A short story

During the crisp days of his youth, Joseph had all the adventures life offered and even took the ones it didn’t with so great a passion that even he admitted later in life that there must have been an invincible force that was prompting him to just get more and more out of life without giving any consideration for the aftermath effects. Those were the glorious days when raw youthfulness dared where the most fearless would not. And although, most of these adventures were purely for the thrills and recognition that usually comes with it from his peers, he had one or two misadventures that were purely for the money he needed at that time to settle one or two hitches he found himself in while servicing his other adventures- drugs and women.

Ounce upon a sunny afternoon, about twenty years ago, two of his friends brought news about a new adventure.

‘This is too good to be true. We just walk in and out like that?’ Joseph had heard tales that were told with so much correctness of situation only to find out that one or two obstacles needed to be removed before the adventure could begin. His two friends succeeded in convincing him to take the deal because, according to them, that would be the only time they would be doing something for themselves that was going to last a lifetime. Their future was there right in front of them to secure. That was what was too good to be true. The possibility that with one harmless act their whole world could change for the better forever in a country where planning for your future usually take the whole of a lifetime was just too much a temptation for anybody to resist.

Now, on a cool, windy morning, on a train bound for somewhere close to his destination, Joseph inhaled deeply the cool air that always heralded a downpour and whished simultaneously for a cigarette. His mind was in a whirlpool alright. But there was clarity in the midst of confusion even as he pondered what his next move would be after that morning. The orphanage didn’t say much. They just asked to see him as soon as he could make the trip. That should have been the destination of his thoughts. But instead they circled around him for a while and then travelled back to that night about twenty years ago. And he submitted to the time travel.

It was really too good to be true. They walked into the uncompleted building and carted away the loot some dare-devils armed robbers had taken from a bank the night before. According to police reports, it was estimated that the robbers made away with three hundred million naira. But the police were seriously on their trail thanks to an anonymous tip. So instead of returning to base the following morning to share the loot, they fled town.

But on their way out of the building, they heard the inaudible sharp sounds of a woman that were evenly spaced. Shocked and unsure of what to do, they nonetheless went deeper inside the building in search of the only witness of the adventure. A middle-aged woman was sprawling on the bare ground stark naked and in labor pains. Her legs were wide open. It was a gory sight for the men because none of them had seen a woman in labor before. And it was also obvious from her unkempt hair and long dirty fingernails that she was mad. And she got madder when she found out that she had company. She screamed louder and it was hard for the men to decipher whether the louder screams were directed at them or at the tiny head that was slowly pushing its way out of her.

‘We have to help her…’ Joseph brought the men out of their reverie.

But the other two would not hear of it. Time was of the essence. They didn’t come here to help. Besides how do you help a mad woman in labor?

‘I don’t know. Let us at least wait till the baby comes out and then we…’

Joseph was under a spell. It was evident by the way he stood transfixed, staring at the scene. There were three bags and three men each with a car. The plan was to drive away individually after the heist to their respective homes. Joseph’s sudden desire to be a mid-wife would not put a spanner in their wheels. And so the two friends left Joseph to his new found adventure. And the night got chiller. He would later find out that they ran into the waiting arms of the police that were swarming the whole town that night, still hot on the trail of the bank robbers. They thereafter died in prison two days later, mysteriously, according to the police spokesperson. The police claimed nothing was found on them.

Death could be a pacifier sometimes, Joseph thought for the hundredth time as the train inched closer to his destination. What would he have done that night when the air just got thicker with the scent of a new baby wrapped in blood and dirt? It took about five minutes and the unbearable shrieks of the baby before he realized that the mother was dead. He thought she was resting after that long bout for survival. That spirit that made him wait now pushed him forward and like a man in a dream, he removed his pocket-knife and cut the umbilical cord. He picked up the baby and instinct just whispered to him to feed the baby. He did by putting his forefinger in her little mouth and she sucked with a feisty passion. That was when Joseph realized that he was crying in the middle of an uncompleted building that happened to be a crime scene with a dead woman, a minute old baby and a bag full of money that was the evidence of a bank robbery and his legs gave him reason. He drove straight to the nearest orphanage in town which just happened to be the only one and dropped the baby at a block from it with a hurriedly written note on the brief history of the baby and a phone number where he could be reached.

The train stopped and his thoughts stopped too. He got down and took a long look at the orphanage before walking through the open gates. His exact instructions had been adhered too. When the orphanage called the next day, twenty years ago, he had told them to take care of the baby like she was the daughter of a rich man. All he needed do was foot her monthly bills. The orphanage had been pleased with such a kind gesture. They were already biting more than they could chew and the government that couldn’t take care of children with parents would rather an orphanage didn’t exist. They asked him for a name and he cried again. They named her Grace but he secretly called her Witness. He had told them not to tell her anything about her mysterious benefactor unless she asked. And she had been asking for him for two years now.

Joseph heaved a sigh of relief as a nun walked up to him… he was more than ready to give Grace a detailed account of how he had managed her own share of the loot that she was the only witness to.

(c) Muyis Adepoju

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In the beginning...Let there be Light

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