“The Optimist”

by Vunderkind


The governor’s hands trembled as he lifted the glass to his lips. Sweat had gathered quickly at his brow, and his lips quivered sickly.

The glass was filled to the brim with a clear liquid. It could even have been water. Some of the liquid sloshed at the side of the glass, and the governor’s unsteady hand brought the glass level with his face.

Tears were streaming down his face as he took the first sip.

Hope say d feem go sweet?

Hope say d feem go sweet?

***************

“…in pursuance of unity, solidarity and team spirit. We shall strive to be better than we were yesterday. As a nation, we will work together to promote the kindred spirit. It is all for one, and one for all. I have a dream where a fellow countryman would be ready to lay down his life when the need arises for the good of the many…”

Marcus Ikoli glared at the screen. “I have a pimple. Why did no one tell me I have a pimple?” He felt vaguely around his face with his hands.

“Just look at that,” his wife began in a mock sneer. “You just gave the greatest speech in Nigeria’s history, and you are worried about a bloody pimple. Later you go argue say you no dey vain.

“I am not vain,” Marcus snapped. “Am I vain, John?”

The man named John stood with his hands at his back, his legs spread theatrically apart. He wore dark glasses, and the bulge in his black suit told the world he was packing legal heat. He turned his head slightly left in deference, letting a small smile cross his face.

“Vanity is a luxury I am sure the president can afford, sir.”

Marcus smiled. “You should run in the next poll, John. You’re such a politician.”

“Me? Run, sir? And leave you without a chief of security?”

Marcus sighed, and turned to his wife. “These bloody terrorists. You’re right. I need you to cover my back. Come, Rebecca.”

***************

“Good afternoon, and welcome to News Central at six. I am Jumoke Olaitan. Following up to the unfortunate demise of governor Richard Chidiebere of Rivers state, the first stage autopsy reports have revealed that the governor died by poisoning. The composition of the poison is as yet unverified, but interesting forensic reports indicate that the governor may have committed suicide. A half-full glass cup was found beside his dead body in the early hours of the day.

There were no witnesses to the death. The IG of police has released a statement indicating that the Force would be taking the governor’s death as a suicide and advices the nation to do the same.

Was the responsibility of governance too much for governor Richard Chidiebere to saddle alone? Whatever the case, we grieve the loss of one of our finest leaders….”

***************

Rebecca was massaging Marcus’ shoulder absent-mindedly while he poured himself another scotch. A discarded newspaper lay strewn on the floor beside him, and he heaved in his chair.

“It’s alright, Marc. Calm down. You know you think better when you are calm.”

“Two of my most loyal supporters. Dead, and a little less than a week apart. Who is the mad man killing them? I want his head on a platter!”

John stared ahead. He had a team of five in the room with him, and the president’s security had tightened since news of the death of Governor Rogers Aswani reached Aso Rock.

The Nigerian Police Force had issued another press released saying the case on Richard Chidiebere had been reopened in the light of the death of governor Rogers. The same glass of clear liquid carrying the poison had been found by Rogers’ body, although there had been no sign of breaking into the governor’s quarters. The case was now being treated as assassination.

***************

Jumoke Olaitan gave her signature smile at the camera. It was almost a smirk, but not quite. It said two things at once: it said that she took immense pride in being among the first people to know the news before almost everyone else, and that she considered everyone else ignorant bastards. Fortunately for her, she was a very beautiful buxom woman, so at least the majority of a certain gender of the Nigerian people hardly noticed the condescending smile.

A recorded statement by the IG of Police, Mohammed Saraki was playing for the benefit of the news viewers.

“…we believe that whatever triggered the ingestion of the poison by the two governors is linked with the phone call they received. They were found dead with their phones in their hands, after receiving a phone call from a withheld number. Preliminary investigations are ongoing…”

Her phone vibrated, and she saw that she had received an SMS.

“Tell your crew to tune in to freq. 106.5. You just might get promoted.”

She was only stunned for a few seconds before she realized this is a lead! and ran towards Tom, the pink-faced Australian in charge of technical stuff.

They broadcasted frequency 106.5 (it turned out to be in UHF) first in the studio, but when they saw what it was showing, they broadcasted to their live audience.

Nigeria was watching with bated breath.

The president was on the big screen, receiving a phone call.

And he looked afraid.

***************

“Mr. President, you do not sound too happy to hear from me,” the mysterious caller drawled.

Marcus pressed the phone tightly against the side of his suddenly slick face. He snapped his fingers at John, and John, nodding, disappeared into the shadows.

“What do you want?”

The voice at the other end laughed sweetly. “No, Mr. President. You have it all wrong. The question is: what do you want?”

***************

“Trace the caller! Trace it, dammit!” John snarled into the phone.

All network operators in the country had been alerted. They were already tracing the anonymous caller.

It was only a matter of time…

***************

“I’ll have you know that the federation does not negotiate with terrorists.”

“Ah, Mr. President. Do you remember these words? “I have a dream where a fellow countryman would be ready to lay down his life when the need arises for the good of the many…”

Marcus nodded numbly, a nod that was instantly relayed to more than 80 million TV screens nationwide.

“My words. In the speech at the Nigerian Unity Convention last week.”

“Your memory is unsurpassed, as is your governance, your Excellency,” the voice chuckled.

The call terminated abruptly.

***************

“What do you mean you lost him?” John was in a full rage now.

“Sir, we were able to confirm that it was an MTN number, and he was calling from Lagos – somewhere in Ikorodu. But he terminated the call before we could home in on him.”

***************

Conversation had started in beer parlors and homes. The president had effectively been threatened on national TV, and the caller had abruptly disappeared. Speculation was rife. Nigeria was mildly disappointed.

“I bin think say na one kind 24 steeze bin wan happen so,” Ohis, an engineer said to no one in particular, as he clutched his bottle of odeku fervently.

But that was not to be the end of the tale.

The president’s phone was ringing again.

***************

“Sorry about that, Mr. President,” the mechanical voice spoke again. “This hide and seek tires me too.”

“What do you want?” Marcus asked again.

“What was that you said? The Federation does not negotiate with terrorists? You’re right, Your Excellency. I am not here to negotiate with the federation. I am here to negotiate with one man

“Marcus Ikoli. It is time for a man to lay down his life for the good of the many.”

***************

The world gasped.

***************

“Mr. President. Your wet bar. Third bottle to your right. That’s a special drink from me to you. There is a glass cup in your second bottom left drawer. Please pour yourself a full glass. Drink to your heart’s content.”

One of the guards yelled, “There is an unbranded bottle where he said it would be, sir!”

Rebecca shrieked.

***************

Aso Rock had been infiltrated. A camera no one was aware of was broadcasting the most powerful room in Nigeria. A glass cup and an unmarked bottle of a clear drink had found their way into the building. Aso Rock had been compromised.

***************

“What the hell do you mean you lost him?” John was even more livid than he had been five minutes ago.

“I’m sorry,” the operator was speaking. “It was a glo number this time. The call was traced to Kano…”

“Wait. Kano?”

“Yes sir, and indications show that…”

How the hell could he have been in Lagos and in Kano in the split of a second?

“…we are sorry, sir. The time was too short for a distinct trace.”

***************

The president picked on the first ring.

“Would you drink, Mr. President? A toast to my good health, perhaps?”

“This is the last time I will ask this: what do you want?”

The president was silent. It’s a waiting game, terrorist. We will come down on you like a plague.

The caller sighed audibly. “You need persuasion, I see. Turn on the news.”

The call ended.

***************

“In an alarming turn of events tonight, the president received a phone call that climaxed in the detonation of a bomb in Kaduna. Reports are still coming in, but from all indications, the loss of life is monumental. It would appear that this terrorist has played his hand.

It remains for the president to play his.”

***************

“You bastard!” Marcus was sweating and gritting his teeth.

“Good. Emotion is good, no? I wouldn’t know of course. You have seen what I can do, Mr. President. Let us turn the negotiations around. What do you want?”

“I don’t understand, but please stop this. The Nigerian people don’t deserve this.”

Around him, the guards were searching the room, looking for the mysterious camera filming them.

“They don’t. And that is why I offer them redemption. The life of one, for the life of many.”

“Marcus. Don’t listen to him,” Rebecca shrieked again.

“Have a drink, Mr. President. It’s actually a nice-tasting brew. That is all I ask.”

The president stared sadly at his wet bar.

 

CNN was reporting. “The terrorist who shockingly patched through to the president of Nigeria, Marcus Ikoli, has stated unverifiably that he has enough bombs to level several commercial cities in the country. He has given the president an ultimatum: drink from the bottle, or watch people die.

“Tough decision for the president. The president has issued a standing order to bar all suggestion of help from foreign bodies as, in his words, it will only “muddy the waters” and interfere with negotiations with the terrorist. Meanwhile, President Barack Obama has said that negotiating with terrorists is never a good idea as it only strengthens the opposition’s stance…”

***************

Though the rest of the world didn’t know it, Only Jumoke had a direct line to the terrorist. The number that he had used to text her.

She knew that she should call the police, but on a whim, she dialed the phone number.

“Hello. This is – “

“Jumoke, from News Central. Why did you call a known terrorist, Jumoke?”

“I’m sorry. I…”

“I know why you did. The need to know. The curiosity. You cannot stand to know the story from someone else. You want to be the first to know.”

“Again, I’m sorry but – “

“Do you know why I chose you to broadcast tonight’s events, Jumoke?”

“I’m not sure I – “

“Twelve TV stations and eighteen newspapers, Jumoke. That’s how many media sources carried the news about the dead governor Richard Chidiebere. And do you know what they said? They all reported along these lines: “A half-empty glass of a suspicious clear liquid was found by his body…”

Jumoke paused. She didn’t understand.

“You were the only one who reported it as a half-full glass…”

Jumoke sighed. “News reporters do not usually write their news stories. They just report what has been written.”

“Yes. But you wrote that story, didn’t you?”

Jumoke closed her eyes. “Yes. Yes I did.”

“I am an optimist, Jumoke. The glass is always half-full.”

***************

Forty-seven minutes had gone past. John was no closer to finding out who the mystery caller was.

Marcus Ikoli sat alone in the room. It had been cleared of everyone else. Even Rebecca had been taken away from Aso Rock.

The mystery caller had ordered the president not to take down the camera beaming him to the rest of the world. “They are my eyes on you, Mr. President. If my eyes go blind, I’ll kill a large part of Nigeria.”

The thought nagged. How can I be sure he isn’t bluffing? How can anyone have that much bombs around the major cities? The reports indicate that there’s no sign of explosives there. What if he’s lying…?

But the mystery caller’s voice had been calm and almost playful. “Heads and tails. Half-full and half-empty. A game of chance. Would you take the risk, Mr. President? When the hour is up, would I really blow Nigeria up? Can I even blow it up? Two possible outcomes, Your Excellency.

“One. You don’t drink. I blow up Nigeria. Or I don’t.

“Two. You drink, and you die. And I don’t blow up Nigeria. The choice, as they say, is yours.”

Fifty minutes. Ten minutes to a decision.

The president poured himself a drink.

 

VUNDERKIND’S ENDNOTE:

I really hope you had popcorn while you read this.

Advertisements