To Save a Soul: (1)- By Murtala Assayouti

It was a long drive home that Friday evening, the Ikoyi streets seemingly more overcrowded than usual. Motorists were pursuing home with such ardor that the frenzy they caused could be smelt in the atmosphere. It was a rank that entwined human and machine waste. Funny enough, I was not at all moved by the long queue of unmoving vehicles nor the rash and reckless ‘okada’ riders who instigated breathless apprehension as they performed daredevil stunts that barely missed causing collision. Not even the exhaust-choked air that flowed through the open window of my refurbished 1986 Honda Accord had much effect on me. Today was a day different from the norm, today I had hit a jackpot and it called for unreserved celebration that could not be marred by the rashness of Lagos life. So, I moved slowly with the traffic, refusing to join the frenetic crowd struggling to escape the slow pace of the hold-up, a crowd hurrying to God knows where. I didn’t have to rushing to, all I needed right now was in a small bag in the boot of a car, the outcome of a few days dealing that had gone quite well. I started humming, thinking about all the good things soon to come my way; at 37, I felt, it was well overdue. “Don’t worry, you go soon buy tape for this your car. You don dey now.” Dada was an associate of mine; a friend of circumstance. Born and bred in the interior mainland of Lagos, he was what you would call a man for all occasions, my right hand man when ugly situations cropped up. Business with Chairman had brought us together a long time ago and ever since we had kept a relationship that at times surpassed the limits of partners: of course it was mostly due to convenience. Unlike me, Dada had not studied pass the secondary school level and was more or less subservient to me in most of the operations we’ve done together. Yet, he was not fiercely loyal and he had the habit of pursuing all alone some ventures that could have benefited us both. I could never reproach him, though, for in the way of life I had gotten myself into, loyalty was a scarce commodity. However, he gave me all the respect I dully deserved even though he could have easily been some years older than me. His respect for me came out of the belief that the education I had made me shrewder and a lot more ruthless in my interactions with fellow humans than he could ever be. In a way, he was right. “Tape ke! Na correct moto I go buy!” I cried happily. “That one good oh!” he replied, clapping his hand in excitement. It had been a very big transaction in which luck had played a very important role. The consignment appropriated to me by Chairman had been a large one, while my sales commission was to be quite substantial and to top it all had been an easy sale. This was the first time all this factors had all been present in one single deal, which was why it was a jackpot. Good money, for doing almost nothing. That was what I called success. “I no believe say that man go take everything. ‘E make this one easy. Ha! I go really enjoy myself today” I laughed, “In your usual way, abi? Make you just remember say we dey carry%20balance go meet Chairman, tomorrow. Make you come in time, oh!” “Make you no worry. I don talk ‘am say I no shaak pass 6 bottles, I no go take pass three wraps, and I no go go pass two rounds with Clara or Debbie, but if I see that Doyin girl capture, I must go the whole night, oh!” “Na you sabi,” I said, as I pulled out of the traffic into the road that would take me to Obalende and eventually home. “All I know is that you must not be later than 9 or I go tell Chairman. And you know him, ‘e go just comot from your share, you go see.” “No I don’t want that oh!” I laughed, as I pulled into the rowdy Obalende bus garage and maneuvered as quickly as I could-for Obalende could be as crowded as the traffic I had just left. I struggled behind one of the yellow commercial buses that were on the verge of climbing up one of the bridges realizing the escape from the island, when I heard: “Bros! Bros Tunde! Wait for me!” There was something strangely familiar about that voice, yet I could not place where or how nor did my mind trigger any form of recognition from the pleasant looking young man who was waving franticly to me from across the road. He placed a%20file-like bag under his left arm and started a dare-devil sprint across the road, barely avoiding the on-rushing vehicles in his path. I was a little startled by his on-rush and hadn’t a single chance to protest before he yanked opened the backdoor of my car, crashing on the backseat with relief. I was in very tight traffic, so I could not stop the car and all my concentration was on escaping the rowdy passage moving up the bridge unscathed. Dada took the bull by the horn, turning brusquely to face the intruder: “Who you be?” he asked roughly. The pleasant smile remained on the young man’s face, looking not the least perturbed by Dada or his manner. “He knows me,” he said, nodding towards me. I took a closer look at him through the rear mirror, trying very hard to remember where I had seen that face before. “And so what if he know you? ‘E never talk say may you enter im car or you cut craze?” “Oh, I am so sorry! I was just too excited to see my brother again. It has been such a long time. Oh, Bros Tunde, it is so nice to see you again.’ Then it came flooding in. all the memories I had locked up in the deepest depth of my heart. All that I once had, all that was once%20me. In that spiraling moment a cold wave of conscious hit me. Even years ago I was a boy with a vision, a boy with aspiration; with hope. Today I am a man without a single claim of self-respect, I thought; living on the brink of self destruction; subject only to the whims of wanton desires and of those I serve. Armed robbery, drug-smuggling, all the evil thing man could do to man for money, I had indulged, because for me, money was to be had at any cause. I could not fight my now shameless and greedy nature. What had become of that young man with so much aspiration? The young man, who begun his life with a will to succeed, a determination to make something of his otherwise drab existence, a profound dedication to fulfill his dreams in the best possible way. I do not just know where that boy is now nor do I know what happened to his aspirations, his spirit or his principles. I just know that he once existed in the hallow interior of mu now dark and tainted mind, ever-looking to find his way back. I looked at the pleasing face again and I felt suddenly ugly. “Leave him. He is a friend of mine.” But he had been more than that. The little boy I had had so much confidence in and love for had been more than a friend; he was family, the%20junior brother of the only woman I had really ever cared for. “How is your sister, Yomi? And he family?” “Everybody is fine. They have been wondering about you, especially me. Since all this years, hen? I felt a dull ache in my abdomen. Yomi had always been like this, never hesitating to tell how he felt about someone, always so truthful. That had been one of the reason I had taken to him; in a rare way I felt most of the time that my liking for Yomi had transpired out of mu sensitivity to my rather unstable nature. He had taken to me in a rather odd way, finding me more agreeable to be with then any%20of his own siblings or playmates. Any time I came over to visit Folake I had to contest also with the affections of her enthusiastic little brother. I didn’t mind; and the most of the time I was quite content of having the friendship of two lovely people. Yet I ran away from all that, ran away from the seeming goodness of a life of contentment even though it was laced with physical discomfort, a life of people who cared but who suffered the pains of never having enough, of never having the opportunity of enjoying the pleasures f the world that was meant for everyone. So I shunned love, peace of mind and poverty to become a fugitive in a world of danger and intrigue, ran because I felt that the silver spoon was meant for me as well as those born with it. And after all this years, the thought that that love still waited for me undeterred by the economy of time and absence made me uneasy. “I have not had the chance to visit you people. I am sorry.” I concentrated on the road trying to avoid those innocent eyes; they had not changed at all, puppy-like eyes that starred up at me in adoration. I wondered why such care and where I had found the strength to leave it. “It is okay. I am so happy I got the chance to see you. I was thinking I%20was never going to see you again in this life. I am indeed glad that God gave me the chance to see you again. How are you? Is everything going well with you? I hope work is going well? I hear you are now a big man.” “Who told you that? I am just managing.” And I wanted to kick myself. “It is okay. Just be patient, with time God will make all our dreams come true.” Dada snorted, obviously disgusted with the scenario, “The guy no come down come do am for us, na us suppose struggle find our own levels.” “You just have to have faith, all will be well.” ?%80?Which kind faith, if you no do something with your life you go just die of hunger.” “What are you doing in Lagos, Yomi?” I quickly cut in. “I came to see you,” he replied, turning towards me. “Where were you thinking of finding me in the whole of Lagos, Yomi?” I exclaimed. There was a pause; only the whirling sound of the moving vehicle could be heard as it gained speed on the bridge linking the Island with the Mainland. A white Hiace 18-seater zoomed pass us in a cloud of light smoke. To be continued.

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