Fiction

Checkpoint: A Short Story by Bamidele Gbenga Olowosile

Officer Titus Okubuli cursed and spat for the umpteenth time. It was indeed turning out to be a bad day after all. It appeared the day had been doomed right from sunup. First, his fat and overbearing wife had obviously woken up on the wrong side of the bed and started an early quarrel. It was by sheer luck he did not lose a few buttons from his black uniform. He sighed as he remembered his conversation with Nkechi that morning.

            “Titus, where do you think you are going?” she blurted out as she stood between him and the front door. Her fat frame rendered any form of escape plans instantly useless.

            “Nkechi, please it’s six thirty. Don’t you think it is too early for a fight?”

            “That’s your own o, Mr. Officer.” Nkechi had lashed angrily. “All I know is that you will not leave this house this morning until you drop money for foodstuff.”

            “Please dear, I promise I will make you smile once I get back today,” he had said nicely. He silently prayed his ploy would work.

            “Keep your English to yourself this man! Drop money or you won’t leave this house today.” she said, instantly grabbing his uniform and locking it in a tight grip that almost sent Titus choking. Instantly, the cry of a baby rent the air. Absent-mindedly, his wife had left him and rushed off to attend to their ten-month old baby. That had provided a quick escape route and he had immediately let himself out. Nkechi’s curses were soon inaudible as he disappeared into the streets. The sun had just begun to come up in the sky then causing the darkness to give way to the first traces of daylight.

Now, the sun was blazing hot in the sky and its impact on his skin was far from pleasant. The mother of all his worries was the fact that he had been posted to Adenegan checkpoint along with two of the most annoying officers in his Force Headquarters. Officers Okonkwo and Badejo stood a little distance away chatting like two foolish women. Titus had often wondered how both men got into the Police Force. They were probably the most indolent men he had ever known and being paired with them on this evil morning was like pricking a red boil. Adenegan Checkpoint was a one post where it was hard to make anything good. The money normally came in trickles here unlike at other points where commercial buses plied to no end. Of course, the commercial bus drivers understood the business and so the ‘roger’ was one issue they never had to argue about, especially because they hated the police ‘wahala.’ All they had to do was tip the officer at the checkpoint a ‘roger’ of twenty naira and you’re good to go. Adenegan checkpoint was however a non-commercial road. Only private car owners came by this route and most of these people often had their papers intact. What a day! Titus thought to himself painfully. He cursed and spat again.

            “Titus, Titus Sardine!” Badejo called out in a friendly tone from where he stood with Julius. “O boy, this one wey your face strong like this. Wetin dey now?”

Titus suppressed the thought of rushing at the irritating officer and beat him to a pulp. Okonkwo decided to join his foolish friend. “ How far now, Titus? Hope nothing sha?” Again, titus sighed. He dismissed the thought of beating anyone immediately. He could not possibly handle both men. Okonkwo for one was a heavily built man.

            “I dey o.” Titus said in a distant tone. “Still on money palava.”

            “Na so o, my brother,” Okonkwo agreed. “This kain Adenegan checkpoint wey them carry us come sef, ehn.”

            “Na only God know if we go fit control any ‘roger’ today sef.” Badejo said, unwrapping a piece of sweet in his hand. Titus suppressed his irritation and turned his attention back to the road as more cars passed by.

He looked briefly at his wristwatch. It was just past eleven in the morning. They had stopped about ten vehicles all day and had gotten nothing from anyone. The drivers or the car owners had all seemed like good citizens and they had only requested to see the vehicle particulars of just about four of the automobiles. Of course, the details had all been intact, further fuelling Titus’ anger. Now, that was one frustrating phenomenon because their monkey business only thrived on the continued existence of defaulters and law breakers who usually had to give bribes to get themselves of the hook. Titus produced a dirty handkerchief from his pants pocket and wiped off the sweat on his brow. For the first time after he escaped from home that morning, he allowed his mind wander off to his wife, Nkechi. He knew he had to go back home that night with good news or else . . . he let the thought hang. He sighted a car approaching from the distance. Quickly, he moved to the middle of the road and flagged with the stick in his hand. The long rifle in his left hand had obviously known better days and he wondered again if it was loaded at all. He had not forgotten to confirm that when he picked it up from the armoury that morning. Not that it mattered though. They did not have to shoot anyone to get some money from them. They were not robbers! He instantly decided he would not hesitate to smash the side mirrors of the car if its driver tried to act funny and speed on. Luckily, the car slowed down and he recognized it as a Volkswagen Passat 2.0. Titus smiled to himself. His hopes were suddenly rekindled.

            “This one suppose get money,” Okonkwo said as he moved closer.

            “Follow am talk well well o,” Badejo added, as he moved to the other side of the road, as if he could prevent an escape. Titus dismissed the duo with a curt wave of the hand and approached the car that had parked on the road side.

            “Good morning officer,” the driver said quickly.

           “Good morning. How are you?” Titus replied. He decided it was good to be in charge here. The clean English would definitely help matters, he thought.

            “I’m okay, and you.” the man at the wheel said in a tone that clearly showed that he was in a hurry. The officer wasn’t in the least bothered.

            “Where are you going to, Oga?” he asked, as he allowed his gaze wander from the man’s face to the interior of the car. The question seemed to have caught the driver unawares. A frown creased his forehead.

            “I am on my way to a very important meeting, Officer and in fact, I am running late already.”

            “Hmmm, okay.” Titus said distractedly. His gaze fell on the man’s wristwatch. It looked like a very expensive Swiss watch he had once seen in a magazine. It was obvious the man was ‘loaded.’

            “Oga, anything for the boys?” he asked playfully, a smile playing on his lips.

            “Pardon me?” the driver asked. Titus could scarcely hide his irritation and surprise. Why was the man acting like someone from another planet?

            “We have been working here since morning, Oga. You can just give us a small gift to show your appreciation of our work.”

            “Are you asking me for a bribe?”

That was it. The man was indeed crazy, Titus decided. He was trying to play tough and he would surely get a full dose of toughness.

            “Show me your particulars,” he barked.

The driver hesitated for a second and shook his head, muttering inaudible curse words. He opened the glove compartment and produced a stack of papers and handed them over. He tapped repeatedly on his steering wheel as the officer went through his papers.

            “Wetin dey happen for here now?” Badejo enquired. He strolled to stand beside Titus much to the latter’s chagrin. “Oga, good morning o.” he said, peering into the car through the from passenger seat window. Neither of the men answered him.

            “Titus, how far now? The man no wan cooperate?” he whispered in his colleague’s ear.

            “You no go mind your business.” Titus whispered back rudely, without taking his eyes off the stack of papers in his hands. He studied the papers religiously and it was obvious the man was clean. All his papers were intact! He thought of his ‘lioness’ of a wife and what she would do to him if he came home without good news and he fire of his anger was further fuelled. He wished he could nail this proud rich man somehow and milk him of some hard cash. At last he decided he would let go and vent his anger on the next victim. He handed over the papers back to the man and was about to wave him on when he suddenly had a change of mind.

            “Oga, let me see your driver’s license.” he said.

The man at the wheel hesitated for a while. A crease appeared on his brow as he reached into his pocket and brought out his wallet. He retrieved a plastic card and handed it over. The officer had hardly studied the card for ten seconds when a smile appeared at the corners of his mouth.

            “Oga, you are driving with an expired driver’s license.”

The man hit the steering wheel hard. He was obviously frustrated. He looked at his watch briefly and then at the officer.

 “Officer . . . Officer Okubili,” the man began calling the last name on the officer’s name tag. “Can we let that go, please? The license only expired last month and I have not had the time to go get a replacement. I am in a rush now and I . . .”

“There is no excuse before the law, Mr. Man.” Titus said authoritatively.

“Oga, you go follow us go station?” Badejo asked from behind.

The man got out of the car quickly and came around to stand with the policemen.

            “Come on officers.” He began, “It doesn’t have to get to that. We can resolve this right here. I have got an important meeting in twenty minutes. I’m running late.”

            “You know what to do, Oga.” Titus said nonchalantly. From the corner of his eye, he could see Okonkwo approaching. The man had better dropped enough money for all three to share, he prayed silently.

When the car zoomed off two minutes later, all three officers were full of smiles. They had extracted a cool three thousand naira from the frustrated driver who had managed to plead with them to no end. The initial price had been put at five thousand naira but the bargain had brought it down to the amount they collected. The sharing ratio which had been done in ratio 40-30-30 in Titus’ favour did not go down well with his colleagues but in the end, they had let the matter rest. By six o’clock that evening, the smile had not disappeared from Titus’ face. He had even begun to chat happily with his colleagues. They had been able to get more money from some other drivers who had either fallen short of some necessary vehicle details or had been too much in a rush to argue with police officers. Titus patted his swollen pockets repeatedly and the butterflies continued to fly inside his stomach. Adenegan checkpoint had turned out not to be an unfortunate location today. It had indeed been a good day after all. He looked at his watch again. Soon he would go home without any fear of the ‘lioness’ at home. He had enough to appease her ferocious anger and even keep enough for himself as well. He prayed tomorrow would be a better day.

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