Nigerian Piracy Pt. 1/Rabbit’s Man (Excerpt)

Pirates kidnap two U.S. sailors off Nigerian coast – sources

Thu, Oct 24 2013

By Joe Brock and Andrea Shalal-Esa

ABUJA/WASHINGTON | Fri Oct 25, 2013 1:04am BST

(Reuters) – Pirates attacked an oil supply vessel off the Nigerian coast and kidnapped the captain and chief engineer, both U.S. citizens, American officials said on Thursday as the Nigerian military ordered its Navy to rescue the men.

“We believe this was an act of piracy,” U.S. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said, adding that U.S. officials were closely monitoring the situation and seeking more information.

“At this point, we do not have information that would indicate this was an act of terrorism,” Harf told reporters in a briefing. “Obviously, our concern at this point is for the safe return of the two U.S. citizens.”

Pirate attacks off Nigeria’s coast have jumped by a third this year as ships passing through West Africa’s Gulf of Guinea, a major commodities route, have come under threat from gangs wanting to snatch cargoes and crews.

The U.S.-flagged C-Retriever, a 222-foot (67 metre) vessel owned by U.S. marine transport group Edison Chouest Offshore, was attacked early Wednesday, UK-based security firm AKE and two security sources said. The company was not immediately available for comment.

http://uk.reuters.com/article/2013/10/25/uk-nigeria-piracy-idUKBRE99N0GP20131025

AmenamDSCN1047

My former line of work involved being a radar operator in the security division of a multinational oil company stationed in the Onne/Bonny River, located in the Niger-Delta heart of Nigeria. For those seeking to find it on a map, that’s the south, south part of the country. The history of the piratical activity now engulfing the region predates the country’s transition during the late nineties from a long period of military rule to that of democracy. Even then it was more like a fuse to a stash of dynamite simply waiting to be lit.

I can’t supply the history as to how or when such activity actually begun, however I do vividly recall the period when it did, and what led it toward becoming the ugliness it currently is.

During the country’s first democratic election, politicians from various factions supplied arms to the indigenous youth to maim their political opponents. After the election was concluded, these armed youths, seeing the large cache of weapons at their disposal, morphed into different factions of so-called militant freedom fighters seeking armed struggle against the Nigerian government’s betrayal toward selling out their oil-infested landscape to the multinational foreign oil companies. The militants protested against being neglected from the proceeds, as well the environmental endangerment the oil companies were wrecking upon their inhabitant. The militants, for the next decade, involved themselves in an apparent cat-and-mouse gunfight battle with the Nigerian military and navy. They as well proceeded toward sabotaging various oil installations and platforms located around the region.

* * * * *

Excerpt from my Book: The Rabbit’s Man

They were alone in the world, just the two of them, surrounded by the dark, eerie waters of the ocean, facing the daunting night with the moon above their heads. But it was the weight of the silence around them that was threatening as they waited. Oge had killed the engine and not a single light was on; water slapped perilously against the keel. Kingsley checked the time on his watch and saw it was past midnight. Both men leaned against the guardrail by the bow section, staring at the night, taking comfort in each other’s presence, listening to the sound of the water rocking against the boat. The wind was cold and biting, and a mist hung over the water; Kingsley wished he’d brought a thick jacket along, or a sweater. The night around them was impenetrable.

“Scared?” his friend asked him.

“Ever a time one shouldn’t be?”

Oge shook his head. “I doubt there’ll ever be.”

“I can’t thank you enough for this.”

His friend shook his head dismissively. “I’d die in my heart if I hadn’t.”

They fell silent. Kingsley checked his watch again, marking the time; he could barely make himself keep calm. “We’ll give him an hour. If he isn’t here by one-thirty, we head back home.”

“Won’t that be disappointing?”

“We can only pray for the best. Not my fault if the bastard pilot doesn’t show, is it? I’d feel a lot safer being on land than out here like this.”

“Reminds me of a run I had six years ago, transporting stolen car parts: car stereos, chassis, gearbox—stuff like that. The guy’s partner over in Cotonou was supposed to meet us somewhere close to Brass. Just as it is for us right now, so it was that night; for two hours we waited, and still the guy never showed up. A patrol boat sighted us and gave chase, but we lost it around Tai-Obua Creek. That night, if I’d told myself I wasn’t scared of getting caught in this business, I would’ve been lying.”

“You had your illness then?”

“Wasn’t worse as now. I had drugs and some local herbs to take for it.”

They fell silent again, both of them staring at the dark, roaming waters around them. The boat rocked up and down from the gentle wave slamming against its hull.

“You know I find it hard sometimes wondering why I turned away from this life,” Kingsley admitted. “The question is always on my mind, and always the answer eludes me.”

“Some answers are best not known.” His friend cupped a fist to his mouth to stifle a wave of coughs that shook him. Kingsley patted his back gently while he spat phlegm into the water. Kingsley waited until he’d regained himself.

“I don’t really know why I keep thinking that way. Sometimes when I’m in my office, or at home, I’d look at everything around me, at what I’ve accomplished, and can’t believe it’s really me. I pretend sometimes that I’m living someone else’s life, waiting for him to show up and take over.”

“You won’t quit blaming yourself for everything, will you?”

“It’s hard, Oge. I know it’s wrong; I can’t seem to shake it off.”

“I doubt if you ever will,” his friend pushed back his cap and scratched an itch on his forehead. “You can’t but try. Stop giving yourself crosses to carry—no one made you Jesus Christ. My condition could have happened to you, or Sammy, or any other fool. Nothing you can do is ever going to change any of that. Period.”

“I wasn’t talking about changing anything, Oge. I know I can’t change any of what’s already happened, but still . . . ” He was fishing for words to express what he wanted to say, but not finding any, he gave up with a sigh.

“Still what? Quit beating yourself with this, will you? What makes you think if you’d stuck around you wouldn’t have been dead by now? You ever stop to think about that?”

“I have. Time after time, I have.”

“What does that tell you? You think God made you Superman, that you can stop anything from touching you? You’ve got yourself a good life. Go on living it and leave the past alone.”

“I still don’t understand how come you never left this line of work? What is it that’s kept you with it?”

“Honest truth? I was sick and stubborn. I needed the money, and I had little to lose. Besides, I was never a thinker like you. There was no way the rest of us could have fit into your shoes, my friend. You left when you knew you had to. That wife of yours, does she know about this?”

“No. I’ve always wanted to tell her, but didn’t know how. I figured she’d hate me if ever she found out.”

“She will someday.”

“Too late, she already has.”

Oge turned to look at him. “I guess she didn’t take it too well, did she?”

“That’s one way to put it. I haven’t seen her since Friday—she took the kids with her. I tried calling her phone but no luck.”

“I’m sorry. She’s still in the city?”

“I think so. Probably staying with a friend or a relative.”

“I feel your pain. Don’t worry, she’ll come around. My woman too quarreled with me when she found out I was still doing this, but the situation changed her mind about it. Now her only command is that I return home safe every time I’m out the door. She said she’d prefer me dying in bed than finding me in a police cell.”

They shared a burst of laughter together, the sound of their voices the only thing echoing around them. Minutes later, there came another dull, distant sound from high above them toward the east. They trained their eyes upward, at first seeing nothing but the moon and empty sky. His friend was the one who spotted the outline of the plane hovering in a circular route, swinging at a low trajectory twenty miles from where they were. Oge got a pair of Night Vision binoculars from inside his wheelhouse and gave it to him. Kingsley held it to his eyes and with sufficient aid of the moonlight was able to make out the model of the plane as it circled closer: a Cessna 185F Sky Wagon possessing amphibious floats.

“That’s our bird,” he said to his friend. “You have that signaling lamp of yours?”

“I’m on it,” Oge replied and left to search for what Kingsley wanted. He returned with the lamp: a six-foot metal contraption shaped like a lollipop. Kingsley waited until the plane was in range before nodding to his friend. Oge flicked the switch on, then off, on again and then off, giving the pilot the required lighted signal to approach. “If there’s any patrol boat around, there’s going to notice this.”

“Yeah, I know,” Kingsley kept the binoculars fixed on the plane. “Let’s pray the worse doesn’t happen.”

The plane made another circuitous arc above their heads before starting its descent; the sound of its engine was a loud, throbbing whir cutting through the night’s quietude. Kingsley and his friend held their breaths as the plane lowered itself to earth; Oge stood with one foot in his wheelhouse and looked at the surrounding mist in case trouble appeared and they needed to be away quick.

Then came the moment when the Cessna touched water. They watched as its floats kicked up a high crest of water on either side as it sped toward them, coming to a slow halt thirty feet from them, its floats bobbed on the disturbed water. Oge started his boat and brought it just shy of the plane’s port side, their bow facing its aft section. Kingsley stood with one foot on the boat’s edge, as close as he could get to leaning his head under the Cessna’s wing. The pilot, a grizzly looking fellow, opened his cockpit door and smiled at him; an overhead light came on.

“You’re Johnson, right?” asked the pilot.

Kingsley nodded. “I take it you’re Smith.”

No handshake was required, just a curt nod. “Sorry I took so long getting down here,” Smith said, reaching behind to open the cockpit’s back door.

Kingsley balanced his feet on the float as he crossed over to the plane, his hands grasping the underside of the wing, wetting his feet as he almost slipped into the water. He extracted the three black duffel bags stacked over each other inside the plane. His friend positioned himself behind him, taking the bags from his hands and dropping them onto the boat’s deck. Oge unzipped each bag and checked the contents. He gave Kingsley a thumbs-up when he was done. Smith handed Kingsley a clipboard with manifest papers attached to it, and Kingsley managed to scrawl what resembled a signature where the pilot indicated him to. The pilot took back the clipboard, satisfied.

“I’ll be off, then.”

“Likewise,” Kingsley said. He pocketed his pen and jumped back on the boat. Oge started his engine and navigated his vessel away for the Cessna to make its run. They watched it race on the water’s surface before taking off back into the air. The sound of its engine dissipated as it blended with the night sky.

“Thank God that’s over. I guess this means we’d best be heading back,” his friend entered the wheelhouse and brought his boat to life. He went in the direction against the wind, where he knew land was.

* * *

Lionel Parrish sat in his briefs beside the table in his room, his laptop open before him. The girl lay asleep on the bed with the sheets half covering her nakedness. His eyes were focused on a slow-moving red dot on his screen, which gave him a quadratic two-dimensional map readout. He had already forwarded a message back home, informing them of his subject’s arrival at the drop point, and of his scheduled morning appointment at Governor’s House. He couldn’t wait for the night to hurry onward.

He ran a hand over his lips. He wished for something to drink right now, something to appease his tongue. It was late, and the shops outside had long shut their doors for the night.

He looked at his Thuraya phone, which stood on the table, waiting for his mule to call again. If only he knew, he smiled to himself.

He continued to stare at the dot on the screen.

* * *

They made it back to the creek with no surprises along the way. It had been a tense ride, and Kingsley felt relieved as they approached Igor’s Bend. For him the hard part of the journey was over, except for his ride back through the jungle.

“Looks like we’re home free, King,” his friend echoed what was on his mind.

“Looks that way. I couldn’t have done any of this if not for you, Oge. I can’t thank you enough.”

“Just don’t forget my share once you’ve made your sale.”

“You have my word on that,” Kinsley reassured him. “Believe me, you have my word.”

His friend brought his boat alongside the creek bank and Kingsley jumped out onto dry land; the van was still there waiting for him. His friend assisted him in moving the duffel bags and shook hands with him once again.

“Take care with that stuff you’re carrying,” Oge said to him.

“I will. You’ll be hearing from me.”

They said their goodbyes before his friend pulled his boat back into the creek and headed for home. Kingsley heard the boat grumble away as he picked up the bags one after the other, moving them toward the back of the van. He positioned his torch and unzipped each bag to stare at its contents.

The first bag was laden with AK-47 assault rifles, Swedish-made by the looks of them, each wrapped in tight cellophane nylon. He took one out, tore off the plastic wrapping, and ran his hand over its framework. It brought back memories as he held it, feeling his finger curl around its trigger guard. He counted fifteen inside. Not bad. The second contained plastic-wrapped Heckler and Koch MP 5 rifles, twenty in number. The third bag contained five cartons of ammunition for either weapon. He zipped the bags back and laid them in the back of the van. He turned on the Thuraya phone and dialed Lionel’s number.

“What’s up?”

“I’ve got the goods,” he said.

“That’s good. You’ll be getting in touch with your opposite, right?”

“I will.”

“You do that, then.”

The line went dead.

Kingsley switched on his cell phone and got Sammy’s number from it, then dialed it on the Thuraya. It took three tries before the call went through. Sammy’s gruff voice answered hello at the other end.

“Sammy, it’s me, King.”

“King! Was expecting to hear from you. Any good news?”

“Good news. I’ve got what you need.”

“Tell me.”

“Fifteen AKs and twenty-five H&K with ammo.”

“I’m going to need more than that, King. But it’ll do for now.”

“Where do I meet you?”

“You recall the abandoned gas station my boys left you at the other morning?”

“No, I was too dazed to remember where it was.”

“Where are you right now?”

“Igor Creek’s Bend.”

“Hmmm, give me a minute. Hold the line.”

Sammy took two minutes before returning to him.

“Just checked my map. You’re not far from the station. When you get onto the main road, drive for another five miles, and you’ll find the gas station on your left. When you get there, call my number and my boys will come and get you. I trust you’ll be alone?”

“No one here but me.”

“I’ll be expecting you then.” The call ended.

Kingsley closed the van’s back doors then got into the driver’s seat. He switched off both phones before starting the car. The sound of the van’s engine broke the silence in the meadow. He couldn’t wait to be back on the main road.

* * *

Toji found no comfort in falling asleep. Even with his eyes still open, his body ringing with tiredness, he bore the notion that the world had spun twice on its axis in the last twenty-four hours, and he was the lone human being on the planet who took actual note of it.

He was in the kitchen of his small apartment, stirring a cup of tea, still wearing his work clothes with his tie loosened and shirt buttons undone. He felt reluctant to undress and go wash off in the bathroom. A hot shower would do him a lot of good, he knew this, but he reckoned a hot shower would do nothing but cloud his current state of mind. For now, he required every cell in his brain to remain alert. It was too early for him to shut down just yet.

He pulled out a chair, sat by his kitchen table, and drank his tea. He winced at the taste—he’d added more sugar than necessary. What the hell, it was still tea. His gun in its holster as well as his notebook and cell phone lay on the table before him. He had tried Kingsley’s number but still no luck. He saw his investigation outlined before his eyes and couldn’t stop going over every known fact and figure in his mind, cross-referencing them with whatever assumption of piece of missing puzzle his mind could conjure. A sharp arrow pointed at the mystery Brit: What was he up to, and what amount of hold did he have on his suspect? And why him?

Frustrated, he drained his tea and washed the cup in the sink. He had just finished rinsing it when his phone started ringing. He dried his hands quickly before picking it up. The time was 1:51 A.M.

“Hello?”

“Good morning, sir. This is Frank Odim, the intern you met at—”

“Yes, yes, Frank, I remember you. Any word yet?”

The doctor’s voice sounded grave. “Yes, sir. We finished less than ten minutes ago. I’m afraid I have bad news.”

“Oh, no,” Toji muttered. His hand found his chair and he lowered himself on it. With the phone in one hand, his other pressed against his temple, he listened to the doctor’s words without interrupting, wishing the night would end suddenly and take him along with it.

* * *

Kingsley came out of the dirt road an hour later and barked harsh laughter that sounded like joy as the front tires of the van came upon the tarred asphalt of the main road. He turned right and continued driving. Rest assured, he knew it was going to be a smooth ride until he got to his next stop. Whatever was bound to happen after Sammy’s boys got hold of the weapons, he couldn’t foresee.

He came upon the abandoned gas station on the left shoulder of the inbound lane. The structure was as it was the last time he’d seen it with hardly any noticeable change. He drove into the station’s courtyard and turned off his headlights and engine and sat there with both hands on the wheel, waiting. Everything was quiet and still. He switched on the Thuraya and called Sammy to let him know he’d arrived before switching it off and dropped the phone on the passenger seat. The weight of sleep hit him with a vengeance. Kingsley reclined his seat backwards and let the sleep claim him.

He wasn’t aware when they came for him. He had dozed off and was too weak and disoriented to fight back when the van’s doors came open and a pair of hands pulled him out of his seat. Kingsley would have fallen on his face if they hadn’t held him—there were two of them. They propelled him toward the back of the van without a word and opened the back doors. One of them dropped a cowl over his head and tied it behind his neck. They held his arms behind his back, and like before, bound his wrists; he offered no resistance. They shoved him inside the van and made him lie on the floor beside the duffel bags. Kingsley heard the van’s doors slam back and heard the lock turn. He listened to the sound of their feet coming around to the front and heard both front doors open and then slam shut. Someone started the van’s engine, and the vehicle jerked forward as they drove off.

The cowl’s fabric stank of sweat and pressed against his face each time he breathed though it. Kingsley half raised himself and wiggled his body against the bag pressing at his left shoulder, searching for a suitable means to rest his head, even as the van kept jostling him around. The fatigue that was upon him was so great, he allowed it to drag him to sleep again.

 

Lemmon’s Journey (Excerpt)

2013-09-09 15.27.19Before I quit living in New York, I thought of writing something to carry the memory of my time spent there in the Big Apple. Of course it was the month of February. The snowfall hadn’t lessened, and I wasn’t yet used to the cold. I’m a son from the Sahara. Being cold is never something I’m used to.

During my stay, I wrote a short novel titled ‘Lemmon’s Journey‘. A story about an old man traveling from his small mid-western town to new York City in search of his lost daughter and grandson. I haven’t published the book yet, and I’m still double-minded if ever I will showcase it. Here’s an excerpt from the first chapter. The story is kind of dark, and moves at a slow pace, so be patient.

* * * LEMMON’S JOURNEY * * *

The beginning of Lemmon Grandee’s second life began on the morning of the first weekday of March in the small town of Sheffield. A crisp morning just like any other, except this was a morning he’d wished to avoid. He had been dreading the arrival of this particular morning for months. Matter of fact since last year, knowing it was going to come no matter what. There was no avoiding the future. He turned sixty in February, so he of all people should know that. The future comes to you, as sure as death does.

His ears caught the rumble of a train in the distance and seconds later his eyes blinked open. He spied the onset of dawn through his window curtain. He was up usually before dawn, but not today. Today he wanted to grasp the moment, as if remaining in bed would drive away the inevitability of what today meant for him. Anything to stall the time. He took his feet out of the sheets, sat on the side, and massaged his face with his hands. Behind him echoed his wife Abby’s snoring breath. Wind blew against the French windows, ruffling the curtains. He admired the back of his hands with abhorrence at the way his slack flesh seemed to bunch around his knuckles, making his skin appear gnarled, like it was the first time he was seeing his flesh like this. His skin reminded him of a molting lizard. Lemmon looked to the window and observed the sky turning a shade lighter. His eyes went to his glasses beside his bedside lamp, but didn’t reach for it He left the bed as quiet as he usually did so as not to wake his wife, and grunted when he flexed his spine to lock his bones back in place. He stepped out of the room to start getting ready for the day.

His hand searched the bathroom wall for the switch and turned on the light. He washed his face in the sink then admired his reflection in the mirror. He hated everything about the face that stared back at him. It wasn’t the face of a man sixty years past his prime and content about it. His face was like that of a man awaiting his hour on prison death row, awaiting his moment to take the needle. It was hard to imagine he’d ever once thought of himself as young and handsome. Where have all the years gone? He pulled at the flesh of his cheek with his thumb and first finger as if it were a mask he wanted to rip off to reveal his hidden flesh. Nothing happened. He was saddened by the dowdy, pockmarked features with thick crow lines etched under his eye sockets. His gray-blue eyes stared back at him with cold resignation. They were the eyes of someone who no longer had any care for the world, resigned to its whims and caprices. His stubble of beard appeared gray as the ones on his head.

Lemmon forced the muscles under his cheeks to exude a smile to his lips; the whole thing felt contriving and stiff. He removed his pajamas and stepped back from the mirror to admire the rest of himself. His hands inspected his paunchy frame, his droopy pair of arms. He raised both arms up, down, and over his head like one performing rudimentary calisthenics, then finally he felt the heat under his arm pits. Everything seems normal, he smirked at his reflection. Wasn’t expecting anything else.

Lemmon shaved before stepping into the shower stall. Everything about him was slow and purposeful. The water rained down on him and he hummed a tune as he went about his business. Finished, he waited for the water to dry off before grabbing his towel outside the stall.

He was fixing his cuff links when Abby came awake. She rolled to his side of the bed and looked up when she didn’t find him lying there. He was wearing a stripped black and blue tie, a gift from her on his birthday last year, though this was one of the few times he’d decided wearing it. Today seemed like a fitting occasion after all. He wiped the lens of his glasses on his arm before returning it to the bridge of his nose.

“Morning,” she said to him.

“Good morning,” he replied. “Thought you weren’t waking up for another hour.”

She stretched her limbs and yawned. “Was afraid you’d gone already.”

“Another couple of minutes and I would have.”

She rubbed her fingers against her eyes to view him better. “You’re looking smartly dressed today.”

“It comes with the reputation.”

“You going to stop by the market on your way back?”

“I will,” he said. “Today’s the day, you know what I mean?”

“Yes, I know what you mean. You got the list?”

“Yeah, I’ve got it. I left it in my coat pocket before I came to bed last night.”

“I know it’s late, but do you need me to make you breakfast?”

He picked up his jacket where he’d draped it at the back of a chair. “No need, I’m already late. I’ll grab something at the cafeteria.”

“I thought you said you can’t stand the food they serve there.”

He shrugged. “I’m making an exception today.”

Abby came off the bed and walked round the bed to him. She straightened his tie for him and smoothened the shoulders of his jacket with her hands. She was a year younger than he. Her shoulder-length blonde hair had gotten lighter over the years. While his features had turned downcast over the years, hers remained sunny and smiling. The edges of her lips curled as if always in the mood for something hilarious. He seethed with envy sometimes reckoning that between the both of them, he was the only one who had aged. It wasn’t fair, he screamed inside himself. My God, life just ain’t fair!

“How’re you feeling?” she asked him pretty much the same way she’d have asked if he’d brushed his teeth already.

“I’m far from being great,” he said. “Other than that,” he concluded with a shrug.

“You shouldn’t think things too seriously. It’s not the end of the world, you know.”

“Gee, what a relief. I’m feel a lot better if the world really was coming to an end today.”

“Stop being naughty, you’re not fooling anyone, buster. And pull your chin up. You’re a good man, Lemmon,” she said to him solemnly. “I love you, and I’m proud of you. And they would, too.”

“Yeah. I guess so,” he managed a wry smile. Anything to take off the dour mood he was feeling. His wife gave him the real thing and kissed his cheek. No matter what, he could always count on Abby for strength.

“Stay strong. I’ll see you when you return.”

“Me, too.”

He picked up his suitcase and left the room. He wore his coat and hat from the rack beside the front door. Abby came to the living room in time to watch him open the front door and step out into the front porch, into the morning sunlight. She stood behind the porch’s screen door and watched him walk down the driveway and turn left, heading toward the bus stop.

He was ten minutes late to make the 7:00 A.M. bus and had no choice but to wait for the next one supposed to arrive in the half hour. He exchanged perfunctory pleasantries and shook hands with other familiar commuters there. Ironically he wished for the bus to take forever in coming—he won’t mind the wait.

The bus arrived a minute past its scheduled time and he and everyone else clambered inside and took their seat. The door shut and the bus drove on and they all watched the neighborhood slip past. A young kid rode by on a Schwinn, hurling rolled-up newspapers at each home. People sweeping the front of their stoop, unlocking their shops, some standing in their bathrobe on their porch drinking something out of a cup in their hand. It was the same picture he saw day after day each time he rode the bus to work. A lot of the neighborhood had changed over the years, like that wasn’t supposed to ever happen. Plenty of folk come and gone: some deceased, others relocated to a different town. Old homes torn down and new roads built to expand the Wal-Mart shopping mall here in Sheffield. The train yard was about the oldest piece of property still standing—a relic since the town’s founding years—rolling across whatever was left of the mid-west frontier like it’s got anyplace else to be. Lemmon relieved the same gloomy picture every miserable morning he woke up to get to work.

By the end of today, he knew none of this would matter anymore. This was going to be the last time, he hopped, in a long, long time he got to travel this route again.

The bus got to his stop which was a twenty yard walk from the intersection to the Birdwell Packaging Factory. The same company he’d worked thirty-six years of his life. Its brownstone structure stared back at him, each day welcoming him to his office located in the admin building behind. It was an unimpressive building that an eyesore each passing year. Looking at it, the building reminded him of something out of a Charles Dickens novel where sinister accidents happen to good people with little livelihood. How fitting it would be if a tornado hurled along, or even better a fire happened and burnt down everything, thought Lemmon as he approached its gate.

He’d started at the bottom and worked his way up to his current position, from meat-packer to Chief Production Manager. That was as high up the management ladder he could go. Today was his last day on the job. The company was downsizing and cutting down workers and staff they could do without, starting with those who’d attained or approaching retirement age. His name had unarguably made the top of the list. He’d been aware of the rumors since it started making rounds last year. Lemmon was grateful that through all these years he’d made it to this epic moment. Still it stuck a wedge in his heart knowing after today he won’t be walking past this gate anymore. Final and none after. So many memories, good times and bad, it felt hard giving all of that up in the space of a day.

He exchanged pleasantries with the security fellow seated inside the pillbox beside the gate before walking toward the building. He walked toward the end of the first phase of his life.

* * *

He was in his office eating a sandwich and doodling on his desk blotter when Simon Birdwell knocked at the door and stuck his head in through the opening. He was the grandson of Arty Birdwell, the patriarch who’d started the meat-packaging company. The same man who’d hired Lemmon back when he was a pup and wanted to earn a living prior to when he made Abby permanent in his life.

“Hi there, Lemmon,” Simon smiled at him. “You got a minute? Hope I wasn’t intruding or nothing.”

“No, not at all. Please come in.”

Lemmon dropped his pen and sandwich and wiped his hands before shaking his boss’s hand and offered him a seat. Simon was in his mid-thirties. To Lemmon he had the smug, cynical outlook of a kid who hadn’t yet become a man, at least what his impression of being a man ought to be. The same kid now held power over thousands of others working in subsidiary branches of the company across the country, like his old man before him. That was where the similarities ended between father and son. The truth was Simon never gave a farthing for the meat-packaging business. He was content been a major shareholder than the undistinguished Joes like Lemmon who ran the machinery of the place. He made it obvious with his flashy brevity whenever he dropped by to check on the well-being of his staff.

Lemmon satisfyingly counted his stars that he wasn’t going to be here to witness the painful losses the company was going to make down the road. The recession had taken a huge bite at the meat industry, and the pain was far from over.

Lemmon was lucky he’d be leaving with his pension intact, though he couldn’t vouch for others soon to follow. Other poor sobs too will be getting the booth, but right now all eyes were on him.

They were hosting a party for him downstairs in the cafeteria at closing hours. Presently he was on lunch-break. He had opted to have his meal here than head down there and be the brunt of clamoring handshakes, smiles, and shoulder patting from his soon-to-be former colleagues. Lemmon didn’t want none of it and didn’t think he could stand the sight of them, though he knew in the end he was going to have to brave up and join them. It was his party after all, even though he wasn’t happy being the centre of attention. Already he thought he saw through his colleagues’ phoniness, all probably rejoicing about him getting shafted: Lemmon’s an old fart, anyhow! Surprised he ain’t dropped dead a long time ago. Then there was the annoying questions they’d most likely throw at him: What you going to do once you’re gone, Lem? Got any future plans? Lemmon doubt he could concoct a lie to satisfy such probing questions, especially when the truth scared even him to admit. The truth was he had no idea what he was going to do once he woke up tomorrow and realized he wasn’t needed here anymore. The past months since the impending rumor, he’d wrestled with plenty ideas of what to do with himself as the time approached and still couldn’t picture what his retirement life was going to resemble. It hurt to even think his way around the problem. He was like a sailor on a skiff lost at sea to a raging storm and didn’t know which direction the sea was carrying him to.

“How’re you doing, Lemmon?” Simon asked him.

“I’m doing good. Thank you for asking.”

“You looking forward to retirement?”

Lemmon shrugged as he thought how best to answer. The image of him lost at sea played in his mind. “Nothing to do but ride the waves when it comes.”

Simon laughed. “You’ve got enthusiasm all over you, I like that. Most old geezers here would be crying their eyes out right now.”

That hurt to hear, but Lemmon rolled with the pain. “It’s not going to be the end of the world. Good or bad, I’ll make it through.”

“That’s good to know. My grand dad was always fond of you, you know. The same with my dad, too. I know he’d been happy to be here today.”

“Yeah, I feel his loss. The same with your grand dad. They were both good men.”

“Yeah. It’s hard living up to your parent’s expectations, you know what I mean? Lots of trails can be too much of a burden, if you ask me.”

“It’s tough, but no pair of shoes you can fill besides yours. Nothing we can do except try,” said Lemmon. He couldn’t help it that he was suddenly thinking about Gloria and his eyes became misty and distant. He looked past his Simon’s preppy, gregarious features at the window across the room which faced the east section of the compound. “It’s hard, but we’ve got to try. One step at a time.”

“That’s a good motto,” Simon complimented before getting up from the chair.

“Anyway, I thought I’d head down and meet with you. I don’t know if I’ll be around for the party. If by any chance I’m not, I want you to know it’s been a privilege with you working for us all these years. And no matter what, you’ll be getting everything good that’s coming to you.”

Lemmon got up and shook his hand. “Thank you very much. You’re too kind.”

Simon nodded. “Well, take care, Lemmon. I’ll be seeing you.”

Simon let himself out of the office leaving Lemmon to resume stewing in his lonely misery of noting the clock’s hour hand run toward the inevitable. Lemmon returned to his sandwich but couldn’t find the willingness to finish it. He opened a side drawer and found a napkin and rolled the sandwich in it then into his thrash bin it went. Lemmon’s eyes fell on a picture frame he’d laid face down on the bottom of his drawer. He hadn’t thought of the photograph in a long time since he placed it there. He took it out and wiped the film of dust on its glass surface with his palm and stared at the smiling features of his daughter, Gloria. It was an old photograph taken when she was twelve. A pre-pubescent smile on her face facing flickering candles of a birthday cake while he and Abby crouched beside her smiling as well.

A long time ago it was. Back then he knew what it meant to have a smiling face. Not anymore. That ship had long sailed, never to return again. Not since Gloria walked out of their lives.

Lemmon returned the photo to its place and slammed the drawer shut. He knew he would retrieve it when time came for him to gather his personal stuff, but for now the memory of his lost daughter was too much to bear looking at.

Lemmon resumed his doodling and turned his eyes away from knowing what the time was on his watch.

 

To read the rest of this chapter, visit my website, or simply follow the link below: http://www.damiendsoul.com/#!Lemmons-Journey-Excerpt/cosm/BE2D99F3-1734-419B-B0DA-651FBF72E3DF

 

You Bleed Just Like Me

image

You bleed just like me.
The crops from which you feed
Began as a seed,
You wed the one you love
Shed tears for those who’ve gone
Your offsprings spring from your loins,
You nurture their growth:
Hatred is what you fill their heart and soul.

You bleed just like I
Though your tongue speaks different from mine;
Your skin is black, same as mine
So why do you despise me so bad
Simply because we come from separate tribes?