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Joyce and I had met at the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) orientation camp ground in Plateau state. She had flown in from London, where she had studied, to participate in the NYSC programme. As Personnel Manager of the Trust Bank, I had come to solicit for efficient corps members to work in the bank. That was how I met Joyce and we instantly struck up a relationship. As soon as I saw her, I knew she was the woman I desired for a wife. Joyce was tall, slender, and had deeply accentuated curves in the right places just as I like my women to be. She was always flashing her sparkling teeth in a thousand smiles that lit up my heart with love whenever I saw her.
Born of Nigerian parents in London, Joyce had never been to Nigeria and had taken the opportunity of the NYSC scheme to know more of her country. I decided to take her to Abuja, the nation's capital, for sightseeing. I had already shown her some interesting parts of Jos.
"Nigeria, my country, is beautiful and I am very proud of her," she said.
"Wait until you see Abuja," I had told her, amused.
Obviously, she had been expecting Nigeria to be a stereotype of the damaging stories written about Africa in foreign books. The grandeur and opulence of Jos city instantly belied her expectations. She took hundreds of snapshots to take back to London so as to show her friends that Africa, far from being the abode of Bushmen far from civilization, is a paradise of sorts.
On that fateful day, we had jumped into my Peugeot 505, and so began our long stretch drive from Jos to Abuja. I was at the wheel, very much in high spirits.
Why should I not have been in the best of moods? Here was I, enjoying my favourite music: 'Me and You'll Live as One' by Onyeka Onwenu; seated beside me was my angel, ravishingly bewitching in an Adire dress. She had weaved her long lustrous hair into a native hairstyle just like she had seen and admired on some Nigerian girls. She wore virtually no make-up and with her hair weaved she looked like a school girl. Each time I lovingly gazed at her, I was struck by her innocence and her zest for living. She had found a new love, her country, Nigeria.
"Okoro," she said to me. "I am thinking of getting a job here in Nigeria and settling down in my fatherland after my service. I want to contribute my quota to nation building. What do you think?"
"That would be wonderful," I had said, dreaming of how I would marry her and keep her in the country with me.
I instantly pulled the car over, hugged her and gave her a kiss which would forever remain indelible in my memory. She had responded with a passion that surprised me. I prayed and hoped that she had not only fallen in love with Nigeria but with me also.
We must have passed through a hundred Police checkpoints on our way from Jos to Abuja. At each point, not wanting to be disturbed, I would quickly trust a crumpled twenty naira note into the waiting palms of a Policeman.
"Oga ride on," they would say, waving me on.
"Why do you have to do that?" Joyce had asked, bewildered.
"Oh! Nothing to worry about. It's just an appreciation of the good work they do safeguarding our lives," I had said, not wanting to pursue the subject further.
I had not wanted to explain to her that if I had not paid up, we would have had to be delayed for at least forty minutes; a form of punishment for not greasing their palms. Being the good girl she was she had not gone further to query my actions.
Somehow, the number of checkpoints on that day must have been more than usual. We were at the last checkpoint, on the outskirts of Abuja, when I realized I had run out of twenty naira notes. I was left with only five hundred naira notes and I would be damned if I were going to give that to the Policemen. Seeing that no crumpled note was forthcoming, the Policeman frowned and bellowed:
"Park, oya, where your particulars?"
It took him about twenty minutes just to look over them and make sure they were okay. He searched the booth and bonnet and even underneath the car. He took his time to rummage through our luggage and then insisted on searching Joyce's handbag. It was then that she flew into an uncontrollable rage.
"What! How dare you son of a bitch insult me so, in my own fatherland? What the hell do you mean going over my luggage like a crazy dog sniffing for the scent of a bone? I would not have you insult me so, do you hear? You bastard idiot in uniform," she said.
The unruly Policeman was not bothered by her ranting.
"Na your papa you dey curse. You think say na only you fit speak oyibo for this country? Foolish ashawo, you no see the kind short dress wey you wear?" the Policeman said to her, then unexpectedly snatched her handbag from her. "I must to search this handbag, whether you like am or not," he said.
What happened next was a tragedy.
"Give me my handbag you criminal," Joyce screamed and lunged on him, determined to wrest her handbag from him.
It was already too late. I had intended cajoling the Policeman to allow her keep her handbag. I had already crumpled the five hundred naira note to grease his palms so he could allow my lady and I depart in peace. Meanwhile, I had been entertained by the little exchange between Joyce and the Policeman. I felt gratified seeing someone stand up to them though ashamed it was a lady. In Nigeria, you never argue with a Policeman. What are his handcuffs and guns made for?
The next thing I heard was a gunshot. The Policeman... he had fired at my beloved Joyce, my angel; not once but twice. I hurried to her side, she fell on me and I struggled to prop her up.
"Joyce! No Joyce, don't give up. Don't leave me now, please..." I screamed and wept holding her there, in agony.
She and I were bathed in blood, which kept pumping out spontaneously from two holes in her chest area.
"Please Joyce, don't die. I am going to take you to the hospital," I said to her in anguish, lifting her up in my arms, blood and all, to put her in my car and rush her to the hospital.
As I laid her down, she clung to my neck with surprising strength and her face grimaced and contorted in a painful smile.
"I love you, Okoro. Please tell my brother, Joe, that Nigeria is beautiful."
She flashed her sparkling teeth and her face lit up in a smile, breathing her last in my arms.
My grief knew no bounds. My world seemed to come to a standstill at that moment. I felt the world had collapsed on me.
As for the Policemen, they instantly jumped into their vehicles and drove away. They could not be traced because they had mounted an illegal road block.
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