him out of the building. He was sure he would be asleep in the car before they hit the road. His phone rang as they approached the car. It was Dr Aderoju.
“Hello sir.” Mark said.
“Please tell Kazim to come back. I just remembered that I need him to go to and pick Damilare. Take your car, okay?”
No, it was not okay. Come on! He managed to confine his frustrations to a grunt.
“Please hurry up. Thank you Mark.”
At other times getting a ‘thank you’ from his boss would have made his day but not today. There was no chance of sleeping now.
“Mr Kazim, Oga said you should come back.” Mark said.
“I no dey go again?”
“Yes, he wants you to go… Just go and see him.”
Mark entered his car, started the engine and slid the gear into drive. He wanted to sleep.
Two hours later he arrived at the airport. It was a miracle he had arrived at the airport without incidence. He had dozed off twice in traffic and had endured some insults from rightly impatient danfo drivers. He was here now and he hoped the flight would arrive on time.
His phone rang and he answered the call.
It was his boss. “Hello sir.”
“Where are you Mark?”
“I’m at the airport.”
“Where exactly? Doctor Jumai has been waiting.”
“Jumai is the one I’m picking?” He said his thoughts aloud.
“That is what I just said. Are you listening to me?”
“Sorry sir. I will go to the arrival lounge now.”
Maybe he owed his boss an apology and a ‘thank you’ after all. He had no idea he was coming to pick Jumai. He probably would have been more enthusiastic about the trip. This was good; he had a two hour trip back to Island to look forward to. For the first time he wished for traffic.
He saw her as he entered the arrival lounge. It was almost the same as the first time he had met her here. Except now he knew her name and she was smiling and waving at him.
“Welcome back to Lagos Doctor Jumai.” Mark said.
“Thank you, Mr Joey Tribbiani.”
Jumai laughed. “I’m joking. Come on Mark.”
“I don’t understand why that name gets to you that much. Joey was a fine boy and he got all the girls.”
“He also believed getting a rating of ‘abysmal’ was a good thing.” Mark said, collecting her bag.
Jumai laughed again. “So you’d rather be Chandler or Ross then?”
“How about we totally forget about ‘Friends’, Miss Rachel Greene.”
“Rachel? I think I’d rather you called me Phoebe.”
Mark looked at her with wide eyes. “Phoebe was crazy.”
Mark shook his head and smiled. They walked the rest of the way to the car in silence; Mark pondering what good luck he had and Jumai typing and scrolling and reading on her phone.
“Can I drive?” Jumai asked.
“What?” Mark smiled. “Have you ever driven in Lagos?”
“Yeah. Just from VGC to Lekki though.”
Mark shook his head. “I don’t think you can drive here.”
“Really? Do cars move on two tyres here? Or you steer with your legs?”
Mark laughed. “Sometimes we do.”
“Give me your keys.” She said snapping her fingers
“Okay boss.” Mark said and entered the car. Her dad was rich, she could afford to get into some trouble.
“Fasten your seatbelt Mister Joey…” She laughed. “Sorry, sorry. Mister Mark, fasten your seatbelt please and get ready for the ride of your life.”
Mark smiled and fastened his seatbelt. God is good!
“Where is Doctor Coker?” Baban shouted as he burst into the lab.
The receptionist who also doubled as the lookout in case law enforcement came around was relaxed on his chair. He, like every other person in the lab was not expecting him.
“Welcome sir.” He said, jumping up from his chair.
“Where is Doctor Coker?”
“He is in the testing area sir.” He said.
Baban hurried past him. He had no plans to come until the next day but he had gotten the most disturbing news – the UNICEF team were early. His plan required that he setup before the UNICEF team arrived in Yobe. He was already behind his normal schedule. Now, his schedule was behind schedule. He punched the elevator button and entered.
He came out from the elevator and stepped into the corridor that led to Doctor Coker’s office. He remembered seeing lab scientists working behind glass walls the last time he came; today, they were nowhere to be found. He walked into the test facility. He stopped at the door; the room was full. It looked like every single staff of the lab was in the room. What was going on?
He cleared his throat and everyone in the room turned around to see him. They parted and made a path for him to the front of the room. In front stood Doctor Coker. He did not turn around to see him, his attention was on one of the test tanks.
Inside the tank, there was a monkey sitting on a chair. It was either unconscious or dead.
“Doctor Coker?” Baban said.
“Shhhh” Doctor Coker said holding a finger to his mouth.
Baban opened his mouth in surprise. Did Doctor Coker just tell him to keep quiet? He opened his mouth to talk but the monkey stirred and he stopped. The room was dead silent, all eyes were on the monkey.
The monkey opened its eyes and jumped off the chair. It paced around the tank for a few seconds then it stood still and let out a screeching sound. For a moment Baban feared the monkey would suddenly burst into tiny pieces.
Doctor Coker spoke into a walkie-talkie Baban had not noticed before. A few seconds later, the roof of the tank opened slightly and a bigger monkey was let down into the tank.
“What is going on?” Baban could no longer wait to know.
“Just watch.” Doctor Coker said.
“Tell me now!” Baban shouted.
Doctor Coker looked at Baban and said. “We have injected Pope with Kulunix.”
“That’s the name of the smaller monkey. It was the smallest and weakest of the park; the perfect test for Kulunix.”
“The bigger monkey?”
“That is Captain. It is the biggest of the ones we have here.”
Pope observed Captain in the cage. It looked to be minding its business but Baban knew a fight was about to happen. He was right. Pope ran for Captain and in a few seconds punched the breath out of him, and was breaking up bones in his body. It pulled off the victory very cleanly and Captain’s body lay lifeless on the floor. The killing didn’t seem to be enough for Pope, it grabbed the chair it was seating on and pulled it apart.
Murmurs spread around the room. Baban looked around, he was not sure what they were thinking. The monkey was super-powerful, that was good. That was the goal.
“This is good, right?” Baban said to Doctor Coker.
“We need to watch it for a few more hours sir.”
“Why is that?”
“The super-strength that Pope displayed is only part of the equation. We need to know what happens when the drug wears out.”
“Are you say Kulunix is ready?”
“No sir. Sir, please don’t bring my children into this.”
“Hey Doctor, come on. I’m a friend of the family.” Baban said, patting Doctor Coker on the back. “Let’s talk in your office Doctor.”
Baban and Doctor Coker exit the room leaving the lab assistants to observe the monkey.
“I appreciate the work you have done here Doctor.” Baban said as they entered the office.
“You weren’t showing much appreciation when you killed my son last time.” Doctor Coker said and lowered his head. “You killed my son Professor.”
“Don’t call me Professor here, I already told you that.”
“Why are you even here? I have until tomorrow.”
“Well, we don’t have till tomorrow anymore.”
“You can’t touch my son, that wasn’t…”
Baban slammed the table. “Shut up Doctor! Are you listening to me? Nobody is killing your son. I have bigger problems now. How soon can you package the Kulunix?”
“Package? You mean into capsules?”
“Not just into capsules, into boxes and ready to ship.”
“The drug isn’t ready for consumption Baban. You will be risking a lot of lives here.”
Baban laughed. “You obviously don’t know me. Risk is what I do. What exactly is left?”
“I’m still waiting for the results of the test you interrupted, that will give me a clearer picture of where we are.”
Baban rose from his chair and walked around the table to a shelf. He picked up a picture frame.
“You have a lovely family, Doctor.” Baban said.
“Don’t threaten my family. I am trying my best here.” Doctor Coker’s voice trembled with anger.
“Then give me what I want damn it!”
“You want me to package Kulunix as it is?”
“Okay. You will have the first batch ready to go in twenty four hours.”
“Those are the best words I have heard all day.” Baban said with a huge smile.
“If this backfires, I want to absolve myself of all blame now.”
Baban sighed. “Absolve of blame? Those are the worst words I have heard all day. I’ll ignore it though.”
Baban headed for the door, he had a lot of work to do now.
“Sir, we need more money to produce the quantity you need.” Doctor Coker called after him.
“You will have all the money you need Doctor.” Baban shouted back to him, then added in a whisper. “And Yobe will have all the Kulunix they don’t need.”
“How are you feeling about your decision to drive now?” Mark asked.
Jumai yawned and leaned her head on the headrest.
“I won’t give you the pleasure of saying I regret it but I will at least admit I won’t be doing it anytime soon.”
“This isn’t a short dash from VGC to Lekki, this is a real journey for a real driver.”
“Insult me all you want, just know that as soon as we get to your office I’m telling your boss you made me drive myself.”
“No, you won’t.”
“Keep making fun of me and watch me put on my best acting into the report.”
He knew she was joking but she had a point. If his boss got to know that she drove, he would get more than an earful. They had been on a standstill for about ten minutes, maybe it was time to switch seats and roles.
“Maybe it’s time to drive.” Mark said.
“Finally! I thought you’d never ask.”
Mark was about to open his door when the car in front of them moved.
“Really?” Jumai said. “We’ve been on the same spot for this long and the moment I want to stop driving the traffic moves?”
“You don’t have much luck, do you?”
“Maybe you should park.”
“You think I haven’t thought about that? There’s no parking space anywhere.”
She had a point. There was a KFC up ahead though, it was the only parking space they would find for a while. In spite of the terrible traffic, he was enjoying spending time with her. It looked like every second he spent with her opened her up to him. She wasn’t as uptight or standoffish as she looked on their first meeting.
“We are coming up to a KFC, pull over there. I’ll even get you a sandwich or something for your troubles.” Mark said.
“Am I supposed to be grateful for that?”
“Yes. Or you could just keep driving.”
“Yeah, and I can just tell your boss.”
“Okay, you win. Keep your gratitude to yourself.”
They arrived at the KFC and she pulled into the parking lot. They exited the car and entered the restaurant.
“What do you want?” Mark asked.
“Didn’t you promise sandwich?”
“I thought maybe… aargh, never mind.”
Mark went to the counter and got two sandwiches and two bottles of Pepsi.
“Should we take this to go or do you want to sit?” Mark asked.
Jumai looked around. “That traffic isn’t going anywhere, let’s sit.”
The pulled up two chair and sat.
“What are you doing back in Lagos anyway? Doctor Aderoju said you worked in Kaduna.”
“I took a leave from work to go with you guys to Yobe. I read more about your work after the last meeting and I think it’s something I would like to do.”
Mark nodded. “Interesting. It had nothing to do with a certain handsome young project manager, did it?”
“A ‘what’ did you say? You don’t have any handsome young project manager in your company. Oh wait, are you talking about yourself?” Jumai said and laughed.
Mark put his hands over his heart. “That hurt. Really hurt.”
“You started it.”
“I didn’t…” Mark started to say then looked at the doorway as a lady entered and stopped. “Oh my God.”
“What is it?” Jumai asked. She followed his gaze to the lady. “You know her?”
“That is Tomi Adesina.”
“She used to be a blogger, I read her stories. Now she’s one of Nollywood’s hottest producers.”
“Jeans and sneakers, just like I imagined.”
“You want to go over and talk to her?”
“What? No. What would I say?” Mark scoffed.
“Hmm, I don’t know… ‘What is your name?’ That’s what you said to me.”
“I know her name already.”
“Okay, ask yourself this; ‘what will Joey Tribbiani do?’”
“Will you drop the Joey thing already.”
“Hey look, she’s leaving.” Jumai said, nodding in Tomi Adesina’s direction. “This is your last chance.”
Mark knew this was a great chance to meet one of his favourite writers but what was he going to say to her? He would have another chance, there was no point embarrassing himself in front of Jumai.
“And she’s gone.” Jumai said and shook her head.
“We should go too.” Mark said.
Jumai’s phone rang as they stood up. She looked at the phone and smiled.
“Sorry, I have to take this.” She said.
Mark nodded. “I’ll be waiting in the car.”
Jumai answered the call. “Hello hun.”
Mark paused and looked back. Hun?