A man has been murdered and we have a killer on the loose. The security footage from the magazine store is a little grainy but we see the man before he was murdered. We see how carefully he walks down the aisle, tracing his fingers along the rows. We see how his fingers look like claws, scratching the wooden aisle like a witch’s fingers. For a minute, he pauses and he looks over his shoulders.
There is a woman behind him but she’s wearing a hoodie so we can’t see her face. The man turns back to the magazine he’d been checking out and the video blackens. When it comes back, white noise accompanies it so that we mistake the noise as his plea for help.
In the video, he isn’t talking but we know what might have run through his head. He isn’t important but he is one of those men with families who are important and wealthy and afraid of news coverage. We are keeping the murder and the investigation private. He was found in his house, in the kitchen, bloody, naked, dead. He was so cold and white that as we stood there, we realized that life was fleeting. That was about two days ago. Today, life is not exactly fleeting.
The teenage cashier we meet in the shop is scared. She stammers when she talks, shakes when she reaches for the keys. They clang in her hands but she takes us right to the back room. There is an older woman there too, quiet and attentive. She shows us the footage of the man before he was murdered and we look at it and we numbly smile at their efforts.
Elections are around the corner. In two weeks, a new person is going to take over, hopefully, and we might get to see changes if we are lucky. The man who has died is the brother or cousin or something in-between of the opposition party. We are not political fans but we do like to admit change is needed. We do not know who has murdered the man but we are desperately searching.
The backroom of the magazine shop is old. The walls are painted with a combination of purple, yellow, and white but even those seem to have been around since world war two.
There are writings on the wall, uneven lines, and ugly graffiti resembling the doodling of a child. It’s the kind of writings we find in old abandoned buildings and alleys. The place is warm but it smells like old, mismatched socks. The woman hasn’t taken a bath. That’s what she says to us. It’s not like we are complaining. The table is medium-sized. It contains two out-of-date computers, files, and three empty coffee cups.
We watch the video in silence. Then she talks, “ We don’t know how that could have happened.”
She would rather make an awkward reference to the murder than actually talk about it. She avoids eye contact when she says that he is a regular customer who only buys porn magazines even though he searches the entire shelves. We might get tired of the investigation sometime during the week and just say she is the killer. She will probably cry, say that she is innocent but it’s the election. Nobody will care. For now, we are not tired.
“Who was the lady behind him?” we ask.
She looks back at the video and replays it. “Oh, I don’t know. She was new. She was wearing a hoodie but she had green hair and very blue eyes.”
She says that she was out for a brief moment when the lady came but that there was nothing that showed he was in danger. We can’t be sure he was even murdered by the strange woman but we need to hold something tangible.
We tell them we might be back and she says alright. The teenager shakes when she leads us outside. She is fair-skinned, the sort of girl we will one day require when we have finally accepted the role of being perverts. For now, she is like our daughter, fair-skinned, attentive, normal.
It is noon in Nigeria. We are standing in a street with no name. The sun is like a wild animal in the sky. We have nothing except a lingering memory of haphazard houses and withering sunflowers. A man has been murdered and we have a killer on the loose. We count the steps from the shop to his house. Thirty-four steps are what we come up with. His house is relatively new, sitting alone, heaving like the sun. The wind tosses our hair and beads of sweat break on our foreheads. Still, we end up cold, chilly to the bone. We move back into his house. The place feels cold, wet, and soggy. It smells even bad: a mixture of a dead body and burnt soup.
When we first found the body, we notice the soup on the stove, burnt so bad that it had changed colors. Then, we found a plate of noodles, already cooked, already spoilt. Someone tested it for poisoning. Someone else arrived to tell us it had not been poisoned.
“He was suffocated with cellophane and then stabbed fourteen times,” the person said. “It feels a little gruesome if you ask me.”
We are not asking him. We already know.
We trail our fingers along the wall and clench our fists when we get to the kitchen. It’s been cleaned up but there is always going to be that awful smell. In ten years, when a couple buys the place, they will find that it has become haunted. They will write books about the ghost that haunts them and cry in their sleep. One of them will go into therapy. The other will think of dying. The place feels haunted anyway. It seeps from the flapping curtains and the carpet. The hallway echoes with a shrill sound that tears open our skins. It feels so cold like harmattan wind on dry skin. The table has burn marks; two small holes that can only come from cigarettes.
It stumbles steadily in our minds. The upper cupboard holds three packets of cigarettes and a faded receipt. We smoke two sticks before putting the receipt against the light. We see a store name. It is a ten-minute drive. When we get there, we find that the store is locked and has been for a day. We find a restaurant and we order jollof rice and fried plantain. The coke is chilled. We sip it slowly, pretending that we know what we are doing. After lunch, we sit in our car and we read the man’s file again: John Ashas, forty-three years old, separated, quiet, and a former writer. We have a copy of his novel in the back seat: The sun and the moon.
The blurb at the back says that it is about a man who travels abroad and falls in love with a woman outside his race. She dies and he becomes heartbroken so he returns home to find that home is not what it used to be. It sounds sentimental enough but we do not read books. We wonder if the book is about him or if it had been intended for someone else. We know nothing for sure. We only know that a man has been murdered and we have a killer on the loose.
We go home to sleep. We wake up just before dawn and stand outside. The air is moist and incomplete, the moon licking up the last of the night sky. The sun comes early, lifting its gentle wings in complete control. We make breakfast of black soup but end up not eating it. We tell ourselves we are not hungry but the truth is that we see the dead man’s face in the soup bowl. We found him on the floor in the kitchen. The place was bloody and wet. His eyes were closed, his face colored purple, his skin blotted. The hairs on his chest were matted with blood. He had long legs that, at that moment, we proposed he would have been a good athlete.
We search his phone and find that he had been texting a friend an hour before he died. We find that the conversation was not too important, just a quiet conversation between a married man and a divorced man. We go to see the friend. He lets us sit in his living room, tells his wife to serve us something. We tell them no but he insists. She puts beer in front of us and sits in a corner.
“He was about to start a new novel and was asking for a few materials,” the man said. He tells his wife something in Igbo and she nods and leaves. There is something about listening and not understanding a particular language even when everyone is Nigerian; that long line of weakening differences stuffing us out, killing us. “He was a good soul.”
The man is talking as if he is silently telling us that anyone should have taken his place, anyone but John.
“Can you tell us if he was having troubles with anyone?”
This time, he leans over and he lowers his voice. “He told me that he was having troubles with his brother, the one contesting for the election nonsense. I don’t think it was serious but, yes, he mentioned something like that.”
We nod. “And do you know if he was involved with a woman?”
“I don’t know,” he says. “Aren’t we all involved one way or the other with women? I believe it was his private affair, you know? enwere m olile anya ighota.”
We arch an eyebrow. He knows we do not understand his Igbo but he says it anyway. It takes a while before he translates. “I hope you understand.”
We sigh and then we leave. We try to understand what he has told us about the dead man and his brother. Of course, there is no way of proving they were actually not on good terms but still, we wonder if there is some truth in the matter. Honorable Collins did not mention anything of a quarrel with his brother when he had asked us to find out who had murdered his brother. Since there is no available database system and no functioning machine, we have picked up no fingerprint. We are walking blindly but we are searching as best as we can for our murderer.
Our next visit is to see the honorable. He tells us that it bothers him how the murder came so suddenly. There is no emotion in his eyes. It is as though he saying something that has been rehearsed a couple of times, talking as if the subject is only important as long as he says it is.
“What about the fight you both had? Care to elaborate, sir?”
He chuckles. “It was not a fight, officer,” he said. He will not address us properly because he is an honorable man. “It was what one might call a misunderstanding. We settled that long ago.”
“How long ago?”
He hesitates and then he shakes his head. “Why are you asking me these questions? I want you to find his killer. Don’t waste my time with this—“
In the car, we try to connect the dots. There’s the magazine store. There’s the mystery woman who may or may not be the killer. There’s the friend who knows nothing and the honorable man, my man. We get flashbacks of seeing the man on the floor and bagging him and walking in the sun. And then we come up with nothing.
When the news media gets a hold of the news, we get called in, the pressures hitting us like waves.
Who is the killer?
What has been done so far?
We have nothing to give, trapped between knowing so little and assuming the end. We get sandwiched in the present with blinding lights and nights filled with starless signs. The moon barely comes out but when it does, it is just a small ball of silver light.
It is then we decide. We take the woman from the magazine shop in and we delete the video and we know it is wrong and unfair but the pressure sits in our bones and makes us feel like dying. She cries when she is accused because she knows she has no one and she knows so little of her rights.
Then the pressure dies down and the honorable man calls us to his office. He smiles deceitfully, having a sinister look in his eyes and then he squeezes notes in our palm.
“Thank you,” he says. “You have done well.”
We have done nothing but we take the money and we watch the sunset.