I was furious. I called Femi.
“I gave that boy forty thousand naira this morning and he didn’t show up to fix my pipes for me,” I blurted hotly into the phone. “Now, his number isn’t connecting.”
“Ha, na wa o.” Femi said. “Let me see if I can reach someone that is close to him but Frank isn’t that kind of person o. I am sure something must have gone wrong.”
I was furious. “Please get me another plumber if you can’t reach him. That guy is a criminal. Why would his phone suddenly become unreachable?”
Femi could not reach Frank. He called back and told me that his phone was still switched off.
“I gave you his number because he is about the best hand I know. I am sorry it turned out this way. I still believe that something must have gone wrong somewhere. He isn’t that kind of person.”
“Forget all these artisans bro. Most of them are crooks.” I muttered rather indignantly.
He sent me the phone number of another fellow who came and gave me his own quotation but I was smarter this time. I drove him to the market and we bought the materials he needed for the job. He finished the work right on time. My father-in-law called me the very minute the plumber finished that they had arrived. My driver went to pick them up from Jabbi Park.
I felt proud when the old man told me as they were about to leave days later that he was very satisfied with the reception I gave them.
“Maria, you must thank your husband for me. I am really grateful. I never expected this lavish reception. He has made me proud.” My father-in-law told my wife excitedly.
The guests left and I felt it was time to deal with the thief who took my forty thousand naira away. His number was still switched off. I asked a few persons about him and no one could point exactly where he lived or where I could find him. My wife advised that I forget about him and let God judge him but I just could not let go.
“You are more than forty thousand naira Rueben. Please forget this young man and leave it to God.” Maria counseled and I could not believe my ears. She’d always known that I would never joke with my money.
“What are you saying? You want me to let that boy go with my money? Never, I will teach him a lesson he will never forget. He has just messed with the wrong guy and he will pay dearly for it.” I snapped angrily.
A few days later, I was driving past the Gwarimpa General Hospital when I saw Frank. He wore a blue shirt atop a pair of black trousers. I could still recall that it was exactly what he wore the day he’d come to inspect the pipes in my house.
He’d just alighted from a tricycle and was looking scrubby and grubby like one who’d just been exhumed from a dingy pit.
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There’s no hiding place for the wicked. I muffled excitedly to myself.
I quickly dialed Sani’s phone number. He was a soldier I had met a week before. He was introduced to me by a friend. Sani was furious when I told him what the plumber had done at the barracks.
“Forget that I am just rank and file,” he had told me at the Mammi Market where we were drinking . “If I catch that boy, I will make him smell his anus before he would produce the money.”
“Sani, I have just seen that thief at the Gwarimpa General Hospital.” I told the soldier on the phone. “Can you come over now?”
Sani said he was close. I called my wife to break the good news to her.
“I just saw the thief now and Sani is on his way. We will get him soon.”
I knew she was going to say something to discourage me so I swiftly ended the call. Minutes went by and from where I sat waiting in the car, I kept an eagle eye on the entrance to the hospital.
Sani met me minutes later.
“Where is the idiot?” he thundered irritably. He had come with a friend of his and they were both in their uniforms. “I will only ask him to give you your money and he will go and look for it now and give it to you.”
I was standing with the two soldiers by my car when Frank came out of the hospital. It seemed as if a thousand bees settled on him the moment he saw us.
“That’s the thief!” I screamed and we were shocked to see him break into a run immediately like a frightened kitten. His legs became like propellers as they ferried him with the speed of a bullet fired from a gun.
The soldiers were too stunned at his attitude that they couldn’t go after him. None of us expected him to act that way. We were not prepared for that. We just stood in wonderment and stared bemusedly at him as he ran blindly into a moving car at the other lane. The impact was massive because a cloud of dust rose into the sky as the vehicle flung Frank into the air.
“This boy don kill himself o,” Sani screamed. In seconds, onlookers swam towards the scene like a school of fish.
My heart was pounding as I edged towards them. At that moment, my money and all my efforts to prove a point made no sense anymore to me. What have I done? Rueben, what have you done? You have killed someone, Rueben. You have killed someone. A voice cried in my head.
I watched as three young men carried the injured Frank like a sack of cassava tubers hurriedly into the hospital. The driver of the Toyota Camry that had hit him was a young lady of about thirty years old. She was crying agitatedly with her hands on her head.
Rueben, you have killed someone! The voice continued to thunder in my head. Frank was covered in blood. He was screaming. It was when they neared me that I heard what he was saying.
“My wife, my baby.. My wife, my baby…”
He was taken into ICU immediately. It was while we stood there outside the hospital that I overheard a nurse saying that Frank had been at the hospital for nearly two weeks.
His pregnant wife had had some complications and gone into coma after she had a premature delivery. Her baby was incubated while she battled for her dear life.
“All my life, I have never seen a man that loved his wife this much. He had been praying and fasting for her since she was brought here. He sold his phone the other day when his wife needed blood. The day before yesterday, he brought part of the money he owed. He told me he sold his TV. God, please nothing should happen to this boy o..”
I left the hospital in tears. Sani shook his head regretfully. “Poverty na disease o. May God have mercy on him.”
When he left with his friend and I began to drive back home, I could not control the tears anymore. I should have listened to my wife. I should never have come. Forty thousand naira was not up to the money I spend to buy drinks for my friends sometimes. I should have been patient.
Even though I donated half a million naira to the family for his hospital bill, Frank did not survive. He died four days later. A part of me died too. I don’t know how people who kill other people live with it, eat, sleep and go about their businesses. I don’t know the kind of heart such people possess. Perhaps they are not humans. Humanity is totally useless if it continues to parade cruel and selfish people like me and those who spill the blood of the innocent. What have I gained but sorrow and grief?
Frank’s death will continue to hunt me to my grave even though I remain deeply sorry for going after him to collect my money. Sometimes, it pays us more if we just let go!
THE PLUMBER by Japheth Prosper
(a true story)