Story: My Name Is A-ZED Season 2

    A preview

    ****
    At first, I could only see her back. Her dark blue jeans skirt perfectly accentuated her wide hip and small waist as she bent to put the bag of pure water on the ground. She straightened and turned around. I swallowed. Her large, round b-----s were straining at her t-shirt, and they bounced with her every step as she walked away towards her mother, turning a smile in my direction. I walked back to my spot under the tree slowly. My mouth was suddenly dry, and it wasn’t because of the pepper.
    She reminded me of Fadeke. It had been a long time since I was attracted to any woman, and I could feel the now-unfamiliar stirrings. Poko and Audu had noticed the look on my face, and I prepared myself for their teasing.
    Poko was talking. “That girl fine pieces. Abi wetin you think?”
    I grunted and continued eating.
    Audu looked at me and snorted. “No dey form like say you no like am. I see as you dey look at am. If you get chance you for like enter her parole.”
    “That one no go be today. I want money, and the time wey oga give us make we go chop don almost finish. Make we do commot from here”, I said.
    “Oga leave that side. You like the girl or you no like am”?
    I could see that he wasn’t going to let go about this. I turned around to face him. “Whether I like her or not is not important. I want to finish work and collect my pay today.”
    “All this grammar wey you de blow na for your pocket. E dey show for your face say you like am. If yo u like dey talk Obahiagbon there. She dey look you now sef. Go follow the girl talk. Abi wetin you think Audu?”
    “Leave A-zed. When you catch am na when he go start dey blow English for us. You no go dodge this one. We don catch you.”
    “Guy free me abeg make we chop dey go. My money concern me pass any girl as I dey now.”
    “Shior.”
    ****
    “Heysssssss – TAXI! TAXI!” That is the unmistakable sound of a client interrupting my thoughts. I meander my way out of the traffic and park by the road where a man in an over-sized suit and a carrying a leather bag is beckoning and calling for a cab. I can’t see his face clearly but he looks familiar.
    “Yes sir, good evening.” I call to him.
    “I’m going to Gbagada.” He says, efficiently.
    “Phase 1 or 2 sir?”
    “Phase 1” He says.
    That’s not far off my route home. Perfect final fare to end the day.
    “That’s fine sir, it will cost five thousand naira, sir. Since we will spend almost three hours on the road in this traffic and the AC will consume a significant amount of fuel. I hope you understand sir.”
    “Okay.” He replies and slides into the back seat.
    “Thank you sir.” I call out, catching his face’s reflection in my rear view mirror. All of a sudden, I begin to sweat.
    Mogbe.
    I know him. I know the man sitting in my taxi, behind me but luckily, he does not know me. I mean, he knows who I am but he has never seen my face before. Thank God!. I try to keep my head low and not speak, but he wants to talk.
    “You are very polite and you speak very good English for a taxi driver. What’s your name?”
    “They call me Azed, Sir.” I tell him carefully.
    ****
    She had been ill for a while, but she had made progress when Uncle Mufu brought her to Lagos, and was back on her feet and had returned to Ibadan, even though she was still weak. I talked to her almost every day, and she sounded stronger each morning. Everyone around her testified she almost back to her normal bubbly self. Then she heard the news, and she had a stroke.
    When I got the call, I rushed down from Lagos to Ibadan, driving like a mad man and praying all through the journey. I pulled up in front of her house, my heart beating like a crazed drummer. The house was as silent as a cemetery, and my fear increased. There were no children playing in front, no sounds of pots clanging or water running or neighbors quarreling. My feet echoed as I climbed up the stairs and walked along the corridor, fear eating at my belly
    “Dem don carry am go hospital.”
    I nearly jumped out of my skin. The little girl was looking at me from the balcony with something resembling laughter on her face as she saw how startled I was. Her thin gown clung to her chest and I could see the outline of her ribs. I recognized her gaunt, drawn face. It was Lolade, one of the neighbor’s children.
    “How are you, Lolade? Which hospital them carry am go?”
    “UCH. My mama say make you call am when you reach here. She go tell you.”
    “Thank you.” I was already making my way back to the car, fumbling for my phone in my pocket.
    I got directions and raced to the hospital, pulling up in a cloud of dust and noise. I ran in to find Lolade’s mum pacing the corridor.
    “Doctor say we lucky say we bring am here when we bring am, say she for die.”
    Her quivering finger pointed out my mother on a stretcher being wheeled into the ward. She looked very pale and in great pain, and was unconscious. A nurse was beckoning.
    “Are you her son?”
    I nodded, unable to trust myself to speak.
    “She had a stroke, and we fear there’s still a blood clot somewhere in her brain. She would need surgery soon, but we need to stabilize her first. We can’t wait past this week, though. By then it may be too late.”
    I shuddered in fear.
    “We need you to sign these forms, and go to our accounts department and settle the bills before we can start any treatment. Please pay as quickly as possible, so we can do what we need to do.”
    I collected the forms with shaky hands, my Adam’s apple moving up and down as I tried to get saliva past the lump in my throat. The invoice buried among the prescriptions and registration forms made my mouth even drier. I did not have anywhere near the sum quoted there, and I had less than a week to raise the money.
    ****
    “When I left the nurse, I went outside and thought long and hard. Then I called someone I know I should never have called. I called Akeem.”
    ****
    The last time I had seen her, she had been wearing a ripped top and an expression of resignation as we walked down a corridor to what we thought was certain death. She had been slimmer then, for sure, and her eyes had more of the sparkle that was youth and vitality, but there was no mistaking she was the same person I was seeing. Her body had matured and rounded and she had more lines around her eyes and mouth and forehead, but it was the same person. I would know her anywhere.
    “Kassy?”
    All four heads whirled in my direction with expressions ranging from shock to bafflement. Kassy was half-naked, the upper part of her blouse ripped to shreds and showing off her b-----s, one of which was hanging out of her bra. Her feet were spread and tied to the chair by the ankles. Red eyes and puffed-out cheeks gave away the fact that she had been crying, and the vacant stare in her eyes showed that she was in shock and still trying to come to terms with the effects of the last few minutes. Her mouth dropped open in recognition as our eyes connected, and her head snapped back, clearing her eyes of the shock and restoring alertness and vitality into them. We locked eyes for a few seconds and then she did something none of us was expecting.
    ****
    She was trashing on the floor, tears mingling with her sweat and the blood from the two wounds on her body, and I find myself feeling sorry for her. She reminded me of my how Mother cried when I was leaving home, and tears poured down my cheeks.
    “You, why you dey cry? Come here my friend.”
    Austin’s voice was strident. I jumped to my feet.
    “Enter kitchen go bring me salt and small eeru. No waste my time, or na you go follow dem.”
    I took the lantern and went into the kitchen, my mind in turmoil. I had no idea the escape would pan out this way. Austin was out of control, and I was powerless to stop him. I saw Mother’s face in my mind’s eye, and she didn’t look happy with me. She looked ashamed of me.
    I wondered what I could do to end this as I packed up some ash and took a handful of salt, stretching my hand and standing on tiptoe to reach the topmost shelf where the salt was kept. The hot lantern brushed against my side, and I dropped it in pain and shock. It fell against the floor and shattered, and the light went out, plunging me into darkness. The lantern in the parlour was still shining, and I headed towards it, one hand leading the way and the other on the wall to navigate by. My shins and knees bumped obstacles out of the way, and with a final flourish, I turned around the corner of the doorway and into the parlour.
    My jaw dropped at the spectacle before me.
    ****
    There are few things more painful than driving a car with a manual gearbox while your torso, arms and legs were riddled with shotgun pellets. It is the muscular equivalent of pulling teeth without anaesthesia, and by the time I pulled up in front of the house I was going, the chair and floor of the car had been soaked with blood. I dragged myself out of the car, ignoring the protests from my legs and arms and crawl-dragged myself to the door of the house I was going, knocking feebly on the door with my last reserves of energy. The door was opened and after a millisecond of motionlessness, the mouth of the occupant of the room fell open too.
    “What are you doing here?”
    “I came…here…because you….are the only person I could trust,” I managed to gasp out.
    “What?”
    Her voice was both surprised and curious, until she noticed by bloodstained jeans and the pool of blood gathering at her feet.
    “Oh my God. What happened to you?”
    PROLOGUE
    Lagos na wah.
    Today is a surprisingly good day. It’s almost 8 pm and I have already made ten thousand naira today. Perhaps I never should have stopped driving a taxi. Perhaps it’s what I was meant to do with my life. One more fare is all I need to take me out of Badore, past Ajah and in the direction back home and then I can buy Temi the baby stroller that she says she needs for Remi. Thankfully, I’ve just received a notification that a rider has just requested a pickup using their Uber app and I’m not too far from where he is. Hopefully, he is going in my direction and I don’t need to break up my homeward journey. It’s not easy driving people around this insane city, and I know I can be doing much better jobs but I think I am content to drive this commercial car now, all things considered. It is much better now when I do not need to wander aimlessly around and can conserve my fuel and time and link up with fares easily. Sometimes, I shake my head and wonder why I ever stopped my taxi driving. It was for the best, though. If I hadn’t stopped, I wouldn’t be here now. Besides, everything has happened before and everything will happen again. There is nothing new under the sun. I have already left this life once and it did not turn out well for me. No point trying again when I already…
    My phone vibrates. That would be my client. He said he would be waiting under the bus shelter. I meander my way out of the traffic and park by the road where a man in an over-sized suit and a carrying a leather bag is beckoning. I can’t see his face clearly but he looks familiar.
    “Yes sir, good evening.” I call to him. “Were you the one who requested a ride with the Uber app?”
    “Yes, I was. I’m going to Gbagada.” He says, efficiently.
    “Phase 1 or 2 sir?”
    “Phase 1” He says.
    That’s not far off my route home. Perfect final fare to end the day.
    “That’s fine sir. We will spend almost three hours on the road in this traffic and the journey is quite far. I hope you understand sir.”
    “Okay. That’s no problem.” He replies and slides into the back seat.
    “Thank you sir.” I call out, catching his face’s reflection in my rear view mirror. All of a sudden, I begin to sweat.
    Mogbe.
    I know him. I know the man sitting in my car, behind me but luckily, he does not know me. I mean, he knows who I am but he has never seen my face before. Thank God! I try to keep my head low and not speak, but he wants to talk.
    “You are very polite and you speak very good English for a driver. I mean, I know you guys using this app aren’t like regular taxis but you sound so refined. What’s your name?”
    “They call me Azed, Sir.” I tell him carefully.
    “Azed? Short for Azeez?”
    “Yes sir. Exactly.”
    “My name is Raymond,” He offers. “Nice to meet you, Azed.”
    “You too sir.”
    “So Mr. Azed, talking to you I really don’t understand…” He says.
    “Understand what sir?” I ask carefully. I know he will never connect the dots or understand just how connected we are but deep down, I am still worried.
    “How come you are driving people in this Lagos? You sound like you have some university education. Can you tell me, if you don’t mind… why?”
    “The money is good. And… well… circumstances sir. Sometimes life just tells you what you are meant to do.” I say, tersely.
    “Circumstances? What circumstances? How?” He clearly wants to know about me. I don’t think I can shake off his interest but I try anyway.
    “It’s a long story sir.” I say, trying to discourage him.
    “Shebi you said we have three hours to reach Gbagada? I want to hear this your long story. My battery is dead anyway. So I have nothing else to do. Please.”
    I sigh, resigning myself to this. Perhaps I need to tell someone this story anyway. Get it out of my system. And if fate has put this man in my cab despite all we have been through, keeping him unknowing, then maybe he is the one to listen to me. But…
    “I’m not sure where to begin telling you from sir.” I say.
    “Azed, start from the beginning. The very beginning.”
    And so I do.
    THEY CALL ME A-ZED

    EPISODE 1

    POT OF BEANS
    ****
    Life in Lagale village where I lived was quiet and unhurried. Rolling hills rose from the fertile plains on the west side of the village. The plains themselves were crisscrossed with m----s of tilled and cultivated soil, and they produced tubers, grains and vegetables, providing food and trade for the village. On the gentle slopes and peaks of the hills was a dense forest. The forest was filled with squirrels and rabbits and antelopes and birds, and the villagers worshipped before the round, white rocks on the banks of the river that passed through the forest. People said it was a beautiful place, but I never liked it. I never noticed its alleged beauty or the way the villagers said that the rising sun framed the hills and village like the work of a good artist. Even until the end, I kept trying to see what they saw, and I couldn’t. I did not care. I knew why I couldn’t see the beauty they spoke of. I was too unhappy.
    I missed Ibadan, where I grew up. I missed the sound of traffic moving past my window in the mornings. I missed the hot, stuffy classroom and the dusty field on which we played football and ran. I missed my house, my bed, the iron, the television. I missed Bola and Waheed and Segun and Chuka and Sani and all my friends.
    I missed my parents desperately. Even my father, whom I never even liked.
    I missed father’s jokes and stories, how he threw back his head and how his huge stomach jiggled up and down when he laughed. He may have left us and gone to his other wives and families, but when I thought of him then, I missed him. He may have been a cad, a boor and the person who broke my mother’s heart, but when I thought of how he helped me do my assignments or patch my football, I wanted to cry.
    I missed mother. I was always hungry, and the little pieces of fish and meat she used to give me when she was cooking were a distant memory in that village. I missed mother’s hugs and affection. I wished I could see her and spend time with her but even then I knew that it was the faintest of faint wishes.
    I heard footsteps coming into the compound, and I picked the broom I dropped and leapt to my feet. Idleness was not encouraged there. My growling stomach reminded me that I had already lost breakfast, and the large pile of leaves and huge bundle of clothes in the corner was telling me that I was in danger of losing lunch. Oga’s wife had been very explicit: my lunch depended on my washing and hanging up the clothes before lunch time. The fact that I also had to cook lunch and fetch water from the stream to wash the clothes was of no importance to her. It wasn’t just hunger that was driving me, though. I had learnt, in my time here that it was in my own interests not to set any member of the family against me. It was a battle I couldn’t win, and one I frequently came out from with injuries.
    I lived with my oga, his wife, his daughter Yemi and their animals in a large compound near the middle of the village. I called him oga, but in reality, he was a distant relative: the son of the cousin of my grandfather. To the outside world, my oga was a successful, rich cocoa farmer, a leading light in community and to the family, but to me he was a fearsome person given to frequent, terrible bouts of anger, which were often directed at me. To me, oga was a monster.
    I can still remember the first time he hit me, just two days after I had come to stay with them. I had left the back door of the house ajar after sweeping it, and a goat had walked into the house. Oga had walked to the back of the house where I was bringing in water from the stream, and slapped me so hard that it was 3 days before the ringing in my ears stopped, and a further week before the pain left. I threw the basin of water at his feet and screamed as the pain bounced around the inside of my head. He looked at his wet trousers as I lay on the floor screaming in pain, and lifted me off the floor and slammed me into a wall, his scream of anger matching my own scream of pain. His rage sated, he kicked me twice in the chest and walked away, my bloodied lip and bruised chest testament to his rage.
    I think the seed of hatred and fear was sown that day.
    A shadow fell over me, interrupting my thoughts. I looked up to see madam towering over me, her face creased into a frown with sweat pooling between the fleshy folds and pouring down her face. She was breathing like a comedian’s poor imitation of a marathon runner, but the look on her face was anything but hilarious. I dropped the broom and ran up to her.
    “Welcome ma.”
    The words had barely left my mouth when I was knocked to the floor. The handbag was making another arc towards my face when I shot my arm out and blocked it off in midair.
    Madam was furious. “You no go kill me for my husband’s house. My own pikin never kill me. My daughter never kill me. No be you go kill me. I go kill you before you kill me”
    ‘Abeg ma. Abeg. I’m sorry.’ Her bag was in my hands in a death grip, and I was pulling her towards me from my prone position on the floor. “Abeg ma. No vex”.
    Her voice went up an octave.
    ‘Make una come see this boy wey wan kill me today o. you dey follow me drag force for my own house. See this useless pikin wey he mama no fit take care of. You no sabi do anything. Na just to dey chop my food, dey give me wahala. Now you wan dey follow me fight for my own house. Na me and you go die today.”
    In a corner of the compound almost directly opposite the door through which she came was the kitchen shed. It was constructed from stout logs of bamboo with palm fronds for roofs and as walls. In a corner of this shed, close enough to the wall to avoid draughts but not so close enough to burn it down was a stove constructed from a tripod and firewood. I was too busy begging and protecting myself from madam’s anger that I forgot I had started making lunch.
    “Mama leave am move back.”
    Madam was looking over my shoulder, and she let go of the bag she was holding and jumped back when she heard her daughter’s voice. I started turning around to find out what she saw. I wasn’t fast enough.
    Something wet poured over my neck, back and shoulders naked shoulders, and then rolled down my torso like an avalanche. I felt the wetness first, and then the roughness. Less than a blink of an eye later, I felt the heat rolling over me like a vortex and swamping me in its fury.
    I let go of the bag and screamed.
    Clouds of moist steam rose from my chest and arms into the air like a worshipper’s prayers. My skin blistered, the hot water-and-rice-and beans mixture transforming it into a patchwork quilt of colour and texture. I screamed again and jumped off the floor as the hot grains ate into my skin like acid. Most fell off but a few had found their way into my shirt and down my trousers, and I jumped up and down, blistering my feet in the hot pile of rice and beans on the ground. A movement caught my eye and I ducked and weaved just as the glowing brand of wood Yemi had swung at me whistled past my head and struck my bare shoulder, dying with a sizzle.
    My scream was bloodcurdling, louder than the first time.
    Yemi’s mother was aiming a slap at me as I screamed. It connected with a solid twack, knocking me to the floor. Yemi was advancing with a pot in one hand and a stick of firewood in the other, and I shot to my feet before she could hit me with any of them. My blistered feet protested my sudden movement, but I paid them no attention, because Yemi’s mother had grabbed at me and was pulling me towards her.
    There was a drum of water beside the kitchen shed, just under the eaves where there was a shade. It was about half-full, as I had not been able to fill it up that day. Yemi’s mother was pulling me towards her and Yemi was pulling her hand back to slap me when I yanked myself from her grip, ignoring the sharp, sudden pain that came when the skin chafed and peeled off and sped towards the kitchen, indifferent to the curses and threats coming from the women behind me. The drum was open, and I jumped into it, sighs of relief mixing with my tears of pain as the cool water touched my burning skin.
    “Yemi leave am. No follow am. He go don learn say next time when I give am work do, make e do am fast fast.”
    The footsteps that were coming towards the drum stopped and turned, becoming fainter as they walked away.
    “You, when you commot there, throway that water, wash that drum well, fill am again. And wash those cloth wey I send you. I no go tell you again.”
    Somewhere in the direction of the house, a door slammed.
    The tears were still streaming down my face in the drum where I crouched. I wiggled around in the tight space and lowered myself further till the water covered my shoulders and neck. My heart thudded in my chest, and fear coursed through my veins. There was only one thing I could do. It had crossed my mind before, but I really hadn’t given it much thought. As I lay wounded and bleeding in that drum, I knew what I had to do. I was going to run away.

    EPISODE 2

    RUNAWAY PIKIN
    “Useless boy. Omo ale jati jati. See ehn, if you think you will be in this house and become like Austin, it’s a lie.”
    I jumped to my feet in shock, narrowly avoiding tripping over the pile of firewood at my feet. Yemi was at the door leading from the compound to the latrine, and her face showed she had heard every word we had been saying as we talked in the banana grove. I ducked just in time as Yemi flung a pot cover in my direction. I was a bit confused. I had washed the plates as she asked, and the balcony had been swept clean and scrubbed of goat droppings. I didn’t understand why she was angry, and I was even more surprised she was comparing me to Austin. I hadn’t done anything wrong.
    “Ti n ba ri o around Austin, ma fi oju e ri mabo (if I see you around Austin, I will show you). You will tell me what you’re using him to do. As for you two, ori yin ti baje (your head is not correct). If I see you near the house again, ma se yin lese (I will destroy you). Common bo sinu ile yi (get into the house) my friend.”
    I left Shittu and Kolapo and ran inside the house. Even if her pinched, sour-looking face was not enough warning, I had learned from experience that Yemi did not make idle threats. I would find out what Austin had done later.
    I knew Austin by reputation, as did everyone else in the village. Parents exhorted their kids not to take after him, and children were threatened with all kinds of punishment if they were caught talking to him. His father was a rich, successful farmer who had disowned him when he found him trying to sell off his house. Austin had refused to apologize or show remorse and had shrugged and moved out of his father’s house and into the market, where he survived by his wits, his strength, and by doing any odd jobs he could get. When some youths had tried to force him to leave town, he had viciously attacked their leader, broken his hand and beat him up that he couldn’t walk for a week.
    His notoriety only spread after that, although it was difficult to pin the blame for anything on him. Traders, farmers and women lived in terror of him. He swindled shoppers, stole from traders, and was suspected of being behind the disappearance of several chicken and goats. It wasn’t difficult to believe he was behind the vanishings- his bulbous head, tiny shifty eyes, quick hands, permanent mischievous sneer and furtive manner made him suspicious. When Baba Yekini’s goat went missing, Austin was the obvious suspect, especially as he had admired and commented on the size of the goat the day before. Austin swore that he had nothing to do with the missing goat, claiming that he was at work with the laborers constructing the new road. He disappeared for more than a week after that incident, and returned looking even more sinister and evil-looking. He was also dressed in new clothes, and walked around with a huge smirk on his face.
    Naturally, such a person was treated with cautious suspicion and fear by most grownups in the village, although, to the great dismay of their parents, all the children of the village admired him. Among the children and younger members of the village, he was venerated and his escapades were discussed in the tone of voice used to describe a life-transforming vision of angels.
    It was to Austin I went when I realized I needed help to run away.
    ***
    I met him at dusk, in the shade of the trees at the fork in the road leading to the stream. He was sitting on a rock and looked at me with a lopsided grin on his face, curiosity blending with wariness as to what made me rebel and decide to approach him.
    “Wetin you want? Ki lo fe? Ki lo wa ri mi fun? (What do you want? Why are you here?)”
    Mama Yemi was expecting me back from the stream in time to make fufu for dinner and people were passing by. I didn’t want to be discovered. I went straight to the point.
    “Mo nilo iranlowo re. Mo gbo pe ko si oun to soro fun o labule yii. (I need your help, I heard there’s nothing hard for you to do in this village)”
    His lips trembled, almost as if he were resisting the desire to laugh. The look on his face increased to one of deep merriment.
    “Talo so iru isokuso yen? Eledua nikan ni ko si oun to soro fun (Who told you that nonsense. Only God fit do everything). Oya so nnkan to fe (say what you want). I don ask you before you never talk.”
    “Abule yii ti sumi. Awon eeyan kan fe gbemii mi. Mo fe salo si Ibadan. (I’m tired of this village, some people want to kill me. I want to run away to Ibadan.)”
    He looked at me, his face not showing any reaction.
    “Talo so fun e pe emo ni oko lati gbe e lo si Ibadan? Oko, mi o ni, ajagbe, mi o ni. Ki lo mu o ro pe mofe ran e lowo gan?”
    (Who told you I have a car to take you to Ibadan? I don’t have one. Why do you even think I want to help you?)
    In answer I raised up my shirt.
    Austin jumped back in shock.
    “Ah! Ki leleyi? Wetin be this?”
    My stomach was an uneven patch, and dead, black skin hung in strips side by side and above lighter skin. Pus flowed out from the blisters, and in some places the skin had not grown back over the bleeding sores. I had torn a few of my old clothes to wrap around and stop the bleeding, and they were yellow and red from absorbing the fluids flowing out. It was a revolting sight.
    “Na my madam pikin pour me hot water. I no get power again. I don tire, I swear. I wan go.”
    Austin’s tone softened as he looked at me crying and wailing. “Wetin you come want make I do? Wetin you want make I do now?”
    “See ehn, I don tire. I wan comot. I wan run away. Anywhere sef. I go find my way reach Ibadan. Make I just dey go. I no wan make dem kill me.”
    “Calm down my guy. Why you go dey cry? You no be man? Why you dey do like woman? Nobody go kill you.“
    The tears slowed to a sniffle, and my heaving chest slowed to more regular movement. “Abeg help me”
    “Oya, which time you wan run?”
    “Anytime you tell me say you ready. I ready comot now sef if you don ready.”
    “No be so. E no easy like that. No be something wey you go just do anyhow. Dem go call police for you. Dem go find you go ya mama house. You fit even die for road sef. You go need plan am.”
    “Ah. Ok. So when?”
    “I go tell you when everything don almost ready, but e fit reach like two weeks. My own be say, you go settle me. I no be church. Find one beta tin for dat house wey I fit sell and just dey expect am like that so you dey ready wen I come.”
    “Thank you. Na God go bless you.”
    “Abeg carry your God dey go. No be only God. Find me beta tin for dat their house, if not, me sef go pour you my own hot water.”
    *****
    The wind whipped through the windows of the room in which I lay, and the force of the wind rattled the shutters and slammed the window frames against the lintel. When I still lived with my parents, I had been afraid of the dark, and mama often had to leave a lamp or candle in my room before I could sleep. It seemed ridiculous now that such a little thing as darkness could scare me but it did. I ignored the dark and the noise. My only real concern was that weather could spoil my plans in multiple ways. Sleep tugged at my eyes, and I dragged myself off the bed and to my feet, forcing my exhausted body to the window. What I saw did not improve my mood.
    The night was dark, a deep darkness as far as I could see, and apart from the occasional firefly, there was no light breaking the darkness. It was also very quiet. The only sounds I heard were the sounds of the forest: antelopes walking around, leaves brushing against each other and the animals running. I could also smell rain, and my heart increased its pace. I forced myself to calm down thinking that panicking wouldn’t help me, and provided the rain didn’t fall heavily, it could even serve to my advantage.
    As I waited, my eyes went over the part of the room in which I slept. Most of the room was occupied by the chairs and a small center table. In one corner was a small wooden chair which needed repair and a fourth leg. Under it was a small bag containing all of my life possessions. The mat from which I just stood was just beside the chair. The tears stung behind my eyes. I had never felt as choked-in as I felt that night. The walls seemed to close in on me as I looked around. I couldn’t wait to leave there.
    I hoped my escape would take place that night. The combination of thick darkness and the impending rain were a combination that may not occur again till it was too late for me. My plan depended on Austin, and it was him I was waiting so impatiently for. I wondered why he was taking so long.
    Just as I thought I couldn’t take the mental torment anymore, a stone struck the wood of my window and rolled onto the clay floor. I barely heard it because of the thunder rumbling in the distance and the pounding in my chest but I saw it roll forward. I hurried to the window and whistled softly the way Austin had showed me. An answering whistle came from the darkness below me.
    I could barely control my happiness. You know how it feels when, just as you’re about to pass out from thirst on a hot day, you find a basin of cool water? That’s how I felt. I tried to force myself to remain calm. There was still a long way to go.
    Austin’s face appeared at the window. I lifted my hand to throw my bag to him, but he signaled for me to step back. I watched confused as he lifted himself over the sill and plopped at my feet.
    “Wetin you dey do? Make we dey go now.” I whispered, a little angry and confused.
    “Relax mai fren. Wey my own thing first?”
    I handed him the gold bracelet that madam had left on in one of her clothes three days ago. She normally didn’t check the clothes I washed and ironed for 3 days after I returned them. Unless I forgot anyway. Then she wouldn’t waste one minute before descending on me.
    Austin eyed the bracelet and then put it in his pocket.
    “We no fit commot. Rain wan fall, and the way e be, e go be the kain rain wey dey carry person. E go be better rain.”
    “Why you come come enter? My madam dey house. If she come see you nko?”
    “I gats come. I be no wan make you think say I don bone you. If for say way dey make I reach you, I for send you message. But no way dey. Na why I come.”
    “But wetin go happen now? If we no de run, you sabi say you no go fit stay here. Wetin wan happen?”
    “Wetin you dey talk? Make I enter rain back? Which kain nonsense talk you dey talk so?”
    “No be so. That my madam na winch. She fit come my room anytime come beat me.”
    “Ehen?”
    “The woman eye no dey close when she dey sleep o. Any small thing, she don wake. I shock say as you enter sef she never wake.”
    “That one go be problem o. I be like who go dey fear your madam? My own na say I no fit enter this rain wey wan fall. Nowhere dey where I fit perch?” He asked, a sharp glint in his eye.
    “All this place tight. You no go fit hide here. Make we quick think am find how we go manage.”
    “Ehnnn.” Was the only sound he made.
    “Austin?”
    Nothing.
    “Austin?”
    He still did not answer me. I watched his face and suddenly was taken with shock.
    Austin was not looking at me at all. Instead, he was smiling and looking over my shoulder at the spot where my madam stood, her face displaying wild shock and anger, and her mouth opening to scream.

    EPISODE 3

    DO UNTO OTHERS
    Austin jumped to his feet and lunged. His hands wrapped around her throat just as her mouth opened in a scream. The scream was cut off as it left her mouth, coming out as little more than a squeak. Without breaking his motion, Austin pushed her to the floor, landing on top of her and using his free hand to cover her mouth.
    I stood unmoving. Everything seemed to be happening in slow motion. Austin’s kick and frantic whisper brought me back.
    “Why you dey look like dondi? Shake body come join hand here!”
    Madam was struggling on the floor, and Austin was trying his best to bring her under control. He needed my help. I bent down and joined him in holding her, pinning her hands to her sides while Austin continued choking her. As soon as she went unconscious, Austin removed his hand from her mouth and turned to me.
    “Go find something wey I fit put for im mouth. And rope wey I go fit use tie am”, he ordered.
    I was looking at him in shock, and my feet refused to move. Austin didn’t repeat himself. He took her dress in his hands and tore off a piece which he used to tie her hands and legs, and placed another piece in her mouth.
    “Where your madam pikin? Where your oga?”
    “She dey room. Oga travel.”
    “Make we go there”, he said, the gleam in his eye more pronounced.
    I led him down the corridor and around the corner to Yemi’s room. He removed a small knife from his pocket as we walk and I heard the “click” as he opened it, but I only looked at him and said nothing. When we reached the door of the room, I let him walk past me.
    In one corner of the room, a kerosene lamp was casting long shadows, and we used its light to move by. Austin walked like a cat on foam, and without a sound, he reached the bed and pressed the knife against her throat. I was not far behind him, and I gently tapped Yemi awake. She awoke in instalments her mind still unclear from sleep. When she saw two men standing over her, her eyes widened. They cleared and she came fully awake, focusing on the both of us and the knife at her neck.
    “Correct girl,” Austin growled. “E good as you no shout”.
    “Tie am”, he whispered at me.
    I tore the bed sheet on the bed and tied her hands and legs, and put another bit of cloth into her mouth. Austin pocketed his knife after I finished and helped me carry her to the sitting room. We placed her beside her mother, and stepped back.
    Yemi’s wrapper had fallen open as we lifted her, and it lay in a tangle on her thighs. Her b-----s were hanging out, twin round m----s of smooth brown skin, and I found myself leaving Austin and walking over to her. She tried to twist away as I approach, but she was too well tied up. I paraded in front of her and her mum, the blood rising in my ears as I realized the women were in my power. I could do anything I wanted to them. It was a powerful feeling, and I was enjoying it. Austin reached out a hand to touch her b-----s just as in the distance, a dog barked.
    I stiffened my back and returned my focus to the task at hand. The sky was changing from a deep shade of black to a light shade of purple outside the window. More c---s were crowing now, and slowly, gradually, the world was waking up. I pulled Austin over. From the look on his face, he was thinking the same thing I was.
    “Abeg leave am come make we talk wetin we go do. You know say morning go soon come. Make we dey go now.”
    “Go where? See big house like this, big madam like this and you think say I no go collect something before I go. If na even one gold chain, I must to collect. You think say I no sabi beta thing?”
    “Shebi I don already find you something now..”
    “Leave that one. Say you find me something mean say I no go fit find myself something? I know say you wan run, but me be hustler. I dey hustle as I dey so. E no go bad if me sef find better thing here come follow you run commot this village.”
    He leaned over madam, yanking the gag from her mouth. “Where your gold? Where your money?”
    She was looking at him like a drugged rabbit, saliva drooling from the corner of her mouth and her eyes wide in fear. Her mouth opened and closed, but nothing came out.
    “You no wan talk abi? You think say I get time to waste for here?”
    He put the gag back in her mouth and came over to me. “You sabi wetin you go help me do now? Just waka go that kitchen find me knife. Two knife. I no go chook them, but I wan shalo dem make dem talk. This ones dey here dey waste time. Me no get time. Then if you see rope, bring am come. Do quick abeg.”
    I did as he said. When I returned, he was bent over his captives, and he took one knife from me, pointing to where I should put the second. Austin smiled and sneered in their faces. “You no wan talk abi? Na just one time I go ask you again. WHERE YOUR MONEY?”
    He yanked the gag from madam’s mouth, releasing a torrent of babbling and begging. The knife at her throat was a warning which she understood and obeyed, and the scream she wanted to release remained lodged in her throat.
    “Tori Olorun. No kill us. Jo. We no get money for house. Na my husband dey hold the money and he no dey house. Abeg. No kill us. I use God beg you.”
    Austin made a sound like an angry pig and looked at me. “See this woman think say I dey play for here. Just quiet there. If I wan kill una I for don kill una since, and nothing go happen. I resemble small pikin for your eye? If you no get money come show me where your gold dey.”
    She was looking at me, tears streaming down her face. “Jo, omo mi….”
    Austin threw back his head and laughed, a short, bitter laugh filled with irony.
    “Who be your pikin? You no sabi that one when you dey pour am hot water?”
    Before she could say any other thing, I reached over and stuffed the gag back into her mouth.
    “I no be your pikin. God forbid. You are wicked, and na God say make I no die for your hand. No dey call me pikin now. You dey talk sorry. Na now you sabi beg.
    Yemi’s wrapper was still open and her struggling had moved it further down her thighs. Her nether regions lay open, her smooth thighs a promise of lusher pleasures further down. I caught Austin looking at them. There was a wild, distracted gleam in his eye, and I did not like it. We were running out of time. I pulled him to one side.
    “Wetin dey happen now? Time dey go.”
    “No worry, no worry. No be help I don dey help you so? This woman wan stop my hustle. No lie. Dey look wetin I go do. we go soon commot.”
    “Madam, you go answer me or you no go answer me? Where your money?”
    The noises behind the gag and the shake of the head did not convince Austin. He took one end of the rope and tied it to the lintel of the door, then signaled me over. Together, we carried Yemi over to where the free end hung. Her wrapper fell off, and her thighs glistened in the lamplight, framing the dark forest between her legs. Austin licked his lips and wrapped his hands more tightly around her, easily overcoming her resistance. He held her in place while I tied her as he directed with her hands behind her back and attached to the free end of the rope.
    “Madam, I don ask you and you dey waste my time. Make I ginger you small.”
    “Clear am”, he said to me, making the motion with his foot.
    I didn’t want to, but I needed Austin to leave the house, so I swept her legs out from under her.
    The “pop” her shoulders made was loud enough to be heard even above the crowing c--k announcing his awakening to the world. Her arms were swept backwards and upwards and her naked buttocks struck the ground hard like a slab of meat dropped on a butcher’s table. Sweat erupted on her forehead and gathered between her b-----s, trickling down like a stream. Her eyes widened, her nose flared, and saliva escaped from the side of her lips as the scream she had let rip bubbled in her throat and came out little more than an explosive sigh.
    A stream of urine escaped from between her legs, pooling around a crack on the floor. She moaned again and tried to lever herself to her feet. Her feet slipped in the puddle and she fell back on to the floor, where her scream of pain was held back by a forceful exhalation of air and the rag in her mouth. Her eyes were big and pleading, and her tears mixed with her sweat and streamed down her face and into the puddle.
    Behind him, madam’s eyes were wide in shock and fear.
    “You don ready answer me? Or make I ginger you again?”
    Austin walked over and lifted Yemi to her feet. Her relief was short-lived, and I looked away in revulsion as he kicked her feet from under her again.
    This time, she fell straight down and her arms shot up, breaking her fall and stopping her before she struck her bottom on the floor. She wouldn’t have felt the impact even if she had, because she had given a groan of pain and slumped to the floor unconscious, her arms still above her head.
    “Austin abeg make we dey go. She say money no dey hou…..”
    He rounded on me, furious. “Keep quiet there. Just close your mouth siddon for chair quiet. No make I vex for you sef.”
    My eyes moved between his darkening face and the knife he had in his hand. He looked like he was going to stab me, and I backed away slowly, going to sit in one of the chairs.
    Austin hefted the knife in his hand. Without missing a beat, he grabbed madam’s head by her hair and ran the knife through it, tossing the clumps on the ground. The sharp knife did its work well, and when he was through, her head was an uneven landscape of scalp and hair patches. He reached between her b-----s and sliced downwards, tearing the gown she had on into two halves. Her huge b-----s dropped off to the ground on either side of the roll of fat that is her stomach. I averted my eyes as he turned her over in disgust.
    “See as your body be like amala, but if na to wicked, you go sabi am well well. Useless woman you think say na my time you dey waste. I go show you.”
    I sank into the chair and watched from behind my splayed fingers as he retrieved the second knife, waved it in the air like he was about to perform a magic trick and struck her exposed back with it, using the flat of the blade like a paddle. The smell of burning flesh filled the air and the blade sizzled on the skin, little clouds of steam rising up from the sweat on her back. When Austin pulled off the knife, it was accompanied by a strip of skin wide as a tape rule and long as my hand.
    Bitter bile rose in my throat, and I could taste my supper trying to come out as vomit as madam trashed on the ground. Her scream of pain escaped through the gag, making Austin jump and drop the knife. Her scream was cut short by a sharp intake of air as the knife dropped on the side of her stomach. The smell of burning flesh was almost overpowering. Austin stuffed the gag back in her mouth, ignoring her tears and running nose. She was trashing on the floor, tears mingling with her sweat and the blood from the two wounds on her body, and I find myself feeling sorry for her. She reminded me of how Mother cried when I was leaving home, and tears poured down my cheeks.
    “You, why you dey cry? Come here my friend.”
    Austin’s voice was strident. I jumped to my feet.
    “Enter kitchen go bring me salt and small eeru (ashes). No waste my time, or na you go follow dem.”
    I took the lantern and went into the kitchen, my mind in turmoil. I had no idea the escape would pan out this way. Austin was out of control, and I was powerless to stop him. I saw Mother’s face in my mind’s eye, and she didn’t look happy with me. She looked ashamed of me.
    I wondered what I could do to end this as I packed up some ash and took a handful of salt, stretching my hand and standing on tiptoe to reach the topmost shelf where the salt was kept. The hot lantern brushed against my side, and I dropped it in pain and shock. It fell against the floor and shattered, and the light went out, plunging me into darkness. The lantern in the parlour was still shining, and I headed towards it, one hand leading the way and the other on the wall to navigate by. My shins and knees bumped obstacles out of the way, and with a final flourish, I turned around the corner of the doorway and into the parlour.
    My jaw dropped at the spectacle before me.

    EPISODE 4

    DAYBREAK
    A long time ago, when I stilled lived in
    Ibadan and even before father left us,
    something happened that, till today,
    fills me with fear.
    The shadows were lengthening as I
    walked towards my house that
    evening, the ball in my hand and my
    dusty clothes evidence of the football
    game I had just left. My feet dragged;
    today, “last goal wins” had not been
    favorable to us, and despite the fact
    that I had scored the most goals that
    afternoon, I had still ended up on the
    losing side. My dejection showed as I
    walked, and when I reached the block
    of flats I lived in, I sighed and began
    to climb up the stairs to the 5 floor
    where we lived.
    A noise was coming from the stairwell.
    It sounded like a scuffle and was loud
    enough for me to pause and come back
    down the stairs. In the darkness, there
    were two shapes grappling at each
    other. From their grunts, I made out
    they were man and woman. The male
    voice was grunting heavily and
    huffing, the female was pleading and
    panting as if putting up a fight. I
    leaned over the stairs, stretching as I
    tried to make out who they were. I
    didn’t succeed, and the ball dropped
    from my hand into the stairwell,
    raising up a pile of dust and stilling
    the scuffling.
    In the sudden quietness that followed,
    I froze in position on the stairs,
    wondering how I was going to retrieve
    the ball from the eerie darkness under
    the stairs. I didn’t have to wait long.
    A shadow streaked past me. In the dim
    light, I couldn’t see her face, but I
    could make out her open blouse, her
    messed up hair and the heaving gasps
    that indicated she was crying. I felt
    sorry for her, but there was nothing I
    could do. My ball was still in the
    darkness, and my immediate concern
    was how I was going to get it. When
    the other occupant of the stairwell
    came out, I forgot about the ball and
    started worrying for my safety.
    “I don know say na you,” Dominic
    said, my ball balanced in one giant
    hand. “Everybody else for don cut like
    say nothing dey happen, but na you go
    try see the one wey pass your power.”
    He flipped out a knife from his pocket
    and sank it into the ball. My mouth
    dropped open and my eyes widened as
    the air rushed out from the ball.
    Dominic moved closer to me, wrapping
    me in a rough embrace and pressing
    and twisting the knife into the soft
    skin of my stomach, drawing blood.
    “If you tell anybody say you see me for
    here, I go chook you dis knife come cut
    your papa and mama join. You dey
    hear me so?”
    I nodded, my head moving up and
    down on my neck with vigour.
    “Oya commot here. No make I see you
    dey disturb my paroles again.”
    I had never told anyone about what I
    saw that day. When mother asked why
    there was blood on my shirt, I told her
    I had injured myself while playing
    football. As I stood in the doorway
    with the salt and ash in my hand, the
    grotesque, misshapen shadows cast by
    the lantern brought memories rushing
    back.
    Austin’s trousers were around his
    ankles, and he was jerking his hips
    and torso like he were a marionette.
    Yemi was suspended like a naked
    human bridge between Austin and the
    door, with her arms still tied behind
    and above her head to the lintel and
    her legs spread out and clamped under
    his shoulders. She had been passed out
    when I went into the kitchen, but the
    pressure on her shoulders and Austin’s
    relentless thrusting had brought her
    back to consciousness, and she was
    groaning in pain and weakly kicking
    her legs in futile resistance. In the
    light of the lantern, it was a terrible
    scene, and as the wave of memory
    washed over me, my anger increased.
    I threw the ash and salt to the ground.
    Mother’s face in my head was filled
    with pity and disappointment, and as I
    watched Austin continue his thrusting,
    the disappointment I felt with myself
    mirrored hers. Even if I ran away, I
    couldn’t bring myself to go home in
    these circumstances. I imagined her
    look of disapproval when I related the
    story of my escape to her, and it was
    not the way I wanted to meet her. I
    wanted her to be happy with me, be
    proud of me. She would be
    disappointed that I forgot all the
    training and instructions she taught
    me in my eagerness to go home and
    stood by and allowed Austin to do this.
    My back stiffened as I walked into the
    room. Austin had gone too far, and I
    was going to end this.
    There was a stool on the floor near the
    door, ejected from its place between
    the chairs in the earlier tumult. I
    catfooted into the living room, picking
    it up as I advanced. Austin was
    thrusting away, his head raised
    towards the ceiling and his mouth
    open and gasping in savage pleasure,
    and he wouldn’t have noticed my
    approach even if I was wearing rattles
    and cymbals, but Yemi did, and her
    eyes widened slightly. I signaled at her
    and her mother to keep quiet as I
    finished my approach. When I was
    close enough, I reached out a hand and
    tapped Austin, startling him. His head
    whipped round in surprise, colliding
    with the swinging stool and shattering
    it. His roar was as much from pain as
    surprise, and only the fact that he was
    holding Yemi prevented him from
    charging me. I swung again, catching
    him at the point where his neck joined
    his head, and then gave him a hearty
    tap with a T-shaped piece of the stool
    on the top of his head. His eyes rolled
    in his head and he slumped to the
    floor, dragging Yemi with him and
    eliciting a groan of pain that echoed
    through the room in spite of the gag in
    her mouth.
    When I was sure he was unconscious
    and not faking, I retrieved a knife,
    and then cut Yemi down from the
    door, trussing him up with the rope.
    His trousers were still around his
    ankles and his penis was a shrunken,
    bloody mass on display to the world,
    but I ignored his indecency. Yemi’s
    groans of pain from the floor where
    she had fallen caught my attention.
    There were impact bruises on her
    b-----s and stomach, and blood ran
    from between her thighs. I did the
    only thing I could do: I removed her
    gag and cut off the ropes that
    immobilized her limbs, whereupon she
    curled up and started weeping,
    heartrending sobs of shame and pain
    wracking her body from within. I cut
    her mother’s bonds too, and she ran to
    her daughter, covering her up with
    her wrapper and holding her tight.
    Outside, day had broken. The world
    had come awake, and already, people
    were walking past the house, traders
    and farmers on their way to work. On
    the floor, Austin stirred. Yemi’s
    mother looked over at his stirring form
    and ran over from her daughter,
    grabbing the small center table as she
    did. The table disintegrated into blood-
    flecked fragments of wood and glass
    on his head and only my desperate
    lunge prevented her from smashing
    his head in with one of the iron rods
    used to bar the front door. She spun
    around towards me, her arm and face
    quivering in anger. I flinched a little
    but held on, resolute. I was not going
    to let this happen.
    “Madam abeg no kill am. If you kill am
    dem go carry you go prison.”
    She let go of the bar and made as if to
    charge at me, and then pulled up and
    stopped. She was looking at my hand. I
    followed her gaze and realized I was
    still holding Austin’s knife. I pocketed
    it, showing my bare hands to her.
    “Madam I no go do you anything. No
    be wetin I wan do be this. I just wan
    go my mama house. I no be wicked
    person. I no know say Austin go do
    this kind thing. I no think say e go
    reach like this.”
    A groan interrupted us. Yemi was still
    curled up on the floor, and had started
    shivering. The look on madam’s face
    combined disgust with respect and
    fear, but she left me and went over to
    where her daughter lay. Yemi winced
    as she was assisted unto her swollen
    ankle, leaning against her mother for
    support as she dragged herself to her
    room. Her wrapper fell off, and I ran
    behind them, handing it to her
    mother.
    “Madam make I help you boil water
    for her make she fit baff if she want.”
    A short nod was the only reply madam
    gave me. I turned towards the back
    door, pausing midway into my journey
    there and changing direction to the
    sitting room where Austin lay tied up.
    He was coming to, straining against
    his bonds. He was also making a
    valiant effort to force his left eye open,
    but it stubbornly remained swollen
    shut. His head was a spider web of
    blood and cuts, and his nose and
    mouth were misshapen and grotesque,
    a child’s lump of putty. His right eye
    blazed at me with hatred from beneath
    its rapidly swelling lid. I ignored him
    and leaned over, pulling his trousers
    up and covering his nakedness.
    “You for comot when I tell you make
    we dey comot.”
    I could feel his eyes shooting arrows at
    me as I cleaned up the sitting room,
    replacing the iron bars in their slots
    and sweeping up the glass and wood
    chippings. They followed me all the
    way as I walked away into the kitchen
    shed, burning coals of hate and anger.
    When I came back out, madam was
    waiting for me. The headscarf on her
    head was askew and she was wearing
    mismatched slippers. When I came in,
    she directed her glare from Austin to
    me, mellowing it into something that
    was equal parts embarrassment and
    fear, her eyes flickering between an
    invisible spot behind me and the
    ground as she talked.”
    “I no know weda you worth am, but
    Yemi say make I tell you thank you.
    Omo ale buruku yi fe pa mi ati omo mi
    (this b-----d wanted to kill me and my
    daughter). Na you stop am. Ose.”
    I swallowed, caught out. My surprise at
    her gratitude was plain on my face. In
    all the time I had lived with them, I
    had received neither compliment nor
    gratitude, and it took a hefty swallow
    of saliva for my mouth to be moist
    enough to form words in reply.
    “I…..I…..”
    She cut me off before the words came
    out. “E remain one thing wey I go beg
    you. Everything wey happen today, jo
    ma so fun anybody (Don’t tell
    anybody). Ma je k’oju ti mi. Jo, mo fi
    olorun be e (Dont bring shame to my
    family, I beg you in the name of God).
    Na the only pikin wey I get be this.
    Anything wey you want, I go give you,
    but tori olorun, no tell anybody. Shey
    owo lo fe ni? Ma fun e. (Is it money
    you want? i will give you) Just tell me
    wetin you go want make I do.”
    She was earnest, begging me with the
    fervency of a wrongly-condemned
    man before his executioner. This was
    my chance!
    “Madam, I wan go my house back. Na
    wetin I want be that.”
    “Iyen o kin se problem (That’s not a
    problem). You go go. I go even give you
    money make you dey go. If you wan go
    today sef, no be problem. Shey 50,000
    ma to e? (Will 50,000 be enough?)”
    My heart beat a tattoo. “Yes ma.”
    “Go pack your load. When you ready,
    come meet me.”
    ***
    When I left the house later that
    morning, it was with a spring in my
    step, my life possessions in a bag on
    my back and N60,000, split between
    my bag, my trouser pocket and the
    pocket of a pair of shorts I was
    wearing under my trousers. I walked
    on sunshine to the junction where the
    lorries passed by, waiting for one
    going my way. I didn’t have to wait
    long.
    “Where you dey go?”
    “Ibadan.”
    “You get luck. Na there I dey go. Enter
    make we dey go.”
    I hopped in, a broad smile threatening
    to split my face. I was going home!

    EPISODE 5

    INTERMISSION: IN WHICH A-ZED NAVIGATES OSBORNE TRAFFIC AND REFLECTS ON BEING MOCKED BY FATE.
    The man in the back seat leaned forward as I finished talking. “Human beings are wicked sha. Your story is touching. It made me feel bad, and then I became warm on the inside when you finally escaped. I’m so happy that you managed to get away from them. Not everyone is so lucky.”
    I smiled into the darkness of the car. ‘Lucky.’ If only he knew. “You may think so, but I don’t think my life is one to which the word ‘luck’ can be applied.”
    “What do you mean?”
    “I don’t mean to be ungrateful or anything but I don’t consider myself lucky. I don’t mean I’m not happy I left there. I am. I remain convinced that if I didn’t leave that house, I would be dead by now. So, yes, I’m happy I got away. I’m talking about what happened after I left. I thought leaving would set everything right, but all it has done is to show me that life proceeds on its own terms. You really can’t do much to change it.”
    “I don’t understand you. We all make choices. Those choices affect how our life turns out. Perhaps you made one wrong choice too many. Perhaps you failed to seize your opportunities. Perhaps you made wrong decisions.”
    I slowed down. The reflective lights and barriers indicated we were approaching the toll gate, and even at that time of the night, there was a terrible traffic jam. We inched forward inch by slow inch, crawling closer to the toll booth. His words were awakening something in me. Could it be true, what this man was saying? We sat in silence as I handed over the toll, me collecting my thoughts, he expectant for an answer. Only when we came down the bridge and joined the mainland-bound traffic on Osbourne Road did I speak again.
    “You talk about right and wrong choices, and truly, I get what you are saying. But aren’t you discounting something? Have you ever thought what part fate plays in a man’s life?”
    “I have, and honestly, I think fate is just an excuse for those who are too weak to change their destiny. A man holds in his hand all he needs to change his destiny.”
    He is fervent this one. His life has gone so well he forgets that not everyone has the chances and opportunities he has had.
    “There’s something I haven’t told you. For a brief period in my life, I was doing quite well. I was even supporting myself and my family during my stay in university. Now look at where I am today.”
    “What happened?”
    “It’s a long story, a lot longer than the story I just told you. My point is, a man may have the desire to make good of his life, the urge to do right, but may never be in the right place at the right time. It isn’t always about choices or desires. Sometimes, the universe simply doesn’t line up right.”
    “I don’t agree. If a man wants something enough and works hard enough, it will come to him. Let’s not argue over this. We have quite some way to go, and I want to hear the rest of your story. I want to know why you had to let go of your dreams and blame him on fate.”
    I should tell him. Perhaps he would see that it’s not all so straightforward.
    “Ok then. Again, I warn you that this is a very long story, to give you fair warning. I may not finish it, especially as I can guarantee that you would interrupt me with questions.”
    “Go ahead. I’m not going anywhere. Just start. Wherever it ends will do. In fact, I would be willing to pay extra for your time to get to the end of the story.”
    “At the moment I left Lagale, I didn’t have any idea what I wanted to do with my life. The exigency of the moment precluded future planning, and meant that I focused all my energy and attention on the escape. I arrived home with scars on my back, a little over 58,000 Naira in my pocket, and a total lack of future plans other than making money and avoiding servitude to anyone ever again. I had seen the power money gave, and every time I touched the scars on my stomach, I promised myself I would make money, whatever it took. When I came back to Ibadan, all I wanted to do was make money, although I didn’t know how to proceed.
    My mother did not share the same thoughts as me. One week after I returned and told her everything that happened, she had re-registered me in school, ignoring my protestations and excuses. We could not afford it but she found the money somehow. Today, I am grateful to her that she stuck to her decision and stopped me from going out on the streets and earning some money and respect like I wanted to, but I was a difficult child then. Education was not for me. It got so bad that mother had to travel with me one day to Lagos and report me to my Uncle Mufu. He brooked no arguments or discussions, and his firmness left no room for negotiation. I actually think he was the one paying my fees. Soon, I was going to school regularly, and I found that I even enjoyed it.
    We were still poor when I finished secondary school. University did not look a likely possibility for me, and I wasn’t very sure I wanted to go. I saw how poor we were and I wanted to do something, anything, to get us and in particular Mother out of poverty. University wasn’t high on my list of priorities. I had passed my JAMB and WAEC and had begun the admission process into university, but my heart wasn’t in it. Again, Uncle Mufu came to my aid, first insisting that I complete and obtain my admission and then providing a car for me to use as a taxi and the frequent cash handouts that helped me survive the first few years of university. He was a godsend, was Uncle Mufu. It was thanks to Uncle Mufu that I was able to cope in the first few brutal months of school till I found my feet. He did not create a fuss whenever I had issues with the cab; if anything, he got more worried and supportive. In fact, when I later discovered he was my real father, I wasn’t even shocked. He was already a father-figure to me and I….”
    “Wait a minute! I don’t understand. Are you saying your Uncle Mufu was your biological father”?
    I sighed, and then I told him about Kassy and Chief George and Otunba and the strange incidents I had found myself embroiled in after I picked up two runs girls on the way back from Festac all those years ago. I could tell with every gasp he let out that the story surprised him. I decided not to mention that the person that almost had me killed was the president, I did however mention that this was when I found out that Uncle Mufu was my father.
    “So no, he wasn’t my uncle per se, not in the sense of being a parent’s sibling. And yes, he was my father. He told me himself. But I never stopped calling him Uncle. It was too late to switch to calling him ‘Dad’, if you understand what I mean.”
    “I understand. Old habits die hard.”
    “Yes. Exactly.”
    “Sorry for interrupting you. So what happened after you you started driving the red cab and finished school?”
    “This is the hard part of the story to tell.”
    “Ok then. Take it slow. It is your story. I am just a very curious listener. Any how you want to tell it will do.”
    “Ok sir. But for you to adequately follow me, I have to give you some background information.”
    ****
    Death dogged me.
    Death was a big, dark monster with eyes that s----d out hope and cold fangs that paralyzed me with fear. Its icy presence brooded, looking over my shoulder and daring me to take my next step. Its voice cackled at my dread and it marched triumphant at my side, luxuriating in my paralysis. It didn’t get what it wanted, and after to failing to succeed in traffic at Ojota, being disappointed by the quack doctors in Ibadan and being thwarted throughout my stay on campus, Death decided I and Mother were too stubborn and had cheated it of its desire a few times too many and left me for a while and switched targets.
    Death came for Uncle Mufu.
    The Nigerian political landscape is a rough and unfriendly scene at the best of times, and in the lead-up and immediate aftermath of elections, it becomes an even more unpredictable and violent place. Uncle Mufu moved in the corridors of power, not overtly drawing attention to himself but close enough to the seat of power to wield considerable influence. A man such has that gathered both personal and political enemies and rivals, and more than a few were prepared to bid their time and take their chances when they got them.
    One of them was more impatient and determined than the others. The president had barely been kicked out of office when he made his move. He didn’t need to make a second attempt. The bullet was accurate and fatal.
    It is one thing for your father to die. It is another for your benefactor and pillar of support to die. It is yet another thing when father and benefactor are one and the same, and died in your arms. I have never forgotten the feeling of disgust and impotent rage I felt as I picked his brains off of my shirt and trousers. Nothing can ever wipe away the smell of blood and the slippery, slightly spongy feel of still-warm brain matter passing through my fingers.
    To make matters worse for me, around this time Mother fell sick again.
    She had been ill for a while, but she had made progress when Uncle Mufu brought her to Lagos, and was back on her feet and had returned to Ibadan, even though she was still weak. I talked to her almost every day, and she sounded stronger each morning. Everyone around her testified she almost back to her normal bubbly self. When Uncle Mufu was killed, the news hit her hard, and she had a stroke.
    When I got the call, I rushed down from Lagos to Ibadan, driving like a mad man and praying all through the journey. I pulled up in front of her house, my heart beating like a crazed drummer. The house was as silent as a cemetery, and my fear increased. There were no children playing in front, no sounds of pots clanging or water running or neighbors quarreling. My feet echoed as I climbed up the stairs and walked along the corridor, fear eating at my belly
    “Dem don carry am go hospital.”
    I nearly jumped out of my skin. The little girl was looking at me from the balcony with something resembling laughter on her face as she saw how startled I was. Her thin gown clung to her chest and I could see the outline of her ribs. I recognized her gaunt, drawn face. It was Lolade, one of the neighbor’s children.
    “How are you, Lolade? Which hospital them carry am go?”
    “UCH. My mama say make you call am when you reach here. She go tell you.”
    “Thank you.” I was already making my way back to the car, fumbling for my phone in my pocket.
    I got directions and raced to the hospital, pulling up in a cloud of dust and noise. I ran in to find Lolade’s mum pacing the corridor.
    ”Doctor say we lucky say we bring am here when we bring am, say she for die.”
    Her quivering finger pointed out my mother on a stretcher being wheeled into the ward. She looked very pale and in great pain, and was unconscious. A nurse was beckoning.
    “Are you her son?”
    I nodded, unable to trust myself to speak.
    “She had a stroke, and we fear there’s still a blood clot somewhere in her brain. She would need surgery soon, but we need to stabilize her first. We can’t wait past this week, though. By then it may be too late.”
    I shuddered in fear.
    “We need you to sign these forms, and go to our accounts department and settle the bills before we can start any treatment. Please pay as quickly as possible, so we can do what we need to do.”
    I collected the forms with shaky hands, my Adam’s apple moving up and down as I tried to get saliva past the lump in my throat. The invoice buried among the prescriptions and registration forms made my mouth even drier. I did not have anywhere near the sum quoted there, and I had less than a week to raise the money.
    ****
    The traffic on Osbourne was barely moving, but I spotted a gap and sped up. I closed the gap and slowed down and downshifted, then looked at my passenger in the rearview mirror. He was leaning forward, his face showing his expectation and curiosity, waiting for me to continue. He waited as I maneuvered my way round some slow moving cars, and then he couldn’t wait anymore.
    “I’m sorry about Uncle Mufu, and sorry that you had to see him die. But I’m curious about your mother. What happened after you saw the invoice? Did you manage to get the money? What did you do next?”
    “When I left the nurse, I went outside and thought long and hard. Then I called someone I know now I should never have called. I called Akeem.”

    EPISODE 6

    AWON BAD GUYZ
    “No off the engine o. We go soon come back, and if we need run quick, we fit no get time for you make you dey on car. So just leave am on when you park. 2 minutes max, we go commot.”
    I swallowed and nodded, placing my hands on the steering wheel to mask their shaking. Akeem’s words were not harsh or threatening, on the contrary, his tone was soft, to the great surprise of everyone who heard him talk to me. It sounded like he was coddling me, trying to put me at ease, and this show of emotion was at variance to his reputation as a tough, ruthless man. He patted me on the shoulder and opened the front door and stepped out of the car, joining the others on the sidewalk. He manhandled his ever-present black knapsack onto his back, and his black-shirted form melted into the night as he walked away with the other members of the gang.
    I drove down the road and parked at the rendezvous point, taking care to take Akeem’s advice and attract as little attention as possible. I put the gear in neutral and pulled up the handbrake, then wound up the windows, turned on the air-conditioner and unlocked the doors. To anyone outside, I seemed like one of the countless other cars waiting in front of the club, the wound-up, slightly tinted windows indicating I was in the car with one of the numerous girls that thronged the club in whose car park I was. The sleek, dark-coloured Toyota with its halogen headlamps and chrome wheels was just flashy enough to blend in with the other cars in the lot, but subtle enough not to attract attention. Just what Akeem was aiming for.
    Inside the car, I was a nervous wreck. My eyes flashed between the rearview and sideview mirrors, and my legs shook as I sat in the driver’s seat waiting. The airconditioner blasted frigid air into the interior of the car, but I knew that wasn’t the reason for my shaky hands. I removed them from the steering and crossed them into my laps. I needed my wits around me and this was neither the time nor the place to be nervous or terrified.
    Gunshots sounded somewhere behind me and I sat up straight in my seat, my mind alert. I stepped on the brake and removed the handbrake, simultaneously shifting the gear into drive. I had barely finished when footsteps thundered behind me and the doors were wrenched open, with Akeem and his crew throwing bags in and piling into the car.
    “Go go go!”
    I didn’t need to be told again. Instinct and skills developed in Lagos traffic took over and I swung the car in a wide arc and peeled away from the chasing guards, leaving a wide streak of rubber on the pavement of the parking lot. The guards at the entrance to the car park were just starting to lower the entrance barrier when I streaked past them, the roof of the car barely clearing the falling bar. I mentally applauded Akeem for his insistence that I parked the car in that particular spot in the park. Sirens were sounding behind me, and I flattened the accelerator pedal and sped up, barely slowing as I took turns and climbed over bumps on the road. I glanced at Akeem. He was struggling to put on his seatbelt and was holding on to the dashboard for support as I careened round bends, but the smile on his face was one of a grim satisfaction.
    The sirens grew faint behind me as the speedometer crept up to the 180km/hr mark. I cut into traffic on the ring road, thankful for the wide, multi-lane highway roads in Ibadan. When I was sure we weren’t in danger of being caught by the police, I breathed out and slightly lifted my foot off the accelerator. When the needle was at the 140km/hr mark, I held it there and weaved in and out of traffic, hurtling for the toll gate and the Lagos-Ibadan expressway. In less than a minute, I was out of Ibadan and on the way to Lagos. I slowed to a more normal speed. Akeem breathed out a large sigh of relief, and only then did he find his voice.
    “Guy, you dey drive fire. Na you save us there. Those people for finish us. Na God say make you gree for us today.”
    Assenting grunts came from the back seat.
    “Wetin una think? If A-zed don dey with us since, shebi we for don dey do pass all this one wey we dey do? See as he drive today.”
    Akeem chimed up, his smile and vigourous nod signaling his agreement. “No mind am. Since wey we don dey beg am make he come he dey use us play. See better driver. That our former driver useless. Una no see how he commot that gate when dem wan lock am? I don fear finish say e don lock but he show them say he be bad guy.”
    “A-zed, say something now. why you just quiet like this? We know say na your first time and you dey fear, but still, you make sense wella. You be correct guy.”
    I slowed down slightly. We had just gone past the Guru Maharaji camp ground, and we were approaching the exit to Ago-Iwoye.
    “I was afraid at first when I was waiting. When you came out, afterwards, everyting just went by itself. I didn’t stop to think.”
    Akeem threw back his head and laughed. “This one dey blow grammar. Na you sabi. You do well today. Well done.”
    I nodded in appreciation. Within me, however, a whirlpool of emotion was frothing. For the second time that evening, Akeem was showing emotion. It was a little unnerving and awkward, receiving compliments from Mushin’s most notorious student-turned-cultist. Surprisingly, I rather understood where he was coming from. From as far back as my time with Princess and her merry band, he had been inviting me to help out as a driver. I had rejected him out of principle- I knew who he was and what he did, and didn’t want to be a part of it. But he persisted, insisting he only needed a driver, and promising that I would not be involved in the “main action”, as he called it. He promised no harm would come to me, and that I could leave any time I wanted. All he wanted was my driving skill.
    Mother falling sick put me in a quandary, and I found myself in the very disagreeable situation of working for Akeem. So far, he had kept his promises. It seemed there really might be honour among thieves after all.
    Following Akeem’s pointed directions, I pulled off the road and parked down a path. Akeem and his crew piled out of the car, lugging the bags behind them.
    “You don try. We go continue from here by ourself. Leave the car for here make police no find am. We go find as we go reach house.”
    He unzipped one of the bags he carried. In the moonlight, I caught a glimpse of neatly stacked N500 notes. He retrieved one bundle and handed it to me.
    “Na your money for today be this. Manage am.”
    It was all I could do not to bow down in appreciation. Akeem was still speaking.
    ”Next time we need you, we go call you. For now, just waka go back the road. Na just 8 o’clock. You go still see motor wey go fit take you go Ibadan or Lagos, any one wey you want.”
    Akeem and his gang disappeared into the bushes as I began the walk back to the road, my thoughts pre-occupied with how best to stretch the N25,000 he had given me. Most of it would go into paying for Mother’s hospital bills, but it was only a drop in the ocean. I needed much more.
    It was almost certain that I would have to work with Akeem again. I didn’t like it. I was digging a deeper hole for myself with each operation I helped out with, snaring myself into progressively stronger traps. But there was no way around it. I owed it to mother. I would not let her die, no matter what it took.
    *****
    Let me tell you something you may not know: contrary to what you may believe, a gunshot, fired towards you at close range, does not sound like a firecracker. It sounds more like a giant balloon being burst.
    You wonder how I know this. I will tell you.
    A bullion van is essentially a safe on wheels. It is totally bulletproof, and is designed to resist extremes of heat and cold as well as explosives. To most people, bullion vans are impenetrable, and even fewer would take the idea of hijacking one seriously.
    For all their protective measures, bullion cans have one big limitation: they are constructed on a basic truck chassis. If the type of chassis is known, its weak points can be targeted and exploited.
    It is certainly a lot easier when, like Akeem, one knows the mechanic who services the vans, and the schedule of their movements to and from the bank.
    It was supposed to be his biggest heist, and for a while, it all went according to plan, almost too good to be true. I watched from the seat of the vehicle I was driving as the van ground to a halt on a straight stretch of road, and watched the attached police escort circle round in confusion, unsure what to do. They barely moved when Akeem and his gang approached from the bushes and disarmed them, making them lie on the hot tar of the road before taking the keys of their vehicles and tossing them into the bushes. A towing vehicle with an attached crane appeared and began loading the van onto the flat bed of a trailer loader, while gang members prepared the tarpaulin to cover it as soon as it was loaded.
    This was where it began to go wrong.
    The cable of the crane snapped, and its severed end flailed around in the air, catching Yellow on the back of the thigh just above the knee and almost separating his leg from his body. Yellow screamed and clutched his leg as blood sprayed into the air in a fine mist from his severed femoral artery. His brother Shady dropped his gun and ran to aid him at the same time as the windows on both side of the van slid open and muzzles poked through and chattered into the air, spraying bullets. One bullet caught the crane operator, and he dropped from his cab and fell dead onto the road, smashing his head on the winch and crane hook on the way. The bullets from the other side of the van converged onto a screaming Yellow, and his body twitched like a limp marionette as they struck home, his screams dying in his throat and echoed by a horrified Shady.
    Already, I was moving.
    The gang scattered for cover and opened fire on the van, but their bullets ricocheted off its armored body and harmlessly into the bushes. I gunned the accelerator of the SUV down as I sped down the road towards the bullion van, thankful for how straight and smooth the road was. The doors had been left open, and I stopped to let the gang pile in, moving again seconds later. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw one of the muzzles aimed towards me, and my life flashed before my eyes as it coughed its stream of lead in my direction.
    The bullets smashed through the windscreen and passed so close to my ear I could feel their warmth before coming to rest in the back seat, barely missing a head there. I gunned down the road as the policemen retrieved their guns and opened fire on me, and glass splinters filled the air as the back windshield exploded and bullets thumped against the metal of the car. It was only when I went around a corner and out of view of the policemen that I realized how close we all had come to dying a fiery death. The fuel tank was leaking, leaving a trail for any pursuers to follow, and already, the vehicle was sputtering. Luckily, the plan called for us to switch vehicles, and I drove towards the backup car just as the skies darkened and clouds began to gather, the harbinger of a storm.
    ***
    Dark clouds were in the sky, their heavy swirling forms drifting across the sky and blotting out the light of early twilight. Twigs and leaves broke off from trees, swirling and racing across the road in the fierce wind that was blowing, and fat drops of rain fell on my windshield, tracing streaks through the dust on the glass. The storm was pouring in all of its violent splendor.
    I kept my eyes peeled as I sped down the road, alert for jaywalking pedestrians and rickety, slow-moving vehicles. Visibility was low in the heavy downpour, and an accident was the last thing I wanted.
    A more poetic man would see the weather as metaphor, perfectly reflecting the raging storm in my mind, and he would not be wrong. I was no poet, but I couldn’t ignore any longer the unease I felt. I knew I would have to face up to my fears and make a decision soon, but I was between a rock and a hard place.
    My fingers grasped the steering wheel so tightly that the knuckles strained against the skin and looked like they would break free any minute. The other occupants of the car were similarly tensed: Akeem was gnawing on a fingernail, and his eyes, blank sockets in a sweat-streaked, resigned face, were intensely picking out the specks of dust on the dashboard. He had not said a word since he made the phone call to confirm the workshop was still open. Behind me, there was pindrop silence, broken only by heavy sighs and tired yawning and the creaks of weary bones and joints.
    The storm was tailing off as I pulled into the workshop and turned off the engine. The gang trooped out of the van and onto the concrete floor, the tension easing slightly from their faces as the huge door closed behind us. Only Shady remained in the car, and his wails soon turned our relief to sadness.
    His wailing also cleared my head. I had arrived at a decision. How to inform Akeem of my decision was the next challenge.
    “A-zed, come.”
    I lifted myself off the floor and walked to where Akeem was sitting smoking a cigarette and absent-mindedly sharpening his knife on a file. He had been in a state of detachment since the bullet had burst Yellow’s head open like an overripe fruit, not even trying to console Shady, his other cousin, and I approached carefully. I had seen Akeem use that knife, and I had no desire to have it plunged into my stomach. Akeem did not like sudden movements.
    His right hand flicked, and something came flying through the air towards me. I caught it just before it impacted. I looked at Akeem, a question on my face.
    “Na you save us today. I say make I give you small something extra.”
    I had watched Akeem stab a man. I had seen him fire bullets at police officers from the window of my speeding car. I had been with Akeem for three months, and I was always caught out by his impromptu acts of generosity.
    “Thanks”, I managed to mutter. He nodded and turned his attention back to his cigarette, taking a few puffs before turning back to me.
    “You see as today take be. You see as Yellow die. I no like that kind of thing. I tell you say na only drive you go dey drive, but today e remain small them for kill all of us plus you self. I no like am. When I talk something, I like make e dey happen as I talk am.”
    I swallowed. Could this be my chance? Was Akeem providing a way out?
    “I no be lie lie man. If I tell you say I go protect you, I mean am. Dem police go soon start dey find us. Dem see my face today. But you, dem never see your face. Dem no sabi you. You no sabi anything about this matter. Do commot here quick. We go find as we go survive. When this matter don end, if I need you, I go send you message.”
    He flicked his hand in dismissal. I didn’t need any further persuasion. Mother still needed me. There was another round of surgery and rehabilitation coming up for her, and although Akeem was a quick way to raise the money, I needed to be alive and free for the money to be of any use to mother. In addition, I was weary of the adrenaline and flying bullets. I dropped the car key on the table beside him and headed for the exit, looking forward to living a normal life devoid of criminals and dead bodies.

    EPISODE 7

    HONEST LABOUR
    The hard earth gave way as I dug into it repeatedly with a pickaxe. Sweat ran down my face into my eyes, and dust coated my shirtless torso, but still I swung the pickaxe over my head and into the ground with all the force I could muster, my rhythm relentless. I looked across from me into the equally set face and swinging arms of Poko and Audu. Audu looked like he was about to faint, but yet he kept digging. I knew what he was thinking: this was his idea, and after persuading us to come to work here, he couldn’t afford to show any weakness.
    I had met Audu purely by chance. I had been nursing my beer and thinking about how to get the money for mother’s treatment when a hand clamped down on my shoulder. I whirled around, and in the hazy light of the bar, I saw Poko standing behind me, grinning drunkenly. I recognized him from Uncle Mufu’s motor park, and he introduced me to Audu, his friend. Soon, lubricated and fueled by liberal doses of alcohol and basking in the congeniality only alcohol could induce, I was narrating my life story to them both. When I mentioned I needed a job, Audu had asked if I was averse to menial labour, and getting an answer in the negative, he had invited me and Poko to join him in working as per diem workers on a construction site he knew that was short of staff.
    I paused for a moment and looked into the pit we were digging. It was barely 2ft deep. I sighed and bent down again, resuming work with a vengeance. We were on a deadline. We had to get to 4ft before the end of the day. The foreman was unhappy with our progress, and had threatened not to pay us if we didn’t hit that target. That was all the motivation I needed. The thoughts of not getting paid after a hard day’s work were enough to spur me on.
    Despite the hard, back-breaking work, I was happy. This was much better than dodging bullets and speeding down pothole-ridden holes. It was even less stressful than driving my taxi. There were no holdups, no agberos, no queues for fuel, no rude passengers. The only person I had to deal with was the foreman, and as long as I hit his target, we were good.
    The assistant foreman was approaching the pit we were digging. We put down our pickaxes and looked up at him.
    “Una well done.”
    “Thank you sir”, we replied in unison.
    “Na 1 o’clock now. Oga talk say make una go find something chop. Do quick come back before 2 o’clock. You must to finish this work today, so chop well make your energy full back”.
    I scrambled out of the pit and towards the N1,000 note he was holding out, bowing slightly and stretching both hands to accept it.
    “Thanks sir. We go do quick. “
    “Come make we go”, I said to the other two who were looking at me in slight consternation.
    I couldn’t blame them for their surprise. In the 2 weeks we had been here, the foreman had cut a reputation as being a very stern, unsmiling man, with a reputation for miserliness. Even collecting our daily pay from him was a dreaded task, and everyone tried to avoid him as much as possible. I was equally surprised at his sudden generosity today, but wise men don’t question heaven’s gifts. I may not like him, but his money was always welcome.
    **
    Mama Temi scooped hefty servings of rice and beans into my plate and topped it off with a spoonful of stew. I asked her to put 2 pieces of meat on the food, and she obliged. I smiled. Audu had discovered this place yesterday. It was about a 10 minute walk away from the site, and I was amazed at how cheap the food was. I held my plate and waited for her to serve Audu and Poko, the money in my hand now a hindrance to me enjoying my food.
    As soon as she finished serving, I paid up and picked a vacant spot under the tree. We were the only ones there, and I adjusted my position until I was completely in the shade. The sun was unleashing its full wrath that afternoon, the kind of heat that precedes a torrential downpour, and with all the work I had been doing, I didn’t mind some shade.
    My stomach started rumbling loudly, reminding me that the smell of the food I held was not doing it any favours. I sunk a spoon into the rice and lifted it to my mouth, my taste buds expectant.
    What followed was a horrible sensation. Waves of pain overwhelmed my tongue and I nearly spat out the food. I swallowed, and through a mouthful of flames, managed to speak.
    “Water…water”, I croaked, wiping drops of sweat off my brow with my hand.
    Audu and Poko looked at me, their spoons pausing halfway to their mouths and their jaws dropping in unison.
    “Wetin happen”, Poko asked.
    “Pepper”, I gasped, blowing air through my open mouth.
    “Abeg bring water o. no make pepper kill this village boy”, Poko shouted in the general direction of Mama Temi.
    She was looking at me with an amused look on her face. When she saw that the agony I felt was not being feigned, the look vanished off her face, replaced by one of genuine concern.
    “Temi, Temi…nibo ni girl yi lo bayi”, Mama Temi grumbled to herself. “Temi!”
    “Ma!”
    “Don’t come o. Sare lo ra pure water wa. Do quick”. She turned to me, pity on her face. “My pure water just finished now. I be wan send Temi make she help me buy, but I forget when una enter. No vex abeg.”
    I was breathing heavily through my mouth, trying to draw in air to quench the fire on my tongue. I had forgotten how peppery some of the food sold in ‘Mama Puts’ could be. My burning mouth was jiggling my memory.
    “Ma binu, oko mi. if I know say you no too like pepper I for put the oil part for your food. Abeg no vex. Temi go soon come. Or you go drink ordinary water? I get small water here, but e no cold and no be pure water.”
    I lurched to my feet and ran to her. She poured water from a jerry can into a plastic cup and handed it over to me. I lifted it to me lips and drank. The water was a little bit warm, but I wasn’t complaining. I was grateful for the relief from the burning sensation in my mouth.
    Behind me, Poko whistled.
    “Temi don come sef. If you want more water. And na cold water she go buy sef”, Mama Temi said.
    I handed the cup back to her. “Make she give me 2 make I go chop finish. Time dey go.”
    I turned around to go back to my food, and then I stopped and stood rooted to the spot.
    At first, I could only see her back. Her dark blue jeans skirt perfectly accentuated her wide hip and small waist as she bent to put the bag of pure water on the ground. She straightened and turned around. I swallowed. Her large, round b-----s were straining at her t-shirt, and they bounced with her every step as she walked away towards her mother, turning a smile in my direction. I walked back to my spot under the tree slowly. My mouth was suddenly dry, and it wasn’t because of the pepper.
    She reminded me of Fadeke. It had been a long time since I was attracted to any woman, and I could feel the now-unfamiliar stirrings. Poko and Audu had noticed the look on my face, and I prepared myself for their teasing.
    Poko was talking. “That girl fine pieces. Abi wetin you think?”
    I grunted and continued eating.
    Audu looked at me and snorted. “No dey form like say you no like am. I see as you dey look at am. If you get chance you for like enter her parole.”
    “That one no go be today. I want money, and the time wey oga give us make we go chop don almost finish. Make we do commot from here”, I said.
    “Oga leave that side. You like the girl or you no like am”?
    I could see that he wasn’t going to let go about this. I turned around to face him. “Whether I like her or not is not important. I want to finish work and collect my pay today.”
    “All this grammar wey you de blow na for your pocket. E dey show for your face say you like am. If yo u like dey talk Obahiagbon there. She dey look you now sef. Go follow the girl talk. Abi wetin you think Audu?”
    “Leave A-zed. When you catch am na when he go start dey blow English for us. You no go dodge this one. We don catch you.”
    “Guy free me abeg make we chop dey go. My money concern me pass any girl as I dey now.”
    “Shior.”
    Overhead, the sky darkened and clouds blotted out the sun.
    In one of those queer transformations that are common in Lagos, the rain came pouring down. One moment I was getting relief from the blaze of the sun under a shade, the next I was running for shelter, Poko and Audu hot on my heels, our hands full of Mama Temi’s pots and plates she had begged us to help carry. We ran full speed for the relative safety of the front of one of one of the buildings on the street. We had barely made it when the rain increased its intensity, flooding streets with water and accompanied by lightning and thunder.
    I had ended up beside Temi. The rain had wet her t-shirt and disheveled her hair, and up close, she looked even more beautiful, the locks of her hair framing her face like tendrils round a flower. She caught me staring just as over her shoulder, Poko winked and smiled at me, and I swallowed and looked away.
    “Why you dey commot face from me now? I annoy you?”
    “No. it’s not you. It’s just that….”
    “Oh you’re the shy kind.”
    My mouth dropped.
    “Why are you so surprised I can speak English? I have an SSCE certificate, and if my father hadn’t died, I would be a university student by now. As it is, nowadays, I help my mother out with her food business. I know you speak good English. I heard you earlier. Also, I can see your hands. They are not manual labourer hands.”
    “Well……”
    “Tell me, why is a young English-speaking man covered in dust and eating here?”
    ***
    45 minutes later, the rain had let up enough for us to go back to work. I got up and smiled at Temi.
    “I have to go back to work. This is where I ask for your number. We can do it the easy way or the hard way.”
    “What is the easy way?”
    “You give me. The hard way is I keep coming here until you or your mum gives me.”
    She threw her head back and laughed, but she took my proffered phone and typed her number.
    “I’ll call you, and I will see you again soon. Make we go,” I said, turning to Audu and Poko.
    “Baaaad guy.” Poko was saluting me, bowing down in mock obeisance.
    “Abeg abeg we go talk this one later. Oga for don vex for us finish. Make we run back to site.”
    We reached the site and stopped in shock. Water had filled the pit, washing the excavated dirt back into it and making the sides cave in. I groaned. There was no way we were going to hit the foreman’s target today. As if reading my thoughts, he came over, his wellingtoned feet sloshing through the puddles of water on the ground.
    “Una just dey come.”
    I was apologetic. “Na the rain sir. E catch us as we dey come na why we never reach since.”
    “No sorry me. I tell una say I want make you finish this thing today, and you just dey come. See where you dey work as water full everywhere. You just dey here dey waste my time and money. I don tire of una behavior. Get out. You’re fired. Drop your equipment for the security office before you leave.”
    Our mouths dropped open in unison. “Abeg sir”, I begged.
    He cut me off. “If you no leave here immediately, I go call that police wey dey there make he lock you up.”
    We scrambled out of the pit. “What of our money for today?” Audu asked.
    In reply, the foreman snorted. “I don tell you say I no go pay you if una no finish am today. Una no finish, so no pay.”
    My face darkened. His actions reminded me of all the times in my life I had been cheated and exploited, and I tried to keep the anger I felt under control.
    “So you no go pay?” I asked, my voice clipped.
    “Get out”, he shouted. “I no go pay you, and nothing wey you go fit do me. If you want, carry me go court.”
    I turned to Audu and Poko. ‘Come make we dey go.”
    They looked at me in surprise, obviously expecting me to put up more of a fight. “I say make we dey go”, I yelled at them. “Ignore this rubbish man make we dey go”.
    “Na me be rubbish man? Ok now. No make I see you here again. The next time I see you here, na station you go sleep. Useless people”, the foreman said to our retreating figures.
    I ignored him and the angry insults he shouted at us as we dropped off our equipment and left the site. I was angry at how he had cheated us of our wages, but I didn’t let it show. Already, I had a plan…

    EPISODE 8

    THE BEST LAID PLANS
    Anger is a terrible emotion.
    When the foreman fired me, Audu and
    Poko from the last job, I had been
    blinded with rage. Thoughts of
    violence passed through my head, and
    it was only because I didn’t want to get
    in trouble in public that I didn’t attack
    him with the metals tools in my hand
    or my fists. A few hours later, I was
    only slightly less angry, but I was
    proud of myself. In spite of how I
    angry I felt, I had managed to
    maintain my composure and not get
    into trouble. I couldn’t afford that. I
    needed to be free and able to move
    around, if only for mother. She still
    needed me.
    I was even more determined that he
    would not get away with it.
    Word spreads fast in the vast
    underground network that is the pool
    of menial, manual labour. I didn’t
    know it then, but news of a sack was
    the equivalent of a bad reference in
    more white-collar jobs- no one was
    going to hire a labourer kicked out
    from his last job. My taxi was still
    parked at the mechanic’s and there
    was no other job in sight for me, so
    together with Poko and Audu, I walked
    around Lagos every morning for a
    week with my work clothes in a small
    bag on my back and rapidly-
    diminishing optimism in my heart. At
    every site we turned up to, the answer
    was ‘no’. Sometimes it was couched as
    a firm, polite rejection, other times it
    was an aggressive dismissal from the
    work site, but each and every time, the
    answer remained the same.
    One day, 2 weeks after the firing, the
    old anger returned. It had never gone
    away, to be honest, but that evening I
    found myself viciously reflective. I had
    exhausted my small savings, and even
    worse, I had started to eat into the
    money I was saving for mother’s
    treatment, and that evening, I was in a
    vile mood. My anger built as I thought
    about how, for much of my life, I had
    been everyone’s footmat. I had been
    cheated, been taken advantage of,
    been used, and kept on the sidelines. I
    wondered if I was cursed, as somehow,
    I always backed the losing horse, or
    ended up on the fringes. I was tired of
    being cheated or being a tool for
    others. The sack was the last but one
    straw, and this inability to get a job
    broke the camel’s back.
    I decided I was going to actively
    pursue my revenge. I already had
    nothing to lose. That foreman was
    going to pay.
    The road to vengeance is a tricky one.
    It is slippery and sloping, and when,
    like in my case, revenge is motivated
    by anger, it can be difficult to retain
    control of one’s actions. Anger, like
    fire, is a good servant but a bad
    master. I needed to pass a message
    and give him his comeuppance, but I
    did not want excessive violence. If a
    few slaps would make him give me
    what he owed me with accrued
    interest and damages, I wouldn’t
    hesitate to deliver them, but I didn’t
    want the violence to escalate and get
    out of hand.
    I also had to strike fear into him. He
    needed to learn that he couldn’t get
    away with cheating and withholding
    wages, simply because he could. I
    would have succeeded if I could
    prevent what had happened to me
    from happening to someone else.
    To do all these, I needed to have a
    plan. Planning criminal activity was
    not my strongest suit, but thankfully, I
    didn’t have to do this alone. I already
    had someone who could help me with
    it. I picked up the phone and called
    Akeem.
    ***
    I met Akeem in a shadowy bar
    somewhere in one of the many dark,
    refuse-lined side streets that abounded
    in Obalende. Over bowls of steaming
    hot peppersoup and frothing bottles of
    cold beer, I told him how I felt. For a
    while after I had finished talking, the
    only thing he did was to dip his spoon
    into his soup bowl and lift it to his
    mouth. When his bowl was empty he
    dropped his spoon and looked at me.
    “I don hear wetin you talk, but you
    still never talk wetin you want make I
    do or why you call me.”
    “I for like make you help me.”
    “Help you as how?”
    “Make you give me idea or help me
    anyhow sha.”
    “Which one be ‘anyhow’?”
    ‘I no sabi. You fit help me plan as I go
    take enter him house or give me gun
    make I ginger am or sha tell me how I
    go take…”
    Akeem’s voice cut in. “Wait first.
    Wetin you just talk?”
    “I say make you help me plan.”
    “No be that one. Wey you talk say
    make I give you gun.”
    He threw back his head and burst out
    laughing, loud guffaws that had him
    choking and focused the attention of
    the entire restaurant on us. I lowered
    my face into my soup bowl to hide my
    embarrassment. When he had
    regained control and taken huge gulps
    from the bottle at his side, he turned
    to me, his eyes still twinkling.
    “This man you be funny man. See as
    you ask me for gun like say na biro
    wey I go fit just give you make you use
    and you go return am when you use
    am finish. So if I give you now and
    police nab you wetin you go talk?”
    I lowered my head deeper into my
    bowl. I was dying of embarrassment.
    Akeem leaned closer to me.
    “E get one way wey I go fit help you. In
    fact I go give you gun sef. But you gats
    cooperate.”
    My ears perked up. Slowly I raised up
    my head till I was staring into the
    Akeem’s eyes, which were looking at
    me unblinking.
    “You see wetin happen with Yellow. I
    go need extra one man make e enter
    for am make we balance. I sabi say
    you be part of us one kain one kain,
    but I go like make you be part of us
    complete. You go join?”
    Sitting in that crowded bar with
    cigarette smoke swirling in the air and
    the taste of pepper on my tongue, I
    knew my answer was going to be the
    most important thing I had done in my
    life up until that point. There were no
    angels or solemn music, but it seemed
    a very grave occasion. In that same
    moment, I knew, subconsciously, that I
    had taken a decision a long time ago,
    and was affirming it with every
    contact I had with Akeem, and so I
    didn’t try to beat around the bush.
    Very slowly, I nodded my head, and
    looking Akeem in the eye asked him:
    “Wetin you go need make I do?”
    ***
    I turned off the car engine and killed
    the lights as I turned into the street,
    jamming my leg onto the clutch as the
    car coasted down the street silently
    like a panther on the hunt. My heart
    was thumping in my chest like a
    generator gone crazy, and in spite of
    the cold of the night there were drops
    of sweat on my face. I pulled up in
    front of the house at the end of the
    close and stepped on the brake,
    bringing the car to a halt. Not for the
    first time, I asked myself if I was doing
    the right thing. I had been sure
    earlier, but as I sat in the car in front
    of the house, I could feel my
    convictions wavering.
    I shook my head, gritted my teeth and
    banished the doubts from my head.
    This was my idea. I couldn’t afford to
    pull out now, especially not after what
    Akeem had put me through.
    The scene was still fresh in my
    memory: a hut in deep forest,
    blindfold round my eyes, pungent
    smell of ground herbs, the blindfold
    being removed, my shirt coming
    unbuttoned on its own accord and
    floating in the air, the head of the live
    chicken being wringed off by the old
    witchdoctor, and warm fowl blood
    being poured on my seated body,
    accompanied by liberal application of
    the peppery paste onto my face and
    chest and the recitation of
    incantations. When I had chewed some
    of the kolanut and alligator pepper the
    old man passed to me, he pronounced
    the rituals complete and Akeem smiled
    and told me I had just become a full
    member of the gang.
    I did not know then if I was relieved
    or disappointed to be a full part of the
    gang, and even now, I wasn’t sure
    what I felt. But there was a gun
    bulging in my pocket and three
    companions counting on me to make
    the first move, so I snapped my mind
    out of the past and into the present. In
    the seat beside me, Poko could barely
    conceal his excitement. He had
    accepted when I first suggested us
    breaking into the foreman’s house, his
    dark, beefy face breaking out in a
    smile as he processed the thoughts of
    paying him in kind. Now, parked in
    front of his house waiting to begin, he
    was almost childishly ecstatic. A small
    alarm went off in my mind. If there
    was anything I had learnt from
    working with Akeem, it was to
    maintain calmness and not let
    emotions take over.
    Audu in the back was silent, almost
    brooding. You could see the
    concentration on his face. His face
    showed neither excitement nor panic
    nor fear. It was the face of a man
    totally unafraid and entirely focused
    on what was to come. Akeem had a
    look of amusement on his face. He
    looked like he was resisting the urge to
    say something. He had agreed to leave
    the planning and execution to me, and
    so far, he was keeping his side of the
    bargain.
    I left the keys in the ignition and
    stepped out of the car and into the
    night. My companions did the same,
    taking care to shut the doors softly
    behind them. Our dark clothes blended
    with the darkness, and although light
    poured from the building we were
    headed towards, we easily blended
    into the darkness as we made our
    approach. Our target lived on the third
    floor of the building, his apartment to
    the left of the main staircase. I wasn’t
    too worried about him discovering us,
    as he was almost certainly drunk at
    this time of the night. I knew this
    because I had tailed him home every
    day for the past week, and I had
    studied his schedules and movements.
    I knew when he left work, I knew in
    which bars he liked to stop and drink,
    and I knew that he was unmarried but
    brought home girls almost every
    evening.
    Audu pushed on the gate, inch by slow
    inch to prevent it squeaking. It took
    almost a minute, but it swung open at
    last. We jogged across the open space
    and into the stairwell, as silent as
    water running down a wall. At the top
    of the stairs, just before we turned
    into his apartment, I tapped Audu on
    the shoulder and gave him the gun. It
    was purely on instinct. I don’t know
    why I did it, but it felt right. Akeem
    raised his eyebrows but said nothing. I
    looked at Poko and nodded, the signal
    for him to hurl himself against the
    door. It fell open with a crash,
    surprising the man sitting on the
    couch with his hand up the blouse of
    the half-naked woman sitting on his
    laps facing away from the door.
    The look on his face changed from
    surprise at the intrusion to anger
    when he recognized Poko in an untidy
    heap on the floor. Moving almost
    faster than the eye could follow, he
    picked up a knife on the table beside
    him with his free hand and hurled it
    across the room. It came to rest in
    Poko, its sharp point lodged just
    beneath his Adam’s apple. It was the
    luckiest of lucky shots. Poko gave a
    gurgle that sounded like an empty
    bottle sinking into a bowl of water and
    grabbed his throat, his eyes widening
    as blood pooled in his throat and
    mouth.
    Audu reacted quickest. He cocked the
    gun and aimed, freezing the foreman
    in his tracks. Akeem was not far
    behind.
    “Commot your hand lift am up. Slow
    slow. I go fire you if you do any
    nonsense.”
    He did as ordered, extracting his hand
    from beneath the blouse and lifting it
    to his head. On the ground Poko
    gasped and trashed, trying to delay the
    inevitable.
    “You, stand up. Lift your own hand put
    am for your head.”
    The woman did as ordered, her hands
    trembling as she obeyed. Audu and
    Akeem marched them into the
    bedroom as I bent to look at Poko,
    tears streaming down my cheeks. I
    hadn’t cried in years, but I couldn’t
    control the floodgates.
    “I’m sorry,” I said over and over as I
    knelt over his dying form.
    I pulled the knife out of his throat,
    releasing a fountain of blood and
    mucus. My tears mixed with his fluids
    and he raised his eyes to mine,
    pleading with me to do something,
    anything. He gasped for breath and
    tried to form incoherent words, and
    although he couldn’t speak, the
    message he was passing was clear
    enough.
    “Save me.”
    We both knew he was losing the battle,
    and he gave a sudden cough and trash
    and then lay still, his eyes unseeing.
    I closed his eyes and wiped the tears
    that were still streaming down my
    face. When I stood up, I lifted the door
    to cover the doorway and walked
    towards the bedroom, anger pawing at
    my brain. Someone was going to pay
    for what happened to Poko.
    I walked into the bedroom and came
    face to face with my past.

    EPISODE 9

    GBEGE!
    The problems with guns being fired in
    an enclosed space is that bullets have a
    way of pinging around and bouncing
    off solid objects when they leave the
    barrel of the gun, and their flight
    paths are totally unpredictable. In
    tight places, the slightest change in
    path of even a millimeter can be fatal
    to the occupants. It was a few such
    deviations that landed me here,
    knocking on a door and praying the
    occupant of the room would answer
    quickly even as I lay bleeding and
    almost unable to move.
    You do not understand. Perhaps it will
    make more sense if I return to the
    incidents of 30 minutes ago and tell
    you what happened in that room.
    ***
    Poko passed away in my arms.
    If that is a simple enough sentence to
    say, the effect it had on me was
    unmeasurable. I had seen my fair
    share of dead bodies working with
    Akeem and his gang, and I thought I
    had become inured to death. As Poko
    lay gasping and bleeding in my arms, I
    realized that I was not as hardened as
    I thought. I realized there was
    something still human about me, and I
    was not the cold, emotionless monolith
    I thought I had become. There is
    something about having the warm
    lifeblood and gummy mucus of a dying
    human being pour over one that
    awakens repressed emotions and
    memories and reminds one that life is
    fickle and days are numbered. The red
    blood was also a flag to the snorting
    bull that was the anger in my head,
    and when I walked into the room, it
    was about to charge and embark on a
    spree of destruction and unmatched
    violence.
    I stood in the doorway of the bedroom
    and watched my past rush over me,
    drowning me in waves of nostalgia
    and the memories of things that had
    been.
    Akeem was bent over one chair, his
    fingers and arms moving rapidly in
    the glare of the electric bulb overhead
    as he finished tying up the knots
    holding the figure to the chair. I had
    heard what sounded like a tennis ball
    bouncing off a wall from the living
    room as I cradled Poko in my arms,
    and the face of the person in the chair
    bore testament to the brand of
    enthusiastic, thorough thrashing that
    was an Akeem specialty. Akeem was
    fond of boasting that his beatings were
    the corporal equivalent of a shotgun
    blast to the stomach: they inflicted
    targeted, thorough, widespread
    damage yet left the victim alive,
    conscious and in so much pain that he
    craved death. The man in the chair
    certainly looked like he would
    welcome death. His nose had been
    pounded into an unrecognizable mass,
    and from where I stood, I could see the
    bone of his nose bridge peeking
    through the skin. One eye was closed
    shut, the upper and lower lids still
    bearing the imprint of what surely had
    to be a fist swelling in stark contrast
    to the rest of the skin. The other eye
    was bleeding from numerous cuts, and
    the flap of the eyelid hung in messy
    strips over the red, flattened eyeball
    underneath it. It looked like someone
    had worked on it with a penknife, so
    heavy was the flow of blood from it.
    His lips looked like his eyes, and when
    he groaned, I could see a bloody gap
    where some of his front teeth had been
    knocked out. As bad as his face was, it
    was nothing compared to his ears.
    Those looked like a hungry Rottweiler
    had dragged him along the ground by
    them. They were mangled, bloody and
    almost unrecognizable, attached to his
    body only by thin strips of stringy
    flesh.
    It wasn’t his appearance that made me
    pause, however. It was the occupant of
    the other chair.
    The last time I had seen her, she had
    been wearing a ripped top and an
    expression of resignation as we
    walked down a corridor to what we
    thought was certain death. She had
    been slimmer then, for sure, and her
    eyes had more of the sparkle that was
    youth and vitality, but there was no
    mistaking she was the same person I
    was seeing. Her body had matured
    and rounded and she had more lines
    around her eyes and mouth and
    forehead, but it was the same person. I
    would know her anywhere.
    “Kassy?”
    All four heads whirled in my direction
    with expressions ranging from shock
    to bafflement.
    “Azed? Is that really you?”
    Kassy was half-naked, the upper part
    of her blouse ripped to shreds and
    showing off her b-----s, one of which
    was hanging out of her bra. Her feet
    were spread and tied to the chair by
    the ankles. Red eyes and puffed-out
    cheeks gave away the fact that she had
    been crying, and the vacant stare in
    her eyes showed that she was in shock
    and still trying to come to terms with
    the eventss of the last few minutes. Her
    mouth dropped open in recognition as
    our eyes connected, and her head
    snapped back, clearing her eyes of the
    shock and restoring alertness and
    vitality into them. We locked eyes for
    a few seconds and then she did
    something none of us was expecting.
    Her loud wails reverberated in my
    head and her tears were like water on
    the flames of the anger in my head,
    reducing them to weakly glowing
    embers of resignation and helplessness
    as they rolled down her cheeks and on
    to the floor.
    Akeem’s palm on her face echoed, a
    sonic boom in the small room. I
    flinched.
    “Why you dey cry? Just quiet there.
    Who touch you wey you dey cry?”
    Kassy fought to contain her tears,
    sniffling like a child with a bad case of
    the flu. Akeem looked like thunder,
    and she realized it was in her best
    interests not to annoy him further.
    “Just quiet there. No make I hear you
    make any peem. If I hear one thing
    from you na from this window I go
    throw you reach ground.”
    Like a tap turned off, the tears dried
    up and even the snot from her nose
    stopped dropping.
    “Wetin be this? Where you from sabi
    this asewo?”
    Akeem was glaring at me and my
    heart sank. With that one look, I knew
    Kassy’s fate was sealed. There was no
    way she was going to get out of this
    alive, not while she could recognize
    me and point me out. This was not the
    plan. Nobody was supposed to die.
    Poko’s body was still warm in the
    living room, and it was looking like
    two more corpses would join him soon.
    I sighed. There had already been too
    much killing. I didn’t have any
    objections to whatever the foreman got
    coming to him, but Kassy was just
    someone who had been in the wrong
    place at the wrong time. There was
    only one thing left to do.
    “A.K, …”
    “No AK me. I say where you take sabi
    this girl? No be this man here you tell
    me about? Who be this one again? You
    wan set me up abi na wetin be your
    plan?”
    “AK, make I…”
    “You know wetin? Just quiet there. No
    just talk anything. No follow me talk.
    We go discuss when we commot here.”
    He was looking at me like I was some
    intruder, and his tone was curt,
    vicious even. Audu raised his head in
    surprise and turned around from
    where he was on his hands and knees
    beside the bed. The gun Akeem was
    pointing at me lent further emphasis
    to his angry words, and I raised up my
    hands in surrender and backed away.
    In the mood he was in, he could just as
    well shoot me as look at me. I
    recognized the signs, the twitch in his
    eyes that was an indication of his
    battle to stay in control, and his
    grinding jaw. I raised my hands above
    my head and backed away until I was
    against a wall, fear eating at my belly.
    For a few seconds I thought Akeem
    was going to lose control and shoot
    me, but slowly he lowered his gun and
    turned away. I sank to my knees in
    relief, adrenalin shooting through my
    body and making me shake like a leaf.
    “You never find that wire finish?”
    Akeem’s voice reminded me that I had
    an innocent person to get out of there.
    The clank of the neighbourhood night
    watchman striking his metal gong
    reminded me that I was running out of
    time to effect the rescue.
    “Do quick bring this wire. No dey
    waste time.”
    Audu yanked harder on the cable.
    Akeem sounded like it would not be a
    good idea to annoy him further, and
    no one wanted to find out his limits.
    Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a
    silent message pass in the nod the
    foreman gave Kassy. I was swiveling
    my head to process it when a lot of
    things happened at the same time.
    Kassy opened her mouth and let out a
    scream of such otherworldly loudness
    that our sensory systems overloaded
    and we went into a brief period of
    catatonic shock. Her shrieks
    reverberated throughout the room and
    escaped through the open window,
    spilling over the balcony and down 3
    floors to street level, alerting curious
    and apathetic alike that there was a
    situation that needed resolving. Audu
    was the first to recover, his limbs and
    muscles belatedly connecting with the
    frantic messages shooting out from his
    brain through his spinal cord and
    hurriedly interpreting them. He lunged
    from the corner towards Kassy, the
    butt of his gun arrowing for her head
    and a palm aiming to dam the sound
    escaping from her throat. The gun
    connected with her head with a dull
    thunk and her chair was knocked to
    the ground as Audu crashed into it.
    She fell silent, out for the count. The
    flash of motion got Akeem and myself
    moving, knocking us out of our
    paralysis.
    It was already too late, as the foreman
    had started moving too.
    The room we were in was the small
    bedroom of the flat we were in. A
    mattress took up most of the space,
    and a huge metal cabinet sat in the
    corner, its grey finish alluding to its
    secretarial origins and the fact that it
    stored papers, files and other
    valuables. One door led into the en
    suite bathroom/toilet combination,
    almost directly across from the door
    we came in through that led out to the
    sitting room. The floor of the room
    was of functional, easily-to-clean
    concrete, clean and bereft of carpeting
    or tiles. The head of the bed faced glass
    sliding windows, which, rather
    surprisingly for a Lagos building, had
    neither bars nor burglary proofing
    across them. There were very few
    traces of permanence, and all in all,
    the bedroom looked like a cross
    between a bachelor pad and an
    official guest house, something in
    which a busy man with a home
    elsewhere could stay in for the
    duration of the project he was working
    on.
    The foreman exploded onto his feet
    and charged. His hands were still tied
    behind him to the frame of the chair,
    and his could barely see from beneath
    his injuries, yet he moved like an
    enraged rhino. Anger was the
    propellant behind his charge, adding
    purpose and violence to his movement,
    and he rammed into Akeem with the
    force of a goaded bull in a bullring.
    Akeem was reaching for his shotgun
    when foreman’s shoulder barged into
    his stomach, and his fingers had just
    grabbed hold of the gun when he was
    swept off his feet and into the air by
    the still-charging foreman. Akeem was
    driven inexorably towards the glass
    sliding windows, and when his back
    touched the glass, his fingers
    involuntarily yanked on the trigger,
    accidentally setting off the gun into
    the room.
    Things went out of control very
    quickly.
    The semi-automatic shotgun Akeem
    was holding held 8 rounds of 12-gauge
    pellets, and the cardboard casing
    around each shell disintegrated as it
    was fired. The room was filled with
    noise and flying pellets as the gun
    swung in an uncontrolled arc in
    Akeem’s grip. It sounded like we were
    trapped in a metal tank while someone
    hammered from the outside. The metal
    pellets ricocheted of the smooth floor
    and the walls and the metal cabinet,
    pinging around like the balls on a
    snooker table. In the small confined
    bedroom, it felt like a claymore had
    been set off. Some pellets slammed
    into me, sinking deep into my thigh
    and peppering my arm and shins. I
    screamed and collapsed to the floor in
    pain, blood flowing from the holes in
    my body. I curled up in pain, coming
    to rest near a sprawled Audu. One of
    the rounds had arrowed straight into
    his head and exploded with
    devastating effect. One-tenth of his
    head was missing, and blood and
    brain matter flowed out in a red river
    from a gaping hole just above his
    unseeing right eye. I scrambled
    backward on the slippery floor in
    shock and pain, moving away from
    the grotesque sight as my stomach
    roiled in horror.
    Footsteps thundered on the stairwell
    as people began to react to the noise. I
    pulled myself up with the help of the
    window sill, leaving a trail of blood on
    the floor of the room and cutting
    myself on tiny pieces of glass. Akeem
    and the foreman lay in an untidy heap
    on the cemented floor of the
    compound underneath me, the
    unnatural angles at which their limbs
    lay indicative of death or serious
    injury. The footsteps on the stairwell
    were getting closer, and so, ignoring
    the pain and blood, I did the only
    thing I could do: I aimed for the soft
    flesh around Akeem’s stomach and
    hurled myself out of the window.
    ***
    There are few things more painful
    than driving a car with a manual
    gearbox while your torso, arms and
    legs were riddled with shotgun pellets.
    It is the muscular equivalent of pulling
    teeth without anaesthesia, and by the
    time I pulled up in front of the house I
    was going, the chair and floor of the
    car had been soaked with blood. I
    dragged myself out of the car, ignoring
    the protests from my legs and arms
    and crawl-dragged myself to the door
    of the house I was going, knocking
    feebly on the door with my last
    reserves of energy. The door was
    opened and after a millisecond of
    motionlessness, the mouth of the
    occupant of the room fell open too.
    “What are you doing here?”
    “I came…here…because you….are the
    only person I could trust,” I managed
    to gasp out.
    “What?”
    Temi’s voice was both surprised and
    curious, until she noticed by
    bloodstained jeans and the pool of
    blood gathering at her feet.
    “Oh my God. What happened to you?”
    I started offering an explanation, but I
    was too lightheaded. Temi grabbed me
    under the arms, ignoring my wince of
    pain, and grabbed me into her room,
    leaving a swathe of blood like a
    painter’s bold stroke on her room
    floor.
    “Don’t move. I’m going to get help.”
    My heart fluttered, but I was too weak
    to protest. In any case, I wasn’t
    particularly afraid. I knew Temi would
    not betray or set me up, and I lay back
    and watched her behind as she
    hurried off through the open door and
    down the corridor. A curtain was
    descending over my vision, and I
    smiled in spite of the pain. I didn’t
    know what the future held, but in this
    moment, Temi’s behind was a truly
    welcome sight after the horrors of the
    night.

    EPISODE 10

    LOVE WANTINTIN
    When I blanked out in Temi’s room, I
    was so weak from the loss of blood
    that I could barely move, and I was in
    so much pain that I thought I would
    die. As I got better, I realized that my
    recovery was not so much dependent
    on my willpower or the medical
    attention and antibiotics as it was on
    my nurse. For the critical week where
    I oscillated between living and dying,
    she sat beside me and held my hands,
    wiping the sweat off my head as I
    gasped and groaned in my infection-
    induced delirium. She fed me and
    popped painkillers into my mouth like
    candy and pumped me full of fluids.
    On the day my fever broke, I had
    opened my eyes to find her dozing off
    on a chair with my hands in her lap.
    “Temi?”
    She jerked awake, the smile that broke
    out on her face masking the tiredness
    and bags beneath her eyes.
    “Ope o. You don wake.
    “Wetin happen? Why am I in your
    room? Why am I on your bed? And
    most importantly, why does it feel like
    I’m naked under this sheet?”
    She chuckled. “True true you don’t
    remember ni sha.”
    I shook my head.
    “Well, Baba said you will not
    remember everything, so…”
    “Who’s Baba?”
    “Hahaha. The story is long. Let me get
    you pure water and then I’ll tell you
    the story. Ok?”
    I nodded.
    “Oh, by the way, you owe me 3
    bedsheets. You don stain my bed finish
    with this your red blood wey no gree
    wash commot,” she said as she walked
    away.
    When my throat was properly
    lubricated and I was able to sit up in
    bed, she brought me up to speed. I had
    rediscovered the scars and aching
    muscles and with them had come some
    memory, and she filled in the gaps,
    her eyes alternating between emotions
    as she narrated. I saw in her eyes the
    fear and panic as she ran out looking
    for help, the unease as she walked
    down dark streets looking for the
    house she was directed to, and the
    shock when she realized that the man
    who would help remove the pellets
    from my body was a wizened old man
    with bad breath and a fondness for
    burukutu and alligator pepper. Tears
    threatened to overwhelm her as she
    described standing over me holding a
    lantern in shaky hands as the old man
    worked his magic, praying that my
    pale, unmoving form was not rigor
    mortis but only unconsciousness. Her
    widened eyes told of her panic and
    helplessness as my fever steadily rose,
    and I could swear I saw a tear in the
    corner of her eyes when she started
    talking about how she stayed awake
    almost nonstop for the first 2 nights I
    was ill, sponging me down and
    changing the sheets. By the time she
    moved on to how she had to change
    my sweat and blood-soaked clothes,
    there was a twinkle in her eye, and a
    burning sensation started at the base
    of my neck and quickly spread up my
    the rest of my face. She completed her
    story at the point at which I woke up
    and jerked her from sleep, and by that
    point, I was so overwhelmed I could
    barely speak.
    My thoughts were muddled in my
    head. I had only seen Temi a few times
    after that day at her mother’s store.
    She was fun to talk to, and I had
    discovered that she had an endless
    stream of anecdotes and jokes to tell,
    but I had never thought of her like my
    girlfriend. When I came to her room,
    it was because she lived alone, and she
    worked as a pharmacist’s assistant. It
    was a spur of the moment decision-
    like a baby instinctively knows who to
    trust and play with, I knew I was safe
    with her and she would not betray me.
    I wasn’t expecting her to go so far out
    of her way and expose herself to such
    great danger and expense, but as I lay
    in her bed, I was grateful she did.
    How do you thank someone who saved
    your life and watched over you at
    great personal expense and risk? What
    do you give to express your gratitude?
    How do you express the many
    emotions roiling inside you at the
    realization that without this person,
    you would be dead or permanently
    disabled or, even worse, in prison?
    There are times in life when words are
    not enough. This was one of them.
    I cleared my throat and lubricated my
    vocal cords, willing them out of their
    inoperativeness and restoring them to
    usefulness. My bilateral
    supplementary motor area, left
    posterior frontal gyrus, left insula,
    primary motor cortex and temporal
    cortex kicked into gear and came
    alive, pushing information down the
    nerves in my body and towards my
    chest and face. My lungs inflated and
    diverted air past the glottis in my
    larynx and up my vocal tract, and my
    lips synced with my brain and
    contorted to form the words that
    carried all the weight of the emotion
    that was eating at me.
    “Thank you.”
    Temi smiled at me and looked quickly
    at the floor, embarrassed at all the
    emotion on my face.
    “You’re welcome. Na small thing.”
    “It is something. I know how much
    danger I put you in, I know how much
    wahala I for bring on top your your
    head. Thank you. You did not have to,
    yet you did. I’m very grateful. I no go
    ever forget this. ”
    “I didn’t do anything special. What
    was I to do? Let you bleed all over my
    floor? I did what any human being
    with a heart would have don……….hey!
    why you dey cry? ”
    My ducts had betrayed me, and a thin
    line of tears ran down my face. I
    sniffled and wiped them off with the
    back of my hand, stretching my lips in
    a smile and turning to face Temi.
    “I’m not crying. Dust entered my eye.”
    “O jebi. Afi dust nikan.”
    “Thank you.”
    “E don do now. Oya come and sleep
    and build your strength back. We’ll
    talk when you wake. I dey here, no
    fear. Me sef, I have questions too.
    Poko. Fadeke. Kassy. Akeem. About the
    scars on your back. And about how
    you managed to get shot. So sleep and
    build your strength. I’ll be here. Oya,
    come dey sleep.”
    ***
    It’s been two months since I got well
    enough to become human again, and
    any doubts I may have once held have
    now vanished. I was in love.
    Love is a dangerous thing for a person
    such as me. Love meant placing roots,
    developing routines, being predictable.
    I am not aware I have any direct
    enemies, but I move among people that
    have lots of enemies, and I would
    make a good hostage. That meant
    anyone I spend time with was also at
    danger, and I could not in all good
    conscience expose anyone to the perils
    that come with my life. But this was
    different. This felt good. My heart felt
    light in my chest and it appeared that
    the world was brighter and more airy.
    I had never been much of a romantic,
    and most of the personal interactions I
    had had with women have been quick
    and paid for, but even the dimmest oaf
    would recognize the source glow in my
    eye and spring in my step. For the
    first time since Fadeke, I loved
    someone not my mother.
    I dragged myself to my feet and into
    the bathroom, marveling at the
    wonder that was love. It had nursed
    me to life from the brink of death. It
    had sponged me, fed me, treated me
    with drugs and a warm manner. Love
    had made everything better- even
    mother, with all her problems, was
    improving. I had sent some money to
    her the week before, and the news
    coming out from Ibadan was positive.
    In fact, she sent back N12,000 to me
    with a note I was sure she had gotten
    Lolade to write for her.
    “Ose gan omo mi. Olorun ma bukun e
    fun mi. Try use this money relax. You
    don try for me and I know say e for no
    easy for you. I no need this one. Use am
    do something wey go make you
    happy.”
    My taxi was back from the mechanic,
    and I had started earning a small
    income again, and so today, I was
    going to take mum’s advice and make
    myself happy. I was going to try and
    do my best to make Temi smile.
    I had thought long and hard about
    what I wanted to do. It would have
    been expensive and would have made
    a serious dent in the money I had
    saved up for living expenses, but then
    Mother sent me the money. It was all
    the confirmation that I needed. Not
    that I would have minded spending
    from my own money. She had saved
    my life, and in the grand scheme of
    things, being broke was a small
    sacrifice. If she had allowed me bleed
    to death or turned me in to the police,
    I wouldn’t have been worrying about
    living expenses.
    What I wanted to do was for both her
    and me. It was the kind of thing that
    was the stuff of dreams, and I doubted
    that, 2 months earlier, such an idea
    would have ever crossed my mind,
    even if I had the money. But I guess
    that was what falling in love had done
    to me, and moreover, Temi had
    earned it, and it was my chance to
    show her how I felt. She had flatly
    rejected any talk of me reimbursing
    her for her expenses. Her eyes had
    flashed when I suggested it, and I bit
    down on any further talk of it. It only
    reinforced what I felt about her: she
    was a wonderful person, and I didn’t
    want to lose her. I was ready to
    reassess and evaluate my life just to be
    with her. I was no expert in reading
    women, but her body language was
    clear. She felt the same way I felt. For
    her, I would make everything as
    perfect as possible.
    I had just finished dressing up when
    my phone rang. The taxi I had
    requested had arrived, right on
    schedule. I gave a mental thumbs-up to
    Uber- I had found out about them on
    the internet when I was looking for
    taxi-hire services, and I was impressed
    with their prompt, efficient service. It
    was not even as expensive as I thought
    it would be. Not that I would have
    minded. I got into the cab and gave
    the driver Temi’s address. The evening
    was promising to be fun.
    ***
    “Oh, Azed. True true, you did all this
    for me. E come be like all those
    American film.”
    She took my hand in hers as we stood
    up from the table at the end of what
    was, to me, a perfect evening. The
    glowing lamps from the lights
    overhead reflected off the white table
    and caught Temi’s face, enhancing the
    rise of her cheekbones and the
    evenness of her teeth as she smiled.
    Clinks of cutlery on china and happy
    conversation mirrored the happiness I
    felt inside, the warm feeling that
    washed over me. She was happy, and
    so was I.
    “Thank you,” she said, sending a
    dazzling smile my way.
    “You’re welcome.”
    We held hands as we walked into the
    car park where the taxi was waiting. I
    had a sudden thought, and pulled her
    close towards me as we passed under a
    pool of light cast by a streetlight.
    “Temi, I know we’ve been seeing for
    some time now, and we really
    shouldn’t be having this conversation,
    but I want to do this properly. Would
    you be my girlfriend?”
    The shock which had tensed her body
    when I pulled her towards me
    dissipated, leaving her limp in my
    hands.
    “See this man. Come make me fear
    finish. Of course I will be your
    girlfriend. Why else do you think I’m
    standing here with you 9:30pm? You
    think say na because I like breeze?”
    I smiled. “I just wanted to…you know…
    make it offic…”
    Her lips found mine, cutting off
    speech. They were soft and full and
    tasted of the post-dinner coffee she
    had had, and they went over mine like
    a mitt over a baseball. In the puddle of
    orange light cast by the streetlight in
    the car park of a restaurant that
    neither of the two of us had much
    chance of visiting anytime soon, she
    wrapped her hands behind my neck
    and head and molded herself into me.
    The utter incredibility of the scene was
    ticking over somewhere in my head,
    but my heart was giddy, pounding
    faster than a bass drum at a rock
    concert. She broke off the kiss and
    looked up at me.
    “You too like dey blow English. I had
    to stop you.”
    “WOW!”
    She put her tongue out at me. “Elejo.”
    “Let’s get to the cab. We’re giving the
    driver much more than he bargained
    for with this view” –I traced out her
    figure into the air- “ and in any case,
    we need to get you to your house.”
    “Who tell you say I wan go my
    house?” The coy look she shot me was
    heavy with meaning. Down under,
    something stirred in my nether
    regions.
    “I see. You, my dear, are about to be
    in for a long night.”
    “Ehen?”
    “Ehn.”
    “Correct. I hope you have up to three
    bedsheets sha.”
    “Three bedsheets ke?”
    “Because you spoilt my three bed
    sheets and I intend to retaliate. Oya
    let’s go to the cab. This time, I will pay.
    Don’t argue,” she said, as she grabbed
    my hands and led me.

    EPISODE 11

    ACTIONS AND REACTIONS
    I am not superstitious, and I have little
    tolerance for superstitious bunkum. As
    a child, I didn’t believe in the
    Cinderella story and the other fairy
    tales that were popular among my
    classmates and friends when I still
    lived in Ibadan. By the time I was 5, I
    had figured out on my own that there
    was neither Santa Claus nor Father
    Christmas, and I can still remember
    Chike’s flabbergasted look when I told
    him that the man who gave gifts at
    Christmas was really the fat CRK
    teacher wearing a red suit. He had
    been dubious, but all his doubts had
    cleared when I yanked the fake beard
    and wig of the Father Christmas in the
    grotto. It earned me a trashing from
    Mr. Salmon, our principal, but since I
    won a new ball from the bet, I didn’t
    really mind.
    In spite of all my scoffing at
    superstitious nonsense, there was one
    old wives’ tale I believed with all my
    heart.
    Bad things happen in threes.
    As you might imagine, it would have
    taken a lot for a hardboiled cynic like
    me to be swayed into believing
    something that springs out from a line
    of thought and knowledge that is at
    best pseudo-science and at worst plain
    falsehood. You are right. I have
    suffered my fair share of misfortune,
    and as much as I have tried to explain
    it away, there was always a chilling
    pattern about them. It was more than
    an eerie coincidence. It had been a
    recurring theme of my life that when
    one thing went wrong, almost
    immediately, two other things followed
    suit. I had often wondered if I was
    being shadowed by a powerful hex
    and more than once I had toyed with
    the idea of going for deliverance or
    taking the Lagosian expression
    literally and washing my head in a
    stream. Only my natural disinclination
    and distrust of superstition held me
    back. As I sat shivering thinking of
    how to tackle the third of yet another
    series of crises, I wondered if I should
    have ignored my reservations and
    gone ahead with my search for
    deliverance.
    Things had started to go wrong when
    termites and black ants invaded my
    room that morning, driving me out in
    the early hours. Temi had traveled and
    I had nowhere else to go to sleep, so I
    drove to the park and wound my
    windows down partway before locking
    my doors and falling asleep. I woke in
    the morning to find that my wallet had
    been stolen while I slept, and with it
    had gone all the money I had as well
    as my particulars. It was too late to do
    anything about it, so I borrowed 1000
    Naira in small change and drove out
    to work. As I sat in the rain waiting
    for the police to show up, I wondered
    if I hadn’t made a huge mistake by
    ignoring the signs. I was worried
    about how much trouble I could be in,
    especially as I did not have any
    documentation on me. I forced myself
    to be calm. What had happened was
    not my fault. If anything, it was a
    freak accident caused by rain.
    Lagos in the rainy season is not the
    best place in the world to be. Most of
    Lagos is located below sea level, and at
    the best of times Lagos is a humid,
    stuffy city teeming with an endless
    press of human beings and vehicles in
    perpetual, hurried motion. When it
    rains anything more than a slight
    drizzle, Lagos transforms into a vast,
    smelly, malarial swamp with the level
    of activity not in the least diminished.
    As with most places in Nigeria, there is
    a deficit of infrastructure, and so the
    roads are more often than not the
    scenes of huge, snarling traffic jams. It
    required the mental alertness of a
    surgeon and the unflinching courage
    of a soldier to spot and take advantage
    of the gaps in traffic which appeared
    like magic from time to time. This is
    tricky in the best conditions; in a
    heavy downpour, it is as difficult as a
    half-blind, one-handed amputee trying
    to thread a needle.
    As was typical of Lagos, that day, the
    rain started without warning. I had
    only just lowered the visor to stop the
    early evening sun shining into my eye
    and dazzling me when deep thunder
    rumbled and clouds passed across the
    sun and obscured it. I groaned and
    tapped my fingers in frustration
    against the steering wheel. I was just
    climbing onto the Third Mainland
    Bridge and already, traffic was at a
    standstill. I needed to drop off my fare
    in Yaba and somehow make it back to
    Lekki before 8pm. One of my most
    loyal clients needed me to pick her up,
    and I had promised her that I would
    make it on time. Already it was 5pm,
    and the road was blocked. The
    approaching rain was not going to
    make my job any easier.
    The heavens opened up and the rain
    came pouring down in great sheets of
    water. All around me, car lights came
    on and horns blared as drivers reacted
    to the reduced visibility. I turned on
    my lights and dialed up my senses as I
    alternated moving inch by slow inch
    with extended periods of being stuck.
    My wipers could barely keep up with
    the deluge, and I moved carefully,
    peering intensely at the lights of the
    car in front of me. The chattering and
    giggling of my passengers barely
    registered, so intently was I focused on
    the car in front of me. It was only
    when they went quiet that my mind
    returned to the car.
    I was in the next-to-outside lane, the
    last of the four lanes on the bridge. I
    had refused to switch lanes because it
    would be easier for me to turn off into
    the exit for Yaba from my position on
    that lane, and because I was in a
    hurry, I did not want to start cutting
    across lanes as the exit came up. As I
    looked into my rearview mirror in
    reaction to the sudden silence behind
    me, I realized I may have made the
    wrong choice.
    A figure was at the window. With his
    long, flowing tunic and dark jacket, he
    looked like any of the hawkers who
    proliferate in Lagos traffic. He was
    even holding a tray in his left hand,
    but that did not in any way detract
    from what was the snob-nose of a
    pistol in his right hand pointed
    straight through the wound-up window
    at the occupants of the back seat. With
    the water streaming down his face and
    beard, he looked like an angel of death
    coming to claim his next victim, and
    my blood froze. He reached over,
    slowly, deliberately and tapped on the
    window, his meaning clear. I had the
    choice of either winding down or
    picking up flecks of blood and brain
    from my rear seat. I had enough
    experience with guns and weapons to
    realize it really wasn’t much of a
    choice, and so, without making any
    sudden, jerky movements, I reached
    over and wound down the electric
    window.
    He was reaching through the window
    for the handbags and phones when
    many things happened at once.
    The brake lights of the car I was tailing
    went off and it jerked forward like a
    rabbit on methamphetamines. From
    my position higher up the downward-
    sloping road, I could see that traffic at
    the intersection ahead had cleared and
    cars were speeding up. The man in the
    hood was still reaching into the car as
    the cars in the lane beside me sped up
    and closed the gaps in the traffic. A
    cacophony began behind me as palms
    slammed down on horns. His head had
    just gotten into the car when the car
    behind me pulled out to the left and
    the car behind it pulled out to my
    right. I saw the whiz of motion on my
    left out of the corner of my eye and
    instinctively lifted my foot from the
    brake and cut to the right. It was at
    this point that the frantic events
    simultaneously sped up to warp speed
    and slowed down to half speed.
    The car began aquaplaning and I ran
    into the car trying to overtake me on
    my right, smashing into its side with
    the force of a hammer on bricks. The
    rain was still pouring down, but the
    sound of the impact could be heard
    even above the roar of the rain. My
    car fishtailed, and I slammed on the
    brakes and shifted into neutral as I
    tried to gain back control. My efforts
    were fruitless. The side of the car on
    the right had an inelastic collision
    with the side of my bumper and
    peeled it off like the top of a tin of
    sardines as it accelerated forward.
    In 1687, Sir Isaac Newton, more than
    anyone at that time, expanded the
    borders of science. He published 3
    laws that laid the foundations for
    classical mechanics and investigated
    and explained the motion and
    behaviours of many physical bodies
    and systems. In particular, Newton’s
    Third Law of Motion states that
    “For every action, there is an equal and
    opposite reaction.”
    This law is the driving principle
    behind both complex and simple
    applications in science. It is the major
    principle behind the launch and
    operation of space craft and rockets, it
    helps in moving automobiles forward
    on roads, it explains why fish can
    swim, and on a larger, more
    important scale, the centripetal force
    of the sun and the reactive centrifugal
    force of the earth ensures that the
    earth remains in position as it
    revolves round the sun. In my case, its
    effect was nothing so groundbreaking
    or overly scientific. It was much
    simpler and dangerous.
    When my bumper was dragged off,
    because of Newton’s Third Law, a
    large counter-force was exerted on the
    car. This would not have normally
    been much of a problem as the car
    was designed to rest squarely on the
    ground. However, in this case, the
    road was wet and the car was already
    skidding, and this magnified the
    problem. The car went into a violent
    spin, turning round and round like a
    spinning corkscrew. The passenger
    door bounced off the rear of the car
    on the right and the boot slammed
    into the side of the car going around
    on my left. A panorama of my life
    flashed before me as my eyes and I
    said a quick prayer as I leaned back in
    my chair and closed my eyes. My only
    desires were that it was swift and that
    I felt no pain.
    As suddenly as it began, it stopped.
    The spinning ended, and almost
    unbelieving, I opened my eyes in
    shock. I was still strapped into the
    driver’s seat of the car with my hand
    on the gear s---t and blood on my
    face. I sat unmoving for a few seconds
    until the tingling in my feet and the
    horns of Lagos drivers reminded me
    that I was in the middle of traffic at
    rush hour. The car had gone off in all
    the excitement and, almost reverently,
    I turned the key and drove out of
    traffic to the side of the road. I sat in
    my seat shaking from head to toe like
    a wet dog after a bath. I was not the
    most religious of men, but it was very
    clear that a miracle had occurred and
    a higher power had saved me from
    certain death. My fares seated in the
    back seat were saying “thank you
    Jesus Jesu seun thank God” over and
    over, and my emotions got the better
    of me and I buried my head in my
    hands and cried unabashedly.
    When I lifted up my head, the rain
    was stopping. In the grey light of rain-
    soaked evening, I could make out
    drivers shaking their heads in what
    appeared to be pity at me as they
    drove past. The drivers of the cars I
    had hit had parked further down, and
    as the rain reduced, they came down
    from their cars to approach me. They
    had only taken a few steps when they
    stood frozen, turned back to their cars
    and drove away. I was ecstatic at my
    good fortune, and opened the door to
    assess the damages. In another second,
    I was hunched over the guard railings,
    vomiting my lunch into the lagoon
    below.
    My car was bashed-in and dented in
    at least 10 places, and I was missing a
    bumper and both side mirrors and
    headlights, but that was not the worst
    thing I saw. Body parts were flung
    over the road like a child’s toys in a
    tantrum. The road around my car was
    slick with blood and entrails and
    bodily fluids, and the body of the car
    was sprinkled with wide, uneven,
    messy streaks of red like the work of a
    drunken painter on a blank palette.
    The body of the man who was trying to
    rob the car was still wedged partway
    into the car, but his torso was lacking
    a lower half, and blood flowed from
    him like water from a burst pressure
    pipe. It was obvious what had
    happened: he had been flung around
    as the car spun, and wedged as he was
    in the back seat, he hadn’t been able to
    protect himself. His legs were snapped
    off like dry twigs, and his torso had
    been severed at the waist, the impact
    and speed of the moving cars slicing
    through him like a sharp knife through
    a hunk of ham. It was a truly gory
    sight, and again, I dragged myself to
    the edge of bridge and vomited over
    and over until I was dry-heaving.
    When I could empty my stomach no
    more, I flipped out my phone and
    called my Lekki fare to tell her I would
    be unable to pick her up. Then I sat
    down to wait for the police.

    EPISODE 12

    SLIM, SHADY
    Let me give you some free good advice
    borne out of my many years of
    experience on the streets of Lagos:
    Avoid the police as much as you
    possibly can. If by some unfortunate
    event you happen to have a run-in
    with them, resolve it as soon as you
    can. Whatever you do, try your best to
    ensure that you do not make it into a
    police station. It is about the worst
    blunder you can make. You would only
    end up regretting it.
    For someone who has been in trouble
    as many times as I have, it is
    paradoxical to have developed a habit
    of keeping as far away from the police
    as possible. The police is considered to
    be an enemy only to those who are
    breaking the law or breaching the
    peace, and all well-meaning,
    respectable people like me who only
    desire to live life and go about their
    lawful business have nothing to fear
    from them. In fact, their unofficial
    motto, seen many sprayed, pasted on
    or scribbled on the walls and desks of
    their stations nationwide is “the Police
    is your friend.” That might yet be true,
    but in my long, storied years living
    and making a living on the streets and
    inner reaches of Lagos, I have only
    had tales of woe to tell. It didn’t matter
    whether I was the victim or the
    perpetrator; any contact with the
    police ended with me being accused of
    something and having to bail myself
    out, usually within eyesight of the
    banner or poster that ironically
    proclaimed ‘bail is free.’
    It is because of the police that I am
    standing shirtless in a puddle in a
    courtyard at midnight, shaking like the
    fronds of the raffia palm tree in a
    gale. My back bore the imprints of
    shoe kicks, and my hands were tied
    behind my back and above my head to
    T-bar. I could feel my shoulders about
    to pop out of their joints, and I stood
    on tiptoe to alleviate the pressure. One
    of my torturers saw this, and he struck
    me across the back of my knees with
    his baton. My legs collapsed under me
    and I sunk to the floor, and my
    shoulders screamed in agony as my
    knees hit the concrete floor with a
    thud. Pain shot through my nerve
    endings, and as I opened my mouth to
    scream, the baton which had struck
    across my knees went across my face.
    I saw it at the last moment and turned
    my head. Instead striking across my
    mouth, it struck the point of my jaw.
    Blood flooded my mouth like from a
    burst hose, and I could feel my jaw
    shift like a door hanging from only one
    hinge. Pain exploded in my head
    again, and this time I surrendered,
    sinking softly into the cocoon of
    unconsciousness, a blessed escape
    from the pain.
    Someone was emptying a bucket of
    water over me. In the cold, damp air,
    it was like a shot of cocaine. I came
    fully awake, vibrating like a reed. I
    scrambled to my feet, hanging my
    weight from my tied up hands. A
    leather belt struck my bare back
    repeatedly, and the cold water and
    rough leather chaffed the welts, the
    effect feeling like medium sandpaper
    on my back.
    “Dan iska. You go give statement
    now?”
    I forced one eye open against the
    moisture-laden wind that was
    billowing. The owner of the voice was
    standing under a lightbulb just under
    the eaves of the door leading to the
    courtyard, and the look of relaxed glee
    on his face was in contrast to the
    tattered, dirty uniform he wore. It was
    the same officer that had been
    interrogating me since I was bundled
    unceremoniously into the station 6
    hours earlier.
    It had been 6 hours of pain,
    intimidation and constant
    interrogation. For some reason,
    Officer Danjuma was convinced that I
    had run over and killed the man. It
    didn’t help that all my witnesses had
    driven on and the passengers I was
    carrying had gotten into another cab.
    It was my word against his, and at the
    moment, my word was not worth
    much. It didn’t help that I couldn’t
    him, nor did it help that my cab had
    no fire extinguisher or C-caution sign.
    In his book, I was guilty, and he was
    determined to sweat a confession out
    of me.
    “Oga, I dey tell you true. I no kill that
    man.”
    “You still dey lie. You dey drive car,
    jam person kill am. You no get license.
    You no get papers. You no get money.
    You still no wan write statement. E be
    like say we never treat you well.”
    “Oga, I swear to God…”
    “You never ready. Bature, give am
    another 5 for me.”
    I tensed my back in anticipation of the
    baton blow. It didn’t come. What came
    instead was a horrible stinging-tearing
    sensation as the multi-stranded koboko
    whipped through the air and landed
    on my exposed back, neck and thighs. I
    screamed and started weaving my
    head and neck to avoid the whip
    landing on my neck, ignoring the
    building pain in my shoulders. Five
    strokes of the arm later, Bature was
    done, and my skin hung in bleeding
    strips from my back.
    “You go write correct statement now?”
    I could barely form the words, my
    teeth chattered so.
    “I s….swea…swear no be so e hap…
    happen. Na my car ki…ki..kill am, but
    I no c…c…climb am kill am.”
    “Gindi uwar ka. You don dey talk
    another one now. Before, no be you
    kill am. Now, na another thing you dey
    talk. Bature!”
    “Oga.”
    “Carry this scallywag enter cell. We go
    deal with am for morning. If you like,
    no talk. When we transfer you, your
    own don be be that.”
    I shuddered. I knew and had seen
    what happened inside cells, and I had
    to stay out of there.
    “Please. Abeg. I no do anything…”
    Bature was not listening. He swept my
    feet from under me, cracking me on
    the head with his baton as I fell. The
    lights dimmed, and I plunged into
    darkness.
    ***
    I woke up suddenly, like someone who
    had overbalanced a chair and started
    falling. In spite of the sweat pouring
    out of my pores, I was shivering, my
    teeth chattering like keys dangling in a
    chain. Slowly, trying not to attract
    attention to the fact that I was awake,
    I took inventory of my location. The
    sun was shining through slats in the
    window cut high in the wall. I realized
    it was morning and I had slept through
    the night. I was stretched out on the
    bare floor of a room that was more
    steamy and stuffy than a sauna, and
    my feet were resting on the opposite
    wall. My bare feet drew attention to
    the fact that I was naked save for my
    boxers, with the cold from the floor
    seeping into my body. My back still
    throbbed, and sweat was stinging my
    wounds. Unconsciously, I groaned.
    “Boss, he don wake.”
    My groan was cut off and my blood
    turned to ice. Here I was, a helpless,
    badly beaten taxi driver amongst
    people who were probably hardened
    career criminals. I expected to feel
    hands and fists land on my body, and
    I slowly opened my eyes, expecting to
    see lecherous stares and vicious snarls.
    To my surprise, all I saw was a circle
    of men sitting and standing, all their
    attention focused on me. It was
    impossible to mask the shock I felt.
    “Una shift back give am space make he
    see breeze.”
    The voice was familiar, but in my
    pain-filled condition, I couldn’t place
    it. I struggled to sit up and dragged
    myself to the free space near the door
    to the cell, gulping down the cool air
    thankfully. It was a welcome relief
    from the stuffiness of the cell, and I
    was grateful that whoever was in
    charge had allowed me this small
    favor. When I no longer felt light-
    headed, I looked around for my
    protector. My face was still swollen,
    and the light in the cell was poor, so I
    didn’t make out any familiar face.
    “Na me you dey find.”
    He walked into the weak circle of light
    at the entrance of the cell, and in spite
    of my hurting jaw, my mouth dropped
    open.
    “Shady?”
    “Na me be that. Wetin bring you here?
    Wetin dem talk say you do?”
    I told him, my narrative impaired by
    my injuries. It was with great relief I
    got to the end of my story and to the
    point where Danjuma told Bature to
    throw me into the cell. Shady shook
    his head, his face flushing with anger.
    “Omo ale ni Danjuma yen. I sabi am.
    He like money well well. Na why I dey
    here sef. Once I settle him, I go
    commot. If you no get money give am,
    he go just say you be thief transfer you
    commot from here. If you leave here
    and your people know sabi where you
    dey, your own don finish be that.
    Anybody sabi say you dey police cell?”
    I had had no family in Lagos since
    Uncle Mufu died, and Temi had
    traveled. I shook my head. Even that
    simple motion sent arrows of pain
    through my brain, and I winced.
    Shady noticed.
    “Na your type he dey like. If he come
    this morning and you never ready sort
    am, he go just say you be armed
    robber transfer you go another station.
    You don die be that.”
    I shuddered. Shady said it matter-of-
    factly, like he was talking about what
    meal to eat for breakfast. I wondered
    how he could be so blunt, so
    nonchalant about something that
    serious. It was a matter of life and
    death he was talking about, but he was
    so relaxed about it that I was deathly
    afraid. Shady was still talking.
    “You get any way you go fit pay am?”
    Again I shook my head. Scenes from
    the future passed through my head: I
    could see myself screaming and
    protesting my innocence as I sat
    handcuffed and trussed up in the rear
    seat of a police van surrounded by
    armed guards. It was not a pleasant
    sight.
    Shady was still talking. His voice had
    dropped very low, so soft I could
    barely hear him.
    “I no ever forget that day wey my
    brother die, how you help me, how you
    save my life. That day, I wan tell you
    thank you, but you run commot. I go
    help you commot here. Leave me and
    Danjuma. I go help you settle am.”
    I looked up into his face. He had
    changed since the last time I saw him.
    When he still looked like the fresh-
    faced boy of yore, his face was
    slimmer and more drawn, and his eyes
    had lost the sparkle of youth. He
    looked more calculating, more
    conniving. He looked like he was able
    to simultaneously charm a lady and
    stab a man effortlessly. From the way
    the other cell occupants paid him
    respect, I knew he was high on the list
    of leaders of the underworld, and I
    had no doubt he was going to do what
    he said. There was only one thing to
    do.
    “Thank you.”
    “No thank me. Na because of you I
    never die. This one no be anything.
    Just make sure say when I dey commot
    you sef don ready commot.”
    ****
    It had been 2 months since I got out of
    the cell. My wounds had healed, and
    my jaw had stopped aching. I finished
    the phone call and hung up the phone,
    extremely angry and frustrated. I had
    failed again. My fingers beat a
    tuneless pattern on the bench I was
    sitting on, and with sudden violence, I
    rose from the bench, barely
    restraining myself from hurling my
    phone at the wall. Only the fact that I
    had no money to replace it stopped
    me. I paced up and down the length of
    the corridor in front of my room,
    exhaling through flared nostrils to
    calm myself down.
    A few minutes later, I had calmed
    down slightly. I looked at my phone to
    check the time and stood rooted to the
    spot, wondering why the idea had
    never occurred to me earlier. If there
    was anyone that could help, it would
    be him.
    He had, in a display of prescience,
    insisted I take his number.
    “Just take am. Anything wey you need,
    just call me, I go help you. You fit no
    need the number now now, but if
    nothing, one day, call me make we jam
    make we go drink beer and
    peppersoup.”
    The idea that I would need his help
    had looked ludicrous then, but right
    now, I was glad he had insisted. If
    anyone was going to help me retrieve
    my taxi from Officer Danjuma, it
    would be him. I had seen how he
    secured my release from jail, and it
    was obvious that he could solve any
    problem related to the police. In
    addition, I had taken an oath
    affirming me as a member of the gang,
    and the oath was still binding, to the
    best of my knowledge. He was obliged
    to help me out.
    Temi and mother flashed through my
    mind as I thought of my next course of
    action, but I pushed them out of my
    mind. I was running out of money,
    and while my taxi remained
    impounded, I had no means of making
    an income. They would have to
    understand. In any case, I had nothing
    to lose.
    I scrolled through my contacts and
    called Shady.

    EPISODE 13

    LEGERDEMAIN
    When I told Shady about my
    confiscated cab, he had promised to
    retrieve it. He had simply said:
    “I go help you get your motor. Call me
    on Friday. I go tell you where you go
    fit meet me collect am.”
    Three days later, I was staring open-
    mouthed as I stood in the parking lot
    of the shopping complex with Shady.
    The vehicle parked in front of me was
    not the battered, bloodstained jalopy
    that was involved in the accident. This
    was a spruced-up car that growled like
    a contended cat when I turned on the
    engine. He had even filled up the tank
    and fixed the air-conditioning. It was
    like having a new car: it seemed only
    the plate number remained of the old
    wreck that was my car.
    “Thank you, Shady. Na God go bless
    you.”
    “No mention. I tell you say I never
    forget how you save me that day wey
    Yellow die. Na how I wan tell you
    thank you be this. Na small thing.”
    “Thank you. I go pay you back, I
    promise.”
    He threw his head back and laughed.
    “Which one be ‘I go pay you back’?
    You be my guy. I do am for you as my
    guy. If say you wan help me with my
    work, e different, but I no do am say I
    wan make you pay me back.”
    I got his message. He needed my help,
    but he wasn’t going to ask. I owed him,
    and honor dictated I helped him out.
    “I go help you with your work be that.
    I no fit just commot as you help me
    like this. Wetin you go want make I
    do?”
    He looked me in the eye, my steady
    gaze matching his unbroken one. The
    earnest seriousness in my eyes must
    have persuaded him.
    “Azed, I need driver.”
    ****
    The view from the cab of the trailer I
    was driving was breathtaking. Verdant
    fields sped by the sides of the truck in
    a blur of beautiful, dazzling colour.
    From my seat high above the road, I
    admired the beauty that surrounded
    me, slightly overwhelmed at how much
    of a panoramic view of the almost-
    endless vegetation and landforms I
    had. Beside me, the other occupant of
    the cab was looking at me with scorn-
    flecked amusement.
    “Wetin dey do you?”
    I turned my head to look at Shady. He
    looked like he was trying to stifle his
    laughter.
    “Wetin you mean? Nothing dey do me.
    I be like who something dey do?”
    “Look your face. You be like all those
    oyinbo people wey dey go Kenya look
    lion. Like say na one better thing you
    dey look. Do well abeg.”
    His words snapped me into the
    present. I had to admit he had a point.
    What I was doing was dangerous,
    illegal work, and I really could not
    afford to get distracted. It was my first
    time of driving this route, and I
    wanted it to be incident-free.
    “No mind me o. Dey look your grass
    dey go. Just shine your eye well well.
    Night go soon fall. Na that time e go
    hard.”
    The sun was dipping beneath the
    horizon, painting the sky overhead
    with haughty strokes of red and
    orange and purple and yellow and
    magenta. It was a truly glorious sight,
    but I was no longer looking. There was
    something in Shady’s tone that I had
    noticed. While the words were one of
    casual, dismissive playfulness, the tone
    was that of a businessman concerned
    about the safe arrival of his cargo. Yet
    again, I marveled at how much Shady
    had grown and matured, how much he
    seemed to impose himself and take
    charge. It was very different from the
    teary-eyed boy who I had saved from
    the falling crane and automatic fire
    those few months ago.
    I turned on my headlights. In the
    fading twilight, I could make out a
    checkpoint ahead, the drums and
    sandbags narrowing the road to a
    single lane. Vehicles were parked on
    the side of the road, and armed
    customs officers were searching them.
    We were traveling on a well-known
    smuggler’s route, and it was not
    difficult to surmise that the huge
    trailer would attract attention. Shady
    had seen the checkpoint, and he
    banged on the wall of the cab behind
    me, his blows reverberating through
    the trailer behind.
    “Una take cover. We don dey reach
    checkpoint.”
    Rapid movement and scratching
    sounds came from behind me. Beyond
    the fact that I knew there were people
    and cargo, I had no idea what we were
    transporting. I was only a driver. I
    had learnt my lesson- in the event that
    anything went wrong, I could safely
    claim to have had no idea of what we
    were carrying. Shady broke into my
    thoughts.
    “When dem stop us, no fear. Just do
    normally. Nothing go happen.”
    I was already in the line of cars
    inching up to the checkpoint, and I
    just nodded. I inched forward slowly
    with the line of cars, pulling over to
    the side of the road when, quite
    predictably, I was ordered to stop.
    A Customs officer holding a shotgun
    and waving a torch signaled that we
    should get down from the cab. Without
    his lips moving, Shady turned and
    whispered to me.
    “I sabi this man. Nothing dey to fear.
    Just leave me make I answer question
    if he ask.”
    I saw him mouthing something, but I
    couldn’t make out the words he was
    saying. It did not even seem like he
    was talking to me anymore, and we
    were on the road by this time, so I
    didn’t pay it much mind.
    “Officer, good evening.”
    “Ehen. Good evening. Wetin you dey
    carry?”
    “Na just grass o. Nothing dey inside.”
    “Which one be grass? Why you dey
    carry grass? Grass no full everywhere
    for Nigeria?”
    “My uncle get big farm. We get one
    supplier from up North. I dey help am
    transport am for him cows.”
    “I hear you. Open am make I see.”
    I shook inwardly. Shady’s excuses
    were flimsy at best, and ridiculous. I
    wished he had picked a more sensible
    lie. Why would a truck be carrying
    grass just 2km from the border? The
    gun was cocked and aimed as Shady
    opened the door slowly, without any
    dramatics. I watched the officer’s face
    as the door came open, and when his
    mouth dropped, I looked into the
    truck.
    Bales of grass filled the floor area,
    extending along the walls and
    reaching to the ceiling, arranged in
    straight lines like children on an
    assembly line. The sweet smell of
    freshly-cut grass wafted from the open
    door into the cool night air. There
    were no containers, no signs of any
    human presence, nothing that
    indicated we were carrying
    contraband. There was only grass.
    “You fit close am now. Close am dey
    go.”
    “Thank you officer.”
    Shady punched me on my arm. “Come
    make we dey go.”
    We had been driving in silence for
    more than 10 minutes when I let out
    the question that was on my mind.
    “Shady, what happened there?”
    He laughed till tears and snot ran
    down his face.
    “Wetin happen for the checkpoint?”
    He took out a hadkerchief, cleaned his
    face and nose, his face still flushed
    from laughing. Only when he had
    regained his composure did he speak
    again.
    “Dey drive go. I go tell you when we
    reach.”
    90 minutes later, following Shady’s
    signal, I pulled off the road and
    followed a narrow, half-hidden path,
    driving deeper into the tangle of
    bushes that lined the road. The
    headlamps of the truck cut a swathe
    through the deep darkness, parting
    shadows like a machete through dense
    foliage. In time the lights reflected
    from the shiny, corrugated metal fence
    that was the exterior wall of our
    destination, and I slowed down and
    cut speed as we approached. The roll-
    up door of the warehouse was open.
    Someone was expecting us. I drove
    into the huge, cavernous depth and
    parked in the middle of the open
    space. Something akin to déjà vu
    washed over me. The last time I was in
    a warehouse, I had left a sobbing
    Shady behind. This time, however, he
    was in charge and was fully in control
    of his emotions, and as I turned off the
    engine, I noticed him making
    mutterings under his breath just like
    he had at the checkpoint. 4 people
    came out from the shadows and
    gathered around the truck, weapons
    and powerful torches in their hand
    and wary curiosity on their faces as
    they noticed me. Shady gave a nod,
    and relief replaced the fear on their
    faces. I had passed their inspection.
    “Azed, come help me make I open the
    back.”
    I moved over and helped Shady lower
    the heavy tailgate to the ground. My
    lower jaw almost joined it there.
    Arranged in the back were at least 10
    containers in two lines. The spaces
    between each container were
    crammed with new and fairly used
    tires, and in the area between the
    rows, there were secondhand cars tied
    down to the floor of the truck. Instead
    of grass, there was at least 20 million
    Naira worth of goods. I could not
    believe my eyes. I had seen the grass,
    and its smell was still on my shirt.
    With supreme effort I forced the two
    halves of my jaws together and turned
    my unbelieving eyes to Shady.
    “Wetin be this? Wetin happen?”
    He laughed again.
    “Na one small thing baba help us do be
    that. You like am ba?”
    My eyes only widened further.
    “Baba na strong man o. Na so we go
    dey confuse everybody wey stop us for
    road. Just dey look.”
    I shook my head, my face emotionless
    but my heart racing. I wondered what
    I had gotten myself into. This was not
    only illegal, it was more than a bit
    diabolical. However, I held my peace. I
    wanted to see the conclusion of the
    matter, and the fact that Shady had
    promised to pay me more than
    200,000 stilled my tongue.
    “Oya oya no dey look like dumbaby
    come join hand make we commot all
    this load. Make we do make I pay you
    your money. Me sef don tire. I wan
    sleep.”
    ***
    Something had gone wrong.
    The entire evening had flown by in a
    blur of motion and speed, and I had
    barely caught my breath in the
    preceding 4 hours. My heart was still
    thumping from the near call, and my
    hands still shook. I shuddered
    involuntary, remembering how I had
    come perilously close to losing control
    of the huge truck and crashing into the
    ravine at the side of the road. The
    right side of the culvert had collapsed
    as we drove over it at speed, and the
    truck had tipped further and further
    to the right, its momentum yanking it
    out of my control. How I had managed
    to regain control of the truck, I still
    couldn’t tell. It was a miracle.
    It was not the near-accident that made
    me realize that something had gone
    terribly, horribly wrong. It was
    Shady’s loud bellow of anger which
    issued from within the warehouse and
    rattled its walls like an explosion. In
    the shadow of the tree where I had
    rushed to relieve myself immediately I
    had parked, my heart jumped. His
    roar was murderous, and I knew that
    whoever was the object of his anger
    would find the quality of his life
    reduced drastically in the not-too-
    distant future. I softly made my way
    back into the warehouse, my arms at
    chest level and well away from my
    body. I did not know how stable Shady
    was, and I did not want any accidents.
    I came to a stunned standstill in the
    doorway of the warehouse.
    The back of the truck was facing me,
    and I could see the cargo area. Instead
    of containers and tires and clothing, it
    was filled with bale on bale of grass,
    their leaves already wilting in the hot,
    humid night air. I stared in surprise as
    the overpowering smell of fermenting
    grass wafted out of the rear of the
    truck. My mind still couldn’t process it.
    “Azed, show.”
    Shady was addressing me, and this
    time, there was nothing friendly about
    his tone. This wasn’t the friendly man
    who had helped me fix my taxi, this
    was a gang leader who had somehow
    lost a large amount of money and was
    pissed about it. I approached
    respectfully.
    “You remember where we dey when
    that customs man stop us?”
    I remembered. It had struck me as
    strange, the location the checkpoint
    was mounted. It was more far away
    from the border than we were used to,
    and more surprisingly, the officers on
    duty had appeared very relaxed,
    almost unconcerned as they carried
    out their duties. They seemed to be
    safe in the knowledge that no
    contraband was going to get beyond
    their checkpoint, no matter how the
    smugglers tried to mask it.
    “I remember.”
    “That person wey follow me go back, if
    you see am again, you go remember
    him face?”
    I knew who he was talking about. The
    customs man who had walked with me
    and Shady to the rear of the truck was
    peculiar. Where all the other officers
    we had met had been immediately
    dubious of our claims of carrying
    grass, this one had almost seemed like
    he didn’t need to see the grass to be
    convinced. He had merely asked Shady
    twice if he was certain that it was
    grass he was carrying. When Shady
    replied in the affirmative both times,
    he had flicked his hand in a gesture of
    dismissal and walked away. He hadn’t
    even looked into the back.
    “I remember am. I even remember his
    name. Raymond T.B.”
    “Na him spoil the jazz baba do. E sure
    me.”
    He stood up from his haunches and
    began pacing round the truck, his
    voice and pitch rising with every step.
    “I go find that guy. For this thing wey
    he do wey my money don loss, I go
    find that guy, and I go f--k am up. He
    think say him jazz strong. Make we
    dey look.”
    Everyone averted their eyes, focusing
    on the floor, the walls, anywhere but
    Shady. I knew what they were
    thinking, because I was thinking it too.
    If a man was strong enough to counter
    powerful magic and turn millions of
    Naira worth of goods to worthless
    grass, how did Shady plan to find him
    and deal with him?
    “No touch anything again. When
    morning break, make everybody
    commot here. I go meet baba. When he
    don show me how I go do am, I go
    send una message. But the one wey
    sure me na say I go f--k Raymond up.”
    ****
    The call had come in, at last.
    “Meet me for the warehouse by 9pm
    tonight”, Shady’s unmistakable voice
    had said, and then cut off the call.
    Temi had just come over to visit. I had
    spent most of the last hour thinking of
    how to inform her that I would be
    leaving, and eventually, I gave up and
    told her the truth. She had been angry
    when I told her I was going, and had
    pressed until I told her what Shady
    was planning to do.
    “You dey find revenge? After what
    happened to you for that foreman
    place?”
    “I have to. Everything is in place. Too
    many people are counting on me. I
    can’t afford to pull out now.”
    “Please, I am begging. You’re not a
    thief abi whatever it is una wan do. I
    no sabi where this your ginger dey
    from come. I know you. Even this
    driving business that you’re doing for
    this gang, no be you. I no wan come
    your burial.”
    Her words cut into my heart. I knew I
    liked her, and it felt good to realize
    someone else cared about me. For the
    first time since Fadeke, I felt the
    butterflies in my stomach. I lifted her
    face till she was looking into my eyes.
    There were tears in the corners of her
    eyes. Carefully, gently, I wiped them
    away with my thumbs and hugged her
    to me.
    “I’ll be careful. I will come back to
    you. I promise I will talk to him after
    this. This will be my last trip. Please
    try to understand. I have to do this.”
    She turned away so I couldn’t see her
    face. I moved over to the shelf and
    picked my keys up and turned to her
    again.
    “I’m leaving. Don’t be afraid. I’ll be
    back.”
    Her head was still bowed, the late
    twilight casting a shadow on her
    features. My hand was on the door
    handle when she spoke again.
    “Azed? I’m pregnant.”

    EPISODE 14(Final)

    FACEDOWN
    When life wants to overwhelm you, everything happens very quickly. There is no slow, tension-generating buildup or gradual, steep climb that leads to a crescendo or plateau. When life starts with you, it dumps everything it has on you at the same time. I was feeling the pressure as I drove my taxi down to the warehouse as Shady had ordered. I would have loved to go somewhere to clear my head and get my priorities straight, but that option wasn’t open to me. I had to admit I was afraid of this new Shady. Shady knew where I lived, so I didn’t want to find out how far he could go when pushed.
    It had to take a decision soon. I would have had to make the choice anyway, but Temi’s news had hastened everything. She was right: what I was doing was risky business, and more importantly, it wasn’t who I was. Sometimes I looked at myself and wondered how I had managed to become a smuggler and gang member. The money was great and I might have started doing it because of mother, but I realized I hadn’t thought of her in weeks. I was doing this was for me. I was doing it because I agreed with it. It meant I had changed from who I initially was and become a criminal, like the people I previously despised.
    It wasn’t only Shady that scared me though. I was going to become a father. I had no idea how to proceed, and was not sure if I had what it took to be a dad. What I knew for a fact was that I was going to be the best dad as I could possibly be. It was a promise I had made myself many years ago, and I was going to keep it.
    The man I knew as my father growing up had not taught me anything that helped my cause to be a good father, but at least he had provided the motivation I needed. Not for me sneaking away at night and abandoning family like he had done when I was 7. I was determined that my wife and children would not have to share my attentions with an outsider, like I had done with mother, competing for father’s attentions with the woman and other family he had outside our home. I had finally gotten to know my biological father as an adult, well after my formative, impressionable years. It was something I wanted none of my kids to ever experience. I wanted to be a part of their lives and give them all the daddy-related experiences I never had as a child. I wanted to solve their homework with them, teach them how to plat ludo and monopoly, and drop them off at school. I needed to stop working for Shady and start legitimate, less dangerous work. I owed it to my kids. They needed their father alive and free.
    The turn-off to the warehouse came into view, interrupting my reflections. The path I was to take was clear before me like orange fluorescent paint on white snow. I was surprised I hadn’t seen it earlier. I was going to keep my word to Temi and make this my last operation. I was ready to bear the consequences. I was going to talk to Shady, but first, there was an Officer Raymond to sort out. The talk was going to have to come later.
    I pulled off the road and followed the path down to the warehouse and my confrontation with my future.
    ***
    It started off poorly.
    I was the last person to the warehouse, and Shady was unimpressed. He had been sitting on the metal bench that was resting against a wall, and when he saw my taxi drive in, he jumped to his feet and stormed outside towards me. It was his eyes I noticed first. They were bloodshot, and his pupils were huge and round his under his glowering eyelids. The nervous tic in his cheek and the way the fingers of his hand drummed against his thigh was all the proof I needed that he was high on something. He didn’t smell of alcohol, so it was probably drugs. I could tell it was not a good idea to annoy him further, so I kept my peace and stared at my feet as he raged at me.
    “Why you just dey come? We dey wait you since. You think say na play we come here play?”
    “I’m sorry.”
    “No sorry me. I tell you 9pm. Na 9:45pm now. You dey mess up. Na nonsense you dey do.”
    I just stared at my feet and did not say anything. He was right.
    “You no fit talk abi? I dey follow you talk you no say anything. B-----d like you. Na why you no get sense.”
    A wave of anger washed over me. During one of the long, dreary drives from the border, I had told Shady my story, and his direct jab at my childhood and family history struck home. My voice rose in anger as I moved in closer to Shady’s face and yelled in his face.
    “No dey call me b-----d. For your life, no ever call me b-----d aga…”
    His arms swung. A fist connected with the soft tissue in my stomach just as a left hook caught me under the jaw. I staggered backwards and crashed into my taxi. I bounced off from the taxi and towards Shady, who hit me again with a 1-2-3 punch combination that pounded my cheek, my lips and my jaw. Blood pooled into my mouth as I bit into my tongue, and blood poured out from my busted lips. I could feel a few teeth wiggle from the force of the blows. I crashed into the floor, and through unfocused eyes, I saw Shady approach. He was breathing hard and bouncing on the balls of his feet like a boxer searching for an opponent. I tried to get back up to my feet, but I was too disoriented. My feet had turned to hot, mushy spaghetti. They couldn’t bear my weight. Shady dragged me by the hair and ear and forced me to my feet, pushing me against my taxi to support my weight. He turned my face until I was looking at him.
    “When I dey follow you talk, just quiet. If you ever shout for me again, I go kill you. Na only say you save me that time make I no chook you knife now. If you try this nonsense again, I go cut your tongue commot. If you no get respect, I go teach you say wall gecko and alligator no be mate.”
    Shady let go of my shirt. I fell unceremoniously to the ground, crumpling like a sack of foam. The back of my head was tender and throbbing where it had smashed against the metal of the taxi, and I lifted a shaky hand to it. There was an egg-sized lump that coated my finger with blood. Stars were still forming in my eyes, and my jaw felt like it had collided with a wall. At that moment, I hated Shady with all of me.
    I picked myself off the floor. In this violent world I was a part of, no one was going to risk Shady’s ire and help me off the floor. I had to show my strength and independence. I limped over to where Shady was addressing the rest of the gang, catching the tail end of his instructions.
    “…we go meet am as e dey commot. Wetin be that him name again?”
    “Raymond.”
    “Yes. Na there he go be with him people. E no go hard.”
    He had seen me limp in through the door.
    “Azed, na you go drive us go. When we reach just park near the door so if when we catch am, we go fit run. “
    He sounded very calm and carefree, almost as if he hadn’t just beaten me up on the grounds outside. My hatred for him intensified, mounting until it was almost choking me. I couldn’t do anything, surrounded as he was with his gang, so I nodded my head in agreement. Inside, I was stewing. I was determined to get my revenge as soon as I got a chance.
    “Remember, we no dey do anything for where he dey. Na just to catch am bring am back. We no wan kill am, so make nobody carry gun. That jazz wey he do, he go come change am make our goods come back. Una hear wetin I talk so?”
    Nods and grunts came from the 3 other people in the warehouse. They sounded like obedient sheep, acquiescing automatically like they lacked a mind of their own. I did not want to become like them, agreeing with the orders of a barely-educated criminal, putting myself in danger because he said so. I had to get out of this life.
    “Oya make we dey go. Time don go. Azed, na you go drive. Hope say you still fit see road.”
    “Where am I driving to?”
    “Enter motor my friend and no dey speak plenty grammar. Na me say make you no hear wetin I talk? Enter motor drive. I go show you road.”
    ***
    Lights were shining brightly, illuminating the car park in an unnaturally white glow that banished the surrounding darkness. I slowed down as I approached the entrance, eyes alert for a drunken clubgoers suddenly crossing the tarmac of the car park. The last thing I wanted was an incident that would attract attention. There was a parking space opposite the entrance to the club, and Shady directed me to park there.
    “Just wait here. He dey drink inside there. We go enter bring am commot. E no suppose pass 30 minutes. Just dey here when we commot. The remaining of una, make we enter.”
    I didn’t know how they had found out that Officer Raymond was going to be at the club that night, but it was not my job to wonder. I had learnt that Shady had his sources. What I knew was that I had a few minutes before they showed up again, and I had to use the time to concoct a plan. I had been thinking all through the drive from the warehouse to this club near the border crossing, and I had the outline of a plan in my head. I was going to play it by ear, but it seemed this was my last chance to leave this gang and this life behind. It had to go smoothly.
    I was tempted to, but I couldn’t just run away or go to the police. That would be exposing me and Temi and our unborn child to revenge from these madmen, and I had seen Shady working his magic with the police, so I didn’t trust them. I needed to make a clean break, to break from them such that I was in no danger of being tracked down by them. It meant I needed them dead or in custody they couldn’t escape from. Things had to proceed exactly as I imagined it. So far, luck was on my side. It was time to put my plan into play.
    I left the spot Shady had instructed me to park in and drove down the car park, parking a few yards away. From where I was, I could see the entrance of the club, but anyone coming out would find it difficult to pick out my car at first glance. When I was satisfied, I turned off the engine and waited. I had bought myself a few seconds, and that was all I needed. Now, I could only wait and pray.
    A few minutes later, a huge shout erupted from within the club. It was followed by the sounds of a scuffle, progressively growing louder as more and more people joined in. I sat up straight in my seat and turned on the engine. This was what I was waiting for. The scuffle grew into a mass brawl as they moved towards the entrance, and I stared with narrowed eyes at the door. It burst open and the fighting mass spilled out of the club into the car park. In the lead was Shady, dragging a struggling Officer Raymond. Shady spun him around and hit him in the face. His struggling ceased, and Shady began dragging him towards where I had parked.
    His progress was impeded by the other members of the mob, some of whom were also in Customs uniform. They swung wild punches and aimed bottles and chairs at Shady and his people. 2 of the people from the warehouse were down, crumbling beneath blows from infuriated clubbers, and the one standing person was struggling to free himself from the clutches of a bouncer 3 times his size. His struggles were futile, and the bouncer lifted him into the air like a pillow and tossed him against a wall where he slid down and came to rest, quite unconscious.
    That left only Shady.
    It seemed he realized it at the same moment I did, because he let go of his captive and ran. He sped like a cat on fire through the parking lot and was almost out of the gate before any of the attacking crowd could gather their drunken wits and give chase. A few started after him but changed their minds, returning their attentions to the three other people still on the premises. Someone lifted Raymond up from where he had fallen and carried him back into the club. I stopped looking, because it was time for me to make my move.
    ***
    I caught up with Shady about 150 meters down the road. His chest was heaving and his shirt was torn and flapping in the wind. He made to start running again when he saw the car, but then he recognized me and stopped. Anger passed over his features, even as he stuck his hand out, waving frantically for me to slow down.
    “Where you been go when….”
    His words were cut off, as slowly, deliberately, I drove the car into him, hitting him with just enough force to sweep him off his feet and knock him flat onto the road. His face changed from anger to fear as his brain processed what was happening. He scrambled to his feet and tried to run for the bushes at the side of the road. Almost casually, I accelerated and knocked him down again, this time with more force. In the light of the headlamps, he looked like a soft doll knocked onto the floor. Within myself, I felt no pity.
    “Abeg. Abeg. No do this kain thing.”
    I heard his plea for mercy above the growl of the engine. It didn’t move me. He tried to make a dash for it, heading back towards the club. He preferred the violence there to the crazed driver that was hunting him. I gunned the engine and accelerated, sweeping him into the air and over the top of the car. I made a U-turn and faced down the road towards him. He had landed hard, and he seemed to be in pain. Just to make sure, I drove the car towards him, climbing over his left leg with the front tire. There was a satisfying ‘crrraaaaccck’ as the bone broke. I parked the car, turned off the engine and walked back to where he was trashing and screaming in pain on the ground.
    “Heys. Listen to me. I tell you make you no call me b-----d you no gree. You see as the matter end so? You for just hear me.”
    He was shivering, going into shock from the pain.
    “I no dey do this your work again. No find me. Me and you don finish our business. I no dey do again. I hope say na the last time wey I go see you be this. If we see each other again, na your head I go use tire climb. You hear me so?”
    He groaned, spit dribbling from his mouth. My message had been acknowledged and heeded. I went back to the car and removed the floor mats from the back, laying it over him for warmth. I also removed the C-caution sign and placed it near him. This close to the border, he was going to be picked up by a Customs patrol. If nothing else, he was near the club. He was certain to be picked up. It was time for me to leave.
    “I dey commot. Remember, no try track me. No make I see you again. I mean wetin I tell you.”
    I got into the car and drove away from the twitching, rapidly-decreasing figure of Shady in my rearview mirror. It felt symbolic: I was leaving the past behind and going into my future. I went round a bend and Shady disappeared from view. Ahead of me was free road and the promise of a future with Temi. The past was behind me. It was time for the future.
    EPILOGUE
    The man in the seat behind me had been quiet since I finished my story. I sneaked a glance in my mirror. He had a faraway look in his eyes. I had gotten to Gbagada, and I needed to know where to drop him off.
    “Where do I go now sir? We’re in Gbagada now.”
    He jerked as if startled and focused his eyes on me.
    “Just turn into Phase One. My house is near the entrance.”
    I followed his instructions. Soon, I was pulling up in front of his house. Only after he paid the fare did he speak.
    “Your story is an interesting one, and it is almost too good to be true. But I know it’s true, so that brings up an interesting dilemma for me. I am sworn to uphold the law, and so I should arrest you. You have just confessed to smuggling, theft, conspiracy to kidnap and other crimes. But on the other hand… What happened after you left Shady?”
    “Well, sir, I went back to driving my taxi. I make good money from it, so I don’t need to be a criminal anymore. Moreover, I got married to Temi, and our daughter Remi is 4 months old now. I can’t be a criminal ever again. Remi needs me. Temi needs me. Mother needs me.”
    “Well, Mr Azed, you sound like you have both sense and a bright future ahead of you. I’m going to let you go.”
    “Thank you sir. I assure you I’ve changed.”
    “I should say this now. Thank you for not allowing Shady to kidnap me.”
    “It’s nothing sir.”
    “Did you recognize me when I got into your taxi earlier?”
    “I did, which is why I could tell you my story. I normally do not talk about my life with my fares.”
    He got out of the taxi and leaned in through my window. “All the best, Mr Azed.”
    “Thank you sir.”
    He began to walk away. This was my chance.
    “Excuse me sir. What happened to Shady? Did you find him?”
    “Don’t worry about Shady. He is of no threat to you for the next 30 years at least. The courts don’t look kindly on criminals trying to kidnap government officials.”
    I smiled. That was one weight off my chest.
    “He probably will never walk or stand again, but that is no loss to society.”
    I bowed my head.
    “Good night, Mr Azed. Your wife will be waiting.”
    “Good night sir.”
    He was right. It was time to go home.
    THE END

    Post a Comment

    0 Comments