A little familiarity with, even if not necessarily proficiency in, “nigerian english” might be necessary to understand this story. 🙂
My landlady was not a very bright person. Really, amongst all the stupid people I’ve met in my life, she must be the daftest of them all, or so it seemed to me at that moment. I stood behind her and saw the danger ahead. But this woman, instead of going left, she actually went right. Was she mad? OK, now that she had gone right, how did she expect to come out of this alive?
The truck was hurtling straight down upon her at blinding speed. Have you seen a speeding truck before? A monster, grim and merciless. The terror it awakens in the heart is raw, real, paralysing. You see death, literally. Death does not smile.
And into the path of this on-rushing death she stepped. Madam, you love death? Then, so be it! But then not even I am so cold-hearted, in spite of all the horrible things this terrible woman had wrought upon innocent me in the past. It would be good to save her life, to spare myself any future battles with my talkative conscience, and to put her in my debt also.
The slap I gave her sounded like a ringing bell proclaiming victory. I relished the slap thoroughly, my palm jubilated, the woman took off like Arik and flew to the left, out of the path of the on-rushing accident. As she went air-borne, she took me along with her, for my palm was still stuck to the side of her face. We crash-landed into safety on the sidewalk and I disengaged my jubilating palm from her warm oily face. The truck roared past. I had just saved a human being’s life.
Life. Is that not what it’s all about? You would have thought that she would be grateful. No, instead she took offence at the joy of my palm.
“Heei!” she shouted, “this my tenant want kill me oh!”
The word ‘kill’ is the code word. And the speed with which the crowd gathered showed practice in such matters. This is the land of jungle justice, staccato accusation and swift execution. Death, who had formerly been sitting on top of the truck, glaring at her as the truck rushed towards her, had now hopped down from the truck which had long disappeared into the wilderness of Ikorodu Road. Now Death sat cross-legged by my side, betwixt the crowd, and stared at me accusingly as if I had ever done anything against him in my life. The thought suddenly occurred to me that he might be upset with me for not having let the truck do his will.
Before I knew it, the crowd had pulled the woman, my landlady, up and I was still lying there, feeling the jubilation in my palm tingle away. The crowd crowded itself around me like a crowd. It was crowdy. From crowdy comes, rightly, rowdy.
“Hired Killer!” a strange voice, full of mortification and aggression, barked down at me.
“Eh?!?!” screamed the crowd and instinctively drew back one step. If I had been been Ben Bruce and in possession of any common sense, that’s when I should have made a dash for it – bolted away with the full spring and speed of all my unreduced athleticism, in that moment when the fear of a hired killer in flesh and blood in their immediate vicinity paralyzed the life out of them.
But I was distracted by Death. He was still sitting, cross-legged, there in front of me. As if he sensed the quick escape plan that darted into my mind, he scowled and gave me a very threatening look. If you dare try it…!
And in the moment of my preoccupation with Death’s awful mug, the very moment was gone. I did not see the first slap, I did not feel the first slap. Curiously, I heard it. It sounded like a whistle, but I’m not quite sure exactly what kind of whistle. A slap whistle. A whistling slap. In one register it vibrates the eardrum already one micro-moment before impact. You hear it once and then you hear no more. The first becomes the last.
I was confused. Is this what they call a mobbing? After I stopped hearing, I started seeing. Stars. They kept exploding. Why did they keep springing from place to place instead of just hanging still? That was when the pain kicked in. And not just literally. I don’t know why the government, who likes to ban rice and all sorts of other things, has not yet banned the importation of boots. Because the kick to my ribs, the kick that brought back the consciousness which the sonic slap had robbed me of, the kick with which the pain kicked in, the kick that returned to me my hearing, that kick was executed surely by a foot well lodged in a boot, a big strong boot, definitely imported, made I am sure in Russia or Germany.
“Yeeeeiiii!” I screamed, “I don die oh!”
I could not see the sun; dark shapes hovered all around me, hurting me, harming me. Why? And then I heard the dreaded words:
They were going to put a de-rimmed rubber car tyre around my neck, drench tyre and me in petrol, juice of the Delta, and burn me alive! My teeth went cold.
I looked to my right, to where Death was sitting down cross-legged, overseeing my extraction from the physical cloak. There was a peacefulness about his countenance that flowed over to me, into me, infected and affected me, a peacefulness that began to creep into my soul.
I seemed to hear a soft slow voice somewhere in the hall of my mind: Don’t struggle… don’t worry… it’s just a journey…
At that moment the tension slipped away from my body, my dogged determination to cling unto life was knocked out of me, aided by a rock, a rock it must have been, felt at least like a rock to the skull. A liquid running down my face, stinging my eyes, blinding me. Warm sweet blood on my tongue. An intimate smell. My blood. So this is how it feels to die.
That was when I heard her voice again, the voice that triggered this happening, bringing it now to its banal conclusion. The first again the last. My landlady was shouting again.
“Abeg, e don do oh! Thank you! My tenant don enter my trap today. Make una call police to arrest am, dem know what to do. Make una no kill am oh! HE NEVER PAY ME MY RENT FINISH!! My rent oh! Make una leave my tenant for me oh! See me oh. Leave my tenant! Abi, who go come pay me my remaining rent money now? Ah ah! I say leave am! Una dey craze? One year’s rent. See my wahala oh. Who send una sef? Busy body! Na so so busy body just full dis Lagos sef! Mchw! I go wound una oh. Ah ah! Police yee! Wey police now?! Which kind bad luck be dis?…”
– che chidi chukwumerije.