CAMPUS TALES, my collection of Short Stories, has won the following 2016 book awards:
Award: Runner-Up Category: Short Stories/Unpublished
Chapters are serialized below in descending order. The newest chapter is at the top, displacing old ones downward.
Chapter 3: ALIENOLOGY 101 (03/01/2017)
Faith Bigelow was six years old when she started wetting her bed. It came about suddenly one night when she awoke from sleep around midnight and realized there was a hum in the house. It was a bit like a buzz and it sounded close to her ear, coming from under her bed. When she turned to place her other ear on her pillow the buzz waned a little but soon returned, loud as before. She raised her head and something creaked under her mattress. Then a low and slow rumble sounded directly beneath her chest. She froze in fear. A monster was under her bed.
Of course she didn’t really pay any serious attention to monsters until she started reading that spooky book of her brother’s, “Things That Go Bump.” Before that, she could watch her favorite cartoons on TV or listen to her mom read her a fairy tale without alarm; those were just stories. It was the detailed lists in Johnny’s book of the various sounds that swirl around us as we sleep at night that made Faith begin to listen hard in the dark, and distinguish some of those sounds. Sometimes she heard the bolt on her window suddenly click; or a soft whisper rustled from her closed door; or a whooshing sound pressed down from the roof. Once, she was sure she heard a giggle, followed by a knock, and silence.
But tonight was different, special. There were the sounds of scampering feet and rustling dress, and the hushed hiss of a sharp breath under her bed. She closed her eyes to tune the sounds off but they only grew louder. She held her breath to hear the sounds distinctly, and all of a sudden the crackle of knuckles jolted her out of bed. She ran past Johnny’s room and into her parents’ bedroom, trailing a trickle between her legs. Her mom came instantly awake but lay there, watching Faith with surprise. “There is a monster under my bed,” she whispered to her mom. Then she turned the wall switch and flooded the room with light, waking up her dad too. Mom and dad took in the wetness along the inside seam of Faith’s pink pajama and looked at each other as their little girl stepped up and climbed into their bed.
They were uncertain how much of that situation was their fault. When she was born, they lived in a two bedroom ranch-style house and her older brother Johnny occupied the other bedroom. For that reason and for the emotional satisfaction of cuddling a live, warm, and dependent doll while they slept, her parents let her sleep in their bedroom: first in her crib but, as she outgrew it, on their own bed. Faith was a clingy baby, and her mom worried that the child’s attitude of dependency would only grow until it was moved into a room of its own. But her husband was of a different mind; he was especially attached to his precious daughter and slept better when she snuggled against him.
Even after they moved into a bigger home with a separate room for Faith, the girl preferred to sleep in her parents’ bed. They went through a see-saw struggle to wean her of the habit. They would carry her, sleeping, into her own bed, but the next night or the night after, she would wake up in the middle of the night and sneak over into her parents’ bed. They persevered, and slowly but surely Faith learned to sleep through the night in her own bed. And today, suddenly, she had relapsed into her old habit of clingy dependency. Her mom saw through the ruse.
“A monster?” mom queried as she stroked Faith’s head. “Yes,” the girl said, “a big one.” Her dad laid his sleepy head back on the pillow and said soothingly, “There are no monsters in this house.” But the little girl cut in: “I heard the monster; it was moving about under my bed.” Her eyes were big and round and shiny with fear as she described some of the monster sounds she had heard from under her bed. Dad yawned and opened his mouth to argue, but mom jabbed an elbow to his ribs and whispered something to him. He shut up, got up, and grabbed a metal baseball bat from his closet, and led the girl back to her room. Mom followed them. When they got into Faith’s room, mom changed the girl’s pajama and bed linen, and left the man and his daughter to exorcise the demon in the room.
Dad made sure Faith watched as he turned over everything in the room, starting with pillows and mattress. Then he and Faith knelt down and peeped under the bed. He heaved the dresser around so Faith could see behind it: nothing there. Then, for reassurance, he left the baseball bat beside Faith’s pillow with a wink of his eye. It was a light bat which she could swing. He also left a flashlight on her night stand in case she woke up and needed to reassure herself. He then kissed her on the forehead and stayed kneeling by her bed until her breathing came soft and regular, and he crept out. On the way out he switched off the bedside lamp and shut her door.
The next night Faith padded guiltily over to her parents again and said the monster was back; she heard it whispering and laughing. Her dad asked if she had looked under her bed with the flashlight, but she replied that she was too scared. This time Faith had slammed her door as she fled her room and the commotion woke Johnny up; he too came up and stood at the master bedroom door rubbing sleep from his eyes. Mom took Johnny back to his room. He was eight and easier to convince that monsters did not inhabit their house. He went back to sleep. But Faith was a tougher proposition; she wanted to know where monsters came from and what they ate. Could she make nice to them by leaving some crackers under her bed? Daddy said no and tried his best to explain, without patronizing her too much.
When mommy returned from Johnny’s room, daddy carried Faith to hers, with mommy in tow again. Faith was wet again and needed a change of her bedclothes. They dried her out and he read her a book about a Girl Scout camp outing and she dozed off. This time he left the light on beside faith’s bed, and she slept peacefully. From that night, they never turned off the lamp by her bedside at night. The parents did not bring up the topic again, for fear of arousing Faith’s anxiety; and while the girl climbed into bed at night with evident reluctance, she did not ask about monsters either.
When Faith turned eight, her parents began to let her invite friends to sleep over on special occasions. A “pajama party” they called it. The first time that happened, on her birthday, her classmate Mary had a hard time sleeping. She kept talking until the other girls told her to cut it out so they could sleep, but Mary finally confided that she could not sleep with lights on. Faith switched off the room light with reluctance; she half expected to be visited by monsters, but none came. Nor did any monsters bother her on the second occasion when her friends came to sleep over on Halloween. Halloween! A special night for spooks, yet her monsters had stayed away. She realized that the monsters were shy: they did not show up when the lights were on or when she slept in the midst of company.
When Faith turned ten, she was sitting with her friends on a park bench at recess in school one day when a new girl Patty began to doze as the others chatted. Patty was new to the school and had gravitated to Faith’s circle because she lived on Faith’s street and the two of them walked often together to and from school. Didn’t she sleep well last night? Faith asked, and Patty said, no, power went in the middle of the night and because her dad could not restore it, they slept in the dark; and she usually slept poorly in the dark. Faith’s interest was kindled: here was a kindred spirit. Patty confided that she was afraid of the dark. So did another girl, and soon they were discussing monsters in the dark. Patty had actually caught a glimpse of her monsters in the middle of one night when she returned from the bathroom and saw a big shaggy head and a smaller one peering out from under her bed and ducking back in when Patty approached her bed. Of course they had vanished when she shone her flashlight under the bed, but she could swear she saw them, a mother and its child.
Mary made a wry face and said it was all stuff and nonsense: monsters do not live under beds. Then, where do they live? Faith wanted to know, and June cut in to say there were no such things as monsters under beds; those were ideas and stories made up to scare kids. Because June’s dad was a professor of mathematics who recently moved into the neighborhood, Faith suppressed an urge to laugh. But she did mutter that monsters exist all right; she had a family of them living under her own bed. But how did she know that? Someone asked. Faith explained to them how the monsters under her bed made noises each night in the dark and only quieted down when her dad came and scared them away. Kathy, whose mother was a Sunday school teacher, said she had never had any problem with ghosts or monsters because her mom always prayed over her bead and burned incense before tucking her in each night.
The discussion was about to die out, till June asked, “But, really, what are monsters?” Mary cut in, “Toys that stray under your bed,” and everybody sniggered. Faith was offended and insisted that her monsters were spirits. “But then,” June wanted to know, “how is it that they are afraid of your dad? After all, your dad is a human, isn’t he?” Mandy the tomboy, who had just joined the little chat group, mumbled that Mr. Bigelow was not human; he was too big. That sounded like something Mandy must have heard from her mom; she and her mom did not like Faith’s dad because the man had once complained that Mandy was disruptive on the playground. They remembered the man’s big head and broad shoulders and potbelly, all of which made him look twice as massive as his frail-looking wife and fitted his name “Bigelow.” They smiled and Faith glared at Mandy and made a fist; they were about to go at it again, but the others giggled and just then the bell announced end of recess and they trooped back to classes.
Some months later it was June’s birthday, her first birthday in her new neighborhood, and her friends came to her party on a Saturday evening. Some brought presents and some brought foods or cake, and others brought other things. After they all left, June went through her usual bedtime routine and settled down to a satisfied and deep sleep. But at midnight a great racket erupted from under her bed. She screamed, jumped out of bed, and went and fetched her dad. They looked under her bed and saw a big, shaggy, one-eyed rag doll staring at them. Beneath the doll was a wind-up alarm clock set to go at midnight. Around its neck was a large tag with the word “SURPRISE!” On the flipside the card said HAPPY BIRTHDAY FROM OUR MONSTERS; it was signed by Patty and Mary. June laughed, and told her dad about her recent argument with her friends about monsters.
School days rolled along, sometimes merrily and sometimes tediously. As the girls glided into adolescence, shaggy monsters slowly faded from their consciousness along with Santa Claus and other icons of the childhood pantheon. But that did not mean the end of all things that go bump in the night; such things of fright simply morphed into witches and spirits and goblins. The small chat group of Faith and Mary and their friends occasionally discussed beliefs and scares and the supernatural, but the believers and unbelievers usually argued each-other to a standstill, neither side convinced by the other. And there were the occasional pranks, such as the Monday after a Halloween when June slipped a Voo-doo doll into Patty’s school locker, which scared the latter witless when she opened her locker after school—until Patty decided that she rather liked the doll after all, with its long, pink claws and naughty, frilly lingerie.
As college time loomed and discussion turned to the uneasy prospect of Faith leaving home for the first time, her parents worried about her falling into bad company which, for them, meant boys and promiscuous girls; but Faith worried about rooming in a dorm with strangers who may be unsympathetic to her fear of the dark. Would she be allowed to keep the room light burning all night? She consulted some of her friends but none had an answer about the rules of college dormitory life. Finally, she confided in her dad, who used the issue as a major factor in choosing between the colleges that were positive regarding her admission.
Faith and her father discovered that her situation was not unique or even unusual; more and more students were coming to college still bearing childhood fears and prejudices. As for the practical matter of sleeping every night with lights on, college administrators were not eager to encourage that, for economic reasons; but if Faith fell in with roommates who made common cause with her to request that privilege, they might consider granting the request. So, on her rooming requirement form Faith specified she needed a roommate who, like herself, preferred to have the room light kept on all night or, failing that, who would not object to her keeping a quiet little light burning by her bed. She had no trouble finding a roommate who let her keep a lamp by her bedside.
The day she returned from Thanksgiving break, Faith met Pete on the bus to campus. Seeing that they had the same destination they fell into conversation. He was a tall and lanky young man, with jet-black hair cropped short, a ready and asymmetric smile, and intense blue eyes which seemed to bore through and even beyond you to your innermost thoughts. He was a junior in sociology. Two days later she ran into him again in the library at noon; they walked to the campus bistro for lunch. The third time they met was by appointment: she accepted his invitation to a session of the debate club; they had an amusing time listening to the pros and cons of the question of Mind Over Matter. Faith became interested in Pete as he was in her.
Faith was never a gifted pupil in school or a star student in college, but she put in adequate performance. Her grades tended to swing up and down, as with most young students, but the oscillations were firmly grounded on a baseline “C” level, upon which was impressed a gentle upward trend as she worked harder and found a rhythm. At the end of her sophomore year she showed her parents a proposal to join her classmates in a two-week excursion to Edmonton, Canada, at the end of their junior year. Her dad was not able to pay her way, having recently taken a second mortgage to start his new business. But he promised her that if she improved her grades further and graduated with high honors, she could choose between a new car and a summer sojourn in the south of France at his expense, to celebrate graduation. Faith knuckled down and her grades nosed up toward a B-plus average. She was happy; so were her parents.
She was not exactly a timid young lady, but then neither was she pushy like her dad. She never exhibited any strong leadership qualities but, like her mom, was happy to follow with sensible caution if a cause appealed to her. Her cautious nature was quite evident in the smallness of her innermost circle of friends. But then, once she learned to put her trust in a friend, she was faithful almost to the point of slavishness. In short order she learned to trust Pete’s judgment and follow his leadership.
She learned that he, too, slept with his light on in the off-campus apartment he shared with three other guys. Sometimes when she caught him off-guard she noticed that he was smiling or talking to himself softly. He explained, with his charmingly twisted smile, that he was a spiritual person. Faith liked that expression: spirituality sounded sophisticated to her — it was a positive frame of mind, more so than just being afraid or puzzled, which she thought of as negative. One Sunday, she went to visit him in his apartment, and on a low table in a corner of his room she saw stacks of a pamphlet entitled Alienology 101. The cover image was a sketch of two people, a male and a female gazing at each-other with broad smiles; each had a hairless and shiny head of ellipsoidal shape below which two ears pointed up and out as on “Spock” of Star Trek. The caption was enigmatic:
Alienology 101: Sociology Meets Cosmology
THE US ENCOUNTER AT ROSWELL
Come Join Us And Open Wide Your Consciousness!
She assumed it was something to do with his sociology courses, but the inside contents were even more intriguing. They announced the first colloquium of the academic year. “In this first session, Alienology 101, we shall wade into two poignant and extant questions: Are we really, utterly alone? And must we stay strangers forever? Pete explained that it was about a small campus group that met monthly to help one-another overcome reserve and shyness the better to enjoy life more fully. But Faith sensed there was more to it than that. It seemed obvious to her that “alien” was being used here, not in the mundane sense of the terrestrial neighbor you may have been rather shy to meet, but in the much more profound sense of unknown beings lurking in the vastness of the universe. She agreed to accompany Pete to the next meeting.
When they arrived, just after midnight (and she soon learned that they always met around midnight) the session was on, with projected slides laying out “The Roswell UFO Incident” in detail. Intense arguments were adduced to suggest that, to forestall pandemonium, the US government was engaged in a cover-up to hide from the public the fact “aliens” had visited us in 1947, and one of their crafts crashed near a desolate cattle ranch at Roswell, New Mexico. Faith was awe-struck as she remembered the movie “ET”; it seemed so real and plausible. All her life she had been sure monsters dogged our steps at night, and here was evidence that monsters did exist, albeit monsters from other worlds! For the next session, near Christmas time, billed as “Alienology 102: A Canadian Close Encounter,” the group would discuss more evidence from elsewhere, this time the 1967 Canada incident or “Shag Harbor Alien Crash.” Faith was hooked. She signed on as a member and pledged herself an Alienologist.
A child of the Apollo age of the US space program, whose cosmic awareness was nurtured on the hype of routine space shuttle flights and the fantasy movies Star Wars and ET, she used to wonder now and then whether humans would in her lifetime have a real close encounter with space-faring aliens. But she was a psych major not overly keen on physical science topics; and so she did no more than wonder about it. That was until now.
The very next morning, a Sunday, Faith went jogging with Pete to the remote edge of campus where a row of knolls looking like Indian burial mounds separated the Agricultural Extension Station of the college from a private farmland farther to the east. It was misty and not yet fully light, so that the mounds appeared to blend into one-another in a continuous hill range. As they approached, a sudden flash of soft light, like an aurora, spread overhead and preceded a huge, low-flying craft that glided soundlessly and wheeled in a zig-zag progress over the big mounds. Was it an airplane? Or was it a flock of geese? They dismissed both possibilities: geese squawk when they fly in formation, and the zig-zag maneuvers were too rapid and agile for a human machine. A UFO it must be. Faith broke out in sweat and goose bumps and was subdued the rest of the way home. When they got to her dorm she was still spooked. Pete coolly asked her to move in with him and she gratefully accepted. Pete brought over, among other belongings, his copious stash of current and back issues of UFO publications: UFO Magazine, Paranormal Monthly, Fortean Times, Nexus, Ufologist magazine, etc. He was up to his gills in ufology. She quickly plunged into that world of his.
Faith and Pete became inseparable on campus as they were off-campus. And the next year they vanished together along with another couple in their alienology group. The circumstances are still murky, but the distraught parents of Faith, having waited in vain for her to come home at the end of the school year, went looking for her in June, starting in the campus and moving to Pete’s apartment and among his alienology associates. Slowly they pieced together a bizarre story. Faith and the other three vanished alienologists were said to have been among the 239 passengers aboard the Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 jumbo jet when it disappeared on the 8th of March 2014 while flying from Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, to Beijing, China.
The four intrepid alienologists were en-route to Micronesia and headed for Bochuk, an obscure atoll off the island of Chuuk in the Federated States of Micronesia. Bochuk is a tidal coral island drowning in the vast sweep of the Western Pacific Ocean and having Papua New Guinea, Guam, and the Philippines as some of its neighbors — albeit distant neighbors. It lies in a zone secretly known to ufologists as “Bermuda Triangle of the Marianas.”
How they came to travel to Southeast Asia on a sudden whim was a bizarre story in itself. A newly discovered comet, Lovejoy, was announced in September of 2013. It was expected to reach closest approach to earth two months later. It was one of the exciting comets of 2013; best sightings for amateur astronomers were to be expected from Micronesia three months after perihelion. Alienology enthusiasts quickly latched onto the event and were led to expect, perchance, a close encounter with aliens riding the long tail of Lovejoy, if they congregated at Bochuk in Mid-March of 2014. But they were told to be prepared to hang around patiently for a while in the state of Chuuk: the aliens would be in no hurry to make contact since they had to wait in their aquatic capsule until their mother ship returned with Lovejoy’s next pass a couple of years later.
It was rumored that the four alienologists boarded the Beijing-bound flight but without any intention of going as far as China; that they had sabotaged the aircraft and deplaned with the aid of parachutes in mid-air, leaving the compromised vessel to plunge to a watery end; that they had found their way to Chuuk in small boats which picked them up as they bobbed in the water, all four of them. Nevertheless, the global news bulletins were unequivocal: there were no survivors. That grim fact did not change in spite of an intense local and spreading search of the waters by various countries in the region and beyond and deploying various technologies in the search. The prognosis for future outcomes looked just as dismal.
Back on campus, alienology colleagues who were left behind held one more midnight seminar before the end of the academic session. Seeking to rationalize the carnage and sacrifice left in the wake of Faith’s last journey, the colloquium was announced with a colorful flyer that asked, in colorful banner headlines, “WHO WOULDN’T GO?” And it opened with the question, “What is a year or two more of earthly drudgery, compared to the merest possibility of cosmic insight?”
So, failing to find any sympathy among the friends of their unhappy daughter and discouraged by the dismal prospects ahead of them, Mr. and Mrs. Bigelow made ready to journey far out to Micronesia in search of her, but with little realistic hope of ever seeing her again.
CHAPTER 2: Welcome to Nigeria (Posted 01/17/2017)
Dr. Zachary Bassey had not been back to Nigeria in a decade and half. The 1990s were a sad, hopeless time when a succession of rapacious military people strutted about the country, led by what Zack liked to call “machinegun generals” who looted the country’s oil revenues and pushed everyone around with stupid commands that were to be obeyed “with immediate effect and automatic alacrity.” Monty Python stuff.
The last time he had gone there, after getting his MBA from Loughborough University in the U.K., he had been thoroughly disenchanted. There were rowdy soldiers everywhere, as well as the peculiar road policemen in sickly-looking yellow shirts, frayed pants and flip-flop sandals. They were the rag-tag military and paramilitary forces that Fela Anikulapo-Kuti had satirized with his songs “Zombie” and “Yellow Fever.” You couldn’t walk the streets of Lagos without being shouldered aside by red-eyed soldiers with menacing assault rifles slung over shoulders. (And what were they doing in smelly hordes outside their barracks in daytime?) Nor could you travel one mile in a Molué minibus without your bags and pockets being searched by hungry-looking yellow fever asking, “Oga, weytin you chop remain for us?” (“Sir, any leftovers for us?”) It was depressingly reminiscent of the Biafra civil war days.
And the journey from London to Lagos had given him a sickening foretaste of what awaited in Nigeria. Upon arriving at Heathrow and checking his bags he had asked a uniformed worker, a snobbish needle-nosed Englishwoman with superior airs, where the Nigerian Airways flight was boarding. She sized him up head to foot, looked away and spat out, “Follow the noise!” Well, he did, and she was not wrong. He followed the hum of human voices as it welled into a babble of dialects, becoming a roar when he rounded a corner. It was bedlam. People sat on huge sacks, bags and suitcases, jostling and palavering for the right to board first—reminding Zack of the cacophony of weaverbird colonies on the mango trees in his childhood playgrounds. Evidently everybody intended to lug their suitcases as carry-on bags, and most usually succeeded: no one could talk them out of it. “My bag contains food for my family to eat on the flight,” a fat woman with angry eyes responded when instructed by baggage crew to send her bulging bags to be checked in as cargo.
Zack joined the throng. They waited and waited. What was the delay? They couldn’t sit around on the tarmac all day. Why were they let out to an airplane that was not ready? To the twitter was added the oppressive exudates of bodies and bags. After a half hour of that stalemate they all stirred as an important-looking party of men marched up: a purposeful band led by soldiers shielding a big man in resplendent white brocade robes and a blue cap. They strode into the First Class section, and only then were ordinary passengers permitted up the ladder behind the dignitaries, piling higgledy-piggledy into the airplane, with strong food smells and faint body odors wafting all around.
The nightmare continued into the flight. As they leveled off in the sky and before the captain turned off the seat-belt lights, a large, big-bosom woman sat her whining little daughter on her knees and ignored repeated urgings of the stewardesses to set down the girl and fasten her to a seat for safety. The same woman had deposited a large bag in the aisle when she boarded and ignored instructions to stuff it under her seat. People had oversized luggage poking precariously out of overhead bins and bulging bags sitting on their laps. In the course of their work, flight attendants had to step around elbows cradling bags on knees, but this big woman with the baby girl was a special challenge. The head steward stepped forward to wrest the baby from the woman’s arms and belt it down on a seat. Screaming and flailing, the woman got up and grabbed the attendant by her lapel. They were two heavyweights: the stewardess was no less bulky or determined than the passenger. Those were the dying days of Nigeria Airways, when people quipped that they could see why the company’s logo of was a flying elephant!
The two women fought, lumbering and grappling and screaming, finally settling to the floor of the plane to trade punches and insults. The baby girl kept up a shrill wail. The navigator came down, failed to break it up, turned and climbed upstairs. Passengers wondered aloud why the airplane did not turn back to Heathrow so the disruptive woman could be handed over to the authorities. After what seemed like ages a colonel in sharp-creased olive-green uniform came down from First-Class; right behind him was the big shot in a white brocade robe. This was the big man, evidently a top general out of uniform. He exuded self-importance, and looked like a boss who was used to commanding attention. He was the reason their flight had taken off two hours late, and he was also the reason it was not being turned back as safety and protocol required. His time and his schedule overrode everyone else’s. In effect he had hijacked the flight without so much as raising his voice, let alone a gun.
The brocaded boss said nothing. He simply loomed over the two wrestlers on the floor whose chests heaved with exertion, their embarrassment palpable. His orderly ignored the attendant and addressed himself to the fighting passenger, saying something short and sharp in Yoruba. Then he leaned down and asked her: “Madam, why you dey disgrace your country like this?” Whereupon she pushed back her big breast that had popped out of its harness, adjusted her bright gélé to a rakish angle and, tossing a daggers look at her winded antagonist, sheepishly resumed her seat — to loud cheers from other passengers. As the big shot went back to first class someone exclaimed loudly, “Naija we hell thee!” It was a nostalgic pun on the melodious first national anthem of Nigeria: “Nigeria We Hail Thee.”
Zack had looked on in fascination at the whole improbable scene. Two adult women duking it out vigorously in public! The only other time he had seen such spectacle, other than in a market place, he was nine years old and in elementary school. One sad day at school, as the children chafed to dash out for recess on the playground, a gleaming white Chevy Impala, with tailfins shaped like wings, rolled through their school front gate; and out stepped a gentleman whom everybody called “Mr. Honorable” in great awe, for he was The Honorable Benson T. Ekandem, member of the Eastern Nigeria House of Assembly and the highest dignitary in the province of Annang. As his driver drove the car farther to park it under an umbrella tree, Honorable strode purposefully to the office of the school principal, Mr. John Eyo-Nsa.
Nobody knew what transpired between them. This was 1959 and federal elections loomed in preparation for independence. So some people surmised that Mr. Eyo-Nsa was switching his allegiance to Mr. Ekandem’s political rival; others whispered that it was a disagreement over the favors of a shared mistress. No matter: the two of them came out of the office locked in serious combat: Honorable Ekandem in billowing agbada robes and red cap, and Mr. Eyo-Nsa in his trademark white, short-sleeved shirt and khaki trousers, all sharp and gleaming — for it was Monday morning and his “uniform” had not yet wilted. The headmaster, who was being choked by the neck, had a vice-like clamp on the crotch of his opponent, who was doubled over in pain.
Cursing each-other in vernacular, the two “big men,” respected and feared alike by the teachers and pupils now spilling out of the rooms, punched and kicked like kangaroos, and finally rolled on the hibiscus hedge in front of the principal’s office. Nobody dared to step in and break up the fight. Honorable’s driver seemed to have gone to sleep in the snazzy car not knowing that a war was in progress; the children were spell-bound with horror, and their teachers transfixed with indecision and embarrassment. When the fighting duo disengaged, Mr. Eyo-Nsa spat out blood through his swollen lips and held his ear to stanch bleeding, while a winded Honorable gathered his torn agbada as he sat on the trampled hedge.
With exaggeration typical of African languages, the loud complaints in Efik sounded worse than the actual afflictions warranted: “Eyo-Nsa has kicked the life out of me,” the politician moaned as he groped for his lost eyeglasses. The headmaster countered with “Honorable has bitten my ear off.” Finally, a teacher hastened and fetched the driver who ran over and led his boss into the car as another teacher found the missing eyeglasses and handed them over. Mr. Eyo-Nsa got up, glared at the bemused children, and limped into his office.
Giggles of relief erupted all around, from teachers and pupils alike. For a long time, the pupils parodied the big skirmish with sham wrestling punctuated with moans about being kicked or bitten—until the teachers stopped it with stern warnings at assembly. Now the unlikely fight 10,000 meters up in the sky reminded Zack of the rumble on his school hedge. He cracked up and chortled quietly in his seat.
That was sixteen years earlier, and Zack had not made another trip to Nigeria, not even after he relocated to the USA and obtained his PhD in Information Science. But now his elderly father was ailing and he had been summoned home to shore up the old man’s morale or, failing that, to perform the last rites as first son. Zack’s preparations for this milestone journey home had been fraught. His Nigerian passport had expired and needed not just to be renewed but to be replaced because Nigeria had switched its passport to a new digital motif in conformity with region-wide Ecowas standards. Photos and data in the new passport were said to require digital encoding so that one must travel to a Nigerian consulate in person to get a new passport. From what Zack heard about the chaos and rigors of the exercise, he was not looking forward to it.
When General Sanni Abacha took over power in Nigeria and shook up the civil service with the menace of his no-nonsense reputation, the Nigerian Consulate General in New York City moved to decongest and speed up passport renewal process all over by sending consulate staff from New York out to selected cities to handle renewals expeditiously. When the itinerant consulate team visited Dayton, Ohio, where Zack lived, he was on a European trip for a conference and missed the chance to get replacement passports for himself and his family. The following year word went out that the same exercise would be performed in Cleveland, Ohio, and Zack cleared his schedule to make sure he went there, with his wife and three children and his parents who were visiting from Nigeria. He obtained the renewal/replacement forms online, completed and mailed them away by FedEx, with the requisite money orders, to the address of the agents who were contracted to process applications for the Nigeria Consulate General.
But, though Zack carried out all instructions to the letter, the Cleveland exercise turned out a fiasco. He drove there in a rented 7-seater minivan to accommodate his whole family. They arrived at the Cleveland airport on Sunday afternoon for the passport processing scheduled to start Monday morning and he checked them into the hotel where the exercise was scheduled to occur. He had reserved a suite for his family and a room for his parents. They ate breakfast early next morning and at 7:45 am went down the hall to begin the process, which was to start at 8:00 am. But nobody at the hotel reception knew anything about a Nigerian consulate team or a meeting of Nigerians. Zack searched the corridors one by one. He peeped into large halls with great chandeliers and floor-to-ceiling oak panels, or with ornate drapes: halls suitable for banquets or grand receptions. He checked the halls and compact rooms set up for business meetings of smaller groups. He finally saw an inconspicuous note card pasted to a door and saying the processing of Nigerian passport applications would start at 9:30 am. It was a tiny room. He and his family went in, sat on student-style chairs, and waited.
At 8:30 the first of the other applicants began to arrive, each person or team having to search around before being directed to the tiny room where Zack and his family sat. Soon a crowd gathered and they began to mill about as Nigerians do in public settings. At 11:45 am two men and a lady in Nigerian dashikis shuffled in with briefcases and began to scrounge for more desks and chairs from the adjoining rooms. The tiny room became stuffy as the crowd grew, and so they scrounged up two fans. Applicants swirled about, grumbling about “Nigerian time” and inefficiency; the consulate team pretended not to hear. Soon the room got too stuffy and hot even with all windows opened and the two fans spinning fast. Applicants went out and came back in, and a large spill-over crowd stood in the courtyard past the corridor. Altogether there were easily four score applicants, some of them from out of the state of Ohio.
Zack wondered why a team representing the prestige of Nigeria and its US Consulate General would pick that cubicle of a room for its meeting, though they knew the number of applications received, and even though they had charged each applicant a $50.00 “handling fee” over and above the processing fee accompanying the passport forms that were mailed to the contractor. The handling fee, it was explained on the application form, was to take care of local logistical expenses; surely that should include things like renting a proper hall adequate for the purpose, Zack wondered. Then it hit him: the visiting consular team was skimping on expenses so they could pocket the handling fees. Oh, yes, he had encountered such cheapness before.
He had once gone to Chicago, in response to a ballyhooed drive by a consortium of Nigerian universities to recruit academic staff from the USA. The location for the interviews was a nondescript hotel in midtown. When he showed up, he found a dozen eager Nigerians whose expertise were in fields ranging from mathematics and accounting to the physical sciences and engineering. Zack listened to the group as they chatted; they were all agog to be interviewed because President Shehu Shagari had issued a clarion call to qualified Nigerians abroad to come home with their skills and help build the Second Republic. That was all well and good, but when his turn came to be interviewed Zack was led into a cramped and dingy hotel room where he sat on a chair by the sink while an interviewer sat on the edge of a bed. The interviewer was a jack-of-all-trades: to Zack’s dismay, it seemed that that lone man was to interview everybody, regardless of their professional backgrounds. To determine Zack’s suitability for hiring into the faculty of a Nigeria university, the omnibus interviewer asked him questions at a level that was more suitable for a Monday morning pop quiz for sophomore students.
“What jokers!” Zack snorted. It was inconceivable that the interviewer had not been issued funds to cover expenses. What expense was more important for the occasion than a proper setting for interviews? No doubt he pocketed the expense funds and chose to “interview” men and women on his bed! And what kind of lunatic would consider that one interviewer suitable and adequate to screen professionals across the board? Zack went home in disgust and never bothered to respond to letters from a university registrar asking for copies of his credentials and publications to complete his application.
And here again, in Cleveland, was more of the same decrepitude of standards. The consulate staff sat on borrowed kitchen chairs around small, bunched student desks to conduct passport transactions. They had a list which they clutched tight in their hands as they began to call the applicants one by one, in alphabetical order. When they passed the B’s and started on the C’s, Zack got up and asked about his: did they not have a Dr. Bassey on their list? Oh no, they said, some of the processed applications were not received from the contractor in time; his must be among the ones expected later in the day, probably yet to be processed. Could he come back the next day? Zack went out and took his family sight-seeing for the rest of that day.
Next day, it was noon before the consulate team arrived and an angry crowd had gathered. It appeared that after Zack left the previous day, the applicants revolted against the alphabetical order of handling and insisted it should be first come first served; it was so agreed for the next day. Quite a few people found themselves in the same predicament as Zack: their names were not on the list. They grumbled and tempers flared as people jostled to get closer to the table where the lists lay. Late arrivals who had been led to expect their turns in alphabetical order now struggled to wriggle into the queue. Fisticuffs broke out as the people in line resented the impatient efforts of “important” applicants who tried to “shunt” the lines. The same educated Nigerians who are to be found patiently taking their turns at US banks—men and women who had learned over the years to keep the obligatory social distance of two feet or more from the person in front and the one behind—now reverted to the beehive throngs one was used to seeing in Nigeria, each of them crushed against the poor person in front to prevent shunting.
Zack was told again that his passports had not come in. Maybe tomorrow, they said. Tomorrow was the scheduled final day. He took off again with his family and saw a bit more of Cleveland. Then they got back to the hotel only to see police cars with flashing lights and blaring sirens, and excited cops pacing about briskly. Fights had broken out, Zack was told, and the hotel staff had called 911 to report a riot. Three fighters had been arrested and hauled away in handcuffs. That hotel venue was just a mile from the Cleveland Hopkins International airport as the crow flies, and nobody wanted to take chances. The exercise was “suspended” till the next day. But everyone was sure the cops would be back in force for that final day. Zack gathered his family and went back to Dayton that night. He had spent a small fortune and wasted three days; it was time to cut his losses.
Six months passed before he was able to retrieve his old passport and fees from the contractor. He made no more moves to replace his Nigerian passport. He could have traveled to New York City with his entire family to repeat the exercise, but he hadn’t the heart for it, especially since New York City hotels would cost him three or four times as much as Dayton or Cleveland hotels. Then, three years later had come the summons over his ailing father. He had to go, but without a valid Nigerian passport he decided to use his US passport. It required a visa, but he could get that in one day from any Nigerian consulate. He flew to Atlanta and got a visa for Nigeria. He was now winging his way with the unfamiliar status of an American on a visit to Nigeria.
When his plane landed at Ikeja, Zack felt a keen rush to be back home. As they alighted from the plane and started the long walk to the entry processing hall, the warm and salty Lagos air hit him like a sudden blast of steam in a sauna. Halfway down the walk he loosened his tie; but that only helped a little and soon he had rivulets of sweat coursing down his neck and from his armpits. He finally took off his jacket and undid three buttons of his shirt. He had been gone for so long from Nigeria that he had forgotten to dress appropriately for the hot and humid July weather. As they walked into the arrival lounge he smiled at the billboard that greeted visitors with WELCOME TO NIGERIA. It seemed to be talking to him, and he was about to say “Thank you” when he remembered he was not a guest; he was a son of the soil. Or so he thought, for the hour held a shock for him.
At the immigration station four officials sat abreast at a long and narrow desk, taking passports from travelers and perusing them. They were so plodding and deliberate that Zack wondered if there was a special alert for a fugitive or suspect. Behind each seated official stood a phalanx of men and women, some in assorted uniforms and with handguns strapped or rifles slung, others in mufti and wearing smiles; and behind that group was a crowd of people craning their necks to watch the proceedings. Who were they, and what were they all doing there?
Zach remembered the cautionary tale he had heard in Dayton from a distraught Nigerian lady who described how she got fleeced in such a situation. Her Nigerian passport was passed down the table and she sidled along with it till she reached the fourth seated official, who asked what was her occupation in the USA. As she answered him, the third official she had already passed re-engaged her attention with a question concerning her destination and business in Nigeria. When she looked back to the end of the line the official waved her on with a jerk of his thumb. She asked for her passport but he replied that he had given it to her. No, he had not, she said.
Drama ensued. The official went through an elaborate motion of searching the top of his desk and under the desk, and once again insisted he had given her back her passport. It was near midnight and so they told her to come back the next day to their office and fill out complaint forms. The lady traveler did, but to no avail. She reported the loss to the US embassy as well. They told her that because that passport of hers was already stamped with authorization for her “Green Card,” it was worth its weight in gold to a would-be illegal immigrant to the USA. The lady obtained a new Nigerian passport and US visa, returned to the USA one month late, and resumed the quest for her US residency. She never saw her old passport again.
Now Zack was all eyes. He was not going to take his eyes off the particular official who had his passport, no matter what distraction tempted him. Each officer scanned every single page of a passport carefully, flipped the booklet over and inspected its covers, then went over the inside again. Then the passport was passed to the next staff, who engaged the traveler: Where did the traveler come from? Where does he live? Was this his/her first visit to Nigeria? What was the purpose of the visit? Where would he or she be staying? How long? “Have you any question or message for us?”
That last question got Zack’s attention; it was delivered in low tones, with averted eyes and a cocked ear. When the person in front of him was being grilled, Zack pondered that question and the conspiratorial tone in which it was asked. What message? But he soon realized the white businessman ahead of him in the line understood how things were done; he passed an envelope. His “message” was received, and his passport was passed to the next official, who stamped it and returned it to the traveler with a broad smile.
Zack handed over his US passport. The young lady at the desk in front of him looked it over, twice, then said there was no visa for Nigeria. Zack said there was and together they palmed the pages over. In all his travels abroad Zack wondered why consular officials never inserted visas in any order. You gave them a spanking new passport and they might stamp the visa at the center of page 17; you took it to the consulate of the country next on your trip itinerary and they might put their stamp on the bottom of page 2, and the next one would go to the top of page 22. Only if your passport was full would they begin to affix visas onto pages that already bore someone else’s visa. The net result was that immigration officers always had to search hard to find your visa. And it used to be that the more visas were on your passport, the more respect you got and hence the easier your passage. Not anymore. Since America’s “9/11,” too many visas on your passport was more likely to subject you to extra scrutiny: were you some kind of terrorist plenipotentiary?
When the immigration lady finally saw Zack’s visa for Nigeria she passed him to the man next at the table, who asked him, in pidgin English, “How your country, now?” Zack said, fine. “Which one be your country?” the man quizzed him. “Nigeria,” Zack replied with a diplomatic smile. “This no be your country, Oga,” he argued. “You no get Nigerian passport.” With pathos Zack explained his abortive passport replacement ordeal as well as his present emergency errand, but the official was not impressed. Clearly, he realized, they knew he was a Nigerian, or why else did they address him only in pidgin English? They were playing cat-and-mouse with him.
Using his left hand, and with noticeable contortion, the official passed the passport to the man sitting on his right. Zack thought that was an odd motion. The third official asked him if he had “any questions or messages for us?” Zack feigned ignorance, having declared ahead of time to his friends he would never encourage corruption by giving bribes to any official. He looked at the man and the man looked at him. Nothing doing! So the official looked down, and, cupping the entry stamp in his hand, brought the ball of his fist down on the open passport and shut it. “Welcome to Nigeria,” he said, and Zack smiled in triumph at having resisted corruption.
Then he went for his luggage. He had checked in one large suitcase and two big duffel bags. He had paid additional tariff for excess weight as well as extra cargo fees for the third bag; his wife had packed a lot of supplies for entertaining the guests expected at his home. But Zack found only one of his bags on the carousel. After waiting an hour and filling a claim form, he took a taxi to his uncle’s house in Yaba. Good a thing it was still daylight; his flight had arrived in early afternoon. His uncle was waiting for him but had been unable to arrange transportation to pick him up from the airport. He would have been in difficulty if his arrival occurred at night, for he had been warned never to climb into a Lagos taxi alone late at night.
His missing bags were not there when he returned to the airport the next morning. He filled out more papers for his missing baggage and took a domestic flight to Calabar.
His trip to his village was salutary for both him and his father. The old man perked up when he arrived, and was up and about the next day to spend time with his son. Three weeks went by quickly and the old man got stronger each day. In the first week, Zack made arrangements for a doctor to keep a close eye on his dad, especially on the man’s blood pressure and blood sugar. In the second week Zack began preparations for his trip back to the USA. He had traveled to Nigeria with a careful list his wife made of what he was to bring back; he gave money and the stuff was assembled, along with two big raffia bags to carry it all. He took an early morning plane from Calabar and upon arrival at Ikeja went to the baggage claims office. His bags had still not been located. He never saw those bags again, and he wasn’t paid a penny of compensation for them. Nor did it matter, because he was soon blindsided and knocked off his schedule by a bigger trouble. The sky was about to fall on Dr. Zachary Bassey.
At the airport he checked in the two hefty raffia bags in which he had stuffed the provisions for his wife. They were extra long for ease of inspection without too much rummaging through the contents, and Zack had secured them for lifting by strapping them around with two canvas belts which were sturdier than the rope handles that came with the bags. He was a practical man who took no chances. Having distributed his clothes and personal effects to his relatives, and expecting to be back home in Dayton after an overnight flight, he was not encumbered with any carry-on luggage; all he had was a briefcase containing a few toiletries, magazines, and his travel documents. He headed into the exit security gate and was stopped by two men in green uniform shirts, black pants, and red berets, a garish combination.
Zack held out his boarding pass to them but they demanded his passport. The airline desk clerk who gave him a boarding pass had looked though his passport and passed him on. It was odd then, he thought, for immigration to recheck passports on exit. But then anything was possible in these troubled days of “shock and awe” US wars that attract waves of retributive suicide bombings — which in their turn necessitate tight security checks and extra tension at all points of embarkation to USA. The older man pored over his passport, shook his head, and handed it to his companion, who examined it similarly and said to Zack, “Please come with me.” He was led through dark curtains to an office in which a fat man in khaki uniform stood at a computer. The khaki man examined the passport in detail and finally said, “We can’t see an entry stamp in your passport. How did you get into Nigeria?” Zack tried to explain but the man cut him off. “I am sorry,” the man said, “but it appears you came into Nigeria illegally.” The man spoke into the phone, asking for a security detail to take a suspect to Police Headquarters.
As they waited, Zack asked to see his passport. The man gave it over and Zack examined every page of it and found no entry stamp on it. His mind raced and he remembered the four men at a table in the arrival hall who had asked him about questions and messages. He recalled that he gave them nothing, whereupon the last of the four men pounded his passport with the ball of a clenched fist. It dawned on him that the man had only pretended to stamp his passport. They had wanted to teach him a lesson.
Zack argued with the khaki man: he could not be illegal in his own country, he was a Nigerian traveling with a US passport; he had spent two weeks at Etinan with his ailing father; he was a professor in the USA, not a rascal. But the man shook his head and said, “You can explain it to the police.”
A black station wagon topped with red and blue flashing lights took him to the headquarters a couple of miles away and he was handed over to a sergeant who walked him into the office of an inspector. The inspector was an angry looking man who gave him long, detailed forms to fill. Finally, the inspector said, “I’m afraid we shall have to detain you for an investigation.” Zack felt the ground slip away from beneath him. He dropped all “grammar” (as Nigerians describe the use of correct English), raised his voice, and began a wailing harangue in pidgin English. He had descended to their level now, and his angry voice brought in more uniformed policemen who mobbed him.
“You say you be Nigerian, eh?” (Yes, Zack replied.) He eyed the new man, a younger inspector.
“From Uyo?” (Yes.) Zack wondered how they knew Etinan was in Uyo. Were they testing him?
“Who be your chief?” The young inspector leaned sneeringly into Zack’s face. (I no know!)
“You no know your chief? Which kind Nigerian you be?” Zack kept quiet.
“Okay, who be una gov’nor?” Zack hesitated. The answer lurked just beyond his grasp. Chiefs and governors were the last people he would have thought he needed to know.
“I tink say you cross into Nigeria illegally at Idiroko.” (No, I flew into Ikeja!) Zack bristled.
“And then how you sneak pass immigration?” (I no sneak!) Zack explained what transpired upon his arrival at Ikeja.
Thereupon the inspector smiled for the first time. Muttering “Foolish man,” he sauntered into an office. They promised Zack a ride to the Ikeja Cantonment of the army and then left him to cool his heels for two hours sitting on a hard bench and reading his Newswatch. About 4:00 pm Zack could bear the suspense no more. He walked to the office into which the young inspector had retreated and saw the man reading a newspaper. Zack asked when he would be taken to the Cantonment and the man said to Zack candidly, and in good English, “Look, my friend, if we hand you over to the army it will be weeks before you get out of the mess. Be reasonable and save yourself time.” So saying, he flicked his newspaper and looked away. Luckily, Zack still had some US currency notes in his wallet, in $20 and $50 bills. He offered a $50 bill. The inspector took it, grabbed the wallet, and took two more $50 bills, leaving a $50 bills he had missed, as well as the $20 bills (the “small change,” as the Ikeja money changers called any denomination smaller than $50). Then he called a driver to take Zack back to the airport, handing him back his passport with a hastily scrawled note of clearance prominently inserted into it.
It was past 6:00 pm when Zack got back into the terminal. He was told there was no direct or indirect flight he could take and, worst of all, his checked bags had gone on unaccompanied. He asked the desk to alert JFK Airport in New York, his scheduled entry point in the USA, to hold his bags for him. He was a bit relieved it was not the other way around: his bags were not being flown unaccompanied from the USA into Nigeria!
A kind-looking lady told him to come back very early in the morning and get on stand-by for any vacancy that might come up. He took a taxi back to the home of his astonished uncle, giving the taxi driver a $20 bill because he had no Naira notes left. In the morning Zack took another $20 taxi ride back to the airport. He had his credit card and was prepared to pay an extra fee to get his flight re-routed according to whatever airline would take him out. He waited till noon and got restless. Every flight was said to be full. Travelers who were stranded because their flights were overbooked shuffled listlessly about and moped; some wept or pleaded. Zack’s spirit sank: if passengers with proper reservations could not be accommodated, his case was hopeless.
But then he remembered the lesson of the past 24 hours — the miracle that a few dollar bills could work. He drew an airline clerk aside, a fatherly man with soft expression. He showed the man his boarding pass from the previous day and explained his predicament. He opened his wallet and invited the man to take all the cash he could find in it, “But please get me on the next flight,” he pleaded. The man took all four $20 bills left in the wallet, told Zack to wait, and slipped into a backroom. Twenty minutes later he reappeared with a boarding pass for Zack on the next flight out. It was a British Airways flight via Abuja to London. Zack was in! One more convenience of a US passport, he remembered with a smile, was he did not need visa to travel into or through many European countries. That almost made up for the anxiety he felt every time he thought of his vulnerability with a US passport if his flight should be hijacked!
Zack emplaned at 3:45 pm and took his seat. The plane took off and swiftly climbed to cruising altitude. When the seat belt lights went off he got up to go to the restroom, and shuddered at what he saw: it seemed like every second or third row of seats had a vacancy. He remembered the weeping hordes that were languishing in frustration in the terminal because all flights were said to be “full.” Well, he thought: the seats must be reserved for passengers coming on board in Abuja. But when he got up and surveyed his surroundings after take off from Abuja three hours later, a dozen or more seats in his compartment remained vacant. Was it possible that the desk attendants did not know the capacity of their planes? Or would they rather send off a plane partially empty than forego a chance to shake down travelers? After all, a short-sighted attendant might think a half-empty plane was only a loss to the big airline and not to himself.
Zack sighed and, muttering “Naija we hell thee,” laid his head back and fell asleep.
CHAPTER 1: Tarissa’s Boomerang (Posted 01/02/2017)
Tarissa Adoja was in a dilemma — a major quandary all of her own making. When she decided to turn her relationship with Len into an adversarial confrontation, having already scammed him for more than a hundred thousand dollars and defected to a new benefactor, she was no doubt thinking that her new lover, who was a lawyer, could shield her from retribution for her scams and betrayal. So she was brazen about confronting Len. First, she sent him an email, prefixed with double-speak, “This is an attempt to help you…” and concluding with a threat to turn law enforcement officers against him if he persisted in contacting her. But he couldn’t let her get away with the big scam, so he persisted with phone and email messages. But Tarissa was not bluffing: she filed a cascade of complaints against Len for “stalking and harassment,” and seeking a Civil Protective Order or CPO against him. Len, recognizing a lawyer’s legalese in those lawsuits as in the “…attempt to help you…” verbiage of her threat, realized right away it was the work of Tarissa’s new lover who, he learned, was a sleazy Nigerian lawyer practicing immigration and other petty laws in the state of Maryland; Tarissa was just the marionette.
And Tarissa’s threat didn’t end there; she went into overkill. As if her lawyerly threat needed bolstering, she got one of her other men friends to send Len a menacing email promising him “a mud fight” unless he backed off from pressing Tarissa concerning her scams. The coyotes are gathering, Len reflected. He was sad to note that after more than a dozen years of near-marital intimacy with Tarissa, she could so badly misjudge him by issuing threats. She had had ample occasion through the years to see him in action, to understand that his standard reaction to threats and intimidation was like that of an arena bull to a red flag. Now, with great weariness and in a fit of pique, he replied to Tarissa’s email threat curtly: “You are on, Ms Adoja!” He had learned long ago in elementary school that the proper response to a bully who stepped in your face was to take a step forward too and check him. Even if you took a beating, you would not have soiled your self esteem; but if you hesitated or fell back, you might still get a beating and, on top of that, live with the chagrin of having chickened out when the chips came down.
That punch-counterpunch exchange started when Tarissa threatened to sue Len for libel and defamation if he went public with an exposé of her scamming. He pointed out to her that, while he was no lawyer, he knew that untruth or misrepresentation was a sine qua non ingredient of libel, defamation, or slander. By corollary, he cautioned her, truth was the first and adequate defense against such charges; and since he would disclose nothing but the truth, Tarissa would be wasting her money in a court case seeking redress for defamation, slander, or libel. The pen, he reminded her, was mightier than the sword especially in such cases, and more especially in the USA with its constitutional protection of free speech.
So Tarissa changed tacks and filed allegations of stalking and harassment against Len instead of a claim for libel. The allegations were no doubt trumped up by her new lover with the intent of damaging Len publicly, knowing that the US society glows and crackles like static when a man is accused of stalking a woman: a charge that is often laced with sexual overtones. Len countered by putting her on notice that he would respond in his own way. Since her lover had chosen to fight in the arena of his presumed advantage in the court of law, Len warned them he would reply by presenting his own case before a different court: the court of public opinion, where he had some advantage in the skills of suasion.
Thus forewarned that exposure was definitely coming, Tarissa filed another CPO lawsuit with a clause seeking to enjoin Len from publishing any stories about her. As is routine in such cases, a court obliged her with a temporary CPO pending hearing of the case. But when he received the new set of court papers Len emailed Tarissa pointing out, for the benefit of the lawyer pulling her strings behind the scenes, that such injunction would amount to censorship in advance and was, therefore, a waste of everybody’s time. Tarissa and her lawyer immediately construed his reply as contempt of court — namely, a violation of the interim CPO. That contempt complaint occasioned their third appearance in court and set the stage for an attempt to consolidate all of Tarissa’s suits and agree an overarching settlement. It was at that third hearing that Tarissa and her lawyer overreached themselves and laid a trap that ultimately backfired.
Now they were back in the same courtroom a fourth time: Tarissa with her lawyer and Lennox with his, in a final session to review and ratify the agreement already signed severally by the two sides at the prior hearing. However, at Tarissa’s side this time was a new lawyer, a young Nigerian attorney hastily pressed into service. Her former counsel, her lawyer and puppeteer who had stood beside her at all previous hearings of her CPO petitions, was absent this time. That quirky lover-cum-lawyer — who had been flying in at his own expense from Washington DC to represent Tarissa in Ohio — had finally heeded the directive of the presiding magistrate that any lawyer representing Tarissa in that court must have at least a temporary authority to practice in Ohio courtrooms, called Pro Hac Vice (i.e. “for this particular occasion”) in legalese Latin. So it seemed Tarissa’s lover had finally hired a local co-counsel to take ostensible charge of the proceedings. He could, of course, still orchestrate the proceedings from the shadows — and probably did, as events were to show.
That arrangement was not only more decorous; it was probably more beneficial to Tarissa than her sitting elbow-to-elbow in the courtroom with a fidgety lawyer who occasionally fussed over her with a proprietary air. The man’s fidgeting was no doubt a nervous reaction: the court cases were evidently a showpiece orchestrated by him to show off his courtroom skills and to impress his new mistress. In official correspondence related to the case, the man had admitted to the authorities that he was the one who had persuaded Tarissa to file CPO lawsuits against Len, and also that he had been rendering all his legal services for Tarissa on a “pro bono” basis. That was a loaded admission, as events were to show.
Those CPO lawsuits were especially galling to Len. Not only were the allegations of stalking and harassment bogus, or at least over the top; they also added insult to Tarissa’s injury on Len: her scamming to embezzle a small fortune from him. Out embarrassment, Len had disclosed only the tip of the iceberg to his friends— just a fraction of the full amount that Ms Adoja scammed from him when she showed her true colors in recent years. But though his financial losses from her scams were substantial — on par with his gross annual income — his emotional losses were more poignant. He still loved Tarissa, to be sure, in spite of her basic and deep-set immorality, recently manifested at various levels and in different ways. Lately he was given to wondering if that would ever change; he had loved her so much and for so long that the feeling had become ingrained as a habit, more like a rugged template than a programmed response.
That analogy had grown in Len’s consciousness. It explained to his own thinking a contradiction that a friend of his brought to light one day as they discussed his situation. “I can see that you still love her, this bad woman that has hurt you so much….” Len acknowledged the point with a slow, hesitant nod after some reflection. “Then why…” the friend continued gingerly, “why can you not just forgive her: let her walk away and answer to her conscience?”
“Oh,” Len replied with a chuckle, “Tarissa does not have a conscience; she makes a bee line for what she wants, and consequences be damned. But, more to the point, I believe in retribution, in punishment for every crime; that belief comes from a thought process rather than from the heart. I’m often thinking of ways to conduct my retribution against her, but not of my love for her; the latter exists by itself, independent of my thought processes.”
“One could say your retribution, as you call it, is just revenge, induced by mere jealousy.”
“You could say that, as a matter of semantic preference” Len agreed with a vigorous nod. “It is sometimes argued that our justice system is really a grand contrivance to satisfy our vengeful human nature, which does not like to see anyone benefit from his or her bad behavior. But I know that my feelings for Tarissa have stayed constant even as my plans and actions regarding retribution have evolved all the time. So the two processes must be driven by different forces.”
The friend shook her head, unconvinced; so Len went further. Remembering that the friend was a writer and literature buff, Len drove his point home by quoting Marcus Brutus’ speech to the Roman Plebeians: “‘If any of you should ask me why I killed my dear friend Caesar, this, then, is my answer: not that I loved Caesar less, but that I loved Rome more.’ “So, you might say love is a passive condition we fall into (and the verb ‘fall’ is highly appropriate here) without conscious choice, while justice and retribution are a civic duty that cannot be properly carried out except with due reflection.”
A glimmer of comprehension grew in the eyes of the friend, and Len concluded by saying he might have forgiven Tarissa her scam, and even her defection, if only she had contrived to part with him without bitterness; and so he importuned her to level with him so he could move on with his life in a different direction.
However, for a reason undisclosed she was resolved to make the parting as nasty as possible; and he matched her resolve just as frostily, nettled by her inexplicable nastiness. Well, maybe not inexplicable: her conduct had all the characteristics of one who felt unassailable in her new position. Perhaps her new lover assured her he could shield her from the consequences of her scamming; either that or, like all scammers she was assuming that Len, being a sensitive man, would be deterred by a feeling of guilt and shame from publicizing swindles like hers. But Len was not obliging on that score; he was a non-conformist and did not worry about opinions and appearances. Hence he countered her threat of “law enforcement” with a threat to expose her in the social media. That was what prompted her cascade of CPO lawsuits, to head him off from the exposé. It was a game of chicken.
Tarissa had surprisingly misjudged Len’s fighting spirit by suing him in court repeatedly. His was a spirit easily affronted by any attempt to intimidate him. In the fifteen long years that Tarissa had been Len’s mistress and confidante, she had witnessed his willingness to accept bruises in any fight against injustice. She was unwise to test his resolve by litigation, even at the urging of her callow new lawyer-lover. Len pointed out to Tarissa that he had the time, the resolve, and the resources to engage her in a prolonged legal fight. The road down to this final face-off in court had shown how protracted the litigation could be. There had been several hearings and a couple of last-minute postponements (“continuances” in the convoluted lexicon of the courts). The dispute had spiraled along because neither side had shown any inclination to back down.
It cost Tarissa nothing to sue because she had free “pro bono” representation — although Len understood that it was really neither free nor pro bono. Tarissa was not indigent; hence she fell outside the standards for pro bono aid. And her intimate relationship with her lawyer belied the pretense that his services to her were “free”: she was evidently paying him in the oldest and simplest currency known between men and women. During preliminary hearings of the case she and her lover appeared together in court as something more than lawyer and client: they walked the hallways hand-in-hand as intimates. So Len lampooned them in his exposé with a lawyer’s adage about the foolishness of a man who chooses to represent himself (or his lover) in court. Together with the magistrate’s repeated refusal to accept Tarissa’s lover as counsel in court, that lampooning no doubt had prompted them to engage a new lawyer to take over as her legal counsel this late in the game, while her lover stayed out of sight. Today was the final session to consolidate her suits against Len and reaffirm the terms of an umbrella settlement agreement already signed by the two sides.
And Tarissa was in a quandary. And she squirmed in her quandary because it was of her own making and it was acutely poignant. How was she to explain to the court that the agreement about to be ratified was really a doctored version that differed significantly from the one she signed? She was hoist by her own petard: to bring up that point would lead to revelation that she and her lover-lawyer were the ones who initiated the underhand tit-for-tat alteration. The difference in the new agreement was that it carried a clause allowing Len to portray Tarissa Adoja in publication as “Thereza Idoja.” Anyone could see that it was a ludicrously thin and transparent disguise, as the magistrate hinted (with chuckles) when Tarissa finally voiced her objection to it; but Tarissa herself had initiated the move that allowed that clause to come in. During the penultimate hearing she had tried to cheat — again — as was her habit; and this time her effort boomeranged.
Len’s attorney had gone to that penultimate session of negotiations with a draft agreement crafted in the nebulous language that lawyers employ when they intend to declare a tie in a dispute while still enabling each party to claim victory. Len accepted the draft and his lawyer tabled it to the court officials to pass on to the other party. One hour later, Tarissa and her lawyer passed Len as they strolled out of the court lobby hand-in-hand, looking self satisfied. That expression of triumph on their faces hinted at some mischief afoot. Len hadn’t an idea what it was, but he was about to find out how dishonorable Tarissa and her sleazy new lover really were. Another hour passed; the court officials returned from their lunch break, and Len’s lawyer got back the document, which Tarissa and her lawyer had signed in appropriate places before they left the court. Len’s lawyer took a cursory look at it and seemed satisfied; he had prepared the document himself, and it probably didn’t occur to him to suspect the opponents of treachery. He passed it to Len, pointing out where to sign, at the end of the document.
“Pardon me,” Len said, “but I’d like to read it over first.” And he commenced to pore over it. Deep in the document, in the segment where specific injunctions were listed, Len discovered a poison pill. The original draft agreement had merely stipulated that Len was to refrain for two years from any kind of contact with Tarissa, including written communication. But now a sly rider had been added, insisting that Len should not publish any material that referred to Tarissa in any way. That, Len realized, would amount to total victory for Tarissa: it was precisely what she had sought in her original petition. True to character, she and her lover hadn’t bothered to negotiate that clause before inserting it deep in the text of the document and then signing it. Len could not consent to the entry, and he showed it to his lawyer. Knowing Tarissa’s penchant for duplicity, Len was not surprised by her clumsy resort to such ambush, but his lawyer’s eyes narrowed with vexation as he read the offending rider.
“Son of a bitch!” he cursed as he read it. “The damn son of a gun!” he repeated. He looked so cross that Len expected him to spew expletives about “damn, sneaky Nigerians!” But he did not, perhaps because he reminded himself in time that Len was a Nigerian too and might take offense. Len understood the man’s anger. It was bad enough that Tarissa’s lawyer altered a document without showing his opponent the professional courtesy of consultation in advance; but it was downright dishonorable that they had slunk away after making those changes. But then, what else could they do? Len wondered. They dared not hang around to be confronted with their handiwork. Len’s lawyer got up and took the document to the court stenographer. When he came back he said the stenographer confirmed that Tarissa’s lawyer had dictated the extra censorial clause, saying it had been agreed by both sides. Of course it had not.
“The son of a bitch!” he cursed again as he sat down beside Len. From the start, Len’s lawyer had taken a visceral dislike to the prancing air of Tarissa’s lawyer, who made a blustery show of being a legal practitioner “in Washington, DC,” and who kept loudly demanding to be respected even while he seemed wooly on legal points. It was another case of a competent local attorney resenting the superior airs of a big-city lawyer who breezes into town in fancy suit and tries to impress the home boys with condescension. Len’s lawyer said he doubted the legal credentials of Tarissa’s attorney, especially when it turned out the man could not show proof of a Pro Hac Vice. The presiding magistrate had repeatedly urged Tarissa’s strutting lawyer to go over to the Ohio Supreme Court — which was situated right next door — and apply for the permit, but the man had danced around that requirement persistently. Hence the magistrate directed Tarissa to get a qualified local counsel or co-counsel.
Len’s lawyer wondered what kind of attorney did not understand the procedural rule about qualifying to represent a client. It was obligatory for guest lawyers not formally admitted to the bar in Ohio, and standard requirement in most states, for a guest lawyer to obtain Pro Hac Vice before being permitted to enter pleadings in a local court, especially if the local Trial Lawyers’ Union insisted on it — as was the case in Columbus. Tarissa’s lawyer seemed disdainful of such requirement and tried to do a fancy dance around it, to the displeasure of the magistrate, who at the third hearing threatened to deliver summary judgment against Ms Adoja at the next hearing unless she was represented by a counsel acceptable to the Columbus court.
Len too was fed up with the antics of Tarissa and her strutting lawyer, having been in that court since 9:00 am; it was already almost 3:00 pm. Tarissa’s latest effort to put one over on him by scamming him yet again, with a document brazenly forged in a courtroom was a forlorn hope: a sleazy lawyer of subpar intellect was not going to get the best of Len. Still, one aspect of their attempted forgery riled him. The folly of Tarissa’s lawyer in thinking he could outwit Len could be excused; it was perhaps typical of a lawyer, especially a sleazy one, to overestimate his own intelligence when dealing with a non-lawyer like Len. But that Ms Adoja followed — or perhaps led — her lawyer into such delusion was an altogether different matter. Not only did she know all there was to know about Len’s temperament; but Len had explicitly warned her, when she reared on him with an adversarial bluster, that “neither you nor any relative or friend or lover of yours can ever match me in wit or wile….” And he had meant it: when his dander was up Len was second to none in bloody-mindedness.
His instinct told him not to sign the document with that sneaky rider in it. He told his lawyer he would not sign, because he had already sent out magazine articles as well as a book manuscript about Tarissa Adoja and he would not be able to recall them from publication; thus, if he signed the altered document as it was, he would be in contravention of it from the start.
His lawyer went out to look for Tarissa’s lawyer and Len was left to ponder the no-publication clause. He realized that censorship was not the real issue. He had no misgivings about a case devolving on mere censorship: a court that tried to enforce an advance censorship like that would be opening itself to reversal on appeal. He sensed that the offending clause was a trap. Tarissa and her lawyer had already charged him with contempt of court in their second CPO complaint in an effort to set him on a collision course with the court.
Their persistent aim was to bring the court into the fray as a powerful proxy for Tarissa. While Len might easily prevail in a case that focused on mere censorship, contempt of court was an entirely different matter which would tend to rely almost entirely on the whims and caprices of presiding court officials. If he signed the concord and then sent out any publication, Tarissa and her lover would invoke “contempt!” again and have Len in jail before the merits of censorship could be heard in court. It was a clever ambush, which was why they injected it surreptitiously. Len chuckled: it reminded him of a passages in Animal Farm where The Principles of Animalism, the manifesto of the victorious animals, was eventually perverted with subtle changes inserted in the dead of night by some clever animals who sought privileges for themselves.
His reverie was interrupted when his lawyer came back, not having found Tarissa or her lawyer anywhere in the court premises although it was 3:30 pm and lunch time was long past. He sat down and Len told him that the smile he saw on the faces of Tarissa and her lover as they left the building at lunch time was a smug indication that they were headed home, satisfied that they had rigged the agreement in their favor and had no further role to play.
Len and his lawyer were faced with three courses of action to choose from. He could accept and endorse the doctored agreement; but then he would be bound by the “no publication” clause. Or they could request another continuance, but they were sure the court would not grant it: at the last session the magistrate had already grumbled about too many delays in the case. Nor was Len disposed to entertain another continuance; he had to travel hundreds of miles and spend a night in Columbus each time a hearing was scheduled. The third course of action was suggested by the example set by Tarissa and her lawyer. Contemplating that third route, Len heaved a sigh and said under his breath, “Well, they did promise a mud fight…”
“What’s that?” his lawyer asked.
Len explained that Tarissa’s friends had promised him a mud fight. “I guess this is one ambush in that dirty fight.”
“But they have put us in the driver’s seat, haven’t they?” the lawyer said meaningfully. He and Len exchanged glances, and slow smiles spread over their faces as the idea took hold in both of them. Len’s lawyer winked at him as if to say, “Dirty players, eh?” “Well, both sides can play that game.”
It was Len who put the idea into words. “They have opened the door to alterations; I suppose we can walk in as well and reverse the damage.”
“Law & Order?” his lawyer said, guessing where Len got that quip about opening the door.
“Yeah, I watch every episode,” Len admitted sheepishly.
The lawyer asked Len, “What name did you use in your articles? Not her exact name, I hope!”
“No,” Len said, thinking rapidly. “My articles are about a certain Thereza Idoja.” Len wrote it down and passed it to the lawyer, who mulled it over, cocked his head, and said, “Well, let’s see.” He went out again and stayed out a long time. Len guessed he had gone to the court officers to test their reaction to “Thereza Idoja.” When he returned he was smiling. Len was satisfied with the new draft he brought back. The alteration inserted by Tarissa’s lawyer was left in place, but under it was a new rider, a disclaimer saying any mention of “Thereza Idoja” in a publication shall not be deemed to constitute a breach of the agreement. Len signed it. That new disclaimer was a major victory for him, all the more sweet because, among other things, it stood Tarissa’s own perfidy upon its head.
Another factor that made it possible was a serious fault in the court’s documentation process. Usually, in serious documents, such as contracts brokered by lawyers, the pages contain places for initialing or signing against every key item, to prevent surreptitious e-post hoc insertions or deletions. But the agreement Len had just signed did not have such a safeguard; it provided for all signatures to be affixed on a separate page that was not even fastened with staples but only held with paper clip to the itemized stipulations of the agreement. It was a loophole so big that one could drive a truck clear through it; and Tarissa and her crooked lover-lawyer attempted to do just that.
The document bore an additional surprise besides the passage which Tarissa and her lover-lawyer had slipped in hoping it would escape the notice of Len and his lawyer. The person who signed it as her attorney of record right below her own signature was not her lover who had been prancing and strutting about with her down the court corridors. That lawyer-lover had and unmistakably Nigerian name. The signature on the document belonged to a man with an Unmistakably Irish last name; in other words he was a person whom Len had never seen and would never see in the court. Len shook his head: Tarissa and her team had more quick twists and turns than a sidewinder snake. They no doubt brought in the new phantom lawyer because Tarissa’s lover had still not obtained Pro Hac Vice — the recognition he needed in order to act as her lawyer in an Ohio courtroom. But if this new lawyer was acceptable to the court and to Len’s own lawyer — who made no comment about it — then Len could have no objection to the arrangement.
And so it was that, six weeks later the parties were seated in a formal, concluding session for the magistrate to read and explain the final agreement jointly. And when Tarissa carped that the document she was just shown was not the same one she signed, the magistrate boorishly stared Tarissa down, saying she too had read the agreement and noted the signatures of both parties and their counsels; that the document was “in order.” But the truth was that she and Tarissa were at cross-purposes; they were both right. By altering an agreed document Tarissa became entangled in a web of her own intrigue. Len hid his pleasure and looked serious, to avoid the challenge that blazed in the magistrate’s eyes. He thought judges and magistrates were too peevish and arrogant, reaming out persons who offended them, demanding respect but seldom according it in return.
And the magistrate was as authoritative as she was matronly, in a somber dark suit of full cut. Her full figure and ruddy cheeks, almost cherubic, nearly offset her determined effort to look intimidating most of the time. She exuded authority and Len was reminded of Mamangida, the Nigerian slang for a strong woman. It was derived from Babangida, the name of a famous and bossy Nigerian dictator General Ibrahim Babangida: a Hausa name that translates as Patriarch, or literally “Father of the family”; so it lends itself beautifully to being neatly bowdlerized into a feminine version, Mamangida, to denote a no-nonsense lady. This “Magistrate Mamangida,” as Len viewed her, was not to be trifled with, he concluded.
Len enjoyed that unequal exchange between the magistrate and Tarissa. He mused that court officials have a way of seeming pissed most of the time; for anyone to argue with a magistrate or judge was sure to bring down flaming wrath on his or her own head! He saw the perplexity on the face of Tarissa’s new lawyer, the young Nigerian attorney she and her lover had brought in to wrap up what they thought was an easy case — easy because they had planted a time bomb in it. The young lawyer must have wondered what Tarissa meant by saying the document now in front of them was not the same one she signed. For the same reason that she could not pursue the argument with the magistrate, Tarissa was unlikely to have taken this new lawyer of hers into her confidence. This counsel pro-tempore was more relaxed, with a choir-boyish air of innocence about him, which, none the less, might be a deceptive affectation intended to disarm opposition. Tarissa was not likely to draw his attention to that thorny passage in the agreement without revealing how it came about: that she and her lover had tried to pervert the document with alteration. She whispered something quietly to the young lawyer, something no doubt harmless and, hesitating, he withdrew their objection to the agreement.
Having stared down Tarissa’s objection, the magistrate said she had obtained approval from the judge to accept the settlement as signed, and so she had affixed her own signature to it. The agreement, she intoned, was now binding on both parties. With the condescending patience that a weary adult might employ when talking to recalcitrant children, the magistrate stressed that there was to be absolutely no kind of communication or contact between Tarissa and Len for a period of two years. That condition could not be infringed or waived —not even with the mutual agreement of the two disputants. Only a court of law could waive or revoke it. Seeing Len’s perplexed look when the magistrate declared the two disputants could not circumvent the no-contact clause without the court’s prior approval, his lawyer whispered to Len that he would explain. And he did so later.
Meanwhile, the animated magistrate went into minute details on what Len must do to avoid all contact with Tarissa, since he was the respondent in the case. If they should chance to meet in a public place he must say “Excuse me, Ma’am,” turn around immediately, and leave the scene in a hurry. When Len objected, saying they might meet at public events since they had mutual friends, the magistrate asked him to be specific. He mentioned weddings of and receptions for his friends and relatives living in Columbus. “Mamangida” insisted on being given specific dates but Len told her all he knew was there were such weddings in the offing; he had no dates to give. The magistrate laboriously inserted a clause that limited Len to attending “weddings and christening organized by his relatives.” And even then, if Tarissa was present, he must situate himself “at least twenty-five feet” away from her.
“Yeah,” mused Len, “as if I should carry a tape measure everywhere.” But he studiously avoided the challenging gaze of that magisterial lady.
To round up the proceedings the magistrate admitted she had been initially perplexed that Tarissa signed the document even though it gave Len leave to use the name “Thereza Idoja” on his publications. It sounded so much like Tarissa’s real name that she queried it, she said, till she saw the signatures of Tarissa and her lawyer on it. The magistrate seemed to be saying that, if Tarissa’s side had objected before they signed the document, such an objection might have occasioned a revision of the agreement; but many weeks had passed already and Tarissa had not objected to the text. So the court was satisfied that both parties had freely agreed and signed the document as it stood in its final form.
Len smirked quietly. He had no interest in explaining to “Mamangida” the duel of insertion and counter-insertion that produced the final version of the agreement. That was Tarissa’s story to tell, and if she would not tell it, it would have to remain untold. The upshot was that Tarissa had been outflanked in her underhand attempt to alter an agreed document, and her complacency in not seeing the duel to conclusion had sealed her loss. If her forgery was ‘check,’ his counter was ‘checkmate!’
After the court session Len’s lawyer took him to his nearby chambers to attend to some clerical matters and, having got to like each other over months of collaborating in Len’s defense, they were sufficiently relaxed with each other to dispense with the guarded lawyer-client posturing. They chatted about this and that, and the lawyer brought up the no-contact caveat that he had promised to explain. He said that when battered women won CPO judgments against abusive spouses or boyfriends, they sometimes later relented when passions cooled and the man came wooing with blandishments. But once he wormed his way back into her good graces once again he would revert to form and abuse her again, or in some cases even kill her. That happened so often that the courts moved to protect gullible women by preventing them from waiving the no-contact provision of a CPO on their sole initiative.
But surely, Len argued, even a victim had the right to make a fool of herself or himself? Yes and no, the lawyer said. The courts can decide for a person such matters as may put that person’s life at risk. To start with, many a weak-willed victim can be pressured into renewed intimacy with her dominant husband or boyfriend, but a coerced desire was in itself a form of abuse or extortion. And even if the victim survived the renewed abuse, a compounding tragedy was that the victim often acquired a debilitating feeling of guilt. Having been recued from the frying pan as it were, that victim might now consider herself irresponsible to have jumped back into the fire. That often results in fatalism, the victim thinking it was their fate to endure abuse. And sometimes that depressive guilt prevents them from reaching out for help again until it is too late.
Then the lawyer intimated to Len a recent case that had shaken that court and hardened the judge who supervened in criminal cases. It concerned a Taiwanese couple, recent immigrants to the city. The man was a college professor and his young wife was finishing medical residency. They were not long married before he began abusing her, first verbally, then physically. She sought and was granted a CPO. But he contacted her down the local network of their fellow Taiwanese residents and they brokered a reconciliation on the basis of his promise to lay off beating his wife. But he soon reverted to form and resumed beating her. He was arrested and arraigned upon her complaint.
The judge noted that the man and his wife were members of the elite and both came from a country which, though it had a macho aura —as did most oriental countries— nevertheless was not reputed to have a tradition of casual, gratuitous violence. There were no cases of parricide reported, especially not of a man killing his wife, at least not among the Taiwanese émigré of Columbus. So the judge set a low bail, twenty-five thousand dollars. The man posted bail, then went home and killed his wife that night. The judge was “all shook up.” And ever since, that judge took a prejudiced view of all defendants who had higher degrees or professional status.
So, Len’s lawyer concluded, if and when a CPO victim petitioned the court to be allowed to resume contact with her abuser, the review process would include adequate psychological evaluation of both parties to ascertain their mutual willingness and readiness to handle the relationship soundly. If Len had any designs to reach out to Tarissa, directly or through third parties, he had to forget it.
Assuring the lawyer he had no more desire for rapprochement with Tarissa, only the intention to expose her to the public, Len took his leave and went home, reflecting all through the two-and-half-hour drive. He knew there would be very few occasions to run into Tarissa since they lived in different cities. And he was satisfied with the agreement because he wanted no more dealings with her. True, he would probably always miss her, but it was one thing to love Tarissa in the abstract and a different thing to desire contact with her now that she had revealed her true nature. But by the same token he did not think that she would miss him, having realized (for so she declared) that she had only been “messing around” with him.
He used to think that he and Tarissa were kindred spirits, but recent events had shattered that illusion, making him realize that he and Tarissa were of different sorts. As water only percolates downward to find its equilibrium level, she had finally descended to her proper station in life, to her soul mate — one whose sleaze matched her propensities to grand larceny. Len was shocked to learn that the two of them had been prostituting themselves with a sordid trade-off: Tarissa trading sex as a gratuity to the lawyer, who was representing her with his legal expertise, and who tried to pass off the representation as “pro bono” assistance. After descending into such a depth of mutual self abasement, Tarissa and her lawyer could have no qualms about trying to doctor an agreed document before signing it. They deserved each other, he concluded.
It crossed his mind that she might need him in future. Not his largesse: she had found someone else to lean on materially. The question was whether she might come to need him to ease the pressures she was bound to feel. Len was not one to turn the other cheek: his lifelong attitude was to start no trouble but, if it was started against him, to yield no quarter and to seek none. From the neighborhood playgrounds of his childhood he picked up the nickname, Emembolu (One who returns tit for tat). He smiled with anticipation now as he firmed up a resolve to hang Tarissa out to dry. “Miss Adoja,” he muttered to himself, “I done catch you for sikkie-three.” It was a gloating taunt from his childhood board game Ludo, in which the players shuffled their tokens from square to square around a board, as in Monopoly, according to scores tossed up on dice. If your score (for instance, six and three or “sikkie-three”) brought you to a square that was already occupied by someone else, you kicked his token off the board and it must resume its journey from Start. The first player to home all his four tokens won the game.
Len was now determined to pursue a sustained crusade of exposés, candidly chronicling his fifteen-year affair with Tarissa and baring her character for all to see. She had reposed so many confidences in him over the years about herself and her family, and about her friends and foes and her deeds and misdeeds, that he could write a book on her character. And that was exactly what he intended to do. He had no qualms of conscience about that. Although not a believer in any religion or superstition, he was always mindful of a moralistic aphorism from the cosmology of his people, the Igbos: Omé īfé jīdé ōffō (“In all that you do, let your cause be just”). His cause was just. All heartless predators like Tarissa Adoja need to be exposed, if only to prevent their depredation on more men. It was a civic duty. As the saying goes, “All is fair in love and war.”
His exposés might eventually generate enough pressure to make Tarissa desire respite from her notoriety. If that came to pass, she might regret nailing shut the door of communication with Len and, to boot, posting the court as a sentinel at that door. He would rather they had parted amicably, but she spurned all his overtures for such ending. The loss was hers. Or, he reflected, maybe she too would feel only relief, having finally found her place. The future would tell.
Len was pleased with the overall outcome of Tarissa’s CPO lawsuits. It reassured him that he could go ahead and expose her without too much fear of unexpected consequences. For, if she and her lawyer-lover consequently filed a new lawsuit against Len for libel or slander, as they were rumored to be threatening all the time, the outcome would turn on the factual merits of the case rather than on the quirky temperament of some judge. And on that matter of merit, Len had an abundance of documented facts to prove that Tarissa was a scammer and a thief.
Still he was bemused and also a bit miffed by Mamangida’s idea that, if he and Tarissa should chance to meet, it was he, Len, who must turn on his heels and flee, for fear of being charged with CPO violation. The law was an ass sometimes! Good a thing he and she lived in different cities hours apart.