Writers Project of Ghana

Bumoclo's International Village Killing by Gbontwi Anyetei

He toured the house. Was it a house? He would ask later.

There was more light than he had ever seen inside a shipping container much less six melded together like this... edifice here, but a house it must be. The woman was crying, leaving it to Bumoclo to deduce this fact from the furniture which was like that found in any house but beautifuller, more artistic and as unexpected as the house itself. Appliances that cooked, froze and cleaned like nothing and nowhere else for at least twenty-eight and a half miles around. One thing was for sure, International people lived here. Not foreign. International. The wealth was obvious but understated. None of the pompous effects that the home-grown rich had to have.

Bumoclo had not even seen a house like this in films. Possibly in Hollywood movies. Certainly not the Nigerian films. But even in films would there be crude T.I.A walls holding up big, clean and shiny furniture and appliances. Only in Hollywood movies, and perhaps American TV, was there space like this, a rug like this was International and neo-native. Smooth lines artistically balanced with security ridges.

In fact, the place was perfect.

Perfect, except for the dead fat South African lying on the bloody International rug.

~+~

Sheila Yaa wiped her tears. She couldn't believe she was crying like this. Her heart was beating, her brain wasn't working and she could not stop crying.

She couldn't believe it was like this.

~+~

Bumoclo wasn't the most intelligent man in the world but he might have been one of the most logical. There was no reason why logic had to be misplaced from life in Ghana plus everything else the country didn't have, to be replaced with excuses, hopelessness and worst of all, superstition.

What made a gash that large for this amount of blood loss. There was nothing hard or sharp enough in this house to create a wound like that... and for the blood to disappear in this very house like magic, with the weapon nowhere to be seen, also like magic. Magic in these parts. Juju killed the big man, townspeople who hadn't been born yet would say if Bumoclo didn't find the right culprit. Juju was the perfect excuse for bad police work. If they couldn't find a Hadji to collect money from and a better reason not to do their job.

Bumoclo loved his job and cared for his work, but he wasn't trying to save the country by himself. Bumoclo would do his part and he would make sure the country didn't slide to disrepair. As long as the stupid klepto-cops didn't get in his way. The higher he was promoted, the wider the sphere of his influence.

Bumoclo was a law onto himself. There was no need for somebody to go to prison for a crime they were sorry for, or which would make them ultra-conscientious citizens.

~+~

Sheila remembered what she did when she was a nine year old who had had just stolen something from her auntie's house.

Nobody knew what she had done then, and nobody knew what she had done then.

People looking at her knew nothing, and they weren't always looking at her. Maybe they had come from stealing from their mother's sister -- how would a little Sheila know?

But this was different. Her husband was here, dead.

And there were police, in her house. Police surrounding her, pieces in an unholy chess game in this house right now. Her dead husband was the fallen king but this game didn't end just because he was the richest man in this box and dead. She was the queen, though fallen. She qualified as queen because the queen was the only female in the game. The people in uniform were the pieces that didn't matter and Bumoclo was the Bishop the way he zigged and zagged across the house... crossing the room every which way.

~+~

Bumoclo faced a daily challenge choosing his clothes. A triple breasted suit and he was corrupt and showing how corrupt he was and possibly suffering from a mental difficulty. A double breasted suit and he was Congolese. A simple suit and he was a banker who had misplaced himself. One month into his life as a detective he had settled on mixing and not matching cool coloured fitted trousers and jackets.

He watched his men from the sides of his eyes. Three of them, each in the new blue and grey regulation uniform. Only one of them could efficiently use the Glocks in their hip holsters. Bumoclo knew this because Bumoclo had personally trained officer number one, trained him -- and made sure he could take a good photograph.

'Index the pictures cardinally. Do you understand?'

The man shook his head.

'I mean there are no rooms, so use the compass I gave you and label the photographs north, north-east, east.'

The man nodded.

When he first met the boy Bumoclo had noticed the awkwardness the young uniform felt taking bribe money. Bumoclo had known it was real and knew that it didn't have to be temporary. Bumoclo didn't care if it was fair or not, but he preferred working with people who were used to seeing money. Here was a officer he Bumoclo had to take under his wing and keep honest, and make his personal batman and enforcer. With Bumoclo, officer number one didn't have to feel foolish for not taking petty monies from motorists or bloggers looking for bloody pictures to post online.

~+~

Her life was a blur. Being an infant, travelling, college, marriage. She could only remember little things.

Performing. It was all she could remember. Him smiling and nodding for her. Just like the people she performed for. Smiling and nodding and applauding then up close to her, smiling and nodding some more.

She remembered she had never called him 'her husband' when she they had first married. It was always 'boyfriend' or 'partner' or something sweet. Showing off, her mother had called it.

Now she couldn't even remember his name -- something her brain was doing, maybe to save her from remembering the big thing.

~+~

Bumoclo breathed. He breathed it all in.

The questions.

The unknown smells his nose would all too soon become accustomed to.

The hint of fruit from the drinks the widow Sheila Yaa had given out with the funny shaped ice cubes.

The dust he couldn't see but was always around.

The foreign-ness of the International house and even the blood which hadn't settled back onto the victim.

Scenes like this were where great people were made. Not just great police -- great people. Blood, death, money, an unheard-of opponent, a big mysterious building and of course a beautiful woman. A sad one. If Bumoclo too was beautiful as he sometimes suspected then this was a very serious situation for greatness.

The greatest mentor Bumoclo had ever had was a man whom he had known for less than a day... and whose name he had long forgotten if he had ever gotten it correctly over the noise of the football game. All the English and American police his chiefs brought in and put in nice hotels had never made as much sense as this old man Bumoclo had met when Ghana faced Ivory Coast in a friendly football match in Abidjan. The others in Bumoclo's detail had laughed that an old man should be assigned to what was a young man's job. A young Bumoclo had been wise enough to ask the man whether his was a cautionary tale or one of an epic hero forced into a humble circumstances. Bumoclo's French hadn't been enough of a barrier to the conversation. The man had told him that there was were only three keys to solving every crime.

The first key was, Meet the Stranger. In many ways this was the rarest. However remote the criminal, there was always somebody who knew something about the crime. Maybe instead of being tied up directly with the victims and participants they were far in the back, calling out the strategies of the crime like the coach on the football pitch, but they were there all the same. The strings leading back to the stranger could be thin, but they were there.

~+~

She had heard of the thing called the perfect murder, but it couldn't exist because nothing was perfect.

And murder was bad and so could never be perfect.

But on that first drive here from the airport it had struck Sheila that there was such a thing as a perfect place for a perfect murder. The blank dark looks on the faces of people who seemed like they had placed themselves beside the road to inspect cars as they passed. Any one of them might do it if they knew what the man next to her was, despite the face he had on.

Then she had seen the house. A building that looked like a post-apocalyptic strongbox holding all the good remaining in the world. It was quintessentially African and yet completely alien at the same time. Green, brown and red like the environment around it, but sleek and ridged instead of organic and bumpy, up-cycled materials that looked better than they ever had, design features that utilised the sun for all its energy and the earth for all the cool that emanated from it. She hadn't let on how much she loved the place -- because it would have made what he did right.

~+~

The second key was, Who Inherits. This was Bumoclo's favourite of the three. Obvious in its own way, but sometimes those who benefited from the crime weren't those destined to really inherit. Sometimes it was a long waiting game, sometimes it was a call to the bank.

~+~

They didn't go to church in her house but they read the Bible a lot and she remembered something Jesus had said about when a sin counted as a sin. 'I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.' She had never looked at a woman with lust but if it applied to all sins like she felt Jesus would say it did, then she had committed this sin a long time ago.

The first time her husband knew she knew, he hadn't cared. He had known she would find out eventually. He hadn't tried to hide anything from her. Maybe she had tried not to find it, but it wasn't something wives were supposed to find out, was it?

When she confronted him he said it was because he had the right face and background. Just like she'd had the right face to help him do what he did, camouflage him without even knowing it.

That's why she had to do what she did. It was why he was lying there now.

Her mother always knew everything. But she couldn't know everything because she had let Sheila marry him. She would have warned Sheila if she had known. Wouldn't she?

~+~

The third of the three keys was, Cherchez la Femme. A young Bumoclo had straight away guessed this was to look behind the crime for a woman as motivation, as prize, or as the cause. And he'd only been right. The fact that la femme was sometimes even not a femme wasn't enough to confuse an ambitious Bumoclo. La femme was sometimes the weak link in crews of villains. Again, it wasn't fair to women that were the stronger links in some other conspiracies.

And sometimes la femme was the same kind of weak link from key number two, with more strings attached. And la femme's strings were made of more interesting things.

~+~

Sheila Yaa looked at the detective. She expected to see him pull out a leather bound tablet at any minute. The more she watched him, the more she realised he was more bush than he appeared. It wasn't just the three-fifths untidy beard. It was the way he carried himself and that faded tan bag that made him looked like he was on his way to get on board a trotro at the Achimota station. And yet he looked like he would be as much at peace carrying that tan brown bag around as he would be sending crying women to prison.

From time to time he would stare at her, measuring her up for a prison uniform... trying to see where she fit in this house. In what had happened here.

~+~

Bumoclo took care of his own evidence. A lesson he learnt from his uniform days listening to detectives complain about fancy lawyers rubbishing their cases because they couldn't prove chain of custody. So all prime pieces of evidence went into his trusty bag. He kept his left hand gloved for handling dirty evidence and transporting it to the bag.

He didn't mind when justice was not done, as long as the failure was not his fault. Bumoclo's sister said he was a moralist, but then she was only a psychologist with the army. And she was only his sister. So it didn't matter if she was right about him or not.

~+~

Sheila Yaa didn't have the energy to think what the four police officers in the room or the technician who was outside thought about her. She thought she heard a voice telling her it was okay. That her pulsing guilt and immobilizing panic would translate into fear and grief. Then the voice was gone and that side of her was gone. But was it really gone if she was sitting here saying nothing. Saying nothing was what they said was the best way not to go to jail.

She shouldn't have to think. Just like it was always the wife on the front line of suffering for the evil her husband wrought. It was always the wife they asked about, and always the wife they blamed.

'It was always the wife.'

~+~

For a dead South African in an outer suburb of Accra Bumoclo was going to straight to 'who inherits' with a side seasoning that he'd already found la femme. Regardless of what this crying widow was saying, strangers weren't in the business of killing strangers in a house with lots of expensive stuff with almost no resale value. The resale value was especially low because they had left it all behind.

'It was always the wife.'

That said sometimes the key brought itself.

~+~

'You said?' Bumoclo's voice cut into her thoughts.

Then there was a silence. An obrafour's calm. An executioner's silence.

Sheila's heart matched the silence, and then suddenly she realised: 'It was always the wife.' She had spoken that out loud.

She had to think.

She had to stop thinking.

Bumoclo created a faint breeze as he stepped up to where she sat and into her line of sight.

'You said?'

All the thinking she thought she had thought before, it hadn't been enough!

Her heart raced. What could she do now? There was only one thing she could think of. She threw her arms around Bumoclo's shoulders, and then his neck. Sheila hugged this inquisitive policeman for all her life was worth.

~+~

Bumoclo didn't mind the possibility of getting blood on his clothes. Minute transfer of the blood specks from where she had tried to resuscitate the man whose passing had rendered her a widow. Ultimately the blood traces would make his clothes more lived in and more real. Give his clothes more soul. He felt the same about rust and dust in the country's slums. In a nice house like this, the widow's tears, her expensive make-up and her dead husband's blood would achieve the same effect.

~+~

'You've been so patient.' Sheila said. 'You hear so many stories about the police in places in Ghana.'

'We learn to take time here. Your answers to my questions would be the same if I asked them 1-2-1-2 or if I took my time to ask them?'

Sheila Yaa could feel him tire of her weight on him, but she couldn't let him go yet. She couldn't let him look her in the eyes and see the lies there.

~+~

International women, Bumoclo thought. They were a marvellous selection of the peculiar species.

'Is there more you want to tell me?' he asked this one.

'What? No! It's like I said on the phone when I called earlier. I stepped out to get breakfast -- I was only away for an hour and when I got back...'

She finally felt ready to let go of him and face him finally.

'This!' She concluded 'Do you know what, how it happened?'

Bumoclo signalled one of his two untrained officers to cover up the corpse.

'Cause of death is still uncertain I'm afraid. All this blood, drops from probably the murder weapon disappear five metres away from the body.'

'Lieutenant.'

'Captain,' he corrected her. 'It's a easy mistake to make.'

'Captain,' she said, 'People say...'

Bumoclo tried not to be surprised that a woman as beautiful and bereaved as this Sheila had time for what 'people' said. She was still struggling to finish her statement.

'You don't think it's... people say there's... out here. Especially in small villages like that...'

'What?' Bumoclo never refused help if he could help it.

~+~

'Juju? You know? Like voodoo?'

'I'm afraid,' he said, but he couldn't tell what she was talking about unless he could look into her soul, and certainly even when he faced off with armed robbers he couldn't have been as afraid as Ms. Yaa as she pitched this lie.

'The cause of death is only voodoo when the president's brother says so.' Bumoclo said. 'When another government comes about, the cause of death will again be a heavy object. And voodoo will be voudoun -- just some people's religion.'

'You're not what I expected.' Sheila clouded her tone so that it didn't sound like this was the first time she had spoken the truth since he met her seventy minutes ago.

'Expected.' Bumoclo pulled at his glove, creating a slapping sound. 'Why, what were you expecting from the police?'

'I wasn't... I mean... just generally speaking... you've been so good. You're just so... and this place... Here!' Sheila herself didn't know what she was talking about.

'Well madam, this isn't my area.'

'But, you...!'

'Oh no, I mean... murder is my area but not out here. The company your husband worked for must do some very serious things. Big money and all of that.'

'Serious.' Sheila Yaa tasted the word. 'I'm not sure... I never knew much about the kind of work he did... how do you know? And I'm so bad! I haven't offered you or your men anything more to drink. I shouldn't forget all the courtesies due my guests.'

Sheila smoothly collected glasses and expertly broke magnificent shards of ice into them before filling them with a plain but delicious non-alcoholic cocktail. She returned to the group of men now standing at a distance from the dead body near the sliding door at the entrance.

'I work in Accra,' Bumoclo said. 'They only send me along the shore for major cases. You're some kind of singer, right?'

'A poet actually,' she corrected him.

'They are not the same thing?'

'No.'

'Well they don't normally send me out for poet's dead husbands.' Bumoclo admired the rough cuts of ice in his drink. 'Either you're the very best or your husband makes money for a lot of important people.'

Bumoclo sipped his drink.

'So they sent the best detective in the country for me'. Sheila sat down in the same forlorn pose as earlier, but her back seemed more straight, and her eyes more clear.

'I'm not sure I'm the best... but my wives say I'm in the top one.' Bumoclo drank the last of his glass and put it down before turning to face his crime scene again.


Gbontwi Anyetei is a writer. He grew up in East London and has been in Ghana for the past six years. His first novel 'What Do You Call It?' was published in 2010. He also writes for screen and TV.

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