The Robbery Attack
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June 12, 2016 at 1:38 pm #658726
DIDI LA PEZParticipant
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In between rousing from a dream and
drifting back into a serene sleep with a
noisy yawn, Emeka muffles my mouth
with his palm and shakes me into
“Quiet,” he whispers, “Get up and put
on some clothes, something’s going on
I suck in air through my teeth, hold my
breath and listen. Outside, crickets chirp
and frogs croak in the distance. Deep
voices whisper in the room next door –
Lydia’s room. From my room, I hear a
baritone voice bark: “Where is Doc?”
“Doc?” Lydia replies in her habitual
Igbo-inflected accent, “I, I don’t know
any Doc o.” She stutters.
“Not playing. Where’s your landlord?”
Another woman retorts in a thin voice.
Speaking fast, with a tone of urgency,
she says, “Where’s his flat?” A hard
slap echoes. Lydia screams.
“I will tell you. This duplex in front of
my room. That’s the Landlord’s house.”
As Lydia explains, the koi-koi-koi of
heeled shoes fills the dark dawn, and
then peters out.
“Shhh Shuww-up. Who and who live
here?” A raspy voice bumbles. And I am
struck by the hyper-nasal resonance in
“A cleft palate, perhaps,” Emeka says as
though he can read my thoughts. I tell
myself it’s just his speech pathologist’s
“Bring out your money!” the baritone
voice commands. My heart starts to
pound gbim-gbim-gbim in my chest and
I think, so this is how it feels to be a
hair’s breadth from death.
Emeka turns off the lights in the room –
the only room. It’s a one-room, self-
contained apartment. He drags me into
the bathroom and hushes me.
“Bring my clothes from the box,” I
moan, even though I do not know if I
have any decent clothes in the box
suitable for an impending armed
robbery attack. I berate myself for
sleeping off in nothing, a habit I
imbibed since I married Emeka, three
months ago. While my mind works,
Emeka bounds into the bathroom,
thrusts a pair of jeans and a long blouse
in my arms. Thank God, I think.
Snuggling into the blouse, I hear a howl
from Lydia’s room. It’s Lydia’s sister,
“If we don’t ge’ money, we’ll wrape
you! Shhh!” I hear the raspy voice say.
And I am almost strangely amused by
the nasal emissions, at the same time
frightened by the meanness in his
machismo tone. “Rape,” I mutter under
my breath, “Not wrape!”
Emeka enters the bathroom with our
android phones, our work laptops. The
android phones show the time to be
3:55AM. “How many are there? Can
hear two voices, not sure,” Emeka
soliloquizes while we tuck the
electronic gadgets under the laundry
basket, I want to tell him I heard five
different voices when a thought pops
into my head and my heart skips two
beats. I turn to him, and whisper, “The
windows are open,”
“What?” he asks, a hint of hopelessness
in his voice.
“The windows are open. Go shut them,”
I say, as I slump on the toilet seat. My
head sinks into my palms as I ease
myself. Emeka goes back to the room
and I hear him quietly sliding the
The woman’s thin voice rings in the
distance like a canary’s. And I can pick
out my Landlord’s voice. But I’m not
sure about the latter – the weepy voice
which sounds like the Landlord when he
laughs, like a drunk chimpanzee. Is it
possible that my Landlord laughs and
cries with the same voice? I ask myself,
“Take me to the other rooms. You know
what will happen if you make any
unnecessary noise,” The baritone voice
says, a loud slap accompanies his
words. A piercing scream. The shuffling
sound of feet reminds me that my room
is next. Jumping up from toilet seat, I
rummage through the laundry basket for
some underwear. Finding a brown one, I
ignore its irritating wetness and slip it
on before I wear my jeans. My ears
stand, perked up.
“Don’t panic,” Emeka says, “And don’t
make any noise, okay?” I nod, exhale.
The bang-bang-bang at my door hits my
ears where I lean against the toilet
walls. Emeka holds my shivering palm,
gives it a reassuring squeeze. I exhale,
close my eyes, grateful that he is around
to play this role. What if he was
working elsewhere and couldn’t travel?
I ask myself, regretting our decision to
be a weekend couple awaiting the
confirmation of my transfer from the
Jerked into consciousness by vain
attempts to kick the door open, I
squeeze Emeka’s hand so tight that I’m
afraid I’m hurting him. But he stands
unperturbed listening as another shrill
cry arises from the Landlord’s flat. I
recognize the Landlady’s voice crying,
pleading with the lady who is shouting,
“Not playing. Not playing.”
“Eresi! Eresi!” Lydia calls in anguish as
she knocks furiously. “Eresi! Please
open the door!” My heart skips a beat,
continues to pound louder, faster: gbim-
gbidim-gbim! Tears well up in my eyes
as I stand in the bathroom, thinking, so
this is what adrenalin smells like –
antiseptic. The people up North must be
accustomed to its choking smell by
now. With all the suicide bomb attacks,
we hear about in the news every other
day. Danger and death must be their
neighbours. Our neighbours. Terrible
neighbours, I think. This is what it feels
like to die in a robbery attack and be
counted as statistics. Too exhausted to
think about this, I sigh and shut my
Lydia, the devil’s advocate continues to
scream my name in her teary voice and
I picture her in her pyjamas shivering,
nervous of the gun pointing to her head.
“Keep calling. I know they’re inside,
We’ll shoot them.” The baritone voice
mutters hopelessly. Time is hardly kind
to a thief; especially when the first light
of dawn lurks behind the clouds,
threatening to appear without warning,
threatening to reveal their identities.
Their desperation reminds me of the
other rooms there are to be raided – say,
five of them – and little time to escape,
if the police come. Of course, the
Police. Ha! No one trusts them
anymore. What do I have to lose? I
think to myself as I dial 199. The call
stops dead at the dial tone. I am not
Fingers snap. Feet shuffle away to the
next room. Lydia explains that the
occupants are a middle-aged couple
whose children are away in boarding
Phew! I sigh, thankful that they have
moved on to the Okochas.
I hear the Okocha’s bickering next door.
Mr. Chuks Okocha’s voice startles me
and I remember our first meeting about
a year ago, when he met me at my door
and said, “I beat up my sister-in-law.
Nnenna, my wife, is very upset.” I
looked at him with mouth agape. I
remember this as I shiver, standing in
the bathroom, listening as the couple
scurry about, knocking over pots and
pans and glasses. Lydia calls out as she
knocks. In between the bickering, the
knocking and the breaking of glasses, I
hear the click-click of an opening door
bolt; the hinges of the door whining as
they open. Boots stomp on the ground.
“Where is Doc?” The baritone voice
“Doc?” Chuks says.
A slap reverberates. Chuks screams.
Nnenna cries, “No Doc here.”
“Lie down. Shh shuww-up. Lie!” the
raspy voice says. And I imagine him
caressing her ears with the cold, blunt
edge of a pocket knife. “Where is the
ego, the money?” He says in Igbo, then
Chuks says. “Just a few naira notes.
Here:” he says.
“Small money?” the man mimics
Chuks. “Big man like you dey give me
small money? Lie down!” A loud slap
echoes. I whimper, squeeze Emeka’s
Lydia resumes banging on my door:
“Eresi! Eresi! Eresi!” her teary voice
calls out, in angst. And I wish I can
walk out into the moonless dawn and
slap her mouth shut. But somewhere in
my head, I rationalize her actions and
acknowledge that she is acting under
Silence. Deafening silence. Then,
quaking sounds from the window,
perhaps, a knife under the sliding
windows and bam! The windows open,
white light beam into the room; slices
stream in through the curtains into the
bathroom. I sigh, knowing that my
convictions were right. The windows are
useless. The windows aren’t burglary
proof, and any determined riffraff can
hack it open and clamber in at any time.
We often complained about the
smallness and insecureness of this
house, which I rented as an unmarried
woman. But getting a decent house has
been unbelievably difficult. My mind is
being plagued by this thought when I
hear the order:
“Come out!” the baritone voice bellows.
I catch Emeka’s moist eyes; hold them
in my mind for two seconds: the face of
the man whose babies I long to bear. I
shut my eyes; open my ears. The sound
of Lydia’s shuffling feet as she tries to
clamber in through the window. “Open
the door when you get in,” The man
barks through rustling curtains.
We hear the raspy bumble in Lydia’s
room. “Shhh. Shuww-up! tw‘ake off
your shorwts or I’ll shoowt!” he says.
“Please, please. See my bulging tummy.
For the sake of my unborn baby, show
mercy,” Gina cries next door in between
several hushes and coughs. Emeka’s
eyes widen in surprise as though he has
just realized that there might be more
robbers than he envisaged.
“Wait,” Emeka says, “I’ll unlock the
door.” He goes out into the room and I
mutter a short prayer and deep breathe. I
gently shut the bathroom door just as
the main lock clicks open. His heavy
pants announce his entry, as do the
insipid stench of sweat and slime.
Crouching in the toilet, I expect an
outburst. A slap, perhaps, for wasting
his time, But he is unusually quiet for a
while as though he is surprised and
intimidated by the stature of his
opponent, Emeka. Right there in the
bathroom, I realize that he was
expecting to see Eresi, a woman, and
not a broad-chested man in a vest.
“Where’s Eresi?” The man asks,
suddenly finding his baritone voice. He
sounds sure as a friend that I am home
and he must see me. I bite my finger,
and burn with so much hate for Lydia.
“She’s er sick… allergic!” Emeka says.
“But you can take our phones. Take
whatever you want,” Emeka says in a
tone one reasonable man would use to
“We don’t want phones,” his baritone
voice barks. “Eresi! Come out here,
I stand in the bathroom, pretend that my
name is no longer Eresi, pretend that I
no longer want the name that Lydia has
made the robbers familiar with. In my
face, the bathroom door suddenly flies
open, a masked face appears and his
large hand drags me out to the room.
Gesturing with a shotgun to the cold,
carpeted floor, he yells, “Lie down
here!” I am knocked drowsy by the
whiff of beer from his breath. My knees
weaken; flop down like jelly, beside the
plastic table, at the sight of the gun.
Another man ambles in. he is short,
stout – unlike the tall masked man
whom I have matched the baritone voice
with. Out of the corner of my eye, I can
see his light-complexioned face because
he is not wearing a mask. Whipping out
a pocketknife, his raspy voice whispers
into my ear “Lie down. Shhh Shuww-up.
Lie down.” The stench of marijuana and
sweat hit my nostrils. My chest hits the
floor and his fat hands sneak into my
blouse. Sharp pains shoot up in my
brain, “Jesus! My lumpectomy suture,”
I cry. Emeka charges at the short man.
The masked man hits him on the head
with the butt of the gun. Emeka yelps.
“Lover Boy, don’t try nonsense o,” the
masked man warns in his baritone
voice. “Lover Boy, we will kill you and
Emeka lies down. His breath hits my
legs and I know that he’s trying to stay
“I’m not a thief,” the masked man starts
to say, and I am piqued. What the hell is
“We’re not interested in your phones or
your property. I’m looking for Doc. My
job is to shoot him and go my way.”
The masked man concludes. I wonder if
he knows that he sounds like a bad
crossbreed between assassin and armed
robber. Is he trying to decide –right
there in my room – what name to give
I don’t blame him. All thieves are liars.
But are all liars thieves? I wonder.
Engaging my mind with logical
hypothesis has become my newly
“We don’t know any Doc,” Emeka
replies in a haughty voice as though he
is convinced that they are all clowns.
The masked man sighs for a moment.
“Bring all of your money, Lover boy!”
says the masked man, banging his gun
on the plastic table.
“I am a married man; not a lover boy.
Don’t harm my wife. We don’t keep
money at home,” he cries and for a
moment I think he sounds sweet and
“Yes,” I say clutching at this
unexpected ray of hope. I raise up my
left hand, flash my wedding band
hoping to hit the light-complexioned
man in the face. I wonder if my marital
status will persuade them to treat us
with more respect.
He sighs. “Leave her alone,” the masked
man says. The stout man grumbles,
moves out into the dark, cold dawn. A
gust of cold air wafts into the room;
whimpering and cries of agony
accompany the wind.
“Bring your money,” he says, “and no
one gets shot.”
My jaw quivers as my mouth open to
talk about where my purse is. Stuttering,
I prattle on about the little money my
husband gave me the previous day. I
stagger to my feet, fish out my brown
leather purse among the odds and ends –
notepads, biros, an external hard disk
drive, make-up kits, checkbooks which I
mustn’t let the thieves see – in my large
hand bag. Unzipping my purse, I t----t
its contents in his face; tell him to take
what he finds. I do not care because the
money in there cannot pay for half a bag
of rice. The masked man chuckles;
grabs the wads of notes in the purse.
Lydia’s voice wafts into the room: she
is comforting the weeping Gina.
Outside the landlord coughs as though
he’s about to spew his lungs, “I’m
asthmatic,” he cries, “I’m a poor, old
civil servant. My houses are old, No
“Landlorwd like you?” The stout man
yells. “Aw the rent for these flats na big
“Ah! Just paid children’s school fees.
Ask the tenants. This woman, Lydia,
works at the crude oil depot. Emeka is a
researcher in the Ministry of Health,
Eresi works with Central Bank. And the
Okochas are pharmaceuticals
merchants. Ask them for money, Me,
I’m just a miserable civil servant,” cries
Lydia runs into our room, throws herself
on the floor. The masked man fumes,
“Ngwa bring out the bank money.”
“Not playing,” the lady says, the koi-
koi-koi of her shoes announcing her
arrival. “Banker! Emeka! Bring out all
your money,” she says, picking out her
words one after the other. Cold shivers
run down my spine. “Or I’ll shoot your
lady,” she concludes, her talon-like
fingers holding up my chin. The whites
of her eyes glare into my eyes. I squint
and look down at her small, gold-coated
lips stretching into a wicked grin. I
make out the smells of chocolate-
flavored lip-gloss, PK mint and palm
wine. I’m startled by the sudden
disappearance of her smile, like a ghost
in the dark room. When she stands, I
gasp at her unusual tallness, at her skirt
short as sanitary pants. She stoops, slaps
a million stars into my eyes. “Not
playing. Get out your f-----g money.”
She says in a huff.
“We already gave you all our money,”
Emeka says. He pauses, exhales.
“Not playing. You? Oil worker,” she
says, clicks her gun. Lydia howls. Gina
wails from the room next door, “God
“No no!” Lydia cries. “You don carry
all my money,” she says weeping at the
masked man’s feet.
Like a canary. the landlord sings “Ask
these rich tenants for money o. My
money don finish.”
Emeka sighs, murmurs, “Spineless,
“What are you saying? Oga! Banker,
bring out all your money?” The gun
clicks. My heart pounds noisily in my
chest, tears stream down my face. And
from where I lie, I inhale the insipid
stench from the masked man’s muddy
feet. I think of digging my teeth into his
ankles but my teeth aren’t sharp enough
to dig into his black leather shoes. So I
lie there, say a silent prayer and stop
when I hear Emeka saying, ‘We just
paid our rent last night. Three hundred
thousand naira, just last night. Ask that
My mouth hangs open, my head swings
back at Emeka as he stands, charging
out of the door; the masked man at his
tail calling him back. The koi-koi-koi
heels bound around the compound.
Blows upon blows echo. And the
landlord starts to cry and cough. Cry
and cough. “I don die,”
“When? Where? How? Me? Three
hundred thousand?” The Landlord cries,
and my heart sickens with grief. Emeka
paid the rent ten weeks ago but I
understand that he is trying to protect
us. The air smells of sweat and an
ineffable choking smell, a premonition
that something sinister is imminent.
The stout man enters the room, sniffs.
He is a nauseating mixture of marijuana
and sweat. Stooping, he lifts up my
chin, grins, “Since we can’t fin’ Doc
and good money,” he croaks, “How
abou’ …?” he grins. A squeal escapes
my lips. Bounding into the kitchen, I
pull out a knife and hold it up to my
face. Panting noisily, I wait, listen as
the other tenants rain curses on the
Landlord, urge him to bring out the
money even though, I suspect that they
know that Emeka is making up those
claims. The stout man’s shuffling
becomes clearer from the kitchen. His
raspy voice and his nauseating stench
cause me to choke and cough. My
shoulders shiver, my mouth quivers, as I
will myself to stifle the tears gurgling in
my throat, convincing myself that mind
is playing games on me.
“Shhh,” The masked man warns. Voices
fall silent. The wing-wong of a siren in
the distance rents the air, inspires hope
in our hearts. “S--t!” The masked man
“Give us the money or we’ll deposit a
bullet in your head.”
I close my eyes.
“Take money. In this bag,” Someone
The ruffle of a polyethylene bag. A
thud. Then, a gun shot. A sharp cry. The
thud-thud-thud of running feet.
The gate bangs shut. The knife drops
from my shivering hand. The compound
falls silent, except for shuffling feet. I
stagger out; find Emeka in the room,
panting, fiddling with the door knobs,
locking the bolts. Smoothing the bed, I
lie down; curl up on the bed like a foe’s
Emeka lies down on his side, cuddles
me, and strokes my shivering shoulder.
As the tears soak the pillow, I say,
“Parting gift. Up in the air.”
THE ENDJune 12, 2016 at 1:43 pm #658733June 12, 2016 at 2:29 pm #658762June 12, 2016 at 2:32 pm #658765June 12, 2016 at 2:32 pm #658766June 12, 2016 at 2:37 pm #658770June 12, 2016 at 2:53 pm #658782June 12, 2016 at 3:04 pm #658791