Aida and the Razor Man
By Crispin Oduobuk
She gets scooped up at the corner of Opebi and Allen. Petite Aida with the head-turner looks. Only, now in the dusk she’s looking like a drugged-out, grungy supermodel. She could still turn heads, though not for the reason she used to.
She cringes as Teejay brakes abruptly right next to her, flaunting the ABS system—no screeching. Teejay, barrel chest straining in a tight shirt, jumps out and blocks her path.
“Glad to see us?” Kendi asks, leaning out of the car window. He often thinks himself funny. It’s even his idea that he will eventually have her. But you tell yourself you’re not really interested. Aida doesn’t trouble you. Hell, you even used to like her. The shipment’s late, though, and that does bother you. Kendi should have double-checked the courier. But he didn’t.
You should have double-checked on Kendi. But you didn’t.
Eyes bulging, Aida is already breathing through her mouth as Teejay rough- handles her into the back seat. There’s a flash of unexpectedly healthy thighs. The flat of her briefly bare stomach raises a lump in your throat. You inhale deeply and look away. But not for long.
“I hear you want to be a writer,” Kendi says, pushing Aida to the floor. “Well, I’ve got a story for you.”
You don’t know exactly how roomy a 500 SEL is until you have a speechless girl lying at your feet, her swollen eyes pleading for mercy, hoping the less stressful encounters the two of you have shared in the past will save her now. There’s no doubt that her remarkable chest, which has accidentally become exposed, is on display for your benefit. Which really means for her benefit. You’ve saved her more than once before. You know how her mind works. And what’s a present, or a future for that matter, without a past? She’s living on half a hope, and she knows it. Those lips you once sucked as if your very life dwelled there wordlessly plead with you to save her one more time.
Again you avert your eyes. To hell with Aida. Good education and all that. Still ended up on the streets. But then, so did you. And the two of you were once comrades in despair. Who needs to remember those days now?
You do the sums in your head. Half of half a million dollars is a quarter of a million dollars. Triple that, since it’s your take this round, and you’ve got three quarters of a million dollars. Street value if the feed goes through without agro—if Tarzan or any of the others don’t start something silly—is sixteen times that. Twelve million dollars. Forget doing the conversion to naira. It’s as much loot as even the most fraudulent top government official can steal. That’s what’s about to go wrong if that late shipment doesn’t turn up soon. You feel a sweat coming on. And Aida is still trying to catch your eye.
“It’s a true story,” Kendi is saying. Out of the corner of your eye you see him going for his belt. What’s he going to do? Whip her? Make her give him a blowjob? You once told him Aida gives great head. Now you wish you hadn’t. When will he grow up? And what in heaven’s name are you still doing hanging with him?
When his hand reappears he’s clutching the old 9 mm Astra you gave him last week. Czech-made army issue, it had been your late father’s and to the best of your knowledge was only used once in anger. Lethal anger. You let Kendi have it because you never figured he’d ever have any cause to use it. Now you wonder if you did the right thing. The kid hasn’t learned much. Still thinks this is a shoot-‘em-up kind of business like in those silly Hollywood movies.
“There was a guy and a girl,” Kendi says, absent-mindedly checking the clip. “They used to deal for Bongo. You’ve maybe heard of him--the Razor Man.”
Once more Aida tries to make eye contact with you. You’re in dodge mode. Focus on the missing millions. What did she do with all the cash you once gave her? Focus on being free. Like when you were young. Swimming in the village stream. Chilling under a coconut tree. Just hanging with your peers. Enjoying the breeze. You know who Bongo the razor man is. Was, actually. You also know the guy and girl that used to deal for him.
Aida whimpers and looks straight at you. “Remember how you once told me you loved me?” She hasn’t actually said anything. But you can see the words because her eyes are televising them.
You curse yourself for looking at her and turn back towards the window. The tinted glass makes the outside darker than it really is. Grotesque shadows chase the twilight. Millions of dollars slipping out of reach. Damn! Once you had peace, a fidgety and prickly sort of peace but one that nevertheless proclaimed your integrity, even in its seeming worthlessness, to the world. But you had no big scores to chase. Eventually Aida and the streets posed the question to you: of what use is uprightness when poverty continually exposes you to a jeering world?
“They did good, so Bongo gave them bigger cuts.”
Kendi drops the gun in his lap and stares at Aida as if he’s seeing her for the first time. He flicks his fingers as if to dispose of a cigarette. Then he chuckles with childish delight. You force yourself to breathe more easily. You know this TV preacher who’s always talking about the demons everybody has following them. You wonder if your demons will eventually do to you what Kendi’s have done to him.
You sigh and think how nice it would be to get away from it all. Take the money, then make the break. Go legit. A whole new world. Some place nice. Tree-shaded beaches and aquamarine water. Island girls—multiracial, healthy and totally liberated. Best of all, no strings. No deals and no sweat. Hell, you won’t even have Kendi to worry about.
The car lurches on. Teejay clears Opebi and cuts into Airport Road. There are lots of lonely, bushy parts along this route. Teejay probably expects a dumping.
“So, they got bigger cuts,” Kendi continues, “but, of course, they got too ambitious and started skimming some of Bongo’s profits. See, they had a plan to strike out on their own.”
No, they didn’t, you say to yourself,
wondering why people so often reinvent things. The girl got pregnant—“ate
beans,” as they say. There were compli-
“Of course, Bongo found out they were stealing,” Kendi says. He picks up the gun again. “What do you think he did?”
Teejay is slowing down. He would like to get it over with quickly. It’s Satur- day night, and he likes to hang out at Vegas Palace. Good live music. Sexy girls. Girls like Aida. The Aida of the past.
“Bongo lived up to his name.” Kendi pauses for effect. You become aware that the music has stopped. You consider telling Teejay to turn it back on. But you don’t. The thoughts in your head have a rhythm all their own. Maybe that’s where your own demons operate.
“Slashed the girl to pieces and then went looking for the guy.”
It occurs to you Bongo really should have killed the guy first. The guy wouldn’t have minded dying. The girl was his life. When she died with their child in her, the one they’d resolved to keep, he became a zombie.
Aida grabs your trouser feebly. You shake her off. So, you used to sleep with her, uh huh, but she knew the score when she did what she did. Lots like her, in any case. Street bred. Street dead. Street never cared. Street won’t care now.
“It’s a true story, I tell you.” Kendi is chuckling again. Not for the first time today you wonder if he’s not actually crazier than you’ve assumed.
“Bongo went after the guy. The guy took off. It was a real-life movie chase. Then the guy’s car broke down and he tried to get away on foot.”
The car didn’t break down. The guy figured he’d have better odds on foot than in an old Peugeot with Bongo pushing a gleaming Jag.
“So the guy ran through tiny back streets until he came to the end of a fenced- off alley.”
Kendi is cocking the pistol now. You wonder if he really intends to delete Aida. Does he have a clue what will happen to him if that late shipment doesn’t come through? Hell, what’s going to happen to you?
“So the guy had to make a decision…” Kendi raises the gun and points it at Aida. “…either to jump over the fence or turn back. Now, on the other side of the fence was a busy police station and this guy wasn’t exactly a choirboy. If he turned back, he had to face Bongo, and Bongo was no Good Samaritan even on his best day.
“Still want to be a writer? Here’s your chance to tweak the plot, girl. Forget what the guy actually did—I’ll tell you that in a minute—just imagine he’s a character in your story. What would you have him do?”
The fear in Aida’s eyes becomes tears that do not quite rain nor do they drip. You’re locked onto those eyes now. You see in those eyes that Aida now really understands the purpose of life: to survive. Your sympathy with her naïve conclusion reminds you that once you had ideals based on a different sort of purpose in life. But what good did they ever do you?
“Leave her alone, Kendi,” you say quietly, but not because you’re interested in returning to an “honest” past that meant hunting for jobs that always went to less qualified but more connected people. Nor are you especially keen to have the white interior of your brand new Merc redecorated with crimson splatter. Besides, Aida will be history shortly without anyone having to kill her. The demons that chase her these days answer to masters in hell. They are sure to return there, and they’ll take Aida with them.
“We’ve got to make an example of her, man,” Kendi says, swinging the gun your way. You reach over and ease the gun out of his hand.
Kendi doesn’t know what that guy in his story actually did. He only knows the revised version. Few people know for real what it’s like to awaken a man of peace and discover a warrior. Kendi doesn’t know. Bongo didn’t either. Worse, Bongo didn’t know the guy’s father had been an army veteran. And Kendi has no clue exactly what sort of damage an Astra can do, especially at close range.
“Give it a rest, man,” you whisper, tucking the Astra into Kendi’s waistband and smoothing out his silk jacket. “We don’t lose face by not killing a woman.”
“She stole over a hundred grand, man!”
“Forget it. We’ve got to worry about—”
Suddenly, gunfire. You do a one-eighty and see a Peugeot behind with two guys hanging out the windows popping automatics.
“It’s Tarzan!” Kendi yells. “He wants to take us out! The idiot wants to take us out!”
“Step on it, Teejay,” you say, hoping
the much-vaunted bullet-proofing lives up to its hype. Teejay is already
pushing the 500 towards the sound barrier.
“Shut up!” you yell. “You hear me? Just shut the fuck up!”
In slow motion, Kendi pulls the Astra out of his waistband, brings it up to your head and pulls the trigger.
And then you come awake to the sound of the power stabilizer doing a normal self-regulatory switch. Aida, still asleep, snuggles closer.
That nightmare again. You wonder why you never see Aida’s hand reaching out, pushing the Astra away from your face. Or the bits of Kendi’s brains and blood spraying the white leather.
You’re first urge is to go out and enjoy the morning breeze, enjoy this second chance at life. But you know if you move, Aida will wake up. And she needs all the rest she can get with a baby on the way now. At last.
So you lie there and cuddle the one person who gives you a reason to go on breathing. Through the open French windows you see the coconut trees in the backyard dancing in the wind. It always rains whenever that nightmare reoccurs. And it’s been seven years since that awful day, seven years of new faces, new names, a new hemisphere. Time to forget that old life. Time to have a new dream.
(Crispin Oduobuk is 30, single
and the magazine editor of the Weekly Trust. He's a read-a-lot,
travel-when-can, music and Internet freak. A 1995 best-graduate of Literature-in-English
of the University of Abuja, he's been published in BBC Focus on Africa
Washington Times, Ken*Again, and The Ultimate Hallucination (http://members.rogers.com/breeno/ultimatehallucination.html),
www.eastoftheweb.com, www.toowrite.com, www.sevenseasmagazine.com, www.topwritecorner.com,
www.mammyrammer.com and www.raintiger.com. When not fighting the dreaded
literary disease RTD (Revision to Death), Crispin disturbs his neighbours
with loud, badly expressed takes on artistes as diverse as Handel and 2Pac.
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)