“Nigga don’t move!”
I was being robbed by an armed, drug-crazed, wild-eyed vagrant swearing at me.
“Nigga don’t do nothing now, big guy.”
Musiliu, my roommate looked like he was about to cry on his knees. But he was too scared to breathe. My childhood friend, who had come to the U.S. with me, was starting to believe I had special protection, or charms I had brought from Nigeria, as I miraculously escaped one hazard after another without being harmed.
We had decided to save money, so we were renting in a run-down neighborhood just about ten minutes from the picturesque university campus. We had allowed a spendthrift Nigerian student to stay with us, until his parents sent him money. He had no money to pay his rent because he had spent it all on frivolous activities. Once, I had seen one of the two guys at the corner of the apartment building, smoking something that was clearly not a cigarette. I never forget a face. As they stood at the window, knocking, I stop our guest Sonny, from opening the door.
But then he says, “chill, no fear na me dem dey find,” in pidgin.
Meaning: “Relax they are looking for me.”
Musiliu laughs at my alarmed face, and shakes his head at my pusillanimity, as he simultaneously unlocks the bolted door. Sonny’s guests step in easily, smiling their ‘hellos,’ and as one of them shuts the door behind him with one hand, the flash of rising metals handled by both men, stuns me:
“This ain’t no joke, nigga don’t move!”
They are indifferent to drawing attention as they scream at us to get on our knees. There’s one that’s skinny, and one that’s obese. The skinny one points the gun to my head and keeps saying, “don’t move big guy.”
I have since stopped bodybuilding because of my assailant’s dread of the muscles bulging from my “wife beater.” Although Ming had always used comments about my muscles as preamble to our play fights, as she touched my arms and chest, purring away, “why are you so strong?” –which led to other things she enjoyed doing on the face of it, I no longer wished to evoke an inferiority complex from testosterone-laden bodies with ill-intentions. I just wanted peace. Oh, Ming was my college girlfriend.
Back to the robbery and the gun held to my head. Any wrong move, and that was it—he’d pull the trigger. Death was at my doorway again, and I wondered: “would it not have been better to have died in that car accident than to be shot by robbers like this?”
I could just imagine the headlines in the papers the next day, in the small town of ten thousand inhabitants: “Nigerian students killed in ‘obvious’ drug deal gone wrong.” In America, black men who get shot are always in the middle of a drug deal. I forgot, with Musiliu also being Muslim, it would be reported as a terrorist-cum-drug deal gone wrong in stereotypical xenophobic trope coverage.
Then I see Musiliu gradually looking less frightened as he looks at me. He even smiles. Musiliu really believes in what he knows about our Yoruba mythology. But I am just irritated, and I am thinking, here we go again. It was just like another time I had almost lost my life in America.
I wasn’t afraid. I didn’t even say a prayer. I just thought: “so this is how I am going to die? After all the suffering and sacrifices I made for a better future?” I don’t drink…I stopped partying when I was eighteen years old – and drinking too. Instead of partying with my “remnant” friends and devouring Guinness Stout in gallons like the other teens, I locked myself indoors and devoured the biographies of all Presidents of the United States of America. I read Hamilton too. He was the brilliant philandering immigrant that got killed because of a duel. He was never President, but he did more for America than many Presidents combined.
The “remnants” were the ones left behind; whose parents had not sent them abroad to the United Kingdom or the United States to further their education. I had a plan to get my university education in the United States of America: the land of the upstart, where nothing was impossible. The land of Lincoln, Hamilton, and Dr. Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. And Mike Tyson too.
And then the car stopped. Just like that. My ’94 Buick Skylark had spun, flipped, and I am sure gone through the woods, after I had fallen asleep for what seemed like a split second, behind the wheel. I was sure it was the end for me. But I felt no fear. It is strange how I had enough time to reminisce about my life, while my car went into a tailspin as I lost control.
I could not believe I had survived the crash without a scratch (well, just a few marks on my arm from the shards of glass scattered all over me). Now immobilized by the straps of the seat belt that had possibly saved my life, I looked to the passenger seat of the wrecked stationary Skylark.
“Thank God, I had dropped off Ming at the airport,” I thought. Nobody could have survived that crush. Thank God nobody was hurt. I heard the Southern drawl from an agitated man:
“Mister, I have never been so happy to see a man in my life. I thought my daughters were going to see a dead man today.”
My rescuer eased me out of the totaled car. I had never been happier to hear a white man from Alabama. It was a quick change of heart on my part, considering less than twelve hours before, I had heard an intrusive Southern male’s voice that sounded similar. Ming, my girlfriend had angrily called its owner “racist.”
Just like my savior, he had been concerned. But he was not as afraid, elated, and teary as my savior. Since I was dropping her off at the airport in Montgomery, to transit for her eventual trip to England, where she was going to be for a year, Ming and I decided that I spend the night. It was not that either one of us had any ulterior motive in mind. We were both adults who were crazy about each other. I mean we had sex every day since that first time anyway. Neither of us needed an excuse.
She had made the first move. Okay, I had kissed her, after she invited me over for tea, and after what seemed like eternity. After that she never stopped “play wrestling” with me, expressing her astonishment at how strong I was. Although she seemed serious on the exterior, behind closed doors, Ming was so playful with me. She was very athletic and zippy.
She had come unexpectedly from behind and jumped on my back, wrapping her legs tightly around my waist as a purchase to use her arms to pull me to the ground. She had skills, but I released myself, and there we were now sitting together on the floor, as she kept laughing. She side-splits with ease and leans forward on both elbows, with her chin in her hands.
I noticed that she had released her hair…the silky, dark mane flowed towards her waist at her back and cascaded down her arms, curtaining each side of her oval face. But I could see her smoky, hooded eyes, and her smile. Ming was a 5 ft. 7 in. beauty. She assumes the lotus position like the peaceful Buddha. I got my cue after she reached out for my arm with both her small but strong hands, and sighed under her breath, “your body is so hard. Is that all muscle? You see, I just could never be a lesbian.”
I could see her looking at my mouth, and I looked at her plucky, pouting, downturned lips. I loved the dark beauty spot just punctuating the upper vermillion border of her sensuous lips. We were both so gentle. Once our lips touched, we no longer play wrestled.
Ming used to say we would make beautiful babies, if we married. I don’t think she cared if we had the babies first, before getting married. But I had been torn up by so many concerns. First, I had been a born-again Christian trying to practice celibacy. I was really trying. She said she was prepared to marry me, but she was of another religion. Actually, she had no religion. And then there was the knock on her door at 1a.m. It was annoying. The intruder in his Southern drawl insists, after we had been unresponsive:
“Is everything okay in there?”
We were both astonished at the effrontery. I had warned Ming about how it was not okay for some people, that we were seeing each other.
I had foolishly thought it was our secret, since I never showed her emotion or any PDA in school. We managed to sneak in a clandestine embrace in a dark empty class every now and then. I thought it was so unnecessary, since she was going to be at my place after I was done working at night. Yes, work came after my classes during the day…but she wanted to anyway. I don’t know how I had all that energy to do so much, with so little time. I don’t know how Jasmine knew, since Ming had promised not to tell anyone about us. Jasmine was the closest person to Ming…after me of course.
“Every Chinese knows you are in love with Ming,” she said slyly, after I had feigned confusion, when she asked me, “Ni de lian ren zai na li?” Meaning: “where is your lover?” in Mandarin.
Ming had started to teach me Mandarin. Chinese languages are tonal like my native Yoruba language, so I picked it up easily, with the accent. But I discovered the Chinese students didn’t mind. They soon spoiled me with food and gifts. I recall the day some of the guys had all invited me to a “special” dinner they had prepared.
The guys made everything from scratch: chopped fresh vegetables blended well with sautéed dumplings and stir-fried rice. The sumptuous Chinese cuisines delighted my ravenous palate. My initial anxiety was unnecessary, as I sized up my six skinny classmates from mainland China. I had grown up on Bruce Lee movies, but I soon came to learn that no Chinese student practiced any kung-fu. I knew karate and I felt I could manage to kick their collective ass, in case they planned an ambush on me because I was with Ming.
It had crossed my mind that perhaps the food was riddled with laxatives, but we all ate from the same platter. Really, I didn’t care about purging because my taste buds were as tortured as my eyes were enthralled by the delicatessen before me. The Chinese community accepted me in Alabama. But not the interloper knocking on my girlfriend’s door at 1a.m., asking:
“Is everything okay in there?”
I asked Ming to go talk to him. She comes back.
“Racist,” she curses under her breath.
We are no longer in the mood. But we don’t go to bed, as we both make each other laugh until the break of dawn. Ming was the funniest person I knew, and she made my ribs hurt from laughing so hard. That’s why I was so sleepy behind the wheel. I had just dropped off my teary-eyed girlfriend, who would literally not let me go:
“Wo ai ni,” she kept saying: “I love you” in Mandarin.
After that I had to rush off to work. It was rather foolish of me. I should have parked the car and slept a little. And then I would have been refreshed. But I often think, God protects me because he sees my sincerity and I am dutiful and selfless. I was foolish. I stopped driving after cheating death from that accident.
That eliminated potential fatalities by car accidents, precipitated by Nigerian Juju from back home. My Nigerian friend, who attended the university in Alabama with me, was convinced I had powers over witchcraft. He was wide-eyed once he got to the scene of the accident, and with raised hands to the sky like in prayer, the omnist (or Chrislim as we called them in Lagos) exclaimed:
As he circled the crushed sedan, with his raised hands now wrapping his head in a typical Nigerian gesture exhibiting shock, Musiliu couldn’t stop sighing:
“Aiye…aiye.” A Yoruba reference to sorcery.
It was his own way of interpreting why my car had flipped over. For him, there was more to it than the prima facie explanation: that because I got no sleep staying up all night with my girlfriend, and was exhausted from driving for several hours; and instead of parking to sleep, I foolishly continued driving and fell asleep behind the wheel. Musiliu believed the real force and explanation behind the ostensible accident and prior chain of events, was manipulation through Juju from enemies of my family in a remote village in Nigeria.
Most Nigerians believe they can settle scores through spiritual means. They don’t need to resort to guns or physical violence to get rid of their enemies, so the convention goes. It is believed that there are beings that can move seamlessly between the material and spiritual realms, to execute ends through supernatural means.
A visit to the Nigerian Babalawo or shaman, and the object of one’s wrath may find himself falling asleep behind the wheel, or right in the thick of enough trouble certain to kill him off. But it does not end there, because life never ceases to exist for the Yoruba…it just transforms into another dimension worth exploring.
October 1, 2017 (Nigeria’s Independence Day) – Years later somewhere in Washington, DC.
“My dad died when I was six years old…Just after my mom had my younger sister.”
The ebullient and loquacious light-skinned teenage boy explained to the Nigerian customer in his mother’s convenience store, after he’d inquired where his dad was. The boy had beamed when he noticed the customer’s name on the card he handed him to pay for his food. The customer held up the line a bit longer to chat with the excited teen.
“What language did your father speak?”
He seeks the answer behind a side door and calls out.
“Mom, what tribe in Nigeria was dad again?” A petite Chinese woman emerges from the side door.
“Ibo,” she says quietly, almost shyly—looking dodgy.
“That’s my sister,” he gestures towards a teenager at the second register.
I am done retrieving cash from the store’s ATM, and as I head toward the exit, I hear the boy.
“At least, now you know what your kids would have looked like, if you had married her.”
Our guest, Sonny, would tell the cops that he didn’t know who the robbers were. Musiliu and I were confused by his statement, since he told us that they were looking for him, and that was why Musiliu opened the door. They had taken all we had and left us with just the clothes we had on our backs.
A gunshot went off that night.
Sugbon ta ni o fe ba afefe ja? (Who will fight a spirit?)
But Yorubas believe that nobody dies before his time. He lingers in another form, to complete his task in this life.
Strangely, the episode left Sonny with a mysterious “heart attack” on that night—soon after the robbery. He survived; but a few years after Musiliu graduated, we learned that Sonny was later convicted for a million-dollar fraud scheme. The cops and the FBI had started monitoring him after the robbery and soon discovered he ran an elaborate fraud ring, using the simple residents of the small town in Alabama. According to Musiliu’s beliefs, I suppose the elements conspired in due course, to payback a villain.
The middle-aged Nigerian customer is still at the register, and he is quite unmindful of the other customers, who don’t seem to care. He had revealed that he once had been in love with a Chinese woman. The man laughs at the teenager’s remark as I step past him, and reach for the door. The tall and burly, friendly, dark customer with a sonorous voice, still chatting with the mixed-race teenager, could have been his father. It is as if there is a force keeping him there…almost as if everything had been orchestrated to keep him there.
As I pull the door handle, and let the draft in, I look back nostalgically at their mother, and I muse over what could have been with my Ming. Perhaps in another life. With a wistful smile, I exit one last time.
She smiles knowingly, “Zai jian,” as she says goodbye in Mandarin.
Image: Pixabay.com remixed