The drive to the deceased house was uneventful, and the traffic was smooth; in less than twenty-five minutes I was pulling into one of those public tenant houses that sprawled about the city. I alighted and asked a young boy about the house of the Afolabis, and following his directions, knocked at the door of the room I was looking for. A woman of about fifty opened the door and inquired about my aim for visiting.
“Are you Mrs. Afolabi?” She nodded.
“I am Chief Peters’ family lawyer. I’ve come to see if there’s a way we can resolve this issue amicably.”
When she closed the door to my face, I thought ‘no hope again’ until I heard her unhooking the chain on the door. The then waved me in. The room was sparsely furnished, and had an acrid smell. She motioned me to sit on one of the arm chairs in the room, by the door. The chair was as hard as wood and I had the fear that one creeping animal or the other would want to say hello to me. The rest of the room spoke of the meager living condition of the occupants — an old television set, few framed photographs hanging on the wall from rusted nails, and the ceiling fan squeaked all the time (there was no electricity in the house).
As I was about to go into details about why I came, a man with the look of a professional wrestler came in. He had a menacing look and his bulging biceps were of the same size as my thighs.
“Mama who is this?” he asked. This must be the elder brother of the deceased boy.
“He is the lawyer of Chief Peters,” his mother replied. At the mention of my client, he contorted his face in anger. Oh God, please let me return as one piece.
“Yes, you’re right,” I said, trying to calm everybody down, “Can we discuss this unfortunate incident maturely?”
“What do you want?” the woman asked.
“Chief Peters and his family gravely regrets what happened and wants this issue to be resolved as peacefully as possible. Is there a way of —?”
“Where is the so-called Chief Peters?” the young man asked, growling at me.
“Inasmuch as my client would like to be around for this discussion, he cannot make it. But I want to reassure you that anything you discuss with me is the same as discussing it with him,” I replied with as much equanimity as I could muster.
“Have you ever lost a child Mr. — What’s your name?” the woman asked.
“My name is Martin, and no I have not lost a child as I’ve never had any.”
“So you see, this issue is best talked about by people who have at least gotten children of their own.” Her mouth was pursed as her eyes blazed with retrained fury and sorrow. This was going to be one fruitless endeavor.
“I perfectly understand your mood now. But if you could —”
She cut me off with a tart question, “You know what, Mr. Martin?”
“Till you give birth to a child and then lose it you can never understand me. And please tell Chief Peters to await our lawyer’s call,” she finalized.
There and then, I decided to play the final card I had; it would be the ace up my sleeve. “What do we tell the police about the letters sent to his son?”
The display of emotions on her face was something I couldn’t have predicted. I saw anger, hurt, indignation and sorrow, but not guilt. Her brows creased together as she asked,
“The threatening letters and messages Ayo Peters has gotten will be reported to the police.”
“Whatever game you’re playing Mister, it isn’t going to work. I don’t know of any letters.”
As she talked, I darted a glance at her son. He was squirming at the way the discussion was going. Could it be that he sent those letters without his mother’s knowledge? And for what reason? Certainly if they sued, they will get enough recompense if that’s what they wanted. Why this subterfuge?
I decided to drop the issue, at least till I’m done with another angle of this investigation. Seeing that there was nothing to further discuss, I took my leave. The young man, who later saw me out, later informed me that he was the dead boy’s younger brother (not the elder one as I had earlier thought).
I decided to throw a blind punch at him, “Did you send those letters?”
A myriad of expressions showcased themselves on his face, all of them affirming his guilt, but what he said was, “I don’t know anything about what you’re talking about.”
“Of course you don’t,” I said, smiling at him. I knew he was lying, and what’s better? He knew that I knew he was lying. This situation was fast becoming something I never predicted. And something was bugging me, the only problem was that couldn’t put my finger on it.
I drove back, wanting to have some sleep before reporting to my client. The traffic was heavy this time, and as I edged on slowly, I got a call.
“Hello,” I answered, when I felt that I’d enjoyed my ringtone to my satisfaction. It was a number I didn’t know.
“Hello. Am I speaking to Barrister Martin, please?” a woman said. Her accent was that of a Nigerian who had spent considerable time abroad, perhaps in the United Kingdom.
“You are. Who is this please?”
“My name is Preye Osas. I’m a reporter for Champion News. I was wondering… uh… can you grant me an interview concerning the Onwuka case?”
What was it with reporters and disturbing people? And how did she get my number? Well, anything is possible these days. “I don’t think that it’s —”
She cut me off with, “Please don’t say it’s not possible. I’ll lose my job if you say so.”
The next thing I said was, “Meet me in the Bright Restaurant and Bar in one hour.” What was wrong with me? This was no time for distractions. Well, this was going to be the last distraction till I got to bottom of the case. I couldn’t go back to the hotel and then go to my meeting with the reporter, I had to meet with her first before heading back.