Jideobi came out that morning looking quite solemn in the face.
He greeted his parents and said to them: ‘Mama, Papa, my brother is dead.’
Uzoma threw her bowl away, the one that contained her boxes of matches, blue, local omo and white balls of soap—all the items she sold at the market.
‘Obi, what happened to your brother?’ she asked, great shock coating her eyes. ‘What happened to Ejike?’
‘What happened to my son?!’
‘Ejike is fine, Mama, I am talking about Phillip.’
‘Phillip? Who is Phillip?’
‘Chibuzo, Uncle Maduka’s son.’
‘Oh.’ Uzoma started to call back her scattered parts.
‘Chibuzo is not your brother, this boy,’ Uzoma said. ‘He is your father’s brother’s son.’
‘What happened to Phillip, Jideobi?’ Onyemaechi asked his son.
‘I don’t know, Papa. I just know that he is dead.’
‘Will you run inside before I get up from this chair and break your head!’
Jideobi reluctantly walked away.
‘Prophet Nehemiah!’ Onyemaechi called him. ‘That’s how you will be carrying fake prophesies up and down!’
Onyemaechi turned to his wife. ‘This your son is mad,’ he said. ‘Ezigbote ara di ya na anya! Let him go outside and say what he does not know so that they will call him to come and explain!’
‘But, Papa Ejike, I’m scared o,’ Uzoma said. ‘You know that’s exactly how he talked the day that boy’s father died. Even my own mother too.’
‘He is a prophet of doom!’ Onyemaechi said. ‘False prophet! Did he not say that I will die this year too?’
Uzoma made a face and sighed. ‘Well, the year has not ended yet o.’
‘Get out of here! Stupid woman! Like mother, like child!’
Uzoma picked her bowl and started to put back all her wares. ‘Oye tata adigo ka oya adi!’ she murmured.
When she finally walked away, Onyemaechi struck his snuff box with his thumb and murmured to himself, ‘Let it be that nothing has happened to that boy o. I don’t have money for another funeral now.’
Before opening the door, Sammy begged James again: ‘Please, I beg you, don’t make noise.’
James looked on at her, but said nothing. He started to suck his thumb instead.
‘Do you promise?’ Sammy said, quietly.
James smiled now, adult-like, and nodded.
Sammy smiled too. She gently pinched his dimpled cheek. ‘Oh.’ She frowned. ‘Your cheek is terribly soft!’
James nodded at her again.
Sammy gripped the door handle and turned it and they entered.
Four frightening figures in crisp suits sat mutely at the table. The man who was the big boss stood out in size, shape of head and penetrating eyeballs.
The solid blackness of his suit appeared to tinge the space around him with some shadow.
Sammy looked through all of them again and turned back.
She was already at the door when she heard, ‘Hello?’
She took in a small sip of AC-chilled air and turned. ‘Good morning, sirs and madam,’ she said.
‘Good morning.’ It was the big boss that responded.
And then the silence dragged.
Beholding the interviewers’ judging eyes again, Sammy said, ‘I’m so sorry, this is not for me.’ She held James firm and turned to leave again.
She halted and turned back.
‘What is not for you?’ It was the big boss again.
‘This interview, this job.’
‘And why do you think that?’
‘Because I know.’
‘Because you are a mother?’
Sammy gave a slight shake of head. ‘No. Not that.’
‘Because you hate a challenge?’
‘You’ve given up without a fight.’
Sammy was silent.
‘You see, my dear,’ the big man started, his voice turning advisory, ‘I’m here today the CEO of a successful company because I fought very hard. I never for once said “I’m sorry” and then turned back. I stood and fought.’
‘To what end, sir?’
‘You have your successful company and a big ride and a collection of fancy suits, but really are you entirely lacking of nothing else?’
‘What’s your definition of success—’ The man paused and turned the sheet of paper before him. ‘—‘Miss Samantha?’
Sammy glanced down at James before answering. ‘To smile every day.’
‘And yet you are not ready to work hard for that smile, are you?’
‘Sir, you don’t fight for what is yours.’
Another glance at James. ‘I realize it now, the things that belong to you will come smoothly to you. No amount of fighting can give you that ultimate smile.’
‘Now that’s a lie, young lady. A big lie.’
‘I am not that young, so I know.’
‘Tell me what else you know, Miss?’
Sammy took in a long breath of air and began:
‘Ever since I was young, I was always told, “Work hard and you’d smile”; “Fight and you will win” but actually those are not true. Not at all.’
‘You don’t believe in people working hard?’
‘I used to, but not anymore. Now I’ve come to understand that the more important things in life are the things we didn’t work so hard for.’
‘And what are those things? Tell me.’
‘The things we often neglect. Those things we have and will always have. We are sure of their continued existence, we see them so much every day that we easily let go of their true meaning.’
Now the big boss was quiet, almost appearing meditative.
Finally, he glanced round his colleagues.
They were silent too.
He tapped his fancy pen on the desk and began:
‘You see, when I was told that one of the applicants had come carrying a child, my team leader here asked that you be dismissed immediately, but I said no. I wanted to see you, the woman who loves her baby so much that she would bring him along to a job interview. I didn’t ever think you’d be much more than that.’
Sammy looked down at James. ‘Actually, sir, he is not mine.’
‘Yes. He is my neighbour’s son. This morning I couldn’t find either the dad or the mom so I took him along with me.’
‘And that’s a very kind thing to do, Miss Samantha.’
Sammy was perceiving sarcasm before the man added: ‘I have a young girl too whom I have not seen in weeks.’
Sammy said nothing, just looking.
Her gaze met with that of the man and held for a while.
‘You may go now, Miss,’ the man finally said. ‘We will get back to you.’
Sammy gave a slow nod and walked away with James.
There is nothing more awkward than being the last person to be interviewed for a job, she’d realized it now.
When Samson received a call informing him that the boy he asked his men to keep has mistakenly been shot, he barked: ‘What? I told you to keep him safe!’
‘It was an accident, Boss!’
‘What stupid accident?’
‘He was getting away. We had no choice.’
‘Where are you now?’
‘In the hideout, sir.’
‘And the body?’
‘Still at the road where it happened.’
‘What? You left it there?’
‘He is already dead!’
‘So? Go and take care of the body, you fool!’
When they got back to the place where Phillip’s body initially was lying, they saw no sign of him!