The air was crisp with tension, so electrifying the people in the room could actually feel it course through their bodies, it was past twelve and the phone still hadn’t rung. Everyone in the room was huddled around the table on which the phone was seated willing it to ring, every second that passed by felt like an eternity, and then the phone lit up and filled the room with its sound, somewhere in the room, someone gasped. Emeka picked up the phone and put it on speaker.
“Hello?” He said tersely.
“I want twenty million in stacks of hundred dollar bills, which should fit nicely in a large school bag; I will give you an hour to put it all together, no funny business. I will call by 1.30 with further direction.” The phone went dead immediately.
An hour later the money had been packed in the school bag in hundred dollar stacks as the caller had instructed, while Emeka waited impatiently for the phone to ring.
“What if we give them this money and they kill my daughter?” Mrs. Eze asked and rebuked herself immediately for thinking such evil thought. “But such things have happened, what if these guys take the money and still refuse to release my daughter?!”
“Nne Chidi, you need to stop thinking like this, just pray everything goes as planned, so far they have not given us reasons to doubt that they will release Becca, moreover I have over fifty men working on this case and we will try to intercept them during the exchange. So do not worry, I will do everything in my power to bring my niece back home safely and to your arms.”
It had been a hectic afternoon, gathering the twenty million had been harder than expected even though the money was readily available; the curb on daily withdrawal from the banks had made it almost impossible to remove large sums at a time from the bank either from the ATM or over the counter, so they had had to use several accounts and different people, the trick was trying to keep a low profile and not to raise suspicion, which was going fine until they had gone to make the last withdrawal; which involved him going with his sister-in-law to the bank; this was a joint account her husband and her had shared for more than two decades and had used to save for the kids and a rainy day; it could not get any rainier than today.
“…I am sorry ma, but due to the CBN directive, we cannot allow you make such withdrawal and I will have to notify management, who in turn are duty bound to report to the police.” The clean shaven man behind the marble counter stated diligent and unsmiling.
Mrs. Eze wanted to scream, but her brother-in-law’s arm on her shoulder acted as a pacifier of sort, so she breathed in and said calmly,
“I have done business with this bank for more than a decade, I have known all Branch Managers and every cashier by name and for Christ’s sake, it is my money and I can withdraw however much I want!” She could not help the last part.
Calmly the bespectacled Cashier said; “It might be your money, but I am not allowed to give it to you; that is the law.”
What happened next caught the people in the large ventilated space off-guard, first Catherine Eze had gone mortally silent and Emeka had braced himself for a tirade of words but instead her face crumbled and she started to cry, to the dismay of the Cashier, who looked completely uncomfortable about the whole situation, searching left and right for a colleague to come help him out but no one came, they all seemed as perplexed as he was. All transaction stopped as he and Catherine became the center of attraction; the various eyeballs felt like a million darts and made him feel uneasy.
“Catherine you have to get yourself together, we do not need to attract the wrong kind of attention.” He spoke calmly into her ear.
“What is left for me, eh Emeka? My husband is lying in the hospital and my daughter is God knows where and these people do not want to give me my own money! Which kind of country do we live in, where no one has no control of their own lives?”
“Play it cool please, people are watching!”
“Let them watch!! Ah, ah, what is it; this is just too much for me! Let them watch Emeka. Ike agwu gom! (I am tired)”
“What might be the problem?” A man garbed in a well-tailored suit asked, entering the booth of the Cashier attending to them. “My name is Agaba Dura, I am the BM here, and how may we help you?” He sounded genuinely eager to help them but Emeka knew he was trying to avoid a PR disaster; this was just damage control.
“Can we speak somewhere private?” Emeka asked softly.
“Of course, let’s go to my office.” He said with a smile, before leaving the booth. “Carry on.” He said to the Cashier, flashing a smile to the other customers.
He led the way upstairs to a glass partitioned cozy office, not to too small but functional, a huge photocopier sat on a small stool behind his swivel chair, a small printer; a file holder and an open laptop were the only occupants of his big table.
He waited till Mrs. Eze regained her composure and was settled in, before asking; “How may I help you?”