The Phantom Banker

by Tubal Cain

Nonso was deported from the German city of Hamburg last April. Two years earlier, he had smuggled himself into the cargo compartment of M.V. Gondola, a sea going vessel-owned by his uncle at the port of Apapa Quays in Lagos.

A stow-away, no one knew what he did to warrant his deportation from Germany. When asked, he often replied he was a custodian of ghosts saying he rented out ghosts for hire. No one understood what he meant and he usually refused to explain further.

The uncle had repeatedly turned down his request for a job on the ship ever since he appeared in Lagos from Orlu in Imo State. It was as a result of the fact that he was expelled from school over an examination malpractice while in the third year at the university. Effort made to persuade him to go back to school over the years had failed.

Before the trip to Germany, Nonso was an undertaker. The Business required lots of guts. He had learnt the trade immediately after dropping out of school. It was after he had wandered aimlessly at Orlu for two years that he decided to join the gravediggers occasionally in attempt to make a living. Soon, Nonso began boasting that he could communicate with ghosts of those buried in any grave he had participated in digging. He claimed he could summon, channelling a handful of ghosts to carry out errands he desired. With time, Nonso began losing patronage as a result of his claims. Bereaved individuals in Orlu became wary in their dealings with him. Finding clients became difficult so Nonso invented the story that the ghosts were taking him to Lagos.

Nonso arrived at the uncle’s place in Lagos without informing any one beforehand. The uncle, a proprietor of a shipping line accommodated him willingly. He had attempted to join a firm of undertakers in Lagos without success. Back in the village, a ‘grave digger’ was called by his trade, unlike in the cities where the dignifying appellation of “undertaker” is used.

Nonso started speculating about ghosts urging him to leave the country when he was told the uncle would not allow him a job on one of the sea going vessels until he completed his university education. He told his friends and relatives that the ghosts were taking him to Germany one week before he left.

Nonso had always loved being regarded as a dignified person. He lacked the mental and physical courage, resources and ability required to maintain the mark of respectability in the larger society. He hated having to play the underdog always.

From childhood, Nonso always felt inferior. His general feeling of inadequacy or lack of self-confidence he believed resulted from the crux of a story his mother told him once. A misunderstanding had arisen between his parents after the mother’s conception. Nonso was an unwanted child. The last-born and sixth male in a family of eight, his conception took place after the parents had agreed to stop breeding. They even took a family planning precautionary measure.

“Phantom Pregnancy” was the diagnosis made by the family physician even after the third month of the mother’s persistent complaints of abdominal discomfort. The same physician had administered the failed family planning measure earlier that year.

Nonso arrived from Germany without money or luggage. He lived with and was sustained solely by Jude, his elder cousin till he was arrested in Victoria Island, Lagos last November. He was arrested while trying to coerce the personnel manager at the International Merchant Bank (IMB) into signing a document offering him an automatic employment in the computer section of the bank using a pocket-knife. It was on the fifth floor of the imposing IMB glass-house along Ahmadu Bello way, Victoria Island in Lagos. He had threatened to cut off the man’s ears urging him to write and sign his appointment letter before the man’s secretary overheard them and called-in the police.

The arrest came the day after Nonso had told Ebenezer his best friend, a funny but strange tale about his latest exploits in the presence of Jude. It was in a restaurant located beside Jude’s residence along Clegg street, Surulere in Lagos. They had gone there to share a few drinks. The strange tale Nonso told Jude and Ebenezer the evening before his arrest went thus:

“She came prancing down the road as saucy as a jaybird. I beheld everything about her, even the prints her shoes made on the ground.

The street was deserted so Jude swung the car round in a 'U' turn and went back after her. He pulled-up almost brushing her side and mumbled; “Good evening, private taxi at your service”. She said ‘thank-you’ and got into the back seat. They kept on a conversation till we got to her place. I just sat there in the front seat fiddling with the car stereo occasionally and wondering why Jude should just be talking about the weather with such a pretty girl.

I told her I liked those slender legs of hers as she was about to get down; she just glanced at me and smiled. Jude later told me she was an old school-mate, and was strictly for the birds as he had exhausted all his methods on her without results so I told him of my own plans. Jude said he was just being patient, I’m sure he never believed, when I told him a patient dog usually starves to death in Lagos.

One good look at her told me she was just one fortune seeker so I laid out a neat dream presentation of Mr. Right. I presented myself as a system Analyst with INTERNATIONAL MERCHANT BANK (I.M.B.) at our next meeting. Jude’s place is very shabby even for an unemployed squatter like myself so I let her realize I was appraising dream projects for the Bank at Abuja and only came into Lagos for a few weeks to update my reports. It worked. She moved in with us the following week.

For forty days that followed her moving in, Amaka single-handedly did all the buying, cooking and washing in the house and still kept her job. I never knew lawyers were so nice. All I had to do was to dress-up cute every morning, leave the house as early as 7.00 a.m. with Amaka and take a taxi to Lagos Island just to get back to Surulere as soon as she drops off along Marina. Jude would of course go ahead with his ‘kabukabu’ driving using the uncle’s car.

Amaka must have doubted some of my claims from the start as she was always talking about visiting me at work. I had a very serious task of discouraging Amaka from coming to my office while always complaining about my boss.

I don't know how she cultivated that habit but a few days after we met, Amaka tried very hard to prove to me that she’s almost a virgin having met only very few men in her life. We ended the argument with Amaka crying for the first time after agreeing that virginity is like a balloon and just one prick no matter how little is all that is required to finish it not to talk of a few pricks. We’ve already gone to see Amaka’s parents at Nnewi in Anambra State. I borrowed money from every friend I have just to create a good impression. I was even surprised to learn later that the old people are very eager to have this blockhead as a son-in-law. I wish I went to school, the old guy is such a nice guy anyway, plays such good lawn tennis for his age.

Amaka couldn’t be more excited when I told her. I was taking her to my hometown in Imo State directly from her village. Back home, my old people were so pleased with me for choosing such a decent lady that dad even mentioned something about wedding, they believe she’s such a good influence on me as I’ve not been home for the past three years.

When on the second day of our visit home, dad casually commented on how good Amaka’s cooking was, I suppressed a laugh as I knew that by crook or design, Amaka has a way with everything and everyone, she was generally so pleasant that I felt like Eddy in Jennifer’s birthday party throughout our three days stay in my village. None of my old people knows about the IMB scare-shit anyway, they know I’m jobless.

Realities have to be faced as time is fast catching-up with me, skeptical as I am, I know I will be ruined if she goes away or discovers the truth. Amaka is three months pregnant, its been confirmed, the doctor says my baby will be due by November. I want that baby and Amaka more than anything else in life.

Just yesterday, Amaka told me she ran into an old friend of hers working with IMB, she say’s she’s now free to come to my office as she pleases. I tried very hard not to look depressed afterwards but it showed. I lied I was broke and she fell for it. I suppose she was going to the bedroom to raise me some money when I foolishly called her back and told her I may soon resign from IMB after complaining of my imaginary boss.

Amaka told me she would abort if I tried it and cried till this morning. I caught that alarm note in her voice last night and I know her threat is not empty. There is only one solution to it now. I have already dispatched three copies of emergency application letters to IMB by D.H.L. I must be employed immediately or I will break-up all the glasses on that God forsaken IMB building at Victoria Island any minute Amaka steps out of this house. Jude here thinks I'm crazy, I don’t think so myself.”

The Phantom Banker by Tubal Cain

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