Bamshak was stirred from his sleep by the sound of his mobile phone ringing with his current favourite song: Wizkid’s “On Top Your Matter”. His circadian clock told him it was too early to wake, and he pressed his eyes firmly shut, clinging to sleep, refusing to be roused.
But the caller was relentless, and he was equal parts surprised and unsurprised to find that it was Inspector Raliyat. Who else would call at five-thirty in the morning —”I need you to go in alone today” she said casually once he answered —and still sound imperial and unapologetic, like she was doing him a favour?
“You realise what time it is, right?”
“Yes, I do” she said with a hint of irritation, like he should be ashamed of still being asleep at five-thirty in the morning while it was still dark out.
“Couldn’t this wait?”
“Like I said, you would have to go in alone and question the Halima girl” she continued like she hadn’t heard him.
“Why? Where would you be?”
“I’m going on a little impromptu journey.”
“Oh. Can’t this wait till you return, Rali”—
“It’s ‘ma’ to you. It’s morning. We aren’t buddies anymore. I’m your superior, and you’d better address me as such. Understand?”
“Yes ma” Bamshak said tightly, swallowing the anger that rose to his chest, and with it, all the hot words that threatened to pop out of his mouth like burp.
Who the hell does she think she is? What makes her think she can call him at the crack of dawn and talk to him like he is a dim-wit? What pomposity! No wonder she got sent out here to the middle of nowhere. It wasn’t chauvinism, that one; that was probably what she liked to tell herself, and anyone who had the time to listen to her gripe; but she was annoying, snobbish, condescending, and he would send her in a barrel to Timbuktu if he could.
For all her brilliance, she was a real piece of work, and Sergeant Bamshak was certain it wasn’t just the male officers who were glad to be rid of her at her last station.
“I trust you’ll have everything under control. I’ll call back to check with you around noon.
“We’re getting close. I feel it.”
“I’m sure you do, ma” Bamshak returned dryly.
“‘Bye then” she said.
Bamshak didn’t respond, and just as he was about to end the call, she added: “And Bamshak… I had fun last night. We should do that again sometime.”
And then she hung up, leaving him with the phone pressed against his ear, feeling bad for all the terrible things he’d just thought of her.
It felt different without her. He knew it would, braced himself for it, but he still felt exposed as he walked through the main gate of the Nigerian Law School campus at Bagauda; down the long lane that branched out in an alternating left-right pattern after every fifty feet or so and petered out eventually at the lake. And walking that road without the slap of the hard soles of her shoes against the gravel, punctuated by her unending monologues and unilateral brainstorming, he felt, he hated to admit, somewhat frightened. Frightened that he might botch the simple assignment and convince her he was utterly useless on his own.
What was even much worse was the fact that he did feel that way: utterly useless without her.
And to think it had only been one day: one day of fingering suspects and striking them off the list, one day of spinning theories and chasing leads, counting on her hunches and second-guessing her suspicions; one day only, and he felt her absence now like the loss of his shadow. How did that happen?
Sergeant Bamshak found that he missed Inspector Raliyat, and the day had yet to begin; he missed her voice, and he missed her because she’d have known what to do, how to coerce the truth out of the Halima girl, but him? He had no idea.
Playing mind games and all the attendant button-pushing, was definitely not something he thought he could get a hang of. He was more likely to threaten, and if that didn’t work, throw a punch and hope it jars a memory or two loose —hopefully, leaving the teeth intact. But Inspector Raliyat… She was subtle with her questioning, she was in charge from the moment she walked into a room, possessing the kind of loud authority that didn’t give room for objection; but people responded to that, suspects more than others, and she pulled them in with wordless promises —of her friendship, of her understanding, of her protection —and then bam! She snagged them when they least expected it. She was cutthroat, and he was…well, cutthroat too, only in a more literal sense.
But he had to do this alone. What the hell, it was just simple as ABC. He had to find a dreary, dusty room; preferably in an isolated building, or better yet, somewhere by the lake. Yes, the open air terrace where they had spoken with Melvin. It had a good view of the lake, wide and deep, and each time she looked to it, where a guiltless mind would have sourced peace, she would look to it as an escape route and instead think of drowning and several other ways to die, like being stabbed indiscriminately in the back.
It troubled Sergeant Bamshak slightly to find that he had just hatched a plan in much the same way he supposed Inspector Raliyat would. How did that happen? How could she rub off so much on him in one day?
Surely, they had worked together on other cases and he had always had a sense how brilliant she was, but all those other cases had been open-and shut: the rare drug-bust and confiscation of tonnes of marijuana on transit to Edo, Delta, or Jos; several yam-and-pepper complaints, plus goat-theft cases, but nothing like this… Nothing like Mr. Edom’s case. This one —all of it —was different, and he’d seen Inspector Raliyat in rare form, and was stupid enough to have been seduced by it… In one darn day!
It was time to put some of those lessons to use, he thought just as he arrived at the bank of the lake and sat on a rotary built around a palm tree, watching the water.
He would wait here till 9 O’ clock when lectures start, and then he’ll head to the lecture hall, brave all of those searching eyes being trained on him, and ask for Halima Mubarak, because that’s what Inspector Raliyat would have done.
Everyone would murmur. Whispers would trail her as she leaves her seat —hopefully, in the back —and makes her way to the front of the class, tottering on her moderate heels. She’d be terrified, and he’d give her no reason to feel otherwise, because he knew a thing or two about terror; especially, that it was the only emotion that could make a woman out a man she was sleeping with, even for things that weren’t as grievous as murder, and it didn’t matter whether she loved him or not. In fact, the way he saw it, a woman wouldn’t sleep with a man recurrently, without being paid or forced, except she loves him or lies to herself that she doesn’t.
Sergeant Bamshak enjoyed the thought that being a man put him in the know of a thing or two Inspector Raliyat couldn’t begin to grasp. If Inspector Raliyat could hear his thoughts, she’d have told him how presumptuous he was.
When Halima Mubarak woke up that morning it felt like any other day: she felt more tired than when she had gone to bed, some of her room mates were bickering over stolen toothpaste while the others were rioting against a girl from the next room whom they had no way of knowing hadn’t died in the bathroom, and as always, there was too little time to prepare. But she managed to get herself prepared in time enough, and was seated in the lecture hall a full twenty minutes before lectures.
Halima was shy; one of those unobtrusive people that would much rather not be seen nor heard. She didn’t have many friends, she hardly said more than a few words to her raucous room mates each day, and in class, she never answered any questions, didn’t attend any of the small group meetings, and liked to seat in the back at the lecture hall: deep enough to be lost in the sea of heads from the front of the class, but not so much as to be an easy prey on the occasion a wandering lecturer and a microphone made the journey to the back of the class seeking out scapegoats.
Halima had her disappearing act down to a science, a formula perfected by her collection of trendy, expensive hijabs, which looked anything but, seeing as they were black and didn’t set her apart from the next hijab-donning girl.
Yes, Halima was a ghost in class. Until that morning when a tall fair-skinned man in a body-hugging T-shirt and khakis walked into class from the front, went up the elevation to confer briefly with the lecturers, then taking the microphone, announced:
“Would Halima Mubarak step forward, please. Now.”
For a moment it didn’t register to Halima that she was the one being summoned. Halima was a fairly common name, and it seemed unthinkable that someone was ever going to say her name with a microphone. Then some guy in the seat next to her, a fellow she didn’t know, tapped her plastic desk with his pen.
“You’re Halima Mubarak, right?”
Halima looked around. There was no one standing. “Yes, I think so.”
She rose slowly, briefly wondering how it was that some random guy knew her name, and then shakily she started to advance towards the front of the class, tugging at her hijab.
She heard the whispers, murmurs: people probably wondering who she was, and why she was being summoned.
It’s amazing how the subjects of gossip are always the last to learn what others know about their lives and secrets, because as Halima walked to the front of the class, tugging her hijab, she had no idea she was a celebrity on campus, nor that some of her room mates knew that the hijab she was wearing that morning had been a gift from her boyfriend, Dr. Yesufu, on her birthday last week. Unlike Halima however, her room mates had known that such cheery news had to be shared…
Nigerian Law School Headquarters,
Inspector Raliyat pushed her sunglasses farther up her nose as she was cleared through security at the gate of the Nigerian Law School HQ. As far as following through with her hunches, her journey to Abuja, decided a few minutes before she called Sergeant Bamshak and got on bus, was definitely one of her most daring. And she did wonder if it made her egotistical, being so cock-sure of herself, her wholesale trust of her instincts; and decided that it wouldn’t matter so long as she didn’t turn out to be wrong.
She walked up the exit road, inspecting the buildings she passed, unhurried, calm.
She saw a few students dash to class. At that time they were definitely late. But she wasn’t. She was just on time.
She glanced at her wristwatch: 9:30 AM. And then she rooted out her mobile phone and placed a call.
“Uncle D.D, it’s Rali.”
“Yes, I know.”
“I’m at Bwari. At the law school headquarters.”
“I’d like to speak with the DG.”
“What about? What do you need to tell him that you can’t tell me?”
“Everything. Especially since I don’t trust you, and you’re clearly shielding Dr. Yesufu, lying for him.”
“Listen Rali, I don’t know what you think you know, but I’d like to ask that you run all your inquiries or complaints by me first”—
“Because there’s a way we do things in the law school. There’s a chain of authority.”
“Well, I’m jumping the queue. I don’t mean to undermine your authority, but if I don’t trust you…”
“Haven’t I been cooperative with you?”
“Not so much.”
“What do you want me to do?”
“Get Dr. Yesufu to meet me in front of the admin building in ten minutes. That’s how long I can put off my meeting with the DG.”
“What? I thought you said he was in Abuja.”
“Of course, I know that was a lie on your part at the time you said it, but he’s in Abuja now, isn’t he? He’s here on campus, right?”
“So you admit to lying?”
“No. I admitted no such thing.”
“Not that it would have made much of a difference though. I know what I know, and what I know tells me you can’t be trusted, so if I’m going to shift ground you have to show some good faith.”
“OK. He’ll be there.”
“I’m on the job, Mr. DDG. Call me Inspector Raliyat.”
“Now, you wanted to say something?”
Inspector Raliyat ended the call and waited, savouring her little victory.
“Did you know Mr. Edom?” Sergeant Bamshak asked Halima.
“Were you friendly with him?”
“No. Definitely not.”
“Was he blackmailing you?”
“No! Why would he?” She seemed genuinely shocked by the question.
“Let me see… Urm, maybe because you are sleeping with your lecturer.”
“Yes. Do you deny you’re having an affair with Dr. Yesufu?”
“Woyo Allah! Who told you that?”
“A student, a male student. Clearly, everyone in school knows about it.”
Halima jumped to her feet at this, her eyes bulging wild, shaking her head. “That can’t be true. That can’t be true. Please tell me it’s a lie.”
“I wish I could. But I guess we both have to confirm each other’s fears. Me, that your intrigue with your lecturer is in the public domain. And you, that Mr. Edom was blackmailing you and you colluded with your boyfriend to kill him.”
“This isn’t happening” she kept repeating. “This isn’t happening.” And then she dropped to the floor with a heavy thud.
For a second, Sergeant Bamshak thought she just fell, but when she didn’t move, he realised she had fainted.
Luckily, he had a bottle of cold water close by.
Inspector Raliyat saw the white Toyota Forerunner pull up in the parking area in front of the admin building, watched the driver alight, and for the briefest of moments, she thought he might be good-looking, just before he spotted her and started to make towards her, and she noticed the knocked-knees, the way his body was fixed as though he was halfway through stooping on a pit-toilet. From a distance, if he was sitting, he could easily be mistaken for handsome, what with his dusky skin, his impressive height, and his sinewy upper-body; but up close…well, Dr. Yesufu wasn’t much to look at.
“Are you Inspector Raliyat?”
“You must be the elusive Dr. Yesufu.”
“What do you want with me?”
“I’m investigating a murder case.”
“Well, I have motive, I have a crime, but I need a criminal. Are you the criminal?”
“I didn’t murder Mr. Edom.”
“Surely, you don’t expect me to take your word for it.”
“I had one silly confrontation with Mr. Edom, and because of that you trail me all the way out here?”
“What did you have a confrontation with him about?”
“Are you accusing me of something here, Inspector?”
“If I haven’t made that clear, my apologies, Doctor.”
“Well, I’ve told you all there is to know. I’m not saying another word except you’re charging me with a crime. Moreover, you’re out of your jurisdiction here.”
“Am I, now?”
“You’ll talk to me, Dr. Yesufu. Whether you like it or not.”
“Need I remind you that I am a lawyer. I can’t be intimidated by your antics.”
“Why did you run away from Kano to come out here and hide?”
“I’m not hiding. I’m here on official business.”
“Oh, I see. The sort of official business you have going with Halima Mubarak?”
Dr. Yesufu was stunned into silence.
“I have a working theory, you see” Inspector Raliyat continued, “and it goes like this: you’re having an affair with your student, Mr. Edom found out about it, he blackmailed you with it, and you killed him.”
“I, I —you need to”—
“What is it? Intimidated yet?”
“Can we please talk somewhere else” Dr. Yesufu implored, looking like his knees could give any minute. Lost was all the bravado of a second ago.
“I thought you’ll never ask” Inspector Raliyat said, and called up a sweet smile.
She hoped Bamshak was having as good a day as she was.
“So, you had no idea Mr. Edom was blackmailing Dr. Yesufu?”
“No” Halima muttered. “Absolutely not.”
“Would Dr. Yesufu have told you if something like that happened?”
“No. I don’t suppose he would have. He’s very protective of me. He wouldn’t want me to worry about something like that.”
“So the fact that you don’t know if Mr. Edom was blackmailing your lecturer —whom you were sleeping with —doesn’t mean he wasn’t, right?”
She shrugged, then said: “Don’t talk about us like we are dirty. It’s not what it seems.”
“I don’t quite follow.”
“Dr. Yesufu and I… He’s not just my lecturer. I know what it looks like, but I’ve known him a long time. He’s my fiancé, and we’ve been together three years, since I was in university, long before I came to law school. We are going to be married after my call-to-bar. He was the reason why I chose this campus, because I wanted to be close to him.
“Keeping our relationship a secret was his idea. You know how people are, how they talk. He didn’t want anyone thinking I was getting any sort of preference just because I am his intended. He made it clear that I was to keep our relationship secret for both our sakes, and I tried. But I love him, and sometimes, I just needed to see him, to be around him.
“I might have hugged him once or twice on campus. Looks might have passed between us that lingered too long, but I was careful.”
“Not careful enough” Sergeant Bamshak said, and she shot him an icy look, surprising him by its intensity, causing a chill to creep up his spine.
“I’m sorry” he heard himself say.
“There was this one day though…” She continued like she hadn’t heard him. “I was in Muhammed’s car”—
“Dr. Yesufu. I was in his car, and we were, you know, kissing… Then someone came and rapped on the car window on the first-passenger’s side where I was.
“It was Mr. Edom, and I didn’t think he’d seen anything because the car windows were tinted, but…”
“Do you think Dr. Yesufu —Muhammed; do you think he would kill to protect you?”
“You really expect me to answer that honestly?” Halima asked.
“No” she said.
“No, you won’t answer the question, or no, he wouldn’t?”
“No, he wouldn’t. He couldn’t. He doesn’t have it in him. You’d agree with me if you know him like I do.”
“Something would be mighty wrong for me to know him like you do, don’t you think?”
She stared at him blankly. If she noted the sarcasm, she gave no indication.
“And you? What would you do if someone was going to cause Muhammed to lose his job, cause him to be disbarred? Do you think yourself capable of killing someone who was out to ruin your intended?”
“Yes” she stated coolly, without missing a beat. Sergeant Bamshak flashed on the icy look she had given him seconds earlier and became unnerved.
“At the end of the day, we never know what we’re capable of until we are tested” she said finally, and forced a smile.
Too late, Sergeant Bamshak thought. Too late…