The million thoughts gradually dissolved into one hard nut knocking his heart pulsatingly as he pushed the starter and eased the Datsun on the road. He forced his uncle’s homily out of his mind and concentrated on the job at hand. “What job?” he asked himself. Indeed, what job? Dappah was nowhere. He was expected yesterday night but the man refused to show up. He had considered getting in touch with the Chief to inform him of the situation but he had rejected the idea for no just reason. Deeply engrossed in the search for alternatives to calling the Chief, he nearly ran over a crowd which had gathered in the middle of the lonely road.
A lorry, apparently conveying traders from a market had somersaulted. It was now lying on its side, its load of tomatoes, pepper, onions and other personal belongings forming a grotesque structure on the asphalted surface. The corpses of the dead passengers were displayed like wares on the roadside. Some of the sympathisers were talking at the same time; others were wailing. Kayode did not share those sentiments; he was calm, and concerned only with the injured. As he did not speak the local language, he knew asking questions was a waste of time.
As he waltzed his way through the crowd, he stumbled on a group of men trying to revive an injured victim. He looked at the man once, and knew he should get to the hospital, if he was going to survive. “I have a car,” he shouted. Many eyes looked at him but none showed comprehension, instead of wasting more precious time trying to affect their minds, he ran to his car, gunned it into life and drove through the path, which had suddenly been created, to where the victim was lying. Somebody opened the back door, the injured man was loaded and he drove off in the direction dictated to him by a young boy who had been called to interpret for Kayode and the group, while Kayode was retrieving the Datsun. The injured man was gasping for breath before the hospital was located. He was stretched to the emergency ward and left among other patients in varying states of incapacitation. The nurse on duty hurried behind a shelf and brought out a large exercise book: “pay
N5,000 deposit,” she said addressing kayode and began to write furiously. “Name?” she asked, Kayode spelled it out, “address,” he gave the hotel’s address.
“Is that your residence?” the nurse asked.
“I don’t reside there. I am a visitor,” Kayode replied impatiently, eyeing the victim who had made a jerking sound that sent darkish blood spurting from a puncture on his chest.
“In that wise, we can’t admit your patient,” the nurse said with practiced arrogance.
“What?” Kayode exclaimed. “A man is dying at your feet and the only thing that concerns you is my residence and a bloody
N5,000, for the sake of hell, what has my residence got to do with treating this man in the throes of death?” he asked. “Suppose he dies, that is a case of manslaughter. You could abscond for all I care. That is the connection. Moreover you haven’t paid the deposit’” the nurse replied.
The hospital ward was not sergeant Garba Ahmed’s beat. In fact, he hates hospitals, but he had no choice this morning than to visit his wife who had been delivered of a baby boy the previous night. Not that he wanted the boy. He had made provisions for preventing his wife from getting pregnant but a lapse in the family planning process had resulted in the pregnancy. Being a firm non-believer in killing foetus he had allowed his wife to nurse it, the last burden, he called it. He had just signed of from duty, meaning he had done more than eight hours battle with mosquitoes in the station, coupled with sleeplessness and the stream of trivial complaints by the prostitutes in the hotel near the station. All these had left him tired, irritable and touchy. The constant thought of an additional mouth to feed from his meager salary was overwhelmingly unpalatable. It was therefore a troubled Ahmed who left the maternity ward that morning after the doctor on duty had told him to produce five thousand naira for an urgent operation to correct a complication which his wife developed after the birth of his son.
“The money is needed urgently,” the doctor had concluded his report.
“Five tosan?” the bewildered sergeant had whistled. “I never pei dis mont rent and on top dat, dis pikin de chop serelak laik say im be guluton. Where you tink sey I go git dat kain muni?” he asked the doctor.
“Do you want your wife dead?” the doctor asked.
“No. allah no go gri.”
“Then find the money if you don’t want Allah to gri,” the doctor said and went away.
Heavy hearted, he went away from the ward, thinking. It was while he was crossing the corridor that connected the emergency ward to the other parts of the hospital that he chanced on the last statement made by the nurse. Instinctively, he pushed the door open and went in.
“Na who sey manslota?” he asked the nurse.
“Na me,” the nurse answered bewildered.
“You dey unda hares.”
“No, officer,” the nurse protested and quickly added “these gentlemen,” she pointed Kayode out, “and that boy over there,” she indicated the young boy who accompanied Kayode to the hospital, both, “both of them brought an accident victim here and they refused to give their residential addresses,” the nurse concluded and made to move away.
“Make you no go o,” the policeman advised. “I beg kom show me di patient.”
Picking their way through the human debris, the nurse led the way followed by Kayode, the policeman and the young boy to where the victim, now hopeless, was breathing his last.
“This one,” the nurse pointed and stepped aside. Not a novice to the treatment the police mete out to suspects and sensing that the new dimension the issue was assuming would surely lead to the police station, the boy bolted. He was not fast enough, for the policeman caught him by the collar and dragged him to where Kayode and the nurse were standing. He then bent down and pressed his left ear to the chest of the victim. Not satisfied, he held his right wrist for some seconds and then, dropped it.
“He don dead,” he announced.
“Dis na moda, you fo follow me go tation.”
The boy was weeping silently. The nurse was indifferent. Kayode was dumbfounded. He did not doubt the futility of the policeman’s accusation when the case is reported to a superior officer. What surprised him was the audacity behind the whole farce. To be accused of murder, for helping to save a life is ridiculous as it is ludicrous. At the station, he narrated the incident leading to his being at the hospital to an inspector. The boy corroborated Kayode’s statement by saying that the dead victim was actually a beggar who was hit by the somersaulting lorry, and that the incident had been reported to the very station. The inspector checked the records and seemed to confirm the boy’s assertion. The inspector was apologizing to the boy when the sergeant, seeing his chance of making the five-thousand naira hospital bill, or at least part of it slipping away, interrupted him.
“Oga, dis pipul na ril krimina o, dis one,” he pointed to the boy, “wan eskep from ditension in the hospital. If una rilis dem, ma han no dey o,” he said with bogus concern. “An make I tell una, I don buk dem.”
“Ok, ok,” the inspector said placatingly, “de-book them and let them go, I am off duty anyway.”
The sergeant unhooked a biro from his breast pocket, held it awkwardly and began an elaborate ceremony of writing in the large dog-eared exercise book in front of him. After a while, he re-read what he has written and nodded. “Nao, bail money,” he said spreading his palm. Kayoed frowned and the young boy began to laugh with amusement.
“Wai you de laf?” the policeman asked. While still laughing, the boy pointed at the large notice board hung conspicuously at the entrance of the police station on which was written BAIL IS FREE POLICE IS YOUR FRIEND: HELP THE POLICE TO HELP YOU.
“Wetin dat…” the policeman started to say but he stopped as the realization hit him. “No be helep I say make una help me?” he said sheepishly.
Kayode was now amused by the whole comic. He knew he had to think and reason like the mockery of a policeman in order to leave the station safely. He had considered walking away but decided against it; he had heard of accidental discharge before. He thought it was a joke then but his current experience warned him against displaying such effrontery. He had even thought of challenging the legality of the sergeant’s booking, since he had said that he left duty that morning but he had also rejected that move for obvious reasons. In a lawful society, he should not have been in the station but this is a lawless society where to be virtuous is a vice.
“Can I use your phone?” he asked the policeman.
“Wetin for?” he demanded suspiciously.
“I want to call my hotel for money.”
“Kom use am,” he pushed the dirty instrument forward and eyed Kayode mockingly. Kayode approached the table where the telephone lay and saw that layers of dust had covered the contraption, turning it into a dull grey. He suspected the machine had been dead for long, but in order to satisfy his conjecture, he lifted the receiver and held it centimeters away from his right ear; no dialing tone. He replaced the receiver and sighed.
“There is one across the road,” the boy cut into his thought.
“What is across the road?” Kayode asked.
“A phone, cellular phone,” the boy replied.
“Wetin be cellubar?” the policeman interrupted, suspecting the duos were planning something tricky. “Una no go lif dis place for cellubar, yu go pay before you lif,” he said, triumph in his voice for catching Kayode and the boy in the act.
“Cellular is a phone. Since your own is as dead as your cranium box, I need to make the call to the hotel from outside of here,” Kayode replied, risking a damnation.
But the policeman smiled and said with an air of superiority: “Dis no be bus, na fon.”
“Yes,” Kayode said eagerly and asked whether they could go. “I go folo una. No fogit say una still be moderas.” With that he picked his tattered beret and followed the departing ”accuse” led by the boy.
As the trio stepped into the premises of NITEL office, boys of school age literally overwhelmed them, begging for patronage.
“Where do you want to call–London, Paris, America, where?” they asked in unison.
“Zuru,” Kayode replied. The policeman was too fascinated by the small handsets the boys were carrying to notice Kayode’s request.
“I’ll get it, “ the boys said simultaneously.
“No,” Kayode shouted. “I want you,” he said after some hesitation. He had chosen the boy he rated cleanest, tallest and oldest of the scrambling multitude. Within a few minutes of his request, Kayode was talking with Alhaji Dauda. He nodded, smiled and returned the plastic contraption to the boy, his conversation concluded.
“How much?” he asked.
N50,” the boy replied. Kayode paid him.
The policeman, surprised, was staring at the crisp note on its journey from Kayode’s pocket to the boy’s.
“You tell mi se you no hol moni, no be moni you dey give that boy so?” he complained mournfully.
“Yes,” Kayode replied in mock surprise and added “is
N50 enough for the bail?” thinking that Kayode was aiming to pay more than N50, he replied, “no, no, na N5,000.”
“Somebody is bringing it,” he said.
“Anytime you want my service, sir, just ask for Angulu,” the cellular boy said.
“That’s right, Angulu. I have some questions for you,” Kayode replied, slipping his arm into the boy’s. “Would you mind accompanying me across the road?” he asked.
“Not at all sir.” Three of them followed the police sergeant.
“I want a cellular like yours,” Kayode told him as they left the compound.
“That is easy sir,” the boy said enthusiastically.
“How easy?” Kayode inquired. “You know it’s very expensive,” he added.
“I don’t know about that. But you can re-coop the cost in not time,” the boy said encouragingly and continued without further prodding from Kayode, “I’ll look for customers. Before you know it, you have made the cost back and the handset remains your.’
“What arrangements are you talking about?” Kayode wanted to know. The boy frowned at him with what sort of question is that look. “You talk to the people in NITEL office. Somehow, they do it there. You don’t need to pay bills. At regular intervals, you pay them,” the boy explained.
“Oh, come off it,” Kayode said jocularly, “how can you do that? Surely, NITEL will send bills.”
“Bills? Unless you don’t arrange with them. Only fools pay utility bills these days. Look at me; I’ve made thousands by paddling the streets, wooing customers to make their calls from me. All I do is take the money to my master at the end of the day and I receive my share. I’ll laugh to school when the lecturers finish their wrangling with government.”
“So, you have a master?” Kayode teased. “Of course, you think I own this?” he thrust the handset at him. “My master is in there” the boy pointed at the row of offices.
“When can I meet the people?” Kayode asked.
“Anytime you are ready. Any of the boys there,” he indicated his peddler-colleagues “can arrange the meeting.” As interesting and intimate as the conversation was, the boy did not take his eyes off the gate of the NITEL premises. Now, a man crossed the road and made for the gate. The boy interrupted the conversation: “I have to run along, that man, “ he pointed, “is my customer. Those hawks will snatch him if I am not quick”.
“I’ll see you tomorrow, this time,” Kayode shouted as the boy scaled the wide gully in front of the police station in one sleek bound. “Don’t forget my name, Angulu,” he shouted back and was gone.
“Di moni never come?” the sergeant asked as he returned from the gents, buttoning his trousers. Kayode did not immediately reply. He looked round, located a long, dirty bench shining with prolonged use and sat on it.
“Soon,” he replied curtly. He knew soon will be more than two hours. It takes that long, or even more, to travel from Zuru to Sokoto. He waited, chatting with policemen in their ingress and egress into and from the station. At exactly two hours after he had made the call, Alhaji Dauda arrived the station with fanfare. The most senior of the policemen shouted something like “shon,” and every black uniform momentarily stood still. Later, there was a loud exchange of greetings as Alhaji Dauda shook every available hand. Nodding and smiling at every pleasantry, he removed a wad of
N50 notes from hi bulging pocket and gave it to the senior policeman; Kayode became a free man.