One hot morning, a lady walked into a police station. She was dressed in a loose, red T-shirt and blue jeans. Her hair, ‘one million braids,’ pulled back in a ponytail and her face bare of makeup. Dressing that morning, the desire to draw no attention to herself was surpassed only by her hope for a resolution on the matter that brought her.
The grounds were clean; wavy streaks in the sand testifying to a recent sweeping. The small L-shaped building wore a fresh coat of electric-yellow paint.
inside the building, the contrast was startling; cobwebs struggled with framed photographs of the state Governor, and the Inspector General of Police, nudging them gently and going on to form decorative Christmas hangings as they draped from ceiling fan to window pane – minus the air of Noelly festivity. The lone yellow bulb was dim, casting more shadow than lighting the place. The walls were grimy; the only piece of furniture, a tattered armchair was mouldy and worn. The countertop that ran across a quarter of the room, was chipped and had pen scrawled all over like the markings of a little child. Strewn across it were piles of files and sheets of paper filled with writing.
A policewoman behind the counter stretched and yawned loudly.
“How are you dear,” she said, with another wide yawn, not bothering to cover her mouth.
“Fine Ma,” the lady responded. Then in a burst of inspiration, “I like your uniform, Ma.”
The policewoman preened and looked like she would have liked to have a mirror close by. She settled for patting her wig – pitch-black, tight, plastic-looking curls with spiked ends.
“How can I help you?” she asked.
“I have come to report a case. I paid for a house and . . .”
“Wait wait wait.” The policewoman, with jerky motions that evidenced caffeine overdose, pulled out a file from a drawer beneath the counter and flipped it open. She thrust a sheet of paper at the lady, “write your statement here.”
When the lady saw that she was not going to be offered a pen, she got one out of her bag.
Just as she began writing her name, the policewoman yelled, “wait wait wait, let me open file for you.” She grabbed the pen from the lady and started writing on the file.
“Name,” she barked.
“Whose name?” the lady asked, unsettled.
“My name,” the policewoman responded, glaring at her. “Your name na!”
“Oh, Barbie. . . erm, Barbara.”
“Madam, which one is it?”
“Barbara, did you fall from the sky?”
“Sorry for yourself. Don’t you have a father?”
“Oh yes. Mr. Cletus”
“Okay, Barbara Cletus,” the policewoman began to write.
“No no, my name is Barbara Odok.”
“Oh, you’re married,” said the policewoman, looking pointedly at the lady’s bare ring finger.
“No, I’m not married.”
Then how come you aren’t Barbara Cletus?”
“Cletus is my father’s first name.”
“Who asked you for your father’s first name?” She stared at the lady incredulously, hissed like a snake, and wrote down the proper name.
“Uhm, UBA Ojuelegba. That is number—”
“You are living in a bank?”
“I work there,” Barbara said, looking down.
“I want your house address.”
“Well, I squat with several friends. If I give you one address and you go looking for me there—”
The policewoman squared her shoulders and glared at her. “Who is coming to look for you in your house? You think Police people have nothing better to do than—”
“Okay, I get the point.” Barbara reeled out an address.
“Thirty! And you are not married. And you are living with different people. I should place you under arrest.”
“Ah ah, for prostitution nah.”
“That’s just ridiculous.”
“Are you insulting me?”
“No, I am just—”
“You this girl, you better mind your mouth, or I will put you in slam, one time.”
“I’m sorry Ma.” She took a deep breath, fought for control.
“Ehen, where were we?” The policewoman pulled the form Barbara had started to fill towards her and said “Now, I will take your statement.”
Barbara began to dictate, and the policewoman stared at her.
“You are not writing.”
“Idiot, do I resemble your secretary?”
“But I was going to write myself”
“My friend, just talk. I will do a summary in police jargon when you finish”
“Yes, police jargon. You have a problem with police jargon?” Her pencilled brows were approaching her hairline.
“No o, not at all.”
Barbara spoke for ten minutes in minute detail. Then the policewoman wrote down in uppercase I PAID MONEY TO A MAN FOR A HOUSE. THEN HE RAN AWAY WITH MY MONEY AND NOW I CANNOT FIND HIM.
“But that does not even begin to capture the—” Barbara looked up from what she was reading, saw the policewoman glaring at her and muttered, “Sorry.”
“So now,” went on the policewoman with a grin, “you will pay two thousand Naira to officially open your file”
“Please, don’t interrupt me again.”
“We will use our intelligence to catch the man.”
“Intelligence, like ‘Intel?’” Barbara said excitedly, images of Jack Baeur flitting through her mind.
“Intelligence,” the policewoman repeated, pointing at her temple with her forefinger. “Brainwork.”
Barbara sighed, deflated.
“And this brainwork is not easy. You will need to mobilize us.”
“How much are we talking?”
“Well, that depends on how much you want your money back,” the policewoman said, a glint lighting her eyes.
“Okay,” Barbara sighed again. “And?”
“Well, you will call him with a number he does not know. Then arrange a meeting and when he comes, you place him under citizen’s arrest.”
“Citizen’s arrest. Right. What is that?”
“When one bloody civilian arrests another bloody civilian.”
“Hmmm, then what?”
“Then you bring him here and we deal with him for you.”
Barbara hadn’t been sleeping and had woken early for this errand; the weight of all the sleepless nights suddenly bore down on her. She realized that this whole episode had been a waste of time, and right then, she glimpsed a sign that read THE POLICE IS YOUR FRIEND.
She turned around and in measured steps, put as much distance between the police station and herself as she could.