Baban stormed into the lab, he was angry but much more he was afraid. Everything had been carefully planned up to this time, any hitch in that plan now would mean a lot of money wasted and worse; the end of him. The man who died at the WAAP office the day before had taken the kulunix and even though the relief people didn’t know it yet, it was too dangerous especially if the incidence repeated itself. It was a good thing he had not killed Doctor Coker yet.
“Where is he?” Baban asked.
“He’s waiting for you in his office.” Dongo answered.
Baban headed for the office. His sponsors were yet to hear about the death, neither had the press. But that was only a matter of time and he needed to have an answer when the questions started coming.
He opened the door and entered the office. Doctor Coker was on his feet, a very worried look on his face.
The doctor started talking immediately he entered. “Baban, please don’t kill me. I know you have the kulunix…”
“It is good that we both agree you deserved to be killed. The first day and a man is dead already.”
Doctor Coker looked shocked. “A man is dead?”
Baban wasn’t buying it. “You didn’t know? Isn’t this what you had planned all along?”
“No, I don’t understand….”
“A man who supposedly took the kulunix by mistake is now dead. Very mysteriously too.”
“That’s not right, the kulunix should not kill anyone.”
“It killed your son.”
Doctor Coker bowed his head and sighed. “That was before I modified it.”
Baban pulled a chair and sat. Maybe something else was wrong with the man who died, maybe his project was not dead yet.
“Okay Doctor, I believe you.” Baban said. “What could have happened to the man? Why did he die?”
“I have to see his body.”
“I can arrange that.”
“Who was he?”
“A homeless man who wanted to steal food. Why?”
“I just need to know if…”
He was cut off by Baban’s ringing phone. Baban looked at his phone, it was General Babatunde. They knew! Baban looked at Doctor Coker’s scared eyes, he was sure his eyes would not look less scared. He answered the call.
“General, how are you sir?”
“There’s no need for pleasantries, you know why I called so let’s go straight to the point.”
“Why didn’t you call us immediately you heard about the man who died?”
“I was just about to call you. I’m actually with…”
“It happened yesterday Professor.”
Baban sighed. “I’m sorry I didn’t call earlier sir but I assure you everything is fine.”
“You assure me?”
“How sure are you?”
“General, have I ever failed you? Everything will be fine.”
“Okay Professor, you know I am a very practical man.”
“If you are as sure as you say you are then you won’t mind us keeping her until this is all over, will you?”
Baban shot out of his chair. The general was about to touch him where no one could touch him and survive. His eyes were red already and he could feel his hand squeeze the phone tighter. He respected the general but he was about to cross boundaries.
“General, don’t threaten me.”
“Oh good, you realize I’m threatening you. If this fails, we kill Fauziat. That should give you enough motivation.”
“General, don’t touch Fauziat; she has children for God’s sake.”
“She does? Well, consider her children dead too if you fail.”
The line went dead. Threatening people’s children was evil, he knew now that he was on the other side of the threat. He could not afford to bring his children into this. Not Fauziat. She was the child he had before he married the good for nothing woman who took his remaining children from him. He had just reconciled with her after leaving her and her mother those many years ago. He was not going to lose her, not to the general, not to anybody.
“Is everything okay?” Doctor Coker asked.
Baban looked at him; he had forgotten he was in the room with him. The man had lost a child to him. He wondered if he felt the same way he felt now. It did not matter. Someone had to pay if things failed, it would not be Fauziat.
“Doctor, how is John?”
The Doctor’s eyes grew dark. “You just told someone not to threaten you and you threaten me?”
“Oh yes Doctor Coker. That threat was a motivation, so consider my threat a motivation. If there’s something wrong, say the word now.”
“The kulunix is okay.”
Baban turned around and headed for the door.
“Alright Doctor, I’ll assume you’re telling the truth.” Baban stopped and turned around. “But if you’re not, then John is going to wish his daddy had been more honest.”
Baban got to the door and turned the handle.
“What is all the trouble for anyway?” Doctor Coker asked and Baban stopped.
“Why do you want to know?” Baban asked.
“You are too desperate, it can’t end well.”
Baban laughed. “You are wrong Doctor. It will end well. You want to know what it’s all about, I’ll explain. There is a war going on in this country, it’s been on for more than ten years.”
“It is coming to an end.” Doctor Coker said. “The government is winning, killing the terrorists every day.”
“Exactly. That is the problem.”
“How is that a problem?”
“I work with powerful and wealthy people who sell weapons to the army. With no war, the army don’t need weapons. With no need for weapons, my friends go out of business. So we need a war but to fight a war we need enemies. That’s where the kulunix comes in.”
“How does the kulunix help you create…?” Doctor Coker started to say then his eyes widened. “Oh my God.”
“Yeah, you see it now.”
“So you feed the kulunix to the terrorist and they stand a better chance against the army.”
“What?” Baban looked at him with disgust. “No, the terrorists are dwindling in numbers. Even with the kulunix it is only a matter of time before they are overrun.”
Baban walked over to Doctor Coker and stopped a few inches from his face.
“Doctor you need to see the bigger picture here. We need to resupply the terrorists with fighters and where is the place to get fighters now that our borders have been secured?”
Doctor Coker started him for a few seconds then he put both hands on his head. “The IDP camps?”
Baban tapped Doctor Coker on the cheek. “Now you get it. We recruit fighters right inside the country and the war gets back into full gear and my friends get back to making money.”
“So this is all for money? Just money?”
“Yes Doctor. Why did you take this job? Wasn’t it for money?”
Doctor Coker did not respond. Baban smiled, everybody was motivated by money. The amount of money just varied from person to person. He had his price, Doctor Babatunde did and so did the people working with the IDPs. Some of them had already named their price and it was only a matter of hours before the kulunix got into the first person’s bloodstream.
“I’m leaving,” Baban said. “I hope for your sake the kulunix works well. Or else, you know what happens Doctor.”
Mark entered the kitchen, walked to the water tap and washed his hand. The two previous days had been stressful, much like the three years he had spent at WAAP. The death of the homeless man two days before had jolted the team into massive action. They had cleaned the whole camp again and looked for any source of poison or contamination. They had found none. Professor Tanko had generously offered to take the dead body off their hands. He would find out the cause of death; that would help narrow down what could have killed the man.
He walked to the fridge and picked a bottle of water. He looked over at the sitting area and saw Jumai sitting. He would have gone out without talking to her but she was already waving him over. He unscrewed the bottle and downed half of it before he walked over to Jumai.
“Hey.” Mark said.
“You must be really thirsty.” She said nodding at the bottle in his hand.
“I am.” He looked at the plates scattered around the table in front of her. “You ate all of these? You must be really hungry.”
She laughed. “You know there’s no way I ate all of them. Are you going to sit?”
“Well, I’m not eating.”
“Just be a gentleman and sit with me.”
Mark pulled a chair and sat. He had not talked with her since the day when they found the dead man. He was about telling her why he had been avoiding her when they heard the noise. He was kind of happy they had not finished that conversation now. Or maybe it would be better to have it and get it out of the way.
“Why are you looking at me like that?” Jumai asked.
She had caught him starring. “Can I ask you something?”
“I thought I just asked you something.”
“My question might answer yours.”
“Ohh, okay. Shoot Mr Tribbiani.”
“Really? I thought you’d forgotten about this Joey thing.”
She laughed. “Okay sorry. Ask your question.”
“Do you have a boyfriend?” Mark asked and held his breath.
“Boyfriend? No. I’ve never had one.”
Mark let out the breath and a smile spread across his face. He had been disturbing himself for nothing. Wow! Life was good again.
“That day in Lagos, you said ‘hello hun’…”
“At KFC, right? I was talking to Faruk.”
He paused. “Faruk?”
“Yeah, my fiancé. I’ve never had a boyfriend, I’ve got a fiancé.”
Mark felt a dark shadow fall on him. For a minute, she had actually given him hope but then she dashed it to smithereens.
Finally he managed to say, “Is he in Kaduna?”
“No, he is in the UK for his Masters in Mechanical Engineering.”
“Okay. How did you meet?”
“Well, we kind of grew up together. We were practically betrothed from birth.”
He was not interested in anything she was saying but she still had some distance to go with her food and he knew the silence would kill him.
“Betrothed from birth? People still do that?”
“I don’t understand.”
“I mean, in this age of enlightenment people usually choose their own spouses. Betrothed from birth?”
She set her fork down; he had said something wrong. He was not really conscious of anything he had just said, he was only trying to keep the conversation going. He wished he had stayed with the silence now. He could feel her eyes bore into him.
“So finally you show who you really are, huh?” She said.
That was not what he was expecting. “I don’t…”
“I already heard about the pride of Yoruba people and how they think they’re more educated and sophisticated than the rest of us.”
Mark opened his mouth. “What?”
“In this age of enlightenment? You’ve been to Kaduna, does it look like an uncivilised desert to you?”
Mark looked at her and smiled, one day he would use this conversation to make serious fun of her. He was rambling out of shock and she was talking about tribal discrimination. It was ridiculous.
“Jumai, you’ve got things all wrong here. I was just being jealous…”
A loud noise came from the east of the camp.
“What was that?” Jumai asked.
“That came from the men’s camp.” Mark said. God, please no.
He ran out of the kitchen and towards the men’s camp. He saw people running out of the hostels towards the field in front of the rooms. He was not sure what was happening but whatever it was, it was happening on that field.
“Are you sure it is safe to go there?”
Mark looked behind and saw Jumai. No, not this time.
“Jumai, please wait here this time. Please.”
“What if it someone dying and this time we can help?”
“I don’t think that is…” He stopped. His eyes caught something; one of the walls of the hostel had been broken. A large hole, big enough to fit a truck tire stood in the middle of the wall. “Please Jumai, I have a bad feeling about this one.”
“You should know I won’t stay Mark, someone might need a doctor.”
A loud crack sound came from behind the crowd. Was that a bone? He ran to the crowd and squeezed through them. He got to the front and stopped. For a few seconds he could not figure out what was happening. There were four men on the floor. One of them was not moving. The other three were entwined on the floor, fighting to rise to their feet. Every time one person almost stood, he was punched and knocked down.
Mark looked at a frail man standing beside him.
The man shook his head and moved away. There was a young boy standing on his other side. He pulled the boy and bent to speak to his ear.
The boy looked up at him and pulled him lower so he could talk into his ear.
“Sule blow Aliyu, he enter wall land for field. Aliyu brothers come help am.”
Surely the boy didn’t know what he was talking about. There was no way this Aliyu had made the hole in that wall. Mark pointed at the motionless man on the floor. “Who be that?”
“Aliyu. He don die. Na Sule kill am.”
Mark looked at the men fighting, it was only a matter of time before someone else joined Aliyu.
“Is that man dead?”
Mark looked and Jumai was already kneeing by Aliyu’s side. He had to stop this fight. WAAP could not afford another death in the developing settlement. He could not afford another death on his watch.
He walked slowly towards the fighting men, it looked like one of them was not moving anymore. One of the remaining men picked the other one and lifted him up. The crowd started shouting ‘Sule’! He had to do something, he could not let this Sule go ahead with whatever he wanted to do.
“Hey Sule.” Mark shouted. “Sule!”
Sule looked at him and for a moment Mark feared for his own life more than the man in Sule’s hands. The look Sule had in his eyes were not natural. And it wasn’t just the coldness in them, there was something different. Something major was wrong.
“Sule, please put him down.” Mark said. “Sule please.”
A few metres away from where he stood, Jumai’s phone began to ring. Sule looked in the direction of Jumai and dropped the man he held on the floor. Mark looked at Sule and the direction his attention had been drawn to. Did he want the phone? Was he mad? Will the phone pacify him?
“Jumai, please throw the phone to him.” Mark shouted. He did not want the man getting close to Jumai at all.
Jumai threw her phone to Sule but he sidestepped the phone and continued towards Jumai. He wanted her? Mark rushed ahead of him and stood in between Sule and Jumai.
“Sule, please. See the phone over there.”
Sule growled and kept advancing. He had to do something. What could he do? There was no way he could take Sule on, not even when he was sober. Maybe he should…
He saw the hand coming too late, it landed on his left temple and he felt himself fly through the air. He landed with his face in the sand. He laboured to roll over but his body was not responding. He looked for Jumai and out of the corner of his eyes he saw her; she was on the floor moving back rapidly. A pair of legs – Sule’s, moved towards her.
“Juu…” He could not scream. “Juum…”
He wanted to cry, what was this? What was happening? His eyes shut and none of it mattered anymore.