Your case is simple, you will soon be released,” the Sergeant said to Paiko. Paiko had been arrested earlier that evening during a police raid on Jolly Hotel, a brothel that harbored more than 30 female prostitutes.
In the late evening, Paiko was still sitting on a worn brown wooden seat behind the counter. He was beginning to get worried. His arrest was likely to stop him from going to his stall at Alade Market, where he sold imported used clothes and bags locally known as Okrika Wake Up. Since after his arrest, his girlfriend, Sweet, for whom he had been waiting to finish having sex with her last client, so they could go home together, had not yet come to visit him at the police station. He recalled a conversation he’d had with Sweet a long time ago, when he had first told her he wanted her to become his special woman. She had smiled and told him that any man who wanted to keep an ashewo, a prostitute, as his woman must be prepared to catch the clap and should be ready to spend some time at the police station. He had been lucky until last night. Usually he would bribe the police, whenever they came on a raid of Jolly Hotel, but last night was different. The people who had arrested him were members of the newly formed Special Anti-Robbery Squad, SARS.
A new Sergeant was taking over from the one who had been at the desk when Paiko was arrested. Paiko watched the new Sergeant’s face closely and smiled. He liked what he saw. The new Sergeant had an overflowing belly, which was a good sign. He was likely to be a bribe-taker.
“Don’t worry, you’ll soon be released, I am sure my colleague who is taking over from me will be the one to release you,” the departing Sergeant said to Paiko.
Paiko smiled nervously and said nothing. He was not too worried; this was a police post and not a full-fledged station. He suspected that no hardened criminals were in the cell and that the only smell that came from there was a faint odor of old urine. He was happy, however, that he was not in the cell.
The new Sergeant cleared his throat, spat into a dusty corner of the room, and turned to Paiko.
“What is your offense, my friend?” Without pausing, he asked the same question in a different way. “What offense did you commit, Mister?”
Paiko became worried; he thought the departed Sergeant had briefed the new one on his case. He had seen them put heads together while looking in his direction. Paiko summoned up some courage and smiled at the Sergeant.
“I did not commit any offense, Sir. I was arrested in a raid on Jolly Hotel,” Paiko said.
“Then why do you say that you have committed no offense? Your being caught in a raid on a brothel is an offense. Or do you want to lawyer me?” the Sergeant asked, peering at Paiko through restless, bloodshot eyes. From where Paiko sat, he could smell the ogogoro vapors being emitted by the Sergeant.
“Oh no, not at all, Sir; I’m not trying to lawyer you at all, Sir,” Paiko said.
“Anyway, your case is a small matter. You will soon be released,” the Sergeant said, and began to read a sheaf of dog-eared football-pool coupons.
Just then, the station radio came alive. The Sergeant threw the frayed sheaf of football-pool coupons aside and snatched the radio. He saluted smartly, his huge belly juggling like a water gourd.
“All correct, Sah. I am the Sergeant on duty, Sah, what do you say, an armed robbery along Ikorodu Road, a Commissioner’s official car snatched? Ah, that is very serious, Sah.”
Paiko watched as the Sergeant began to twitch nervously, all the time scratching his large buttocks through a torn uniform patched in three places.
“No problem, Sah, we have enough of them here. You can come and pick them up with the Land Rover. We have no vehicle in our post. It is a small post, but we can provide you the men you need for the parade, no problem at all, Sah.”
The Sergeant was suddenly transformed into a shouting, barking, wild-eyed looking creature.
“All of you criminals in the cell, form a line and start coming out of the cell with your hands raised in the air. If you try any monkey tricks with me, I will shoot you right away, and your family can come and collect your body in the mortuary.”
He opened the door of the cell with a bunch of keys he picked up from a wooden board nailed to the wall. Six men shambled out, looking confused and bewildered. All the while that Paiko had been sitting behind the counter, he’d had no suspicion that the cell held such tough-looking men. The Sergeant turned to Paiko and barked.
“What are you doing there? Join the line, in fact you should be the first person on the line, and raise your hand in the air or you will chop bullet right now.”
“Ah, Sir, I am not a criminal. You told me my case is simple. I told you I was arrested at Jolly Hotel,” Paiko stammered.
The Sergeant walked toward Paiko and gave him a slap across the face. Paiko blinked and blinked again, trying to dispel flashing stars.
“Now fall into the line before I waste you,” the Sergeant said. Paiko stumbled, his feet unsteady and his hands raised in the air like the other men.
An old police Land Rover arrived, and the Sergeant led the men outside. An Inspector with three broad tribal marks across both sides of his face jumped out, and the Sergeant saluted him smartly.
“Are these the robbers?” he asked.
“Yes, Sah, they are the armed robbers I told you about, Sah.”
“Why are they wearing all these clothes?”
“Sah, they were dressed like this when we arrested them at the scene of the crime, Sah.”
“You all, take off your trousers and your shirts. All of you, take them off quickly,” the Inspector said to Paiko and the rest of the men. Paiko was of a mind to tell the Inspector that he was not an armed robber, but he changed his mind and decided to bide his time. The men removed their clothes and stood in their undergarments, which were in different colors and sizes and different states of disrepair. The Sergeant commanded them to jump into the back of the Land Rover. He sensed some hesitation on their part. Pulling out a pistol, he raised it up and shot into the air. Paiko threw himself into the back of the Land Rover, banging his head against the hard metal. As the smell of petrol filled his nose in the pitch-blackness of the vehicle, he began to cry like a baby. The vehicle pulled out of the station, and they were on their way to Area F, the state headquarters of the police command.
The men in the vehicle soon found their voices and began to talk in whispers.