Kola Oyekole | Klo2
Lagos is where madness lives, where it spawns & harbors its proud and impatient offspring. I am a legal member of the Lagos family, and in fact, one to look up to in those characteristic regards.
Born Akolade Bello, the second of Alhaji Bello’s sixth wife’s three children, it appeared I was the jinx my family never saw coming. My father’s vast money pyramid leveled out the year I was born, ensuring his hatred for his wife Rifqoh, who gave him an accursed son. Things got worse as I grew older, and when my younger sister was just four years old, a spiritual consultant and specialist in the analysis of woes and their origins instructed my father to estrange us, for I was the Jonah in their sinking financial ship. He said I was the one devouring the essential fabric of the family’s riches.
“Chop Money!”, Razak hailed me, jolting me from my reverie.
“You know there’s too much money! Who needs to borrow some money?” I answered in Yoruba as I laughed and nudged him shoulder to shoulder. His face was glowing, making it obvious that he either had a fresh business idea or he was just starting to get fresh about some girl. He never seemed to have qualms about cheating on his girlfriend Nofisat.
“Paparazzi! Wetin dey sharpen?” I inquired
“Sun dey hot, abeg, make we reach that joint, na”
Razak ‘Paparazzi’ Adeola, my bosom friend, led the way from the motor-park to the meal-and-tavern shanty across the street. As we crossed the busy road, he sang a song about money, a very popular song that had glued itself like a leech to the top charts for three weeks.
I had cried for weeks, while my mother encouraged me, but my role was swiftly upgraded to that of the Man of the House. I had to source for funds to support my mother and sisters. I used to work hard on the farm, sweat it out fishing at the lake, and bring fish and crops home for Risi, my elder sister, to sell at the market. Mama, with little Fatima’s help, ran a petty shop in the very same room we slept at night. There had been no further notice from Papa, he had been warned not to support us, lest he be buried under indescribable ruin. As Mama used to say before her demise, whatever money we received was from God.
As we stepped into the crude and dark shack, I squinted and chuckled as I read the message I was now familiar with. It was boldly inscribed using black paint in a funny scrawl on the wall, presumably by Madam Nwabuzo, the manager and chief executive officer.
“I prefear rich honesty. Is becasue the God naira is more better than any devil dollar.”
Well, for me, it appears I have been spending the devil’s money in recent times, but in the naira. What need I do to get some of his dollars, then?
Razak placed his order, “Pounded yam as usual! Egusi. You get anything chewable join?”
The young waitress replied, “For now. Yes,at least. We are having goat-meat, cow-meat, ponmo, egg, fish.”
Razak replied in Yoruba, relieving her burden “Give me 3 beef internals, 2 pieces of goat-meat and 2 roundabouts. Add one ponmo. Ensure you don’t put fish, I don’t want fish!”, staring at me knowingly as he yelled the last part. The guilty are afraid. I plainly nodded at the girl, indicating an equal request while I wondered why Razak was spending so much money this morning.
Razak’s dire disdain for fish started some weeks after I met him, many years ago. He was a rich kid that had been privileged to start school a month before then. We had been playing our variant of two-man soccer, kicking a half-eaten mango around. As we lay exhausted on the street, he started to boast about what his science teacher told him the previous day. His talk had sparked an idea in my less pedantic mind, and the next day we invested all our savings in a bottle of concentrated industrial herbicide. We went to the lake that night and emptied the bottle into it, forcing thousands of fish to float upwards for air within one hour. That night, we emptied all the water-pots outside our homes and filled them with the booty. At dawn, Razak and I moved the fish to a neighboring village, and I hid while Razak negotiated with a distributor. He bought the whole lot, thinking he was getting a good deal off the kid. When inquiries of sickness began rolling out from that village, no fisher-boy in our village matched Razak’s description. So once again, the distributor bought the whole lot. That single project brought in so much money between Razak and me that I was able to pay the village school fees and start school, and also buy goods to stock our small shop, as well as clothes, shoes and other gifts for Mama & my sisters. As for Razak, he bought expensive jewelry & clothes which he hid from his parents. That was when he became glamorous in school and I nicknamed him Paparazzi, a name that spread like wildfire. I glanced at him as if to match his face with his nickname, only to discover that food had been served.
“Oh! Now, you’re back!!” guffawed Razak in my face as he conquered another mound of pounded yam. “I see. Finally, women have started getting through to you. I been think say u be Zuma rock?”, he continued with his mouth full and laced with fits of laughter.
I chuckled to appease him, washed my hands and set to the task, journeying into the pounded yam while Razak lectured me about women and what they love to do whenever they get tired of incessant aimless talk with a man they’re in love with. I’m three years older than Razak, but I’m by far more naive in the ways of the world. I recall when Risi asked me to help her keep a thousand naira, a gift from a certain man who had smiled too much at her in the market that day. I was enraged and asked her to return it. Razak, on the other hand, said I was being childish, laughed about it for some seconds, then suddenly paused in the characteristic jackpot manner he did whenever he had a brainwave. He laid out a plan, but I didn’t like it, though the rewards were enticing. Risi was to encourage the man that she was home alone and needed company, and when the man arrived, Paparazzi and I would enter the room forcefully and go wild, brandishing shiny knives. Razak would restrain me from committing murder, and the man would pay tons of cash for attempting to disgrace my sister. It actually worked. Probably too well.
I almost went mad for real when we barged in as planned and saw they were almost au naturel. Razak was so certain there couldn’t have been any smoke from the man’s fires yet, but I was beside myself already. In retrospect, I don’t think I could have better acted the part of the murderously infuriated brother bathed in sweat and ready to be bathed in a stranger’s blood, too.
A drop of sweat left my forehead and kissed the bottom of the empty aluminum plate in front of me. Only then did I realize that I had finished eating.
“… So my brother. You must be careful o! Women are even more wicked now than when the world was born.”, concluded Paparazzi. He was oblivious of the fact that I hadn’t been listening. I sighed and stared at him.
“Mr. Lecturer! Abi na Minister for Women Affairs? Sho, you still never tell me wetin dey sef, na so so woman tori!”
“Chop Money!! You suppose dey take life easy sometimes. Okay I get deal for us. Sharp-sharp something”, Razak replied.
Paparazzi always claims that I’m the smarter one, but many times I have wondered if his I.Q. isn’t higher than mine as regards gracefully lessening the weight of other people’s pockets. He was the one who told me of the prestigious Lagos University scholarship award, and I recall how, in a bid to win, I studied for my O’level exams like a hungry wildfire in a dry forest. I found all the exams easy, but my results were withheld by the national examining body. They believed such a distinctive result could not have sprouted from such an underclass public school. There had to have been some examination malpractice or insider corrupt action. I didn’t want to see my chance of a scholarship melting feature by feature like a packed snowman suddenly dematerialized to a street, supervised by the hot Nigerian sun, so I wrote letters of appeal and petition, requesting the release of the results. With the help of my school principal, the best I could get back from the examination body was seven results, all distinctions, while the more important ones – Mathematics and English language – remained withheld. I can remember the zonal examination coordinator saying to my face that there was no way on earth I could have had those scores, especially in those two subjects. So I stayed there, way in hell, for 18 months while Razak’s parents paid and got him into university. Here in that hell, I’m a commuter at the Agege motor-park – a bus driver when it’s my shift and a tout otherwise. I’ve never bothered returning to school or re-writing those exams. Away with them …
“Let me hear what you have to say, I’m all ears”, I replied Razak coolly in English.
“Yepa! Chop Money!! Na me you dey blow grammar for?”, Razak asked, as if pretending an exchange in our actual lifestyles and occupations.
Then he grinned and told me what was on his mind. He wanted to move some cushions from the Republic of Benin by bus into Nigeria. Even though I knew the cushions would be stuffed with – last time we did such a job, it was marijuana – something or the other, this project was too plain, too simple. There had to be intrigue somewhere. Some intricacy, some guile. Some ‘paparazzi’, as Razak would say.
“Ki ni big deal?”, I asked him.
“Haha! I was just coming to that, relax!!”, he said. Then he lowered his voice and said, “I’m thinking bigger this time. 1 gramme of cocaine is $100. When it becomes crack, it’s $30,000 per kg. The original coca leaves are just $1 per kg. These border guys don’t even know how it looks like. We will fill some of the cushions and put foam in all the others. Sammy is back. He will process the leaves for us.”
I looked at him incredulously. Sammy was a former classmate who, four years ago, claimed that he would go to Bolivia to find out how cocaine is prepared, and he would set up his own factory in Nigeria.
“Trust me, I have seen him. We have worked everything out. He’s very rich now, he even has a helicopter. In his house, he has small machines that he fabricated locally for the production. He was the one who even gave me the contact for his associate in Benin Republic”, assured Paparazzi.
“Great. So since you have everything mapped out, what do you need me for?” I inquired.
“But why? Your face is well trusted at the border. If they see unknown faces, more suspicion will be thrown on us”, he replied, then added with a smile, “And it’s not that I know any better driver in Lagos!”
I didn’t like the whole trust idea, it sounded like I was a pawn in this case. Like my familiarity with the border police officers was being used to gain an edge. But maybe I was just uncomfortable because Razak had planned the whole thing before coming to tell me. We had never worked that way before.
We finalized plans. I borrowed a friend’s bus and placed two extra pairs of tires in the boot.
“Safety. We can’t start trying to fix tires on our way, it is risky”, I told Razak when he asked. Then we set off, prepared to purchase some exotic cushions for a multinational company in Lagos. We got to Benin in the late evening, met Sammy’s business partner and spent a good part of the night stuffing the ten differential cushions. The policemen I knew were on night duty so we passed the border on our way back into Nigeria that night without hassles. When we had safely gotten inside Nigerian territory, Razak requested that we rest for the night. Then we had some drinks and slept in the open.
When I received a rude hard kick in my ribs I opened my eyes and the sun scolded me for waking up late in the morning. Razak was nowhere to be found and all I saw was a jeep and four masked gun-toting scoundrels in black t-shirts, jeans and heavy-duty boots. They roughly commanded me to show them the ten special cushions but when I looked there, the cushions were gone. Razak had double-crossed me! Obviously Sammy’s contact in Benin Republic had sent these men to double-cross us as well- only three of us knew how many cushions were prepared. Violently inflamed, one of them wanted to shoot me, but I pleaded with the one I saw standing aloof looking like the boss. I begged him to spare me, saying I was only a driver and I didn’t know what was in the special cushions. He consented and told them to burn up the bus instead.
I lay face down as I saw the vandals dousing the bus with gasoline, and then igniting the wet vehicle. When they were satisfied, they got into the jeep, put four trademark bullets in the burning vehicle’s windscreen, and sped off. I got up and ran to the back of the bus to salvage what I could, carrying them off and running them into the sands to quell the fire. My driver’s license and empty wallet were in the front seat but I didn’t care about them right now.
Thanks to the fact that Razak is a heavy sleeper, I had woken up at night to empty the ten precious cushions and fill them with guava leaves from a tree close by. After this, I had removed the tubes from the four extra tires, and poured the expensive leaves into the tubes through a slit I made in them. Then I had covered the slits with adhesive tape and replaced the tubes in the four tires. After two hours of work, I had gone back to sleep.
The extra tires were badly burnt, but the tubes were safe. So I removed a thin muslin bag I had folded in my back-pocket for this very purpose, removed the adhesive tape on the tubes and emptied their contents into the muslin bag. Hoisting the bag on my back, I was ready to go.
“Where do you think you’re going with that bag?” boomed a strange voice and I looked back in shock.