“Did you do it?”
Out of nowhere I summoned the courage to ask Mr Pasman Kamalu after seven months of sharing the prison cell with him. He was gazing into thin air twitching his beards, probably reminiscing on one of those warm memories from his younger days. He didn’t startle as I imagined he would, he didn’t even blink but I was certain he knew what I was talking about.
“I’m sorry.” I regretted. “I shouldn’t have asked.”
“It’s ok Daniel” he said, still very much unfazed.
He had a graceful faint dimple that made his grey hair glow. He wasn’t so old, fifty something or so years old I presumed. Just that the tiny portions of poorly cooked prison food and the cold nights made him looked shabby. To be fair, it made everyone shabby. I’ve been here for the past seven months and he had been here a little longer. He was nice and talked to me like an equal even though he called me ‘son’ sometimes. I mean, he was old enough to be my father but I called him by his name ‘Pasman’ and he was fine with that.
“Can I call you Pasman?” I asked the very first time we talked.
“Sure son.” He said with such delight. “You can call me my grandfather’s name Kamalu. We can even give each other nick names. You know, one of those things you young men do these days. They still do nick names right?”
“Sure.” I nodded.
His jovial humour really gave me a sense of comfort. He was not the kind of person I had imagined to see in a state prison.
Even though we never really got to give ourselves nick names the other inmates did. They referred to us as ‘old man and the sea’. He could have been my father as they thought he was but we had become much more than that. Much more than just father and son, we had become friends.
He took a moment as if to process the entirety of the question ‘Did you do it?’ I bet it rang continuously in his head because it did in mine.
We talked a lot about everything especially his juvenescence; growing up in the city of Port Harcourt in the late 70s. How he juggled life to and fro the homes of his separated parents who lived at both ends of the city. They were never married to each other but had lots of lands which he inherited, sold and saw himself through school with. He blew his horn a lot at his boisterous life style in the University of Port Harcourt with no atom of contrition.
“I shook the grounds of the entire school.” He gloated. “Even the cult boys were afraid of me. They thought I was in a group of my own but I rode solo.”
I was always drawn in by the passion he uses to tell his stories. It was as though he was living in the moment all over again and I get to watch him live it.
“And all the girls wanted a piece of me.” He continued with such uppity “They loved me Daniel, always flocking around me. Fighting each other just to be my date. But the lecturers…” his mood thickened to a cloud of resentment “They were not nice to me at all. They actually thought I wouldn’t graduate. You can imagine Daniel.” He paused to catch his breath. “There was this particular lecturer who swore I wouldn’t live long enough to see my final year. Mr Chidubue was his name. He said it to my face in the presence of everyone. He may have been surmising but to me it was more of a threat but funny enough he was the one who didn’t live long enough to see me graduate at the top of my class. He had a car accident the following year after the threat and I made sure I went to his funeral to be sure he was really gone.”
He also talked about his vacation to the United Kingdom on his 34th birthday where he met a white girl named Cherry Brown whom he dated for the one month he was there and then broke up with her the day he was returning to Africa.
“She cried Daniel” he said with a smug all over his face. “Cherry my white chocolate cried on my shoulders. She never wanted to let me go. She almost followed me to Africa. Can you imagine?”
Cherry Brown was his favourite memory. It was hard to believe such little time of all his decades on earth brought him so much joy whenever he talked about it. And whenever he was alone with his thoughts gazing into space, picking his beards and smiling, I always imagined it was the memory tape of Cherry Brown that was playing in his head.
“You never heard from her again?” I asked.
“I didn’t Daniel.” He said as though it bothered him. “I never really heard from her again. I planned to search for her but life got in the way. You know, I had to move on. Cherry and I were in two different worlds besides, it wasn’t much of a good time for someone like her and myself to be together. You know, the race thing.”
I felt a little intimidated by his complacent achievements and conceited memories that I was almost pressured to keep up with him even though I had to make up some stories about myself. I hadn’t really lived long enough to hold on to a specific recollection or brag about an attainment that could stand the test of time and I really didn’t think winning best dressed student in my secondary school and getting suspended for fighting was a match to his Cherry white chocolate story or his ground shaking moments in the university. The only big thing I had shared with him were the empty bags of teenage dreams that may never come true and of course the unfortunate tragedy that got me here.
It was a day to my 22nd birthday when Freddie and I had a public show off over some money I had put aside for my birthday party.
“Who is Freddie?” Pasman asked.
“He was my closest friend.” I replied.
He nodded to a clear understanding.
“He accompanied me to withdraw the money the day before.” I explained. “I took it to my hostel and locked it up in my box. The next day it was gone. I asked my roommate Chima and he swore he didn’t take it and now I think of it, he must have been lying to me. I only believed him because he was a very church going person. I think I judged too quickly. I mean, it was just our first year. Second semester to be precise where everyone was still trying to figure out everyone.” I said still wondering. “The padlock to my box wasn’t broken so who ever took the money definitely had access to my keys and only Freddie did. To make it worse my roommate said he saw Freddie in the room when returned from class that evening trying out some of my clothes probably looking for one to wear to my birthday party and that was just how I convinced myself he did it.”
“So you confronted him? Freddie.”
“I did.” I nodded.
Suddenly, the whole slide began to roll before my eyes again.
“I called him over just to talk but Freddie had a thing for picking offenses too quickly. Maybe it was my fault, maybe I shouldn’t have started off by insinuating he took the money. Maybe I should have just let go because now after everything my family and I have gone through just to get me out of here, the money wasn’t worth it. I mean just for some cheap bottles of alcohol and what? Hotel rooms for the dirty silly things? Was it worth it? I don’t think so.”
I held on. It felt like the tap in my eyes was turning on and I didn’t want to cry.
Mr Pasman really sunk in deep with me. He pat my shoulders and said “I can imagine.”
He was going to say more but he didn’t. He wanted to hear the whole story.
“So what happened afterwards?”
I took a deep breath and found the strength to continue.
“Freddie got angry and badged out raising his voice creating a scene forcing me to be loud as well. I told him to get my money back before the next day or I was going to deal with him.” I took another moment to pull myself together. “The next day came. My birthday. I matched to his lodge, it was the next compound. I banged on his door so loud that his neighbours came out of their rooms wondering what was going on. He didn’t answer and the door was locked but his shoes were outside and his television was on. I knew he was inside avoiding me. I was furious and angry. I dared him to come outside but he didn’t so I matched the door open and there he was face down in his own pool of blood with a kitchen knife pinned to his head.”
“Oh no!!!” Pasman exclaimed.
“I couldn’t even scream.”
My entire nerves went numb as though it was happening all over again. I tried and I tried but I couldn’t hold back the tears. Yes, I understand I could have killed him because I threatened him the previous day but what hurt the most was the fact that my closest friend Freddie had died. Someone had killed him and that person may never be found.
“Freddie was a nice human being.” I cried as I continued. “Yes he had his flaws but he didn’t deserve to die for whatever reason. And I didn’t kill him Pasman. I didn’t.”
I fell on Pasmans shoulders and like a father he held on to me firmly.
“I know you didn’t.” He said. Patting my back like a baby. “It’s ok cry. It’s very ok to cry. Just let it out son, let it out.”
“I shouldn’t have threatened him.” I continued. “I should have just let it go. Maybe it was my roommate Chima who took the money but I was too blind to see through his over righteousness or maybe Freddie took it and wanted to tell me later on but I got off on him too quickly he had to be defensive. I don’t know.” I cried a little more. “It doesn’t even matter now. It doesn’t. My best friend is dead and I am here in jail. How did I get here? Just how?”
I have never felt so commiserated crying on the shoulders of another man before and for all that moment, his warmth and firm hands made me feel like a child. At first I couldn’t imagine spending the rest of my life behind bars with a man almost three times my age but as the days went by it dawned on me that friendship came in different forms and ages.
He only mentioned it once and never talked about it again that why I got curious and listened to him every day for 7 months hoping he would bring it up someday again but he wouldn’t and I was running out of time.
“They said I killed my wife.” He shrugged as though he wasn’t bothered. “I just hope my daughter Precious is fine. I just wish I get to see her one more time before I rot in this cell.”
The concern for his six years old daughter Precious Kamalu got him down whenever he thought of it and for the entire day he would lay on his bed and bleed from his soul. Moody and quiet but by morning he was back on his groove finding solace on the good old memories that always brought gloom to his face.
“I never told you Cherry Brown was Italian. Did I?” he said with so much bliss on his wrinkled face. “Her dad was Italian actually but her mum was English.”
There was always new details coming up from the same old memories. There was always more to the stories.
“Did I tell you I dated two sisters during my final year before I graduated?”
He actually mentioned all that already but I couldn’t stop him from telling it over and over again if he wanted to. After all I enjoyed it all. They were warm, honest and deep but the more he told them on repeat the more I died to know what he was not saying. If he was innocent or not.
My heart worried I may have hurt his feelings with the question because his silence was taking too long I was beginning to feel he was ignoring me. It was not my intention to make him feel so uncomfortable if he did and at a point the question begun to sound rhetorical in my head. We had just had breakfast and practically hadn’t even said anything to each other that morning and then all of a sudden from the loud speaker of my inner most thoughts it fell out. Did you do it?
Maybe I should have thought about it a little more before I let it out of my mouth or maybe I should have presented it in a way that wouldn’t have made him feel like I was crossing boundaries or maybe, just maybe I shouldn’t have even asked at all. I know he said it was ok and smiled as though he saw it coming but I didn’t know for sure how he was feeling on the inside. And I should have just changed the topic when I could but the deafening silence was getting in the way I couldn’t hear my thoughts anymore and somewhere in between my heart and soul I was hoping he would answer.
“Do you think I did it?” He asked in a way that didn’t show he wanted an answer.
And I wasn’t so sure whether or not to answer. But I did anyways.
“Everyone said I killed my best friend.” I began with fair hope I was appealing to his emotion. “I don’t blame them but truth is I didn’t kill him and I will believe you if you say didn’t kill her, I mean, half of us here in this prison are probably innocent. Even if I can’t speak for all, at least I know I am innocent.”
He was back to mute again. Maybe the thoughts were coming to him. I guess he had buried it so deep with the consolatory memories of the good old times of his younger days that he had forgotten why he was ever here.
“You still don’t have to answer Pasman. I would understand.” I said. “It’s just that you never talk about what really happened. You keep talking about your white girlfriend whom you were with for like two minutes of your life but your wife whom you have a 6 years old daughter with, you never talk about her. I mean what really happened to her? Did you do it? Was it an accident? Tell me Pasman. You love to tell me things why can’t you just talk to me now.”
He sat strong, unmoved. Maybe it was sinking deep or maybe it was just falling off the other ear but for every moment he was silent I felt like I may have hit the wrong button. All of a sudden, he was not the Pasman I knew. The man that loved to talk about things as though they still mattered. He just suddenly went cold.
“I spoke to my lawyer yesterday.” I persisted still hoping to change his mind. “Our appeal has been accepted by the court and we are having a second hearing by Tuesday and according to her my chances of getting out of here are huge. She has found two neighbours of Freddie who can confirm they heard him arguing with someone in his house the night before. .She said they travelled that morning it all blew out and that was why they were not available to testify initially and now they are willing to testify that I didn’t kill Freddie.”
I was running out of options. I didn’t even know how we got here. I really shouldnt have asked.
“I only asked to know Pasman.” I said. “I mean if you didn’t do it you don’t have to be here. I could get her to revisit your case. I even told her about you and she was willing to help if you are innocent. You could be free. You could reunite with your daughter again. Isn’t that what you want Pasman? I can do it for you. I will. You don’t deserve to be here. You should be with your daughter.”
The quietude became unbearable I felt like grabbing him to his throat and punching the words out of his mouth.
“I killed her.” He spilled. His eyes were red and filling up with tears. “I killed my wife Daniel and no, it wasn’t an accident. I did it.”
He got up to the protectors, dignified in his rumination.
“I loved her. I loved Grace so much.” He began with so much profoundness. “She was everything to me but I was nothing to her. People tried to tell me that she might be cheating on me. I confronted her several times if there was another man but she kept saying there was no other man. I knew she was lying. My heart was beating and boiling every day I left the house, I couldn’t even concentrate on my job. I mean, it was hard to know that I was at work trying to make life worthwhile for her and she was probably in bed with another man that wasn’t me.”
He took a deep breath and returned to his bed where he sat and rested his chin on his palm. I felt his hurt even though it was unbelievable that he could be like this; broken and pained but he held his eyes tight and didn’t give those tears the chance to roll off.
“The morning it happened.” He continued. “I decided to return from work a lot earlier than usual. I had my mind set that she was with some other man. I sneaked into the house and walked upstairs to the room. It was locked at my first try open it and with the rage gathered up in me I broke through the locks with one smash of my feet on door and there she was naked and dumbfounded in bed with another woman.”
The flow of blood through my veins suddenly came to a halt and my eyes lost its reflex to blink. Pasman went into immediate hibernation as if a rush of cold wind came upon him.
“I was weak.” He said, bracing himself. “I was struck with confusion and I didn’t even know who the other woman was. I hadn’t seen her before then. I just managed to walk back down stairs to the sofa. I loosened my tie so I could breathe properly and process. She came downstairs crying all over me begging for forgiveness. I didn’t even know how I felt, it was not what I had prepared for. All rage and anger I had gathered up hoping the man she would be with was going to be someone I could take down with my fist but it turned out to be a woman, I mean what do I make of that? And the more she begged the more furious I became. I wanted to leave, go far away to somewhere and just process the whole mess but she wouldn’t let me go. She kept pulling me back begging, telling me not to tell anyone. The more I heard her voice, the more she touched me, the more I wanted to smash my head to a wall and just end it all. Hopefully that would feel a lot better.”
He took a moment.
“Anger is a bad thing son.” He posited and with so much outrage burning in the fists of his gestures “It’s like a blindfold and an endless struggle to get it off your eyes. Scratching, hitting, dragging, pulling and once it is off and your eyes are back to normal you are left with nothing but blood stains and regret.”
He relaxed and then turned to me remorsefully.
“Do me a favour Daniel,” he said. “Write to me once you are out of here. You are the closest thing I have to a family now and please if you can, help me find my daughter, send me a photo of her if possible at least let me know what she looks like before I die.”
Suddenly a tear rolled down his cheek and dropped on my heart.
“Tell her I’m sorry for not being a good father.” He continued. So did the tears. “Tell her I regret everything I ever did and if I had the chance to go back again I would think of her first before anything. Tell her I love her so much. Promise me Daniel. Promise.”
I have never seen a grown man cry. His flooded eyes dug a hole in my heart. A hole I must fill.
That month, my appeal came through. I was tried again; discharged and acquitted.
Like a chemical reaction I could feel my life changing for the better the moment I breathe the fresh air of freedom and it didn’t take long before I begun to miss my old man Pasman. I wrote to him the following week, telling him how the case went in court and how much I missed him and he wrote back. He had a timeless sense of humour.
The cell misses you not just me. I hope you have a good life ahead and I hope you never come back here. Please be good. Prison is no place for someone like you. That’s why I would be eating your own plate of food till they realise you are no longer a criminal.
Behind is the last address of where my daughter might be. Her name is Precious Kamalu. Thank you.
Your old man
Finding Precious became my utmost goal. The hole in my heart I was dying to fill. I went to the address on the letter but the new owners of the house knew nothing about the Kamalus. I went to the court house to dig up the file for Pasman Kamalu checking for his lawyer with the hope there was a chance we could bring it up again and get him out, but all to no avail. A month later I returned to the address but this time to the neighbours. Knocking on their gates one by one. Luckily for me one of them knew where I could find her. I got the new address and the following day I was out to the other side of town where I was told Precious Kamalu now lived with her aunty. Mrs Angela a middle aged woman with tinted hair golden tooth. I introduced myself to her and told her why I had come.
“So that murderer is still alive?” she said with so much disdain.
I was confused as to how to reply. I didn’t want to upset her by asserting and I was not about to join her trash talk my old man.
“It will really mean so much to him madam if I saw and spoke with Precious. That’s all he ask.”
“Well young man,” she said closing the gate on me. “Precious is not around she travelled and won’t be back till thy kingdom come. So go back”
“Please ma.” I held her back. “Take my number when she comes, have her give me a call.”
“No.” she protested. “That’s not going to happen. My sister is dead and won’t see her daughter again. Why does he get the chance to see Precious? Why is he even still alive? I’m sorry but no I won’t be granting that plea. He should have thought of that before beating my sister to her death.”
“I’m the one seeing her ma not him.” I pleaded as I handed a piece of paper with my number on it. “Just give Precious the chance. I’m sure she has something to say to him too and I think she has the right to hear the messages her father has for her.”
She gave it a thought. Out of her mind she took the number and banged the gate so hard to my face.
A month later I got a call from her that Precious was ready to meet with me. We set a date at a restaurant the following day and I went. The restaurant was busy, I didn’t know what she looked like so I glanced around for the tinted hair and golden tooth instead only to see a hand wave at me from the corner.
“You must be Daniel” she said and I responded with a nod still trying to figure out whom she might be. “I’m Precious. Precious Kamalu.” It was unlikely. “Sorry my aunty couldn’t make it but she gave a perfect description of you.”
I was short of words. She looked nothing like her father and sadly, she was no longer the 6 years old he had left behind. I saw a grown woman almost as tall as I was with a baby on the way and little boy of about three years seated besides her. And then there was a ring on her finger.
“Pasman say hi to grand pa’s friend.” She said to her son.
My heart startled. She had named her son after her father.
We got to talk about everything. Her life after the incident, how she dealt with it and the great support she got from her mother’s people. She was glad to hear from him and she accepted his apology letting me take photos of her and her little man. She may have not looked like her father but she shared virtually the same welcoming and storytelling spirit as him. That was where I drew the resemblance.
I sent Pasman the photographs and letter quoting their kind words the following week and he replied soon after with a tear drop stained letter where he thanked me endlessly with few words.
I can never thank you enough. You brought life to me again and you have no idea.
Thank you Daniel. Thank you for everything. Be Good.
That was the last I heard from him. He never replied my other letters that followed. I contacted the prison several times, but to no avail. It was not until I visited that I got to learn of his demise. He died of cold, they said. I guessed his heart froze because mine did and sadly the earth didn’t stop spinning.
I was grateful I had another chance at life again but I was more grateful I got to meet someone like Pasman Kamalu. Hopefully one day, like his Cherry white chocolate, My old man Pasman will be the story I will never get bored of telling.