Richard didn’t want to believe his Venon perfume had been stolen from his shopping bag.
He probably forgot it on the checkout counter before heading to his Honda, but here was the cashier saying no perfume was left on the counter, that Richard should go check his shopping bag properly; or worse, it might have been stolen by some of the boys who loitered around the store premises, waiting for someone to walk out of the store with a fat bag, so that they could dip in their hands and slid out something.
If it were a boy standing by Richard’s Honda, Richard would have suspected him to have the perfume, but it wasn’t a boy. It was a young woman in a tailored, yellow gown. She seemed to be viewing herself on his side window as though the window was a mirror that actually showed her reflection.
“You could use the side mirror,” he told her, and the woman quivered. The bag slung over her shoulder fell to her elbow. Without readjusting it, she strode into the street. Richard shook his head. One of those scary, jobless women who thought every man that talked to them was trying to woo them. No sane man would try to woo women like her who wore solemnity on their faces.
When he had driven near her, she looked to his car and increased the length of her strides that morphed into a scurry, her legs stretching her streamlined gown to its maximum that Richard feared it might tear from overstrain. She glanced at the distance between herself and his Honda with the frightened face of someone being chased. The woman had done nothing against him that he would chase her. She could be mistaking him for someone else. He wanted to park his car somewhere, call out to her, and tell her he wasn’t who she thought he was, but it didn’t seem she would stop from her run even if he called out. She was already close to the main road. Nothing would stop her from hiring a taxi to continue her run.
He was veering into the main road, ascending from a pothole that held water from the previous day’s rain, when a commotion erupted at his far right. People began clustering around a spot. Some wailed in Yoruba, some murmured, and some watched with wrinkled faces. He peered through his side window. A woman was spread on the tarmac in bits of blood. A drive further gave him sufficient view. It was the same woman, bag on the ground with its items shattered, including broken bottle pieces. He stepped out of his car and walked to the crowd, only to see the broken bottle pieces were in the midst of a spilled liquid that diffused out a fragrance. The same fragrance of his stolen Venon perfume. It was the woman who stole his perfume; how much he had tried not to believe that. And now, everything looked like a punishment from God. A man hurled her onto his shoulder and scurried out of the crowd, her thick, crimson blood dripping on his pullover.
“Bring her in here,” Richard said.
The onlookers directed eyes to him.
“A car will be faster to the hospital,” he said.
The man carrying her hurried to the backseat and settled her there. “It was a car accident. She got hit while running. The driver zoomed off. Hurry, there’s a hospital at the next two streets.”
“Maybe you should come with me.”
The man hastened to the front seat. Richard entered and fastened his seatbelt.
He avoided looking at the backseat, but the reflection on the rear-view mirror made him try to manoeuvre traffic. The man pointed to the hospital, a bungalow with fading white paint.
The Honda bumped up the stony way, forcing Richard to reduce speed until he stopped at the hospital. They rushed her out of the car and Richard heaved her into his arms and hurried past the entrance. Two nurses wheeled a stretcher to them and helped lay her atop. No bloodstains stuck to his suit, only short hair strands, which he dusted off with his handkerchief.
The receptionist table had tiny holes filled with sawdust. He managed to fill the forms without contacting the table.
“Isn’t there a better hospital around here?” he asked the Good Samaritan, who then gave a rundown of how she was losing blood. However bad the hospital was, it would render good first aid.
Women and children with ill faces filled the rows of chairs. Richard found a spot on the second row and sq££zed himself there with the Good Samaritan. They talked about the accident and how heartless the driver was for leaving the woman alone on the tarmac. The talks ended, and the Samaritan rose to go pick his children from school. He pulled off his blood-stained pullover and revealed a white polo shirt.
Richard asked a nurse for the doctor’s office, and after having a talk with the doctor, he began for home.
Driving to his carport, the knocking of the generator from its cabin deprived him of the radio reporter’s final words. He parked and turned his head to the backseat. Parts of the leather had reddened, not by any other blood but one belonging to a thief.
The gateman ran to the carport. “Welcome sah.
Ek’ale.” He opened the backdoor and dragged out the bag of beverages. Richard took it from him and asked him to wash the seats.
The door crackled before he could punch the doorbell and Ezinne appeared, passing out her soap’s apple fragrance, her towel tied to chest level. A drop of water from her weave-on fell on his shoe as he stepped in. Much of the water clung to her hair, giving it a darker coffee than her skin.
He opened the fridge and brought out a chilled Malta Guinness. Questions would come, but it should wait until after his drink.
“You didn’t reach the stores,” she said.
“I did.” He gulped some of the Malt and settled on a couch.
The forming wrinkles on her face straightened out. “Where’s the Venon perfume?”
“I had bought you the perfume, but before I could take it to my car, it was stolen.”
“Stolen?” Her eyes grew bigger, bigger than envisaged. She sat on his couch’s arm and folded her hands. “Rick… how was it stolen?”
Her question was too direct to achieve a good enough believable answer since not all truths were believable. He downed the last gulp of Malt and explained his ordeal with the woman at the shop’s premises. She must have somehow slid the perfume out of his bag without his notice.
Before he could finish with his explanation, Ezinne rose to go check the jollof rice on the cooker, whose aroma had begun to force its way into the sitting room. He promised to buy her another Venon, if that would win him her smile.
Many persons filled the hospital, in contrast to the few cars parked at the small square. The nurses perambulated in blue, their dangling, tiny caps almost falling off their heads. Richard headed to the receptionist’s counter alongside a friend and colleague, Jide Echem, who muffled something of how unequipped the hospital looked.
“It was the nearest hospital,” Richard said to Jide.
“She should be transferred. That is not too much for a woman who took your perfume.”
“Stole,” Richard corrected, and refused pondering on Jide’s words. He tapped the receptionist’s desk, sidetracking her from her writing, and asked to see the woman brought in the previous day.
“What woman? Who brought her here, you or him?” She fixed on Jide, a sureness in her voice that it was he who brought in the woman.
Richard snuck eyes to his friend. There was no resemblance for the receptionist to mistake them. No similarity had emerged. Jide was still that tall, ebony man, whose neck equalled Richard’s head.
“I did,” Richard said. “Fair injured lady. Check your list. I signed.”
“Check room twelve.” The receptionist said without checking her list and demonstrated with her fingers the way to room twelve.
They strode to the first bend and were lucky not to stop any of the perambulating nurses as “12” was carved on a door.
Richard knocked and opened.
The fair lady lay on the bed, connected to a half-empty drip. She appeared thinner in the blue gown, or it could be the bed being too wide. A nurse stood at a corner busy with some syringes and cotton wools on a tray.
“How is the treatment?” Richard asked.
“No complications,” the nurse said. “She lost some blood, but thanks to the surrounding persons, the situation was salvaged on time.”
Her optimistic words were good to the ears. Even a thief deserved to live.
“Any internal injuries?” Jide asked.
“No. The car probably didn’t hit her with much speed. Her fall on sharp objects caused the major wounds. We found bottle fragments in her skin. The road must have had lots of them.”
Bottles? Richard thought. His perfume had caused that. “When will she be discharged?” He stared at the bed and tried to elude that pity that tried crawling into him. Next time, the woman wouldn’t steal, and even if she didn’t learn her lesson and decide to steal from another man, she would be careful not to run like a masquerade.
“The doctor will say that.”
The victim’s eyes partially opened. Richard drew nearer to her bed. “You remember me?” he asked with a lowered voice.
She stared at him, and the stare lasted without a word emerging from her lips, without anything but her piercing eyes pointing to him as though it was he who smashed her with a car.
“Maybe she doesn’t,” Jide said. “She might not have seen much of you.”
“I remember you,” she muttered without moving lips. “The man who caused my accident.”
She said it as a truth she had no doubt about, as though she saw him run his car through her. The nurse was looking at him with a cornered eye.
“You were hit by a car, which isn’t mine. The driver sped off.”
“You should not talk to her,” the nurse said.
“What’s your name?” he asked.
She continued staring and coughed, coughed again and the cough was her response.
“It’s Ivie Oboh,” the nurse helped.
“I’m Richard Fayemi, and I did not cause your accident.”
She closed eyes, and they remained closed with no hope of opening. The nurse, holding a moist towel, sat by her and massaged her neck. A necklace hung at her neck, a pendant necklace of St. Vincent de Paul, one that only parishioners wore. Hard to say, but she might be a Christian, a Catholic, and… a parishioner of St. Vincent de Paul. Of all the parishes, why same parish with him?
“We should leave,” he told Jide.
Jide ducked his head out of the door and they left the room.
At the car, Jide brought up topics about the woman and the nonsensical federal hospital, as he called it. Richard did not talk much, but spared the nods for his friend. Talking would not make him enjoy the less bumpy highway drive.
Lander Close was silent. It always was, except at nights when the crickets disturbed. The gateman opened before any honk and Richard sped in.
Ezinne was stretched on the long sofa, viewing the screen. It’s Wednesday, so it should be The Nigerian Idols.
“Mr Echem, nn?,” she greeted Jide in Igbo. Jide smiled at her, his usual faint smile.
“You’re early today,” she told Richard.
“I left work early. Jide and I went to the hospital to check on that young woman.”
“I still don’t understand why you would want to help a thief.”
“Believe me, if you were there, you’d have done same. I don’t know why she did what she did but she is of same parish with us. You can’t give a blind eye to your parish member. Of what patronage is Vincent de Paul?”
She looked at Jide, the type of look an Igbo man gives to his fellow Igbo. Jide made no remark.
The shop hadn’t changed except women overpopulated the place, leaving Richard as the only man. Two Venon perfumes stood on the shelf of perfumes. He selected one and walked to the cashier, whom recognized him at first sight. When she learned he was buying another perfume, she sympathised for the stolen and apologized for the incident. It didn’t happen on a good day.
“I found the person who stole the perfume. It was a woman.” He deposited a bunch of money on the counter. The cashier’s face tightened on the news that he didn’t get the thief arrested.
“Why buying a new perf?” She arranged the money in the counting machine and pointed her dark eyelids to him. Her eyelids looked like those of the women modelled on cosmetics cartons, very sharp and black. The counting machine flipped the notes so fast Richard wondered how it managed to make no mistakes.
“The woman broke the first. While running, she had an accident.”
Her cheeks puffed out and her thin nose swelled. It was difficult to establish if that was caused by the news of the broken perfume or the accident.
“She was hit by a car while running? Was she injured?”
“She was. Not very serious.”
She gave Richard a change of four thousand. “My boss told me most female thieves who find their way here are mentally unstable.”
“Insane women?” Richard asked. The Catholic didn’t seem as someone near insane.
“Kleptomaniacs would be a better word. My boss had caught two women and found out they could be suffering from that. They stole items a sane person wouldn’t. She warned us to be vigilant. They could be skilful. Issues like that go beyond normal reasoning. It could be something spiritual.” She signed on an invoice and passed it to him.
He stared at the money-counting machine, waved to the woman and walked away, refusing to accept the excuse of the thief being insane or having spiritual issues. People stole for so many reasons. It wasn’t a new occurrence that should be blamed on insanity or spiritual puppetry from some kind of demon.