The elevator travels to the fifteenth floor of his apartment building, chimes, doors parting ways as Jidenna exhausted after twenty-eight days sojourn in a rig off the deep waters of Escravos steps out of its car, running a summation with the calculator on his smartphone.
With undivided attention, he strides through the corridor to his two-bedroom flat, intermittently he beams glances along his pathway to avoid a collision with other occupants. At the entrance door of his flat, he finds the keyhole, turns the lock, cracks open the door, dawdles past the polished mahogany door creaking under its weight, and shuts it.
Tilting his head down, he scoops out globules of sweat from his forehead, tracing a path down to his grubby mustache, brushing his hand on his denim straight jeans. He notices a white envelope sitting idle on the dangerously polished black vitrified tile.
Hitting the light switch on the left side of the door frame, the sitting room dazzles with the whitish color of energy-saving bulbs.
Picking up the envelope and yanking at its short edge, it gives way, revealing its content. Gently extricating the letter, he digests it.
Sweat slathers his palm, trickles down his armpit.
Suddenly, his green Bermuda shirt becomes too tight at the collar – an amalgamation of shock waves baptizes him with disappointment, pain, and rage.
Stumbling, he slumps into the nearest dining table chair. “Greedy people,” he curses aloud. Grinding his teeth and unable to control himself, this cursing turns around as he laughs. “I know what to do,” he says, tossing the letter onto the coffee table.
The clock on the cream-painted wall jangles. At two, the afternoon blossoms.
At 98 degrees Fahrenheit, the temperature in Port-Harcourt makes a bad condition worse – the whiff from the frowsty sitting room surrounds him. Jidenna dawdles to the aluminum casement window, twists the handle, opening the window to let in fresh air.
A torrent of breeze eddies into the room, flaying the camouflage window drapes, tossing it aimlessly, brushing past him, pushing out the stale air, solving one problem – the choking odor of stale air.
Retreating from the open window, Jidenna ambles to the green upholstery chair, slides into it, lifts both legs onto the coffee table, gasps for breath, his bulging eyes steadying its gaze on the Plaster of Paris ceiling.
Gaining control of his breathing spasms, with both arms on the wooden armrest, he lifts his slant body from the chair—sitting upright, then picks up the letter from the coffee table.
Hoping that the content of the letter he read in a haste he misunderstood, Jidenna read it one more time.
Bits of restrained thoughts break loose, crumbling down on him, peppering him with the aftermath of non-compliance with the letter’s demands.
There was no way he could meet up with the demands of the letter—his salary taken up by needs; eight family members to take care of, increased electricity rate waiting, town union dues and levies on the sidelines, phone bill, and compulsory security levy to pay.
He was also stuck with the debt of a car loan being deducted from source.
He hisses, then shakes his head. The landlord’s demands in the letter made him look dunce-like. No matter how hard he tries to cut expenses, he finds his landlord keeps increasing house rent on short notice, yearly.
It dawn’s on him he is in a mess, but what now?
Panic lays hands on the door of his mind, wanting to come in.
Trying to be unruffled and sensible, he told himself, think.
Should he look for another flat or continue staying here?
The two-bedroom flat he occupies is the cheapest in the neighborhood and there is no guarantee that the next landlord offering a cheap rent at the moment will not spike house rent on short notice.
A fresh idea submerges him – the solution to this predicament enters his mind.
Panic knocks again. Recalling what he intends to do, Jidenna shudders. I have to put an end to this nonsense.
How was he going to do that?
He could not pay the increased rent. Having gone through this pathway before, payment of each rent increase demand only emboldens most landlords to increase their rent incessantly.
How then would he put an end to this exploitation?
Contending to stay composed, his mind recalls an earlier plan that filtered into his thought—murder his landlord and make it look like an accident.
Could he pull this off successfully?
Rising to his feet, he eases his way into the kitchen, grabs a shot glass from the upper cabinet, pours himself a shot of brandy, and gulps it.
It was now evening, three hours after he entered his flat.
The sea of heads converging below on the asphalt pavement from the sixteen-inch wide cantilever outside the stairway of the fifteenth floor of the fifteen-story apartment building appears tiny.
Poking her head out of the window of the stairway, Akwaugo, the caretaker of the fifteen-story apartment building stares at Jidenna, shaking her head, mouth wide open, crumpling her nose pierced with a golden dotted earring, she asks, “Nwanne (brother), what are you doing there?” She tugs at the waist of her blue stretch jean trouser.
Jidenna glances at her with the corner of his eyes. “What do you think I am up to?” he grunts.
“Nwanne, do you really want to jump?”
“That is not your business.”
With eyes darting, gazing at the steady build-up of human traffic and at Jidenna, she asks, “Nwanne, you want to put me in trouble?”
“One way or another trouble finds us. Leave me alone,” he says, holding onto the U-looped steel reinforcement embedded into the protruding concrete lintel, looking down, about to jump.
“The landlord must know this,” she mutters, tucking her head back into the busy stairway, treading downstairs.
Words have gone out through the length and breadth of Sani Abacha Road, vehicular traffic crawling – he has been spotted.
After a few minutes passed, Rev. Father Nwosu shows up. Information trickled to him about a man about to commit suicide. His white cassock fluttering from the beating of the agitated wind as he makes his way to the staircase landing of the fifteenth floor, his oversized black sandal bickering with his feet, rosary beads pivoted between his right index finger and thumb. A million pinpricks erupt from his fair skin on sighting Jidenna standing precariously on the cantilever.
“Hello, what is your name?” Father Nwosu asks calmly.
“Why do you want to take your life?”
“It’s a long story. You wouldn’t understand.”
“Peace be with you. Go ahead, I’ll understand,” Father Nwosu settles his elbows on the windowsill, head poked out, paying attention to what Jidenna has to say.
“Up till last week, I had a wife until I read the email from her. Only last year, Nneka left for medical treatment in the USA and promised to come back after recovery. On opening her email, I realized she was not coming back. She has found another man she says she loves—she abandoned me.” Tears well up in his eyes.
“As long as you have life, you can find happiness again, but if you take your life by jumping, then hope is gone.”
“Father, do not worry, it is now late.”
“It is only late when you jump. I assure you there is hope if you’ll allow me to help you.”
“Father, please, go attend to those who need you.”
“Let me call someone to help you back into the stairway so we can talk this over.”
“Father, there is no need for that. Just go.” As they spoke, feet mammer up and down the staircase. “My driver is here to guide you back in.”
“Father, if anyone tries to come near me, I promise you, I will jump.”
Nodding, Rev. Father Nwosu says, “Okay, I will give you some time to think this through.” He turns away from Jidenna, recoiling his head back into the stairway.
On the ground, the police are having a hard time keeping the surging crowd at a safe distance.
It took a couple of minutes before someone came to the fifteenth-floor stairway window. Munachiso – the landlord, projected his head out, wind snatching his red cap, tossing it into the stairway. Forgetting about his cap momentarily, he peeks at Jidenna. Munachiso, a retired assistant commissioner of police, at sixty-three, he has built a handful of high-rise residential accommodation.
“Hello, Jidenna,” Munachiso says.
Jidenna regarded him, scanning his face thoroughly. “What have you come to do?”
“Akwaugo called to say you gave notice that you intend to plunge. Nwokem (Man), are you going to do that and give me a bad name?”
“Landlord, you already have a bad name.”
Munachiso asks for empty mineral crates. After stacking one on top of the other, he climbs over the open window, sitting on its sill.
“I like your openness,” Munachiso says, stomping his cream wooden cane on the floor of the sixteen-inch cantilever. “Do you want chewing gum?”
“No, thank you.”
“As I was coming up, someone said, ‘this is crazy, why would someone want to take his life?’” His face scanning the sea of heads gathered below.
“Everyone is entitled to their thinking.”
“Are you going to die without seeing your wife?”
“There is no wife anymore.”
“Well. I understand what men go through these days.”
“You don’t,” Jidenna retorted.
Munachiso’s russet oval face smothers with a smile. He stomps the cane on the narrow cantilever floor. “That’s right, I may not understand, but from what I heard the people below say, many will benefit if you jump.”
“What do you mean?’
“The young men and women down there,” he says, pointing to the crowd below with his cane, “want you to jump. They will become rich if you do.”
Jidenna stares at the moving crowd, then focuses on Munachiso. “They will be rich if I jump?”
“Correct. You can’t hear them from here, but I heard every one of their wishes. They are betting on you.”
“That’s right. They are eager to make money—big money if you jump.”
“They are out of their mind.”
“That’s right. They are, not you.”
Munachiso surveys Jidenna’s face, noticing a flutter of indecision. “Let me help you climb back in,” he says, his stentorian voice mellow. “Don’t allow those irrational young men and women to become rich on you.”
“You may be right,” Jidenna mutters.
With hand still holding onto the U-loop, Jidenna moves a foot away from his initial position, heading toward Munachiso then hesitates, shaking his head.
“Any problem?” Munachiso asks.
“I’m scared. Can you give me a hand?”
“That’s okay,” Munachiso says, standing his cane on the inner wall of the stairway, dropping onto the narrow cantilever, moving in the direction of Jidenna, hand outstretched. “Hang on.”
The crowd thunders with thrill when they saw Munachiso drop onto the narrow cantilever, judiciously making his way toward Jidenna. Munachiso locks hand with Jidenna.
“I have been waiting for this moment,” Jidenna says.
“What did you say?” Munachiso queries, trying to steady himself.
“You have exploited me and other tenants with incessant, provoking yearly increments. It will end today.”
Fear saturates Munachiso’s face. He tries to retreat, but the firm grip of Jidenna made it impossible. A shove, a weaving of hands, he sprawls out into space, plunging into the chaotic crowd.
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