Excerpt from Making Wolf, by Tade Thompson
Nana had taken the car. I wasn’t going to take a taxi so I caught a danfo. A danfo is usually a Volkswagen or Nissan bus with all the factory-installed seats taken out. Except for the driver and two passengers seats. Danfo were classier and more expensive than bolekaja. Almost every danfo was painted yellow and on the side of the driver’s door, in black, was “driver and 2 passengers”. Wooden benches are used to replace the seats and bolted down inside the buses, increasing the capacity to twenty-five, the trade-off being poor ventilation. You paid cash. There were no tickets. There were no bus stops per se; just arbitrary patches of street or tarmac where people had agreed to congregate over the years. The conductor, who was invariably a minor and poorly dressed, would rattle off a list of idiosyncratic virtual bus stops with names like Anthony, Hoseni, Shuush (church), Town Planning, John Holt, Costain, Ede Central and so on.
You had to know the name of your stop, which was fine if you had grown up and lived in Alcacia all your adult life. I had to learn the hard way to answer ‘Owa, o!’ at my bus stops.
I met Church at Town Planning, which was nowhere near any draughtsman or bureaucrat. The sun blazed with a whiteness that seared my eyes. I had forgotten my sunglasses in the emotional maelstrom of my fight with Nana. Churchill was wearing a red suit with a white open-collar shirt. He had crocodile-skin shoes.
‘Yeah, yeah, my brother.’
‘I thought we were going to the interior?’
‘You’re dressed like we’re off to a party.’
‘Relax, aburo. All will become clear.’ He patted me on the shoulder paternally, then stood facing the road.
We watched the cars go by in silence for seven minutes (I checked).
‘This is all very relaxing, Church, but what are we waiting for?’ I asked.
‘That.’ Church pointed to a slow-moving column of black cars with hazard lights blinking; a funeral procession. Obligatory dust cloud trailing the last car.
Only the first vehicle was a hearse. The others were converted family cars overflowing with grieving friends and family. Many of the women were wailing. As they passed us doing like fifteen or twenty, Church started to run in their direction. I did what he did. The last car was an old Citroen saloon and it slowed for us. It was empty save for the driver. Church got in the passenger seat and I was in the back.
‘Ire, o,’ said the driver. Goodness, it meant. A form of greeting.
‘Weston, meet Dami. Dami’s a grave digger. Dami, Weston. Old boy. From school.’
‘Bawo ni?’ asked Dami. How’re things?
‘O nlo,’ I said. It goes, it goes.
‘Who’s the client?’ asked Church. He lit a cigarette and leaned his elbow out of the window.
‘Malcolm Jaiyesinmi-Ojo. He dreamt he was eating at a banquet in his village. Dead the next morning. Not a mark on him.’
‘Just so I’m clear: Jaiyesinmi-Ojo is dead because he ate in a dream? That’s the cause of death?’ I asked.
Church and Dami looked at each other briefly and burst out laughing. ‘He’s been away,’ said Church, as if that explained my ignorance. Dami had lost the tip of his right index finger somewhere.
‘Aburo, there are two things you don’t want to do in your dreams. One of them is to eat food,’ said Church.
‘The other one is to fuck,’ said Dami, seriously.
‘True talk,’ said Church.
‘I’ll have to bow to your experience in the matter,’ I said.
They laughed. Dami nodded. ‘A man who pays respect to the great paves the way for his own greatness, or so our elders say.’
I had forgotten the proverb thing. Yoruba people love proverbs, and the appearance of wisdom gained by using a proverb in speech. And attributing the wisdom to Our Elders so that in addition to being wise the speaker is also considered humble. It was tiring.
I said to Church, ‘Why do we need to attend the funeral of Matthew Jaiyesinmi-Ojo?’
‘Malcolm,’ said Dami, wagging a finger.
‘Malcolm,’ I said. ‘So, why?’
Church turned and smiled at me, toothy and lupine. ‘Funerals are lucky for you and I, aren’t they?’
After the ceremony the friends and family of the departed departed and it was left to Dami to fill up the grave. All through the service and the caterwauling Church smoked and told me about a fellow rebel called D’Jango. Legendary. Fierce “warrior” according to Church. D’Jango took his name from a cowboy film.
‘Django. Franco Nero. 1966. It was on TV a lot when we were young. You remember it?’
‘Vaguely,’ I said.
‘D’Jango went at government troops with a hard-on, and I mean that literally, bro. The bobo went into battle stark naked with his dick and his gun pointed at the enemy. Scariest thing I’ve ever had to behold.’
‘I just knew the conversation would get to penises sooner or later,’ I said.
‘He said it was what the medicine man told him to do. Said as long as he didn’t put clothes on bullets would not find him. It worked.’
Dami was sweating, even though the sun was making its way down, time being about five in the afternoon. He had stripped down to his shorts and rivulets of sweat trickled down his muscles. He had almost finished in that the hole in the ground was filled and the cement work was all but done. It felt odd not helping out, Church chain-smoking and me just hanging about. A few times my phone vibrated in my pocket, but I ignored it, knowing it was Nana and that she would misunderstand my reasons for not answering.
‘What happened to him? D’Jango?’ I asked Church, since he was not answering any questions about our purported trip to the bush.
Church waved his cigarette in circles, terrorizing the swarm of gnats that had gathered around him. ‘Ambushed by government troops, captured, tortured. He could be dead, languishing in a gulag or rotting in a hole somewhere in the bush. Anything is possible.’
Dami was taking Polaroids of the completed tombstone and gravesite, slowly walking around to get shots from various angles. When he finished he arranged his tools carefully on the ground and said, ‘Wait till nightfall before you start anything. I mean it, Churchill; I don’t want to hear any stories. I like this job.’
Church brought out a bottle of Gordon’s Gin, unscrewed the cap and poured the clear liquid over the new gravestone. ‘Ile’n tile.’ The dead belong to the ground. He handed Dami a wad of cash and I felt for my own money belt. It was reassuringly snug. Exit Dami.
Church drank the gin and passed me the bottle. He asked for it back when I had taken two long swallows. The gin went down like sulphur. I would bet that it was local gin in the bottle and not Gordon’s. I told Church so.
‘Of course it isn’t Gordon’s. Do you know how much it costs to buy the original? No, this is bottled somewhere off Atakunmosa by a friend of mine. Sells them to me half-price.’ He glanced about and picked up the pickaxe. ‘Time to start work.’
‘Work doing what?’
Grave robbing was a new low for me. Church, I could tell, had done this before.
A bus arrived to pick us up. Church phoned for one like a general calling for an air strike. He still refused to answer any of my questions. I didn’t answer any of my phone calls from Nana. The driver of the bus said nothing, but he did wrap the corpse in tarpaulin before helping us lift it on to the bus. Church seemed to be in a good mood and I wanted to kill him. But I owed him my life. Of course my life wouldn’t have been in danger in the first place if he hadn’t put me in harm’s way. I decided to check my voicemails to distract from the lolling of the sheet-wrapped body.
Our next stop was a strip of dirt road in the middle of nowhere. Church called it Black Market. There were women hanging around and men floating by in various automobiles. The women were of all shapes and sizes. They were painted like masquerade performers and bared as much flesh as they could. Nobody cared about cellulite.
‘Prostitutes,’ I said.
‘To be sure,’ said Church.
A mixed-race whore appeared in the headlights she had short spiky hair that reminded me of the hide of a cactus.
Meep: ‘Call me back.’
‘That one’s name is Lilliana Oil. Not like Popeye’s bitch. Proper oil,’ said Church. ‘Stop the vehicle.’
The light revealed a tattoo of a blade on the side of Lillian’s neck.
Voicemail: My girlfriend said, ‘I had a dream last night. I was walking through this Nigerian market. All sorts of things were on sale-gari, yam flour, cassava, spinach, okra, pepper, etc-but the stalls were empty. Fully stocked, but empty. I walked through, not taking anything, but wanting to run into people because I needed to buy some stuff. In the meat section the cutlets were all there, along with the electric saws and the machetes, but there were no butchers. The poultry baskets were in place, but the chickens and turkeys were dead. While I stood among the offal four vultures descended on me, one even started to tug at my flesh. I looked at them in turn and said, “I wouldn’t do that if I were you. Don’t you know I’m an initiate?” They scattered like I had thrown stones at them and when I turned back to the market it was full of people, and I woke up. Call me back.’
The driver offered me gum and I accepted. Church went out and talked to Lilliana, cajoling her towards the van. Off to the left a man coupled furiously with a skinny whore who could not have been older than thirteen. He held her up against a tree and pumped away. Her eyes were open and it looked like she was staring at me. That couldn’t be true because it was dark in the van. She looked dead, like the man was fucking a cadaver.
I looked away.
Church opened the back of the van and Lilliana giggled in, followed by a cloud of cheap perfume that almost choked me. That made me, her and the corpse of Matthew Jaiyesinmi-Ojo in the back.
‘Take me to Bangkok,’ said Church to the driver. ‘At once.’
We narrowly missed crushing a buxom girl in a painted-on purple dress with knee-high black felt boots. The irony was that regular girls on Alcacia streets dressed like that too. Hooker chique.
The night swallowed us progressively. The whore had gone silent since Church broke a vial of amyl nitrate under her nose. What the fuck am I doing here? Why am I with these people? I could feel myself becoming immune to what was happening and, like Nana pointed out, losing my own values.
We thundered through some checkpoints. Indignant police officers yelled after us most times. One took a pot shot which zinged past us. Church became incandescent and fired his revolver in the general direction of the gorodom over and over, even though the driver kept saying we were out of range. The noise woke the whore from her chemical stupor and she started giggling again.
We slowed down, stopped.
We were at the gates of a guarded compound. It was similar to Arodan, except that there were armed guards and a tower with searchlights. Affectionately called Bangkok. A prison.
‘Wait,’ said Church, unnecessarily. He walked up to one of the guards-a fat police man who was apparently expecting him. Money changed hands and the gates opened, guards waving us in. Church joined us inside the parking area. The guard stood a few yards away.
‘Lilliana, you stay here. Weston, bring the body.’ For the first time Church seemed tense, nervous even.
‘I can’t. Not by myself,’ I said.
Church took the head end while I carried the legs. The fat cop led us into one of the main buildings. We met a few people on the way but they looked in a different direction as if some cloud protected us from their gaze. We stopped at Cell Block H, by which time my muscles were rigid with fatigue.
The cells had thick metal doors, the kind that absorb sound when you strike them. There was a small rectangular slot at eye-level with a slider to open it. The fat cop drew back the slider.
‘Step the fuck away from the door,’ he said. To Church he muttered, ‘The fool has a habit of leaning against the eye slot so that all you can see is his diseased yellow eye. I’ve had to poke it once or twice myself.’ Fat Cop punctuated his sentence with a fart, which immediately filled the corridor space with a sulphurous smell. He opened the cell door. A wiry, bearded man in prison blues stood in the exact middle of the room.
‘Be quick,’ said Fat Cop.
The man in the cell stripped off quickly and with an urgency that seemed more frantic because of the silence. Church and I stripped Jaiyesinmi-Ojo.
‘I got you a nice suit, Nine,’ said Church.
It was difficult getting the clothes off a dead weight. It was even more difficult dressing one up in prison clothes. We dragged the body into the cell.
‘Habeas corpus,’ said Church to Fat Cop. ‘You may have the body.’
Fat Cop rolled the corpse over so that it was prone, after which he steadied it with his foot and fired a pistol into the back of its head. Then he placed the revolver in the right hand of the twice-dead corpse.
‘How the hell is he supposed to have shot himself there?’ I asked.
‘It worked for Andreas Baader,’ said Church. ‘Come on. I want to show Nine his other present.’
In the back of the van Nine was fucking Lilliana on the bench opposite me while I tried not to look.
Church explained that Nine was D’Jango. When the government agents arrested him they didn’t realise who they had. D’Jango had taken the identity of a lesser rebel known as Nine.
‘He will take us where we need to go, like a guide,’ Church said.
D’Jango-Nine climaxed loudly.
‘Tomorrow,’ Church said.
Nana hugged me for a long time. You’d think I just told her about a routine day at the office instead of a mad odyssey with a hooker, a corpse and an insane rebel.
‘I lost my job,’ she said.
‘It doesn’t matter,’ she said.
Nana stroked my head as if I were her child and I slept.