Chapter 5 - From Here to Where?
The only word to describe how Iskilu felt was misery. All of his savings had gone into recovering the motorcycle confiscated by the police. Also, the owner of the bike had called him that evening, requesting for his property. Even if he had left it with Iskilu, he knew the bike would be a liability as long as the state ban was operational.
His friends were about to leave. Some were returning to Niger while others were relocating to other states where the ban had not been commanded. Muhammed was one of those returning to Niger and had persuaded Iskilu to follow suit. Unequivocally, Iskilu had told him that there was nothing waiting for him at home but hunger, depression, overwhelming responsibility and a quick death. Still, as he watched them leave before the sun rose, he couldn’t help but wonder if those four foes wouldn’t get him here.
An hour later, his friends had gone. He sat on the booth of a decommissioned car and mulled over available options. He could become a Kole, someone who disposes rubbish. The constructed cart couldn’t be so expensive. He could strike a deal with his current benefactor to procure the cart. But it was a dirty, dirty job and he had always hated it. The thought of dipping his hands in someone’s rubbish made him feel like vomiting. The other alternative was to speak to the tenants here and be converted to a full-time security guard. But all the tenants, except for one, were rude and condescending. They sent him on mostly ridiculous errands and they barely gave him enough to cover costs. As far as they were concerned, they were doing him a huge favour by allowing him to sleep in their compound. If he became their full-time employee, he would become their slave. Allah forbids.
His head started hurting. He got off the car’s booth and went for a walk. He was barely 10 meters away from his original point when he heard his name.
‘Iskilu,’ the person called again. It was stocky Benjamin. Iskilu had heard rumors about him being a small-time burglar. There had been no evidence, though. Iskilu waited for him.
‘Morning Benjamin. How far?’
‘Iskilu my man!’ Benjamin hailed and raised his hand to fist bump Iskilu’s.
Grudgingly, Iskilu raised his to complete the greeting gesture. ‘Na Iskilu. No spoil my name.’
‘No vex, correct guy. Your brothers don commot. You no go?’
‘I no dey go anywhere.’
‘Smart guy,’ Benjamin grinned. He was missing a tooth. ‘Na Lagos life dey.’
‘Wetin you want?’ Iskilu asked him.
‘This one wey government don ban Okada, how you wan take survive?’
‘I still dey think am.’
Benjamin edged a little closer. Iskilu could smell gin. ‘See, I fit help you…if you help me.’
Iskilu was almost certain that whatever Benjamin was going to propose could never be good. ‘How?’
‘Correct guy,’ Benjamin tapped Iskilu’s shoulder. ‘You see e. I know say that big man for una compound don travel. The one wey you dey sleep for him veranda. I wan visit una compound day after tomorrow when tenants don sleep. Make I take something light,’ he winked, ‘make I take am hold body small. I go settle you too. No need to open gate o. I go find my way.’
Iskilu knew exactly what Benjamin’s visit meant. ‘Abeg Benjamin. I no dey interested.
Benjamin smiled. ‘Think am well. Think am well well.’ He tapped Iskilu’s arm again and returned to the direction he came from.
Iskilu shook his head. As much as Benjamin’s offer was preposterous, Iskilu knew that nefarious activities would become less nefarious as soon as survival is threatened. There was nothing to think about any longer; he had to explore his options.
Kenneth looked up as Charles walked into the fast-food restaurant, wearing a casual T-shirt and a pair of jeans. He was lanky, a foot taller than Kenneth was and had a calm visage. He smiled reassuringly when he spotted Kenneth.
‘Hello Kenneth,’ he greeted and offered a handshake.
He accepted the gesture. ‘Hello Charles.’
As soon as Charles took a seat, Kenneth continued: ‘I’m sorry I haven’t returned any of your calls.’
Charles smiled. ‘Not a problem.’ He studied Kenneth’s face for a fraction of a second. ‘Is everything alright?’
There was no point holding back. ‘Nothing is fine. I am responsible for the death of someone.’ He half expected Charles to do something abrupt like get off the chair, provide some excuse and walk away. It would be a reasonable response.
‘Would you like to tell me about it?’
Kenneth was glad he didn’t leave and instantly dived into the tale. Charles made no attempt to interrupt him as he recanted everything. Kenneth noted that there was no judgement in his eyes and that gave him encouragement.
‘…so, I have her blood on my hands,’ Kenneth finished.
‘Can I tell you my story?’
‘I grew up in poverty and watched my mother die of an illness because we could not afford basic medical attention. I was evacuated from our home, shabby as it was. To survive, I did a lot of odd jobs that were unprofitable. A stranger in our area took pity on me – or at least that’s what I thought it was at that time – and offered me refuge. In return, I had to engage in petty theft for him. It wasn’t a hard choice as the alternative was unbearable. I got so good at pickpocketing that I brought back an average of 5 mobile phones every night. But as they say, many days for the thief, one day for the owner. One night, I stole a phone but the owner noticed barely seconds after I had taken it from his pocket. It was a long chase which ended in our neighborhood. My benefactor came to my rescue and challenged him. A fight ensued which resulted in the death of the owner of the phone.’ Charles sighed. ‘His blood was on my hands and the guilt ate me up for many years to come. Even doing time in prison for 3 years wasn’t penance enough. I hated myself and would have taken my life if I hadn’t met Christ through some random flyer.’
Kenneth was surprised that calm, patient Charles had been through all that. ‘So just like that the guilt stopped?’
Charles smiled. ‘No, but it was a start. We are humans, after all. Faith in God’s words and time will do that in due course. And more importantly, taking the step to give yourself to Christ would mold you into a better man, one who can reach his full potential and help others along the way.’
There was no harm in giving this proposed life a shot. It didn’t seem like there was anything to lose. He needed redemption. ‘What do I do next?’
Charles smiled. ‘Now, that’s the easy part.’
Amora’s Bar erupted into effusive greetings the moment Mope walked in. It had been three whole days since the regulars had seen her. She returned them enthusiastically. She was in high spirits and uniquely dressed too, modelling a face cap, a buttoned-down plain shirt over a pair of Ankara pants. The pair of slippers she wore looked out of place. But who cared? Certainly not Mope.
Grinning, Mitchell came out of his cubicle as she approached. ‘The prodigal boss returns,’ he said.
‘Silly boy. I’ve missed you too Mitch.’ She opened her arm for a hug and Mitchell embraced her.
Mitch’s visage switched to concern. ‘What happened, Madam Mo?’
‘Found out Teddy has a daughter.’ The words rolled out offhandedly like they were being read from a piece of paper.
Mitchell was nonplussed. He couldn’t figure out an appropriate response to this news.
Mopelola laughed. ‘I was shocked too when I heard. Anyways, that’s all in the past. I can’t stay angry at the dead. Besides, I have met her, and I think I like her. You know she has lost her mother too? Poor thing. I have invited her over. Oya, get back to your post. We are running a business here. I should say hello to my kitchen staff.’ With that she strutted off to the kitchen.
Iskilu was seething with anger after his conversation with the representative of the tenants. Mr. Chidi had blatantly told him that they had no plans to employ him as a security guard. It was like they knew he was stuck and wanted to capitalize on his misfortune. ‘Evil people,’ Iskilu mouthed in his language. ‘Why were they so heartless?’
Iskilu’s phone rang. It was his sister. His mother had taken seriously ill and money was needed to get her some drugs.
Iskilu rushed to Mr. Chidi’s door and knocked.
As soon as Mr. Chidi opened the door, Iskilu spoke: ‘Oga, please, my mother no dey fine. Borrow me 10,000 naira. I go return am in ….’ It occurred to Iskilu that he didn’t know when he’d have funds for repayment. ‘Please, I go return am soon.’
The tenant sighed. ‘Sorry no money at this period. Things are hard.’
Iskilu knocked on the door of every other available tenant in the building. No one could or was willing to help. He painfully concluded that no other alternative was at his disposal. He had to see Benjamin.
Mitch’s heart leapfrogged as he spotted her entering the store, radiant like a peacock. They had seen less than 48 hours ago, but to Mitch, it felt like it had been much longer. If he hadn’t been attending to a customer at that very moment, he would have met her half-way. As she drew closer, he noticed that she wasn’t smiling. There was no hatred either. It was worse; she looked at him like he was some random bartender. The customer left as she reached the counter.
‘Good evening,’ She greeted politely.
‘Is everything okay?’ Mitch asked.
‘Yes,’ Eniola responded. ‘Is Mrs. Adetokunbo here?’
‘Erm…’ Mitch wondered why she was asking for his boss. Had he done something wrong? Before he could answer, Mope’s voice rang out from less than two meters away: ‘Delightful!’
‘Eniola,’ Mope greeted warmly. ‘I’m glad you made it. How are you?’
‘Very well, Ma. I like your fashion sense.’
Mitch noticed the effusive smile Eniola returned. What the heck was going on here?
‘Flattery will get you everywhere with me,’ Mope said with a grin. She turned to Mitch. ‘This is Eniola Adetokunbo. Teddy’s daughter.’
Although Mitch was taken aback, he was about to say they had met when he noticed the look on Eniola’s face. ‘Pleased to meet you, Eniola.’
‘Likewise,’ Eniola responded with another polite smile.
‘Come, come,’ Mopelola said. ‘Let me show you around.’
Mitch watched as the pair left, wondering what had possessed the lady he was falling for.