Behind him on the wall on a blackword was written bold in white chalk; ‘BAIL IS FREE’, below was written, ‘THE POLICE IS YOUR FRIEND’.
“Your name?” he asked me
“You no go school?” he screamed at me “wetin be your papa name?”
He carefully scribbled the name with a lot of effort, his tongue sticking out of his mouth as he labored with each individual letter of ‘Peter’. The pen ran between his fore and index fingers, held in a tight grip with the tips of his thumb, fore and index fingers. The veins stood out through the leathery bleached skin of his arm with the force of the grip as he was hunched over the notebook. He could have been a toddler in a handwriting class than a full grown public official, I stretched my neck a little bit and saw he had written ‘Pita’ instead, but I chose to ignore the mis-spelling.
“Wetin be that your papa name again?” he asked, taking up a more serious look.
“Akooobuuunduuu” I replied, stressing every syllable. He resumed his laborious writing posture, his lips moving as he wrote down each letter, and then he gave up, hissing,
“Spell am jare, una no go find small small name wey get meaning to answer”
“A-K-O-B-U-N-D-U” I spell out. He writes it down, taking care to write out every alphabet.
“How many years you dey?”
“Small pikin like you don turn criminal” he hissed
“Where you dey live?”
“71 Eliza Street”
“Sir, abeg wetin be this criminal offense?” he looked above my head, addressing one of the arresting officers behind me.
“Armed robbery, arson, conspiracy” the officer returned and the constable bent over, resuming his labourious scribble.
“Officer, I no be armed robber o” I protest. The officer behind me slapped me hard across the ear shutting me up, it felt like the affected ear was struck by a bolt of lightning and every sound seemed to be coming from a hollow earthenware pot.
“Sir, wetin be the other criminal name?” the constable asked again, pointing the tip of the Biro at Okon wide-eyed with fear. I was swept roughly aside for Okon to be shoved forward in like manner. One of the arresting police officers disappeared through a door into the building, probably to an office probably to attend to something of more importance, leaving only the other one and a fuming Ogbuefi hovering over Okon and me.
“Okon…. Okon Udoh” Okon stuttered
“How you dey spell am?”
“Them no teach me that one Oga” Okon replied, cowering with remorse. The officer offended, peered long and hard at him in unbelief, then hissed and scribbled on his note before slamming it shut.
“How many years you dey”?
Okon looks to the ceiling, his eyes rolled into his head in deep contemplation, but then he gave up the furtive effort and replied, “Oga, I swear to God, I no know”
“Abeg where una from pick this mumu sef? Calendar never come out when your mama born you? You no sabi anything but you sabi commit crime” he retorted angrily and Okon cowered still. He scribbles carelessly into the notebook.
“You go sabi where you dey live at all?” he asked Okon not looking up from the book spread out before him the pen poised upon its withered white pages.
“1 Ogbuefi Nofia close, for the poultry there”
The constable peered long into Okon’s face as though to make sure the latter truly knew where he lived, but then he shrugged and scribbled into his note. I took the moment the look about the reception hall, a bench was cast into the wall forming a large semi-circle about the hall. On the benches, people were seated closely next to each other, some other stood for lack of seating space. They were close friends and family members who had their own locked up in the cells inside, they looked weary, miserly, and despaired, but some of them still looked a bit hopeful waiting for some police officer to attend to them.
“Officer abeg na I don dey wait since morning” a woman that looked like she hadn’t slept all night was pleading with an officer at the counter.
“Madam go sidon first, somebody go talk to you” the officer retorted rudely
“Abeg, I want give my pikin food” she persisted, holding a small nylon bag that gave a faint ouline of a pack of sausage roll and a bottle of soda. She must have but it from many of the small sheds that sold bits outside the gate of the station premises.
“I say, go sidon if not I go send you away now!” the officer screamed into her face. The woman recoiled, but it didn’t seem like she was backing out so easily for she stubbornly walked over to a heavily pregnant policewoman walking about the reception with a scornful look on her puffed face.
“My sister,” the woman walked up to the policewoman, standing in her tracks, “abeg help me, I want give my pikin this food. Him name na Samuel Eyo, na for the day before yesterday them lock am when them come our yard come arrest every man because of Sanitation” she ranted
The police woman regarded her like she was a speaking piece of filth, but waited until the woman was done with her pleadings then she said flatly “na one thousand naira”
The woman stood perplexed, she knew the food didn’t cost half the amount that was being charged for it transit to her son. She pleaded with the policewoman but it seemed the latter’s patience was on a short leash, it was a man sitting silently on the desk observing the drama who gave the woman worn thousand naira note for the policewoman. The policewoman took the money and casually went about the errand, holding the nylon of food dangling from the tip of her thumb and index finger like it held some measure of faeces instead.
“Oga”, the desk constable was saying to Ogbuefi, “you go write your statement now?”
“Mba, my lawyer will write am when him come. He is on the road. Lock this thief thief boys ozugbo. Ndi ori that are chopping my money”
“Oya, remove your shirt and your trouser sharp sharp” the constable ordered us. The officer behind us prodded us with a smack on the back, our bonds were loosened, freeing our arms. I strip to my briefs, Okon, bare-torsoed already was fidgeting with the hook on his trousers, reluctant to pull them down.
“You this criminal no waste my time”, the seargeant retorted, slapping Okon at the base of his skull. Okon let down his trousers, and the reason for his reluctance became obvious; he had no briefs beneath his trousers.
“Come on, wear your trouser. I no want see that your prick wey dey like fish hook” the constable screams at Okon who gladly obeyed. The constable rummages through a carton under his side of the counter, producing a large pair of scissors which he brandished with a frown. He stooped before Okon and severs the legs of his trousers very close to the hip as possible, all the while, Okon flinched for fear that the constable might be too careless with his tool as to prune away a portion of his skin along with the trouser legs. The constable rolled our clothes into a ball and tagged it with tape.
“Oya, forward march!” he ordered, taking the lead and commanding us to follow. The other policeman takes the rear, shoving roughly us forward around the counter and through a doorway.
They led the both of us through a narrow corridor that became darker as one ventured further. The place smelt so vile, of something never perceived before; it was a repulsive mix of long unwashed living bodies, farts and urine: all of the effluents of human existence held within an airless confinement. On both sides of the corridor were cells that looked like animal cages, packed full with people turned into a depraved mass of humanity by prolonged constraint behind the barred gates. As we proceeded, they clamoured noisily, stretching their arms through the spaces in the barred gates in a bid to touch us the newcomers. Okon, stricken with fear had slowed down in his tracks just when the officer behind had shoved me roughly forward and I had bumped my nose into his back, my bridge of my nose hurt and my eyes watered with the pain that for a moment I feared I might have broken my nose. We were shoved into a square cell that held only four boys, they were in their briefs or trousers with the legs cut very close to the hips just like us.