“But Azeez isn’t insignificant”, responded Smithereen to Deckor. “In fact”, he continued, “he is more than many people think he is.” Deckor signaled Iya Roy to give him one more bottle of her jedi, which was soon placed in the midst of two empty others. He was nodding at Smithereen’s talk while eyeing Iya Roy.
Mariam was the first daughter of Azeez and his fourth wife, Martha. Martha’s father gave her to Azeez in gratitude for letting them live. During the civil war in Nigeria, which lasted about four years, Azeez was one of the Nigerian troops that invaded and captured Oguta town in Imo State. It was the second attempt after the Biafrans regained control of the town from the Nigerian side. This time, it was led by one Obasanjo, and his men helped themselves to whatever they found inside the houses they entered. They shot the men, killed pets, raped young girls and their mothers and of course, pilfered whatever caught their fancies. On that day, Azeez had entered into a house at the end of a stretch of road. He found a family ensconced in a corner of the house; one of the daughters caught his attention. Martha. Knowing what would happen to the family if he alerted the other soldiers, he turned his back and closed the door behind him, pretending no one was in the house. His colleagues left the vicinity with him in tow. After all, almost all the houses on the stretch of road had been entered and left empty. The war had continued…but Azeez and Martha would meet again, years after the war had ended. It was at Iya Roy’s. She had come that hot afternoon, seeking Iya Roy to make her daily thrift savings scheme contributions, Ajo. It was on her way out that she saw Azeez bending over a table attempting to explain something to Smithereen. She went over and while in wait to attract his attention, Azeez got agitated at something Smithereen wasn’t understanding, throwing his hands around. One almost hit Martha, who dodged, while still trying to get his attention. Quickly, she introduced herself and went on to describe the scene of that day when as a benevolent soldier, he had saved the lives of members of her family.
Months later, they were married. Fourth wife!
Smith: Up to the point when he married his fifth wife, he was wealthy. One of the few well-to-do young chaps around. So, he could very well take care of his wives and the children that came out of them. As head of the community’s youth organization, money came to him from different politicians at different levels. The best of it trickled down from the Presidential campaigns of Moshood Abiola, who was set to become the president of Nigeria at the time. And then, annulment! That announcement came when the supporters of Abiola least expected, not that they would understand what it meant anyway. Everyone was busy celebrating the victory at the polls, which was a landslide. Azeez was at Iya Roy’s with his boys until late that day. On his way home, drunk and driving at top speed, he met a barricade.
Unknown Man: Park! Park!! [His voice was loud, shouting at Azeez whose car had come to a halt].
Azeez opened his door and came out, terrifically drunk. He took out a bottle of hard rum and leaned against the car, his sleepy eyes probing the men at the barricade, three of them approached to join the one already with him.
Azeez: Oga sir!
Unknown Man: Wetin you carry?
Azeez: As you can see, it is just one bottle of…I assure you, my papers are complete.
Azeez had thought that the men were police officers in mufti.
Unknown Man: Search him!
One of the men began searching his pockets while another went inside the car turning everything upside down. Only the one that searched his pockets turned up with something. Two thousand naira with some change, which he handed to their boss.
Azeez: That is all I have. But please, we have to share it.
Unknown man: Open your boot! [It was an order].
Azeez: Ah…true. I have some… [Azeez walked to the rear of the car, taking a gulp from the bottle in his hand] some beer right inside…. [He winked as if he knew the men will like some beer]. We can divide the money and share the beer.
So it was that they removed the barricade and Azeez left with a part of the money, paltry and bottles of beer. When he woke up the following day, he remembered something one of the men at the barricade had said the previous night. But he did not quite understand it till the money trickling down stopped. That was when he could reconcile his dwindling fortune with the fact of the annulment. Things went downhill from that moment on. As he was not receiving doles from politicians anymore, he was unable to sustain giving out things to his boys and could not maintain the gang. He frequented Iya Roy’s as a sole, struggling time bomb. Took up labourer job at construction sites and whatever little he earned, he spent either on his far-flung family or on getting high at Iya Roy’s. One day, after getting used to the hustle, Mariam returned home battered. She had left home earlier all spick-and-span on a date with her boyfriend, whose occupation was cyber-fraud. Unknown to her, he has added the plus and to him anyone was potential lamb for ritual. She had been used and all efforts of Azeez to get Mariam back on her feet dug a big hole in his pocket, from which it now appeared there would be no recovery. Mariam was still battling for her life as no Doctor has yet to be able to explain what has happened to her.
Smith: Problems! Just problems, surrounding him the way ants surround sugar.
Deckor: I hope he gets well soon. And his daughter. When do we go visit him?
Smith: As soon as Sifidifensi finishes his bottle, we go.
Like a ghost, Old Soldier walked into Iya Roy’s hungrily biting on roasted maize. It has been two weeks that anyone heard anything about him, ever since he disappeared from the hospital bed. Here he was, acting as though nothing had happened while Smith, Deckor, Sifidifensi and others for a while lost their speech, gazing at him in awe.