The soft purring of air-conditioner units and the whirr of money-counters in the bulk room were like the clatter of iron wheels on cobblestone. I was having a bad day, and I knew better than to permit my feelings to interfere with my work; one sissy mistake and I would be shoved out like a cart pusher. I was not ready for that yet, not with what I was down with.
The youngster I was attending to did not smile, he rather seemed in a haste to leave. I smiled anyway; it was my duty, even if I did not feel like it. And I did not feel like it. I handed him the duplicate copy of his slip and he stalked off with a glimmer in his eyes. He had only paid in N950,000 to some private holdings but his swagger was as though he owned every last note.
“Next customer please,”
A plump stately woman lumbered slowly towards me, a black polythene in one hand and a seat in the other. A wave of garlic scent assaulted me as she sank into the chair.
I hated fat women, my hatred for them stemmed from the horde of pudgy women my father kept as wives. I wondered how despite his wiry frame, he still managed to outlive most of them.
She pulled out bundles of cash from the bag and handed me her slip. The account name read ‘Agambala Eboferiore’; I almost choked.
“Is this your name ma?” It wasn’t my business, I knew, I just couldn’t help it.
She returned a withering stare and my eyes instantly went searching for something else on my computer screen.
Just before I buried myself into the bundle of notes, I took one last look around. Sansa’s cubicle was next to mine. Her perfectly rounded behind was liberally publicised by her tight plaid skirt and I was held captive for a moment. Reluctantly, I let my eyes linger to the engagement ring on her finger. I knew it was a sham, we were still going to have a fling this night, as usual.
The stately lady snorted audibly and I fell from cloud Sansa back to my cubicle.
That was when I heard it, the crack of automatic weapons. My heart lurched and suddenly I knew it was what had been troubling me.
Hooded men tramped into the bulk room and waved their deadly weapons menacingly.
“Everybody, Get down! On the floor! Get down!” My eardrums nearly popped as bullets perforated the exquisite white PVC boards above shredding them into bits.
I dropped to the cold tiles wishing that I had one of those red alarm buttons under my desk. Was this the way a poor banker had to die? In spite of all the laborious man-hours I had invested, and my pitiful story?
At least three hooded men stood over us with automatic rifles. “Ngwa, all of you behind the counter, crawl out.”
We crawled out on all fours.
They collected our phones and heralded us to the main banking hall and merged us with those who had been rounded up there. The hall was big, so they had us lay prostrate on the ground.
More people poured in from the stairs. Mr Abayo, the CEC, had bloodstains on his sky-blue shirt. The man was naturally obstinate, served him right.
“Now, gentlemen and ladies…” one of the hooded men began, he seemed to be the boss. “…don’t try anything funny, I repeat, don’t try anything funny. If you cooperate, nobody has to die.” His accent sounded refined although he masked it well. I wondered if he wasn’t a graduate.
Mr Alir, the MD stepped gingerly down the stairs, hands about his head and a rifle trained on the small of his back. By the look on his face, I could tell that he did not get the chance to depress the small red button, the man was a slowcoach. Not as though the police would have come anyway…
Alikama, Kome, and Sansa, my colleagues lay beside me and were quivering like leaves in a dry summer wind. Madam Agambala lay like a sack of groundnut on the tiles, her arms like great boughs of an oak tree. In spite of myself, I grinned at her chattering teeth and the saliva that drooled out of her mouth.
Suddenly, my face smashed into the ice-cold tiles and a million stars exploded in my head. It was over, I was dead, and free.
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Abraham’s story will continue