SIMPLE PLEASURES - BY MURTALA AKINOLA ASSAYOUTI

“How are you all doing?” He brought up his hand for the camaraderie hand shake people were used to in Lagos. We stared at him, strikingly perplexed. Nobody had seen him coming and even so we were equally astonished to see a well-dressed gentleman with the nerve to approach a group of low-lifers having the time of their lives drinking booze, smoking hemp and playing ‘Kashi’ in the middle of the day on a street corner in the heart of Lagos Island. He must have been crazy! There was something about him, though. We stared curiously at him. Fryo was the first to raise his hand for the shake. The others instinctively complied. I stuck out my hand, felt the cold soft hand and looked into penetrating brown eyes. He wore a dark blue suit, a grey tie and a sky blue shirt could be seen inside the suit jacket. His black Italian shoe shone with heavy polish. He looked ‘tooch’, smelt and even felt it. Only his hand was cold as the seemingly genial smile that masked his otherwise handsome face. Samson did not take the outstretched hands. He looked guardedly up at the stranger. “Who you be sef? And wetin you want?”he snarled. Samson was presumably the head of this small clique. Childhood buddies and societal degenerates blaming our plight on the government of the day who seemed to have no answers to the leadership of a people as diverse and complex as the Nigerian. It seemed the only easier thing to do was to enrich himself. After all, they were the only ones with the real dreams and visions of a greater Nigeria. Certainly not some low-life undergraduate, whose sole source of income was extorting passersby and using the money to buy booze and ‘igbo’. But dreams we too had a plenty. Bredfred was our aspiring musician; he wanted to be like R.Kelly. He certainly did not have the talent, but his passion knew no bounds. He sang everywhere and got into many fistfights along the way. Rafiu wanted to join the police force; very odd it would seem considering his nature. But, he told us, where else would he be able to extort money and not be branded criminal. Legal stealing, he claimed, grinning sheepishly. Of course he wanted in only as an officer; he could not bear the thought of entering the force as a recruit. He would be doing all the work while his ogas stuffed the money into their pockets. No way! He needed, however, to get a 4 years University education which his parents could least afford. I on the other hand just wanted to make money anyway I can. I did not deceive myself that I would get a higher education; that was meant for the middle class, but I wanted to find something else to do. Start a business that did not require much education or much capital. Certainly not selling pure water on the streets! But something dignified that I could do to big money. And quite honestly I was not averse to the prospect of carrying a gun. There were all thieves anyway. Mama was also the reason I wanted to make money. I wanted to take care of her as a son provides for his parent when they reach that point of weakness and sickness. She was bed-laden almost every time with God- knows what disease. She had been carried from hospital to hospital for months and always it was the same thing; surgery, medications, no money. None of her children had the riches; even combined they could not even muster up half of the bill needed for her surgery. So they gave her drugs, plenty of it. It made her weak and she could hardly stand for long, let only prepare my favorite dishes. I wanted to make money so she could get the best medical care, the surgery, specialists, a pleasant comfortable hospital, even abroad if necessary. I wanted her hail and hearty; like in the old days… I had more venom for the government of the day than any other. “I am the man that will make all your dreams come true.” I was taken aback. Had he read my mind? Was he a witch? Yet, his self-assured tone ignited my curiosity. “ How ?” Samson said with some irritation Samson was a typical Igbo man. He was mistrustful to the very end but a very shrewd person especially when it involved any income generating escapade. He had proved to be more skillful, more powerful and more ruthless in the pursuit of wealth. He was very big, about 6ft 3, heavily built with bulging biceps. He lifted weights regularly. He was not the academic type, dropping out of school in SS1,but when it came to the streets he was second to none. In my view he was vindicated when he asked that question. Every single person there was interested. “Well…” he slowly removed small business cards from his inner jacket pocket and started distributing them to the motley crew of nine. “I will like all of you to come to this address, next week and I will give you jobs that will make you responsible people in the society and not only that it will give you some income in which you can use to upgrade yourself. Soon you wouldn’t have to live in these slums!” What guts! I thought as I took the card from him. I saw that nobody replied. Nobody had the inclining of belligerence. I was impressed. You do not tell guys like us about responsibility, talk less of abusing our homes. I read the bold red fonts against the deep grey background on the card. It said; DERINLE ADAMSON CEO Under this bold letters were an address, telephone number and an e-mail in smaller fonts. On the upper left corner of the card was a symbol: a black circled sword in the middle of a red cross situated in a white circle. Inside the circle was another unrecognizable symbol. I quickly shoved the card into my jeans pocket and watched Mr. Derinle as he moved freely among us. I wanted to be like him, I told myself. Rich and confident with the ability to make differences in peoples life. And I will do whateva it takes to get there. Wouldn’t the end after all justify the means. At least I will be able to do some good. I watched the man again and his easy movement suddenly sent me with hate. Why should he be the one with the money why should he be the one churning out money like that. It should be me. After all they were my friends! A murderous rage suddenly took over me. I will kill the bastard! And I got up instinctively. Then he did the unspeakable. He dipped his hands into his%20jacket and brought out a wade of 1000 naira notes. If there was something I had learnt this years on the streets with my crew was that you never displayed money in front of these guys. They would attack with a ferocity known only to the poor desperate youths whose uncanny reasoning rested on the fact that they were only living to exploit others. They would devour you. The reaction was instant. Within seconds the group had surrounded the man in a vicious circle, anxious for their own cut; others of course with the mind of getting more than their own allotted share. I was a little taken aback by the sudden change of events. Up till then my suspicion of the man had given me a cautious stance to the whole episode. In the back of my mind I wished the Mr. Denrile was for real. He could be…. Now… there was something strange about the scene that enfolded before me. I had picked up enough confidence to enter the foray for my own share when things suddenly got ugly. There was at first just shuffling and pushing, and then the fists suddenly came out. I did not understand what had unexpectedly caused the fracas. There was a sudden frenzy in the air, it was now bloody fists and fallen bodies. I watched almost in a daze. What was happening? Mr. Denrile seemed to be lost in all the uproar. It was now everyone for himself. I moved away cautiously, I was not strong enough to disperse the frenzied group and I was smart enough to know when something had gone awry. I got a glimpsed of a black jacket body on the floor, motionless, as I started to walk away. Mr. Denrile, I thought, I should do something to help. I remember,. He said something about his wife being two streets away, Tinuke. I started to move. If I could alert her, maybe she could get the police here in time to save her husband’s life. Then something happened. The explanation till this day I cannot give, and perhaps never give. Those mysterious moments that haunt you the rest of your life. The darkness was whole and total, like when NEPA takes light suddenly in the whole city all at was once, darkness so thick it to choke the very life out of you; in the middle of the day! I gasped, fumbling limblessly in the blackness. I could hear voices but see nothing. I moved hands and legs I could not see. I had to do something; a desperate message seared through my mind and body. What was going on? Where did all the darkness come from? What had happened to my friends? How can darkness be so intense in theI had no sense of direction no perception of my%20physical environment yet I had to move. I placed my arms before me and groped in the darkness. Then voices became louder, audible. “…We have done everything we should do. Let him do the rest. I cannot afford more time…” a mans voice. Cold and lithless. Mr. Denrile? ” something is wrong, Ashalar. He never tarries like this….” Female. Cool and sonorous. “… unleash the sins of man he says. I presume greed and murder is enough to damn any soul.” Certainly Mr. Denrile. I thought he was dead! “Yes, according to the Old Books” “I have done my part…. I am promised Vaahara. I do not care for the politics of man and his Maker” “New books are abound with mercy. Tis how He favours them and spites us!” “But we have millions of souls and more shall succumb to the webs of sin that we have fashioned this world with before the Final Day…. I do not care now. I am for Vaahara! “Yet he tarries…” A long pause “For if but one soul….” A horrible laugh then. A screech so terrible it burns. Then silence. A cold shudder creeps up my spine as the silence looms. A great silence, holding my breath as pure dread creeps up my spine. Darkness so deep, choking. A great roar; wrath and hatred fueling the terrifying howl. I ran then. Or I believed I did, blindly groping in the dark, running, or trying to, from a doom beyond any imagined. Then the cold hands; big and strong round my neck. I screamed and it seems to echo on and on as the cold hands tightened round my neck. Breathless. Darkness. ………………………………………………………………………………………………??%A6……………………………………………………………… I remembered something clearly now as I walk under brilliant sunlight and light breeze, smiling to strangers and waving amicablely at known comrades. I do not seat on the street corners again, I don’t gamble, I don’t drink and I certainly don’t steal anymore . My friends are not my friends anymore, I have made other friends; I have other ambitions. I am now a man of simple pleasures. I take long walks now, read novels, play chess and other games with friends%20and watch movies with my family. I cook now. I read the Quran often now; study the hadiths and ponder more on the spiritual. I have read different religious books, researched various accounts of our existence, and made several queries… I have not found the real meaning of the few minutes of the that day, I have not come even close to understanding what really happened but I am coming close to understanding why I survived the ordeal. Radio and TV reports informed of disgruntled elements of rival Area Boys gang in a brutal ruthless fight for supremacy. 8 were confirmed dead, and various injured. I never remembered how I got home that%20day but I woke up on my mom’s bed holding her hands as she passed on into the afterlife. It was her smile - a simple smile, the simple pleasure of that smile- the last thing that crossed my mind as I fell into unconsciousness, saved me.

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