I struggled to conceal the emotions that invaded me the moment he said he knew what I did at Tejuosho two days ago. What was mere surprise at his being here this evening and his saying that he needed my help, morphed into flabbergast and dread and a mixture of other emotions when he informed me that he knew that what happened at Tejuosho was thanks to me.
Yet, at the moment I chose to reveal puzzlement. Then I laughed.
“Timi, it is God that did that thing, and not a human. How could a human have done it? And me, of all people?” I said, bursting into another round of laughter. I hoped he believed the amusement in my voice and on my face.
“Ehn-ehn? And so? Has it not been through humans that he has been working? Abi Moses, Elijah, them no be prophet, ni?”
“But I am not a prophet.”
“No, you are not. You are a mutant.”
I laughed again. It was easy for him to use that term, being a sci-fi freak. His WhatsApp statuses consumed by pictures of Marvel and DC movies, TV series and comics as well as remembrances of old Western fantasies; sometimes he did post much of forthcoming fantasy movies too. Still, it was hard to believe that this guy who socialised with agberoes, and could pass as one himself, believed those things to be true. Yet here he was, seated in front of me, looking intently at me, accusing me of having done something related to those movies he loved and promoted. But nothing he had said so far was untrue.
“I think I believe the prophet’s own better. After all, my people often say we come from the Israelites. Maybe I am related to Elijah somehow,” I said, giggling.
“Oh-oo!” he said, reclining on his chair.
And as I laughed him off, I struggled to remember if I had seen him there. That day Tejuosho was immersed by a few sounds: of a falling building, of mournful and hopeful onlookers, of a silent road. Those who know Tejuosho Market would equate this to silence. The market populated by shops and talk and traffic and the occasional sound of an ancient train gliding by would only have been this silent at night. Not when the sun was up.
Yet it was understandable why. A wing of an ultramodern shopping complex was collapsing—a building thought to be solid as it was built by a white firm. Although collapsing buildings were not strange to Lagosians, it was still a sight to behold. So it lessened the noise of commerce. But what leveled it was what happened next. The falling building became suspended in the air, blocks and clothes and fans and many other things and persons hung like fixtures in space, as though time froze.
“Look, what I came to ask was that you help Nigeria. Your country needs you. You have been blessed with something powerful, use it for your country.”
The thing on my face was now truly what I felt: shock. Whenever Timi came into any political argument, it was not to contribute but to flatten. “No dey waste your energy, dis country no go better at all. Jus dey go obodo oyibo. Switzerland, in particular,” I heard him often say. When President Buhari was inaugurated a second time, he tried indicting the consciences of all the buildings he knew, of which mine was included. “Did I not tell you?” he shouted to the atmosphere of my building like a mad man. “I talk am. Una don see am, abi? But you still went and be queuing to vote. Your vote no get power.” Then he would drag his hiss and conclude: “This country don cast.”
This man, this seemingly apolitical man, sat across from me, trying to coax me into something political.
I was sidetracked then from my wondering how he had known. Perhaps Okwudili, my roommate, had told him. He was the only other person than myself who knew of my ability. He was the one who revived me to life when I fell down that day, my nose dripping with blood. He had not followed me to the market but saw news of what was going on on Instagram, which was also then verified to him by our neighbour, Mummy Biola. She couldn’t quiet herself when on the phone as though—as Okwudili often joked—she suffered from ‘short-hearing-ness’. So though Okwudili was in our room-and-parlor with the doors bolted and the curtains drawn he heard her conversing about it in her room upstairs. He knew instantly that I was involved. So he boarded the bus to Yaba and when he was met with a standstill at Ojuelegba he ran the long distance to Tejuosho. However he calculated my location from the ongoing phenomenon, I never knew. But he was right, locating me at the top of the complex that faced the ultramodern plaza, a complex that was near empty of the clothes it sold, clothes that held the same patina as what covered the dangling things.
”No, Ikoko (his fond name for me), not for a political party.” Before I voiced it he corrected me as though he knew my fear. He did look as an agbero after all, those men who demanded money from commercial bus drivers, who also demanded things for their customers: political aspirants, political leaders, moneyed men.
“It’s the Niger Delta Avengers.” He sat back and watched as disbelief clouded my face, and as repugnancy also manifested thereon.
Timipre was a handsome guy, with an angular face that looked daring when he thinned his eyes. He was always energetic, loud, youthful. And as I just discovered, had ties with Niger Delta Avengers, a group that bombed pipelines, declared a secessionist republic when they desired and grew an atmosphere of terror among the people to hide their identities, to stamp silence into them. The dots were hard to connect.
There is an idiom in Igbo that translates into ‘The world is on its head.’ That was what was happening now: things that gave headache.
Yet my confoundment was not full. After what had happened to me months ago that had left me with this power, I don’t think I can ever be shaken by scandals. I was given an ability to manipulate clothing, to stretch it, to make it embrace things, to make it grab things, to make it shrink things, to draw it no matter the distance.
On that day, Monday, a wall of the plaza had fallen. And I knew that that was not all. So I ran to some hiding space, the roof of a cloth market. It faced the Tejuosho Ultramodern. There I waited. This was Lagos where buildings boned by substandard foundations lived. And regardless of the seemingly solid appearance I was sure that that the wing of the building, where the wall was, would go soon as well.
Minutes later, I was right. Thus ready, I extended my arms, I felt power flow, and I saw clothes fly. The clothes caressed things and held them. They held them long for there were those who doubted the good intent of this salvation, who tarried. I felt my nose running, holding a three-storey building was a work I had not advanced to. When finally they were bullied into movement by onlookers I felt weary. So I let loose, and the building fell. And I fell, unconscious.
When I came to and remembered what I did, I felt joy. I had saved numerous lives at once for the first time. Until Okwudili told me that those in the underground carpark had perished. And a child had been killed too. She was in that age when infants learned to walk.
“She was naked. That was why you could not feel her.”
He spoke on, speaking at me, speaking to me; his words never penetrated. I became buried in disappointment.
I could feel that guilt now being with Timi as though I was worried that being a backup superhero to a group of vigilantes I would not save them all if things got haywire; as though I had already accepted the offer.
“Why are you vibrating?” he asked after a long silence.
I just then discovered that I was. I had been foreseeing my future, fighting, defending, in the midst of gunfire and roaring black rivers and blowing rigs and other things; I was not expectant of that future. But I accepted it. I accepted that I was a superhuman. I accepted that this was not a prank, that Timi was a Niger Delta Avenger. I was a newbie superhero; on my first mission I forgot a vital thing: that an underground carpark ran below the modern plaza, and people could be there. So accepting the journeys to come, I said to him, “Tell me why I should be a Niger Delta Avenger, and tell me how you became a Niger Delta Avenger.”
As he spoke on, I looked outside my window to a Lagos empty of electricity, an unending expanse of darkness.
No more than a week later, a group of suited men darkened my door one evening. They introduced themselves and I let them in. Some were looking at my room with furrowed brows, and then their gaze turned to me, looking at me as though they were trying hard to figure out something.
“You are Ikonna Madu, right?”
”Yes.” This time I returned the look. Why were men from Worldly Oils here? It was quite long ago when Lagos had become oil-producing, yes. But that—wherever it was—was somewhere far. Not in this place. I wasn’t even landlord. Unless they had discovered my ties with the Avengers and were sent to arrest me.
“We have read your articles on how to tackle the Avengers, and we want you to come and work for us.”
“Oh! Please sit.”
”We wont be here that long. Don’t worry. So we’ll get to the point. We have discovered that you have gotten a superpower. Don’t try denying; we are not here long enough for a debate. You may not give us your answer now but that’s okay. Just know that by working with us you are helping your country defeat this terrorists. We need you help in defeating them.”
He stretched an envelope to me. “Read and all your questions will be answered.”
I was conflicted about taking it until one of them asked, “Do you really have a superpower?”
I didn’t reply. I showed him. Without gesturing I had him levitating with my mind. He was floating on air. Gasps filled my room.
“I believe, I believe; put me down.”
“Quiet, Ade. Nobody must hear.”
After I placed him down and while he straightened his suit I said to him, “I control people.”
“We know. So, are you going to accept the envelope?”
I was indeed, once upon a time, someone who wrote letters upon letters upon letters to newspapers as to how oil companies could handle vigilantes. I loathed vigilantism. Now I had become a vigilante. I loathed violence, now I had become a protector of people in a violent world. Yet I could be none of these things and still do great good. I hadn’t answered Timi when he was here but right then I knew what my response would be, the same response I gave to the men.
“No need for me to think about it. I’ll work with you.”