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The good prisoner of conscience
by Johnson O.J. Arumona
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Before the tall dark man who doubled as the receptionist and house keeper of ‘SS Hotel’ ushered Oscar James into room-one. Oscar stood in the passage carrying his traveling bag around his shoulder. From the passage he watched the hotel attendant refreshed the room before he consider it fit to usher him in. “Enjoy yar stay master!” He heard the man say. He closed the door slowly then turned the key anti clockwise after the man left. ‘South-south hotel.’ He grinned.

Oscar offered a short prayer; thanking God for the safe journey through the sea, after that, he threw his traveling bag on the neatly dressed bed and then made his way to the rest room. The toilet was clean and he could perceive the odour of disinfectant. He sat on the ‘throne’ inside the toilet until his troubled stomach subsided and he felt relieved.

Once out of the rest room, he positioned his laptop on the table, connected it to electricity and slotted an audio disk into it. Shortly he carefully selected his cloths from his bag and one after the other he positioned each inside the wardrobe. Having satisfied with the state of his black suit, he rested on the bed and while listening to the songs of Bebe and Cece Winans he fell asleep.

At 7:00pm Oscar sat before his laptop in his hotel room. He was awake but not at peace with his conscience. He had just finished talking with his wife on his cell phone. The music was paying the tract: Lost without you.

He recalled before he departed from his office. The female executive director of Ned Construction Ltd where he worked as one of their site managers had earlier hinted him that he was going to earn ‘handsome allowances’ and would catch ‘good fun’ in the island of Nnom.

“Do you remember the movie ‘fantasy island?” the madam had asked. He replied that he did attempting to cut the flow. Oscar had watched the movie when he was seven in the early eighties.

“Well young man. May be I shouldn’t have asked you about it. Because in the late seventies when you were probably crying for mama’s attention and which happens to be during my prime, it was forbidden among the young babes then to miss any fantasy island movie series...” Mrs Iyabo Bozy bragged on; “and there was one other film called ‘love boat’ the scene was romantic. The ship cruised across the atlantic with its crew searching for true love from one island to another.”

“Really madam?” Oscar exclaimed, pretending to be envious of her past escapades. Inwardly he asked himself: ‘What is so fascinating about ‘fantasy island’ and ‘love boat’ and what connection has it to my assignment in the island of Nnom?’

In truth, Oscar wanted to end their conversation. He wished that the assignment was redirected to the company’s project engineer. It was Mr. Steve that ought to be listening to such fantasy stories. The grapevine amongst Ned Construction Ltd workers had it that Steve was madam’s ‘special staff’ and when a society woman like their madam had special interest in any young man, then by worldly standard such worker’s future in the company was secured.

That morning, Oscar’s discussion with their madam was supposed to be brief and official. The subject should have been the detailed information about his new assignment outside Yanagua. But his ‘over exposed madam’ had her own way of sensitizing her subordinates and as she sat inside the air-condition room talking about the movies she had watched simply because it reminded her of the island of Nnom she assumed she was doing part of her job. Oscar stood before her table listening to her old stories, itching to get out of her tasty furnished office.

“What I like about Nnom is the people’s way of life.” She went further. “I remember the time I visited the island some years ago. The oil workers, contractors, native chiefs, young men and women, all interacted as one and they do usually enjoy themselves every night. It was sort of a carnival and I cherished the flow of Afro juju music...”

When Oscra’s madam had in her own style ended her briefing, she tossed a document before him. “Young man, this is our latest project which you shall be supervising in Nnom.” She announced casually. She watched Oscar for a while as he perused over the document and when she felt it was apparent for her to shift his attention from it she asked: “Oscar I heard that you don’t know how to swim; is that right?” He nodded. “Well since you’re one of our employees and the safety of our site managers matters to me, I strongly advise that you always wear your life jacket whenever you board any boat.” She cautioned him. Oscar credited her for that. “Thank you Madam.” He turned towards the door and lifted his bag from the floor. He thought he heard her say: “I don’t want your wife to start crying unnecessary.” He was tempted to answer her back but it was not in his nature to talk back to his superiors and besides he didn’t wish to prolong his stay in her office. He had an adventurous journey ahead of him.

“Oscar one more thing!” He turned around. “Yes madam?”

“Engineer Steve, shall be joining you there. However, you are in charge of this project. Is that clear?” Oscar slowly advanced closer to her table. “Madam, I don’t want any wahala with oga Steve. I’d prefer he head the project instead if you don’t mind…”

“Young man, I do mind!” She had interrupted. “You’ll do as I have earlier instructed.” She stared at him: “Unless you are now telling me that I lack the discretion to appoint any worker to head any site as I deemed fit to the interest of Ned Construction Ltd.” She tightened her face as if offended. “I’m a graduate of civil engineering and even when my late husband was alive, I run the affairs of this company.”

“No madam that was not what I meant.” He defended.

“Now since am not in your mind to know that, why don’t we call it a day?” She clapped her hands twice and turned her swinging executive chair around. Oscar quietly departed.

As he took a taxi to the jetty, he phoned his wife and informed her that he was on his way to the island of Nnom. The thought of having to work in the same site with Steve didn’t go down well with him. But he didn’t bother to tell his wife about that. “I’m in charge of this project.” He said. He could feel her excitement at the other end.

“You have the wisdom my dear.” His wife encouraged him. “We’ll be praying for you.” She added.

“I do need it.” He admitted. “Take care of my jewel and remember that I Luv you two for life.” He said and ended his call.

The three hour journey on the water way was not a funny experience for a first timer and with the waves making the boat to gallop from time to time Oscar wished that he hadn’t accepted the responsibility that was rowing him to the island of Nnom. He felt very uncomfortable despite that he wore his life jacket. ‘Why did madam pair me to work with Steve?’ he asked himself as sat inside the speeding engine boat: watching the waters splashing by both sides of the boat. Then he remembered she had said something like he was going to hit gold after the completion of the project.

Ironically, making money was not the primary reason Oscar had accepted to board the commercial boat from Yanagua to Nnom. And perambulating about at night among other strangers; ‘drinking and womanizing’ was never his style of catching ‘fun.’ For Oscar, his purpose for coming to the island was different.

It was 8: 55pm Nigerian time when the alarm of Oscar’s phone rang heavily reminding him that he was right in the heart of the island of Nnom. He disabled it. He had on arrival set the timer to remind him to call Mrs Bozy. He browed through the phone book for her name. He found it and pressed the dial bottom to call her. To his amazement instead of hearing the familiar burr-burr sound to indicate that her line was ringing, he heard the old circular music of: kool and the gang: get down on it. ‘This madam doesn’t want grow old.’ He thought and smiled.

When it was received at the other end and he heard a voice say ‘hello!’ He presumed he knew who the owner of the voice was. It was a male voice… and he thought that it belonged to Mr Steve. ‘Where for Christ sake was she and why was he answering her call?’ He was dumb founded. He could hear Mrs. Bozy voice whispering but sounding offensive: “Hey don’t you ever answer my phone again. And did you check who was calling before you stupidly answered it?” She queried. Oscar quickly switched off his end. He tried to disagree with his sixth sense.

“I refuse to accept the ugly picture my mind is painting.” He said to himself. ‘Wasn’t Mr. Steve married with three children?’ He didn’t want to imagine the scene at the other end but his sub-conscience mind repeated what he had just heard. ‘So the rumor about Mr. Steve and their madam was true?’ He stared at the table, his laptop and then to the phone in his hand. Oscar suddenly felt pressed so he put the phone inside the breast pocket of the shirt he was wearing and hurried into the toilet to urinate. He had not entered the toilet long before his Motorola phone began to vibrate. He knew who was calling.

The young mother was not in the mood to continue with the standing game but her twelve months old daughter wasn’t tired and so she cried for her attention. “Ddda-ddi-i?” The girl pointed to her father’s wood laminated photograph on the wall. Her mother frowned while she carried her to her husband’s photograph. “Ochii, your daddy has traveled.” She said. The baby stared at her father’s image and smiled to her mother. “Look I’m tired of standing oh!” Oscar’s wife protested to their daughter and as she made an attempt to move, the baby screamed! This time undaunted, Mrs. Julie Oscar entered their bedroom. She picked her phone from her hand bag. But when their daughter strongly protested against being kept inside the bedroom she went back to the point before the wall and in other to calm her daughter she began to sing one of the many songs her husband composed for Ochii. She sang:

“There is no girl like Ochii-one to me
No matter how far I go,
I will travel to London over the sea,
To see no girl like
Ochii girl.”

She kept singing the song until Ochii cuddled her shoulder and slept. Julie thanked her good Lord. She sang softly in her sweet voice and tenderly patted her daughter’s back. She walked gently into their bedroom and lay her on their family size bed. Ochii started to move her legs, struggling to come out of her sleep but her mother was smarter as she started humming the same song till she was certain that her daughter had fallen into deep sleep.

Julie noticed that Ochii’s finger nails were long and she carefully began to trim them. She admired her daughter and smiled remembering why her friends usually commented that Ochii was her father’s carbon copy. She also remembered that her own mother used to tell them that if a child doesn’t resemble the father, it would certainly resemble the mother. Ochii had taken after her husband. There was no controversy about that. Julie was proud of her family. God had been gracious to her home.

After she had finished cutting her daughter’s nails she dialed her sister in law who resided in Tinapa-Calabar. The land line rang for a while at the family home of her husband’s elder sister before somebody answered. “Hellow.”
“Hello, who is there? It’s me uncle Oscra’s wife.” She spoke into the mouth piece of their residence phone.
“Desmond speaking. Good Afternoon ‘aunty O.” Julie was usually referred as ‘aunty O’ from the very first time she visited them during their courtship days.

“Big bross! How far? I heard that you’ve gone to the campus.”
“Yes, lecturers went on strike again and we were asked to return home.”
“All things work together for good.”
“I agree with you aunty O.”
“Is your mother at home?”
“No she has gone out.”
“Did she say when she’ll be coming back?” Julie enquired.
“Father came home and they went out in a hurry.”
“Alright, please when they return inform her that my husband has traveled to the island of Nnom on official engagement.”
“No shakings. How is baby Ochii?”
“She is fine but offended that none of you honored her one year birthday.”
“When was that?”
“June 5th.”
“We are really sorry aunty O.”
“I know you’re studying law but my daughter says you should please speak for your self.”
“Tell her I am on my knees.”
“She say’s that is not enough to appease her.”
“Emm…I owe her a gift.”
“Better or else she’ll disown you as her first cousin.”
“We’re still… sorry! …I’m still on my knees.”
“Alright she says you have been forgiven.”
“Tell her she’s my one and only baby.”
“Desmond. Please I’m cooking food on the electric burner…it has been nice talking to you. Greet every one.”
“They shall hear aunty-O.”

Julie dropped the table phone and her mobile phone started to ring. She dashed into their bedroom, Ochii was still asleep. The wall clock indicated it was Monday evening and fifty five minutes after six. It was her husband’s ring tone. This was his first call since he departed to the island of Nnom.

“Hello my dear..” she answered in her romantic tone.
“Sorry, I couldn’t call you immediately I arrive. I wanted to check into a hotel first and when I did, I was so tired that I slept.” Her husband apologized. She told him not to worry since he had arrived there safe.
“How was your boat ride anyway?” she asked inquisitively.
“Smooth, adventurous and frightening.”
“Tell me some thing…”

Oscar told his wife about his first experience traveling by the sea. How all the passengers in his boat lifted both their hands in the air whenever their boat approached any military gun boats on patrol and when his wife demanded for further explanation: He answered. “There are sea pirates and militants terrorizing the niger-delta community.”
“We have all heard about that from the news. But why do passengers have to lift their hands up?” Julie curiously enquired from her husband.
“Lifting our hands is a sign that we surrender or else any commercial boat could be mistaken for a militant’s boat and that will be a tragedy!”
“God forbid.”
“How is my jewel?” He quickly changed the subject.
“She is fine but has been calling ‘daddi’ since you left…” Julie hinted her husband about their play and how it ended. He laughed at the other end: bragging that ‘Ochii and her daddi were one.”
“I hear you.”
“Well when you are coming back.”
“Don’t know yet, it depends on the nature of the work.”
“My dear, please send me recharge card of one thousand naira. I don’t have enough credit left in my phone.” Oscar assured her that he would grant her request once he was able to find a sales outlet and with that, they ended their conversation.

The wall of the living room inside Mrs Bozy mansion was newly painted with off white tex-coat paint. The split ‘LG’ air-conditioner maintained the temperature of the room to her comfort. The colour of the suspended-ceiling was pure white and the interior arrangements and furniture were to her specification.

‘First Ladi’ as she instructed her domestic staff to refer to her was a woman with good taste and a strong fighting spirit. She had often commented that ‘life is one’ therefore she was going to ‘enjoy’ every moment of it and what other way could she actualize that than to lavish herself with the millions at her disposal.

After the death of her second husband, in a plane crash on his way to Sokoto from Abuja. Mrs. Bozy along with his two sons inherited his assets. They shared the assets as written in his will and distributed his investment accordingly. Ned constructions Ltd formed part of her own inheritance. She had mourned for her husband for a while and after that sent his two children to south-Africa to live with their mother. This incident had happened twenty years back. She had no children and she had no intention to remarry for the third time.

Her first marriage was according to her ‘an error.’ In those days, her parents had forced her to marry at the teenager age of thirteen. She was forever grateful to her ‘stubborn will’ which moved her to run away from her husband’s house in their village of Ottah to the city of Lagos; where she worked in a night club as a club girl until she met Mr Bozy who positively influenced her and later transformed her life. Bozy constantly persuaded her to return to school and further her studies.

She attended private lessons and sat for the private GCE examination. He further encouraged her to go to the university and study civil engineering and when she was reluctant to accept his choice of course, he had proposed to marry her. She fell for his bait and after her graduation they eventually married. Iyabo couldn’t conceive any child for him, which she attributed to the circumcision she suffered while in the village. But that didn’t trouble her late husband since he had two boys from a white woman whom he met in South Africa. They had all lived together as a wealthy family until his death and even though she remained faithful to him while he was alive, Iyabo couldn’t tell whether she deeply loved him or not. But after he passed on, she knew he earned a special place in her heart and as far as she was concerned she attributed her success in life to Mr. Bozy. This was the life story of Mrs Iyabo Bozy that many of her workers knew nothing about.

The evening was as calm as Iyabo could only wish for. The new project in Nnom as budgeted by Mr Steve would cost her company over thirty million naira. The contract value was three times above that amount. After Oscar left her office that morning she was so excited about the contract that she promised her head that she was not losing any sleep over the new deal. Her relationship with the newly appointed commissioner of health had become fruitful. ‘Who said that connecting with the right politicians doesn’t pay?’ She spoke into her living room while she rested on the crouch watching a television program. She wanted to call Oscar to enquire about his trip but she was reluctant to stand up. Besides, her phone was inside her room. She was in her lazy mood.

The time was eight in the evening. She was wearing her pink night gown and she thought that she appeared sweet and sexy. She intended to rest till ten o’ clock when her driver would drive her to the dinner party organized in honour of the out going managing director of Peak commercial Bank. Although the invitation had arrived late just as she was being driven out of her office premises, she told the messenger who delivered it that she wasn’t going to disappoint her friend: the same commissioner of health who secured her company the contract that took Oscar to the island of Nnom.

From her comfortable position she called out to her cook. “Gabriel!” Her cook hurriedly appeared from the kitchen. “I dey answer madam first Lady,” He answered in a choked voice. “Gabriel don’t you ever answer me like that again!” She rebuked him. Gabriel stood before her while she scrutinized him with her eyes. She hissed before she told him she had appetite for: smoked fish pepper soup. “And if you like add excess of seasoning.” She mocked.

“Forgive me first ladi.” He apologized, attempting to bow before her. She waved him off with her hand. “Please save that apology for another day.” She snapped. Gabriel walked away into the kitchen. He was about to placed a stainless pot on the electric burner before he heard his name. Knowing the kind of woman he was working for, he stopped what he was doing and rushed back into the living room. “I’m here first Ladi.” He announced as he stood beside her crouch.

“Go to the dressing table inside my room and bring my phone then charge it for me in the kitchen.” She ordered: “I want to take a short rest inside the guest room.” She said.
“Ok first Ladi.”
“And make sure you wake me up when it is quarter after nine” She instructed as she lazily stood from the crouch and without looking back at Gabriel she open the door that led to the guest room. “And mind you, don’t you disturb me for any reason.”
“Ok first Ladi.” Gabriel obediently agreed. She was about to throw her weight on the thick foam when Oscar dialed her number. She heard the sound of her ring tone and was coming out of the guest room just as her cook answered the call.
Oscar picked his phone from his pocket and answered: “Hello.”
“Helo Oscar, It’s me Steve Ogedemgbe.” The reply was sharp. Oscar was short of words.
He almost dropped the phone. But he was a man who could control his emotions so he allowed the conversation to flow. “Where are you right now?” Steve asked.
“Where else do you expect me to be Steve? I am in the Island of Nnom.” Oscar answered. Steve sensed that Oscar sounded unfriendly and wondered why he should be offensive.
“Oscar is everything alright?” He asked.
“You are in a better position to answer that. I earlier called to speak to Mrs. Bozy.” Oscar replied. Steve thought that he didn’t get him right. “Come again?” He demanded.
“Please Steve connect me to Mrs. Bozy, if you don’t mind.” Oscar snapped.
“What went wrong with your head? I am not in Yanagua.” Steve shouted back.
There was Silence at both ends.
“If you want to talk to Mrs. Bozy don’t you have her number?” Steve managed to break the silence. “I am in the island of Nnom too!”
That piece of information changed Oscar’s mindset. He became confused.
‘If Mr. Steve was indeed in the island of Nnom who then answered Mrs. Bozy’s phone?’ He wondered. May be they were trying to out smart him. But deep down, his spirit agreed with what Steve had said.
“Oscar are you still there?”
“Yes I am. When did you arrive Nnom?” He enquired.
“One o’clock in the afternoon.” Steve replied: “The boat I boarded loaded passengers first. I was inside the boat ‘marine pilot’. When I saw you board the second boat ‘Sea jet’ and as am speaking to you right now, I’m in room eight inside south-south hotel.”
Oscar suddenly became happy. ‘Thank God that I didn’t start accusing Mr. Steve or judge Mrs. Bozy.’ He informed his conscience. “I am in room one of the same hotel too.”
“F-i-n-e! That was what I wanted to confirm, please give me five minutes and I will be there with you.” Oscar believed Steve.
Exactly ten minutes later, Oscar heard a knock on his door. He knew it was Mr. Steve. He opened the door. Steve noticed the surprise on Oscar’s face as he ushered him into the room. They shook hands and exchange the normal pleasantries. “Nice to see you too Oscar.” He said. Oscar sat on the bed while he sat on the available cushion.
“What gave you the impression that I was with Mrs. Bozy?” He queried.
Oscar wasn’t bold enough to tell him that he had earlier called her line and he thought the male voice who answered the call was he.
“Emm, I thought you were in the office as usual because when I called and she didn’t answer my call I assumed she was in one of her mood and had asked you to talk to me instead.” Oscar answered. Steve laughed as he clapped his hands in amazement.
“Why does everyone in Ned construction Ltd thinks I’m in Mrs. Bozy’s good book?”
Oscar made an attempt to defend his statement. “I didn’t say you were in her good book.” He corrected.
“You just said you thought she was in one of her mood and had asked me to talk to you…” Steve repeated the phrase.
“Well Steve I don’t see anything wrong with that. As a matter of fact, she had once asked me to talk to the accountant because she didn’t want to answer his call.” Oscar tried to back up his statement: “and if I you must know I didn’t leave her office this morning in honour. I’m sure you know what I mean?” Steve thought for a while and smiled. “I don’t blame you man. That woman sometimes behaves that way.” Oscar felt relieved. He smartly changed their conversation: “Oga Steve, I won’t sail on that sea again till the day I’m leaving this Island.” He sounded serious. Steve stared at his face and laughed:
“You’re not in the position to determine that.” He replied.
“And what do you mean by that?”
“Well I am told by the Iron woman that you’re in charge of this project.” Steve said.
“Yes and that is another genuine reason why I have to remain at the site.” Oscar admitted.
“No it is not.” Steve objected.
“I don’t get it.”
“Then that means you don’t know why Mrs. Bozy appointed you as head then.”
“Tell me.” Oscar sat up right on the bed.
“There are no banks operating in the Island of Nnom.” Steve began.
“And so…”
“That simply means that as the head of this project it will be part of your responsibility to travel by the same sea back to Yanagua as often as necessary to move funds to us.” Steve robbed his nose before he continued: “Have you forgotten you were the staff who returned excess of cash close to quarter of a million to the cahier of Peak commercial Bank two months back?” He paused as Oscar stood from his position. “You’re the only staff that is rather in Mrs. Bozy’s good book. She doesn’t want to give any of her site managers the opportunity to use militants attack or sea pirate as a cover to divert her funds to their private accounts simply because funds will be moved from land via the sea to the island of Nnom.”

Oscar sat back on the bed. He thought about what he had just heard. “Did Mrs Bozy tell you all these?” He managed to ask. Steve shook his head in the contrary. “I figure it all out by myself. I have worked long enough with her to know her modus operandi. Even when her late husband was alive, she was his think tank.”
“And what about you… Why did she bring you here?” Oscar demanded. The assignment was becoming more like a script rehearsal to him. He had heard enough information from Steve so he was now not only curious but suspicious.

“Why Mrs. Bozy brought me here?” Steve repeated. He stood up and wandered around the room. “Follow me into my room and I shall tell you…” He said.

(To be continued in part two)
© All rights reserved. Johnson O.J. Arumona, 2007.

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