When my wife and kids told me that they would love to go to my brother’s house to spend the weekend and kill boredom, I did not hesitate to give it the nod because I also needed some quiet time alone in the house. I was working on a proposal that was to be submitted on Monday morning via email. The insistence by the company to send it via email was because of the restriction in the movement of people over the COVID 19 issue.
My wife was a law enforcement agent and would not have any challenge navigating through the hundreds of checkpoints on the roads.
“Make sure you guys return on Monday,” I said as my wife led the kids out of the house. “I don’t want to hear stories.”
She chuckled. “There will be no stories. Please follow us to the junction so you can help me collect my clothes from the laundry man. He called to tell me that he would be waiting.”
I would not have left the house that morning if she hadn’t said that. Outside the gate where Mubarak had a kiosk, I saw three young men smoking cigarettes and engrossed in a hearty conversation.
“Ina kwana,” Mubarak greeted us cordially. “This one that everyone is dressed ceremonially, I don’t think this is a short journey.”
My wife nodded and smiled at him. “We will be back on Monday evening. Please put eyes on the house for us.”
He said he would. My wife hopped onto the driver’s seat and I sat beside her on the passenger’s side. My three kids giggled at one another as they occupied the back seat. Since her own car had had some mechanical fault and was taken away by the mechanic prior to the Corona virus pandemic, we had both been managing my own car. Carefully, she hurled the Toyota Corolla past Mubarak’s kiosk and honked. Mubarak had been a very good neighbour. He would keep an eye on the compound whenever we were not around. In return, the family had also treated him like a brother.
The laundry man was not in the shop when we got there. My wife was furious because her uniforms were the clothes she had given him to wash. I decided to go and check on Tony at home. He was a very good friend whom I had learned a lot from. His own family had travelled as soon as the virus matter began and he had been all alone. He was glad to see me. We ate the food he prepared and watched a movie together. That took a long time. By the time I returned home in the evening, Mubarak had closed because it was about to rain. The sky was thick with a storm.
I opened the main door and closed it carefully. That door needed repairs but I hadn’t bothered to fix it. If you shut it from the inside without sticking a paper in it, it would be difficult to open from the inside. Someone would have to open it from the outside or else you would remain trap inside. Several times, my wife had reminded me about it but I didn’t just care because the house was usually never empty.
Because I was alone, I was careful to put a piece of paper in it before closing it. And because I had no plans of going to bed immediately, I didn’t bother to lock it with a key. Never in my wildest imagination did I think that a burglar would break into the house that night.
I was watching the news on Aljazera when the lights went off. Soon, the rains began to hit the roof like pebbles thrown in hundreds from the sky. The wind too blew heavily like millions of giant birds flapping their wings.
I went into the bedroom and sleep found me there in no time. It was the shrill cry of a baby that woke me up later. The rain had stopped. Darkness still enveloped the sky. It was past one o’ clock in the morning.
I began to wonder what was wrong with the child that was crying. Her voice tore miserably into the silence of the dark and made me feel very uncomfortable. What could be wrong with the child? I thought as I crept out of the bed towards the window.
The cry was coming from the house adjacent mine. It was a small building without a fence. In front of it was a rickety Golf car painted in taxi colours. Since I bought the house over a year and a half before, I hadn’t bothered to know who my neighbours were.
I was still wondering why the baby was crying and disturbing the entire neighbourhood when I began to hear the sound of the front door opening. I wanted to scream but intuitively decided against that. The cry of the child continued to waft into my ears and I suddenly began to tremble. I hadn’t seen a thief in real life before. I had heard and read about how they attack people and maim or killed them just to get what they wanted.
What if this thief had a weapon? I thought miserably as I quietly docked behind my bedroom door. When the intruder began to tiptoe into the kitchen, I put my eye through the tiny opening between the door and its frame.
I heaved a sigh when I saw that he was not armed. His silhouette figure moved in the dark like a walking tortoise. The light from his small phone led him into the kitchen. I wanted to scream now but something held me still; perhaps it was the fear of the unknown. I was paranoid now like never before. What if he had a pistol in his pocket? What if he had a dagger he’d kept by the door?
I was still wondering of what to do next when the burglar came out of the kitchen carrying a black polythene bag. The cry of the child from the house adjacent mine continued to waft into my ears. I felt creepy. Even though the weather was cold, I felt sweat drop from my forehead in rivulets. My palms too were damp with sweat. I hadn’t sweated like that before. This could happen to anybody who was alone with a thief in his house; a thief who could have been in possession of lethal arms.
Suddenly, I heard him begin to hit the door and it struck me that he had just jammed the door without using the piece of paper. Certainly, he was trapped. I could hear him curse under his breath. Just then, the lights came on.
When he walked back into the kitchen and I saw that he was not armed, I came out of my hiding place.
“Who the hell are you and what are you doing in my house?” I thundered feigning courage. The fear in his eyes was palpable.
“I..I..I, please sir!” his knees dropped on the tiled floor. His head was bowed and buried in shame. He could only stutter.
“You had better talk to me before I shoot you dead right now.”
He jammed his palms together and began to cry. “Sir, my name is Theophilus.I am not a thief. I have never stolen anything from anyone all my life. But if you could put your ears down right now, you’d hear the cry of a child. That’s my only daughter. She is a year and two months old. We have not eaten since yesterday morning. My wife bought akara thirty naira for her yesterday morning and that was all she’s eaten since. I haven’t worked since this corona virus thing began because of the restriction in movement. I am a taxi driver. Even if the lockdown ends today, I still won’t be able to work because I have sold my car battery and bought food to feed my family with it last month. I heard from a friend that you people left the house and won’t be back until Monday. I couldn’t stand the cry of the child anymore so I decided to burgle your house to fetch her some food from here. She won’t stop crying until she gets something to eat. My wife too is crying helplessly in the house. I just couldn’t take it. I had to become a thief if only for tonight…”
He was crying as he spoke. I took the black polythene bag from him and my heart dropped when I saw the things he had stolen from the kitchen in it; three packs of noodles, half a loaf of bread, some milk powder in and beverages.
My wallet which had about thirty five thousand naira in it was lying conspicuously on the chair.
Pointing at the wallet, I echoed; “Why didn’t you take the money or did you not see it?”
“I did,” he replied with his head still bowed. “It was the first thing I pointed the light from my phone at but I have no need of it. I came here to get something for my daughter to eat not to steal money.”
A tear fell off my eye. I held his hands and told him to get up. “You are not a thief my brother. You are just a father whose love for his only child is without blemish. From the way you speak, I am certain that you are learned. But for the situation of the country, you would not have become a taxi driver. For your daughter’s sake, I will not do anything to you. Just call your wife to come here with the child so she could open the door for us from outside. That way, she could prepare something for her here to eat.”
Tearfully, he knelt down again and began to cry. He hadn’t airtime on his phone, I gave him mine and he called the wife with it. Before she arrived with the child, I had prepared beverage for the child while I let him cook some noodles for himself and the wife.
It was my turn to cry when the woman was feeding the child who was dragging the bread from her mother as if all her life depended on it. She wolfed down her beverage with the speed of light and as soon as she had had her feel, she crept into the arms of her father and immediately fell asleep.
The parents had time to eat their noodles when the child had begun to eat. By the time they were through, it was past two o’clock.
I gave him all the money in my wallet and told him to buy and stuck his house with food with the money. When my wife returned with the children and I told her what had happened, she cried on end.
“We are just privileged. We are just lucky.” She broke down emotionally. “We cannot be this blessed by God and watch our neighbours suffer. We must help them.”
My wife was right. I bought Theophilus a new battery for his car and gave the wife the sum of two hundred thousand naira to start a crayfish trade. Sometimes, all that we need to completely eradicate crime isn’t to keep buying guns for the police, isn’t to keep pushing people into prison but just to lend a helping hand to our neighbours. If your neighbours are happy, you’d certainly be happy too. I have come to understand not every thief caught in the act is a real thief. I am glad that we were the source of their joy today and pray that many would after reading this do what we did or do even more.
Love will certainly solve all the problems of humanity.
(I was told this story and I went to the house to confirm it.)
THE BURGLAR by Japheth Prosper