February 4, 2017 at 11:03 am #954669ValentineAdmin
Last week I had an appointment in Onitsha and prepared early so I could beat the usual traffic on the Asaba-Onitsha expressway. I hurriedly had my bath, rushed my breakfast and headed out of the house with my knapsack. As a rule I do not use my private vehicle within the Onitsha metropolis for personal reasons. So I went to the road to board a Keke-na-pep (commercial tricycle) that would take me to Onitsha park.
A few tricycles passed by, all of them full, and for a while no other keke na pep was in sight. I guess it was because it was still early in the morning. I was beginning to get impatient when I noticed a solitary and empty tricycle hurtling down the road in my direction. I stuck out my thumb for him to stop and the keke swerved sharply unto the side-lane and screeched to a halt by my side, scattering dust left and right. I jumped back a bit on impulse to avoid getting hit.
After a quick glance at the keke and its driver, my first reaction was to tell him to keep going. The Keke looked like it had definitely seen better days; the windscreen was broken with the cracks forming a kind of spider’s web with a jagged hole on the left side of the driver. There were bumps and scratches on the framework and the back seat was detached and a little skewed. It looked like a badly bumped bumper-cart.
The driver himself looked like a villain out of a Nollywood movie. Thin and unkempt fellow wearing a dirty yellow (or was it orange) T-shirt and rugged jeans. He was sitting so I couldn’t figure his height so much but he looked generally small. His facial features consisted of an uncombed hair, ragged beard and wild moustache.
But it was his wide red eyes that were his most prominent feature. Like someone who was suffering from a viral conjunctivitis, although he wasn’t squinting in the sunlight to indicate photophobia so I knew the redness was from something else, most likely marijuana. He stretched out a bony hand and beckoned for me to enter.
I paused. In other circumstances I would have told him to go, that I had changed my mind or something, and jejerly wait for another keke with a saner looking individual at the wheel. But I was running late already and I was thinking of how I was going to beat the traffic on the express. I thought, to hell with it, what could go wrong, right?
I boarded the keke.
He zoomed down the road like the keke was the Bat-mobile and it occurred to me that his driving skills might have been one of the many reasons why passengers we passed on the way seemed to politely refuse a ride and generally waved him on. I resigned myself and settled comfortably at the back seat, at least with the way he was going I would be at the park in record time.
Before I knew it I was at Ogbogeonogo market. I jumped down from the keke, grateful to have all limbs still fully intact. I paid the man his fare and headed for one of the buses that was just about getting filled up. I managed to bag the front seat (an agbero that had been pretending to be a passenger in front had come down for me to sit) and the driver started the vehicle. From the time I got down from the keke to the time I entered the Onitsha bus couldn’t have been more than thirty seconds.
The next thing I knew I was overcome by a dreadful feeling. My right pocket that usually housed my arguably expensive android phone was unnaturally light. I felt in it and gasped. My pocket was empty! My android phone was gone!
I raised an alarm and jumped down from the bus, searching for the phone to see if it had fallen out of my pocket. It was nowhere in sight. It dawned on me that it could have fallen out during my rigmarole ride with the hemp-smoking keke driver. I whirled around to look for him and his signature smashed windscreen but he was gone. The other passengers immediately began to sympathize with my plight but the Onitsha bus driver was a more hands-on fellow.
“Oga, enter the bus make we pursue am!” He shouted, and I jumped in. The bus conductor barely had time to shut the door before the driver zoomed off, blaring his horn and weaving deftly and dangerously through traffic. I was having my second bat-mobile experience and it wasn’t even 8 o’clock.
I told the bus driver about the shattered windscreen and both of us kept a sharp lookout for the signature mark on each Keke-na-pep we hurtled past. As fate would have it, each keke we passed on the way had seamless, unbroken windscreens. As we got closer to the Onitsha expressway I had begun to lose hope. What I was really going to miss in the phone was my photos and contacts and very important information that I had forgotten to back-up. There were items dating back as far as five years, all saved in my memory card. I had been planning on backing them up but had never quite gotten round to doing it. I sighed deeply and began to accept my loss.
“Oga, why not call the phone?” Someone at the back seat suggested.
I scoffed at the idea. The guy I had seen driving that Keke didn’t look like someone who would return my phone. He was more likely to pocket it or sell it off as soon as he got the chance. I also didn’t want to call because I had actually been hoping that the Keke driver would not have noticed the phone in the back seat before we caught up to him and I didn’t want to draw his attention to it. Unfortunately it seemed I was running out of options and the passenger at the back persisted in his suggestion that I call. Eventually I heeded his advice and used my other phone to put a call through.
It rang the first time but no one picked. I tried again the second time, same response. I waited for a bit then tried again the third time. To my amazement a voice came through from the other side:
The way he said ‘Yes’ was so calm, as if he was the owner of the phone! Any way I was glad he had picked and was hoping he wouldn’t cut the line. I tumbled out my words in a hurry
“Bros mi, abeg, abeg…”
“Where you dey?” He asked, again calmly, cutting me short.
“Near the Express! And you?”
“I dey Infant Jesus side.”
I gasped, along with all the other passengers who were listening in. Infant Jesus was on the other side of town! How had he gotten there so fast? So we had actually been chasing in the wrong direction?
That is, if he was telling the truth.
“Wait for me at Ibusa junction, make I turn back.” He said, cutting though my thoughts. And then he hung up.
The bus driver cleared at the side of the road and I jumped down, eager to get my phone back. The bus conductor wanted to get some sort of transport fare from me but the bus driver allowed me to go.
I sprinted across to the other side of the road and boarded another Keke heading back into town. I waited for a few minutes then called the Keke driver again but he did not pick. Deep down I was still worried he wouldn’t give the phone to me. The calm way in which he had responded seemed quite unnatural. But I kept going.
Finally I got to Ibusa junction. I paid my fare and tried calling him again. At the second dial he picked the call.
“I’m at Ibusa junction” I announced.
His voice was once again calm. “Okay, you are at Ibusa junction right? Stay there. Stay there o. Don’t move from that place.”
“Where are you now?”
But he immediately cut the phone.
Once again I became very apprehensive though I wasn’t quite sure why. I looked around me, there were people everywhere. The bus stop was busy as usual, with people selling their wares, buses looking for passengers, and the destitute begging for alms. I looked at the time, it was 7.49am. At least he should have been half way here by now. I decided to wait.
Twenty minutes later and I was still standing there. There was a nagging feeling at the back of my mind but I kept shaking it off. I was now very late for my Onitsha appointment which was supposed to start by 8 o’clock. I called the number again, twice, but this time there was no response. And that nagging feeling kept growing.
By now the motor park touts had noticed me. I guess they were wondering why I had not entered any of the buses. I ignored their stares and focused on all the Kekes coming down the road, checking them all, broken windscreen or not, for the thin unkempt driver, my knapsack held loosely in my left hand.
From the corner of my eye I saw someone approach. He was obviously one of the touts. He walked up to my side and stopped, it appeared he wanted to do something but was hesitating.
By now I had begun to boil with rage. It was finally dawning on me that I was being played. It was obvious I was being watched, I had had the feeling for about ten minutes. The tout by my side finally turned to me and at the same time I faced him squarely. I don’t know the kind of look on my face but I saw his eyes widen in surprise and he warily took a step back. I turned away from him and pretended to still be scanning the horizon for the keke but in reality I was trying to come to terms with the fact that the Igbo-smoking keke driver had deliberately kept me here to either make his getaway or do something more sinister. I didn’t know whether to continue my journey to Onitsha or to go back home.
I didn’t know when another tout came to my other side. Suddenly I felt a hand on my shoulder.
“Bros…” A deep, guttural voice.
I turned to face him. This guy was huge, dark, well built, clean-shaven with a faded silver ring on one of the fingers of the giant hand he was now resting on my shoulder. He sported a green polo shirt and khaki trousers.
“I am waiting for someone!” I said as I gripped my knapsack tighter.
He removed his hand from my shoulder.
“Sorry bros, I just wanted to know if this is your phone.”
I looked down at his other hand and there was my android phone! I had cracked the screen down the middle and so I recognized it immediately. I grabbed it from his hand and then looked back at him, puzzled.
“But, you are not the one that took my phone.”
“Sorry bros,” he said again politely, “The guy dey there. Him dey fear say u fit vex for am na hin he come say make I give am to you.”
I turned around and lo and behold, there was my dirty looking, red eyed igbo-smoking keke driver, standing nervously in a corner and smiling most genially at me.
I was totally confused. I walked up to him and he came forward.
“Bros no vex…” He began.
“Where is your keke?” was the first question I asked as I made another quick look around at all the kekes in the vicinity. He smiled some more.
“I pass you, not up to ten minutes ago”, he replied. “I been dey wave but you dey check your time. I come meet you but be like say you dey vex as you see me, na him I waka go one side tell my oga make he come approach you.”
He was the first ‘tout’ to approach me! Why hadn’t I recognized him? Had I been so blinded by rage?
I listened in amazement as he told me his story. He had dropped me off at ogbogeonogo market and had immediately made a U-turn back towards Infant Jesus as that was his usual route, carrying passengers on the way. He had just dropped off the last person, a well-dressed female passenger, when he heard the phone ring. He turned around and saw it lying in the gap between the back seat and the metal frame of the keke; at the same time the woman stretched out and collected it. He became suspicious because where she sat was nowhere near where the phone was. He had grabbed her hand and asked her if the phone was hers to which she had replied an emphatic Yes. He asked her to prove it by opening the combination lock to the phone (I had put a combination lock to stop my kids playing with the games in the phone, not that it was helping, they had long since decoded it), she now said the phone belonged to her brother, that she was taking it back to him. It was while they were arguing that I had called the second time and when he told her to answer it she left the phone with him and walked away. That was when he picked the call and answered with his cool ‘Yes?’ He had picked up some passengers on the way back which was what had caused the delay.
I listened to his animated speech with great fascination. Here was a guy that looked like he would steal the clothes off your back if he had the chance and he had gone to all this trouble to return my phone. Sure he might have returned it hoping for a prize but then again he could have simply thrown away my Sim and memory card, flashed the phone and sold it for a very good price. I looked at him and for the first time a smile made its way to my face. I realized I hadn’t even thanked him.
“Thank you”, I said, feeling a little ashamed.
“No problem sir,” he replied with a grin and turned away.
He was going to leave like that?
“Wait!” I called after him and grabbed his arm. I tried to take him away from the group ofmotor-park touts that had surrounded us by then so we could be alone but he didn’t seem to understand my moves. So I brought out my wallet right there, pulled out some naira notes and squeezed them into his hand.
“Thank you sir!” he shouted gleefully and was immediately surrounded by the other touts. I hesitated for a moment and then walked away. I looked back and caught one more last glance of him as he joyfully shared his reward with the others.
It occurred to me there and then that one should never be too quick to profile people just because of the way they looked or where there worked.
Now I understand fully what it means to Never Judge a Book by its Cover!
THE END.February 4, 2017 at 11:34 am #954680jummybabeMember
nice oneFebruary 4, 2017 at 11:48 am #954685Eric EdenMember
so so so good and niceFebruary 4, 2017 at 12:17 pm #954699OluwaferanmiMember
Nice oneFebruary 4, 2017 at 1:05 pm #954707eddyebereMember
nyce wonFebruary 4, 2017 at 1:39 pm #954720dencygirlMember
Nice write-upFebruary 4, 2017 at 2:17 pm #954739bhorllyqueenMember
9ce oneFebruary 4, 2017 at 3:39 pm #954765VictoriouschildMember