Leonard Jaro Otone, the 6th of 8 brothers and sisters. His father wasn’t exactly poor at the time of his birth but he wasn’t rich either. The family had to share 3 rooms in a mouldy apartment and they all drove to church on Sundays stuffed in a Peugeot 505 station wagon but they were happy.

To little Leo his dad was a god, unlike his friend Chuka whose father beat them incessantly and who didn’t have a car. Chuka’s mother was perpetually pregnant with that petulant baby glued to her limp breasts simultenously, Leo recalled them going to church and school by somehow cheating gravity on a rickety suzuki bike and how they trekked the whole distance back home because their father wouldn’t pick them up from school.

Leo never was able to forget his fathers’smiling face when he got back home from work. Business was doing good at the vegetable oil processing factory he ran at Sagamu on the outskirts of Lagos, they lacked nothing. That was until the new democratic government opened the gates for imports. In a few months the markets were saturated with imported Malaysian vegetable oil, the factory suffered severe price fluctuations as a result, got into huge debts and closed down.

Everything changed after that. His jolly father couldn’t deal so he drank and turned on his mother and them, 10 year old Leo saw the same glint of evil in the eyes of his father, that he always saw in the eyes of Chuka’s dad and knew he was lost. When they were 15 Leo and Chuka fled home to commence a brutal existence on the streets of Lagos.

At first they hawked anything they could lay their hands on to motorists and passengers in the never ending hold ups the choked up city roads created. Then they discovered theft and burglary and found it a whole lot easier than running round heckling in the unforgiving heat. By the time they were 20 they had become so adept at property redistribution that the underworld took notice of them; they had attained the remarkable feat of puzzling the police in all their operations.

With each successful heist the boys became bolder and moved to ever more affluent neighbourhoods. Then they met Olabode. He was the quintessential gutter rat, he knew the streets inside out, from the best fences to drug dealers and gun runners. In no time they put together a 12 man gang and veered into robbery. It was all hazy in Leo’s head now but a particular operation would be seared in his heart indelibly.


They had cased the house in a highbrow Ikeja neighbourhood, for 3 weeks Leo and his cohorts had studied the inhabitants go out and come in with little variance in their activities. They were predictable. The robbers noticed the absence of a man, just a mother with 2 daughters and a son who couldn’t be more than 11. In the time they spent conducting surveillance they had noticed visitors coming around only on weekends and it was hardly ever at night.

The evening they went in for the kill, they followed the mother on her way from work around 7P.M as was habitual. The gateman got his head bashed for resisting as they swooped in and one of the robbers stood in his place to mount a look out for the police.

Leo dragged the heavy set middle aged woman out of her Toyota Land Cruiser.
“You make any noise I kill.” He whispered menacingly as he grabbed at her necklace and rings. She was made to knock and as the door opened they trooped in taking charge.

“Everybody lie down and sleep!” The robbers shouted in unison propelled by adrenaline. “We will not hesitate to kill everybody here if you give us headache.” Leo trumpeted as he led the woman to the centre of the sitting room. “Now madam I want you to take us to where the cash and valuables are in this house.”

She complied quietly and led them obediently to the master bedroom. As Leo followed her he noticed the pictures of a soldier hanging all over the house but thought nothing of it. The amount of wealth in the house had been stupendous, far outside what they had bargained for, from laptops and phones to boxes of jewellery and beads to a suit case of raw cash.

In the exhilaration of their good fortune they didn’t hear the sirens and car horn blaring outside, their sentry rushed in to report the situation. They were all doomed and Leo was shocked breathless, he saw Chuka shaking like a palm frond then his brain kicked into gear.

“Make sure that gate stays locked!” He screamed. “Oya pack the bags let’s move.” The robbers dragged their booty desperately to their get away car, the banging on the gate got heavier as they piled into the car. Leo Pushed the door shut and made to walk towards the gate.

“Are you not coming with us?” Chuka asked, his words teetering on the verge of hysteria.

“I have a plan.” Leo replied plaintively, throwing his gun into the car. The sirens outside flashed feverishly sending chills down his spine. He opened the gates hurriedly, one of the soldiers walked angrily to him.

“Wetin make you waste time like that?” He asked frowning.

“I been de help madam on generator before.” The robber replied humbly.

A slim man got down from the shiny black mercedes in the middle of the small entourage just then, he was wearing an ankle length kaftan. This was the soldier on the pictures inside the house. Leo gritted his teeth, they were in hot pepper-soup.

“What is going on here?” He spoke gently, like a man much too accustomed to having people obey him.

“I’m inquiring why it took him so long to open the gate sir.” The soldier replied stiffly.

The robbers watched petrified from the car.

“Where is Abdullahi?” The man kept his gaze level at Leo.

“I was employed this morning Sir, I don’t know Abdullahi.”

The slim man lifted his brows momentarily before walking towards the house. Leo heaved an imperceptible sigh of relief. The man stopped briefly when he saw their get away car, he held his forefinger to his lips then walked into the house.

Leo kept his pace measured as he walked towards the car.

“Drive!” He yelled as he dove in.

The car revved into life. They hit the side of an incoming escort vehicle trying to find parking space within the compound as they reversed in full speed. Adrenaline surged within them, the soldiers were in hot pursuit now, sirens wailing.

“Move it!!!” They shouted simultaneously at the driver anytime he had to slow down. The soldiers had opened fire on them, they responded, shooting from the already broken rear-window but the soldiers driving on both sides of the road kept them suppressed as they tore the car to bits.

Chuka whimpered like a pup, the others prayed desperately to gods they had ignored the most part of their short lives. Fear held Leo in a trance as the car tumbled and spun. He felt everything and nothing at the same time before an overpowering darkness swallowed him.


2 thoughts on “DEEP BLACK SEA – LEO

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