Olawale Martins smiled again as he pulled out of the Kuramo Beach car park. He glanced at the watch on his left wrist and could barely make out what the time piece showed. Now, it dawned on him that the alcohol had begun to take its toll. Well, it hardly mattered at the moment. It was a Friday night and who said it was a crime to enjoy oneself on a Friday night, especially one as beautiful as this one. He steered the car to the right and blinked as he drove slowly through the well lit street that boasted of one of the most prestigious hotels in the country. On his right, the Eko Le Meridien towered high and virtually dwarfed all the other buildings around. Olawale shook his head slowly. Life here was for the high and the mighty; the movers and shakers of the society; not for his kind. He was just one of those countless, faceless citizens of the country who hardly mattered in the society nor had anything to offer it. He was just another driver! He sighed briefly. On second thought, being a driver was not such a disaster after all; he quickly reminded himself as he always did whenever the strong feeling of inferiority complex set in and almost had him going bananas. He wasn’t just another driver; no not at all. He was a big woman’s driver; not just a big woman; a white woman; a rich white woman who had a fleet of automobiles that could only be accurately described as ‘wonders on wheels’ and he had the rare opportunity of being one of the few men who drove these ‘wonders on wheels’ around town taking ‘Madam’ wherever she chose. That was not all. ‘Madam’ was just like the typical white woman who hardly gave a hoot about where the driver went with her car after he had dropped her off at home or at the office or wherever she wanted to go. Olawale had a free hand to take any of the cars around – even to his home if he wished – so long as he was on time to perform his responsibilities as the driver.
Usually, he enjoyed the privilege of frolicking around town with his boss’ cars and living his wild fantasies behind the wheels of such expensive automobiles and that was exactly what he was doing right now cruising in the sleek black 2007 model Toyota Avensis car. As he approached the so-called Eko Hotel roundabout, he wondered where to head next. The thought of going straight home all the way to Awoyaya, another forty-five minutes drive, if he was lucky to travel on a traffic-free road sent shudders down his spine as it always did. He dreaded his home like leprosy. It reminded him of his poor status and constantly brought him out of his fantasies of living like the rich. Thus, he hardly visited home, always making good excuses on why he could not come home. The nature of his job of course provided him with a perfect alibi and who were his family not to understand? After all, he was the one who brought home the daily bread and they sure knew if he dared joke with his job and lost it in the process, they would all starve to death. He allowed his thoughts travel briefly to his wife, Sade and his two kids back at home. He remembered their last conversation earlier in the afternoon when she had called him from a call centre.
“Baba Tomiwa, you go come house today?” she had asked in her typical ‘pidgin English’. That was their usual way of conversation, especially since his wife was hardly literate. Olawale had frowned immediately, on hearing her question.
“Sade, I never sure o. Madam talk say make I carry am go Badagry,” he had lied, hoping she would believe and at the same time wondering if he wasn’t stupid to be telling such an unbelievable lie. Who would dare leave Lekki Peninsula or Victoria Island for Badagry at three in the afternoon?
“Ah Baba Tomiwa, which kain lie be dis one dis afternoon?” his wife had challenged. “We never see you for five days now and you know say tomorrow na your ‘off’ day. Abeg, come house now. Your pikin dem dey miss you o.”
Olawale had sighed, knowing he was hooked. She of course knew he was lying and he couldn’t even deny it. He had a free day the next day, being a Saturday and his wife wanted him to be home with them. At last, he had promised Sade he would be home that night much to her delight. Now, he was beginning to wonder if he wouldn’t be disappointing her for the umpteenth time as he had done more times than he could remember. Try as much as he did, he could not come up with a good lie that could bail him out tonight.
The time at the moment had to be 10 p.m. or thereabout and he couldn’t imagine heading home at that moment. As far as Olawale was concerned, he had not caught enough fun for the night. Back at the beach, he had only taken five bottles of Guinness Stout and only one more item was left out to complete the fun – a beautiful and well endowed woman who could do all the things his wife could not do. His thoughts wandered again to his wife and he winced. To him, Sade was just a fat and ugly woman that irritated him beyond reason. Many a time, he had often wondered why he had not envisaged her evolving into such mass in the future before marrying her. They had been married for just over five years and over time; she had suddenly added so much body weight that he despised walking with her whenever they went to church on Sundays along with the kids as he often wondered if anyone seeing them wouldn’t assume his wife had three kids, mistaking him for the firstborn! He had always believed Sade was his nemesis for the sins of his childhood or the retribution on his wicked ways in a former life if he ever had one. She was overbearing and nagging and her behaviour worsened as the days went by. Even though he always missed his kids – a five year old son and a three year old daughter – he simply couldn’t bring himself to rushing home even when he had the opportunity. He knew secretly that his wife was the major reason why he despised going home. He was scared of her, but no he would never admit that to a soul. Truth was; that hardly mattered to him whenever he was away from her, especially because it afforded him the much sought opportunity to live the ‘good life’.
Olawale Martins, at thirty six had the looks and carriage that would never make anyone think of him as a second-class citizen. He was tall, dark and handsome and had a nice set of teeth that most women often found attractive. Added was the fact that he spoke such clean English that whenever he pulled over in any of his boss’ beautiful automobiles and called out to any of the pretty women he often saw standing on the sidewalks waiting for car lifts, only a few had the guts to turn away. Thus, he made up for his losses by dating the prettiest women he set his eyes on, even though it was usually for a short while. In all, he was almost a complete package and the only setback remained the fact that he was not a rich man; a status he desperately hoped to change soon. Olawale Martins also believed he was very smart at his game. He never ever let himself get carried away enough to act stupid and get himself into trouble with the women he had flings with. Usually, he made sure any of such relationships never went beyond a simple one-night stand. It was thus a once-and-for-all thing. He never exchanged numbers or contacts and even when he did, he usually gave incorrect details. As far as he knew, he was one of the smartest men in his generation as regards women management, a conclusion Theo, his fellow driver constantly disagreed with. Theo was his boss’ second driver who took her on long distances since she had a strong phobia for flying in airplanes. Her husband had died in a plane crash a few years back and ever since Mrs. Kathy Briggs had refused to fly in airplanes. In fact, she had never left Nigeria after her husband’s death.
“Wale, you are just lucky and that’s all there is to it.” Theo had often challenged whenever the issue of being smart in women management came up.
“Lucky and smart are two different things.” Olawale had countered. “You’re lucky when you often get off slightly or miraculously but you’re smart when you get off easily and without stress. Man, I’m one smart man!”
Still in the valley of decision, he drove slowly past the roundabout and cut into Ajose Adeogun Street. By all standards, this street was one of the most beautiful parts of Victoria Island, thanks to the marvelous roadwork and horticultural work facilitated by Zenith Bank. Olawale had often heard a lot of people call the street ‘Zenith Street’ or advocate for a change of the street’s name to ‘Zenith Street’ and he had agreed with them. The streetlights flooded the area and one could easily confuse the night for day. It was pretty busy as well, judging by the number of people still moving around in cars, buses and the good number of people on the sidewalk, possibly waiting for transportation or car lifts. In a jiffy, he felt the alcohol effect clear off as he spotted a young woman standing along with the small crowd on the sidewalk clutching a handbag delicately. He unconsciously applied the brakes and for a second, he stared at her, feeding his hungry eyes with her undoubtedly beautiful looks. She was tall and hardly different from the girls he saw on T.V posing for commercials or contesting in beauty pageants. He was shaken off his trance by the sound of car horns blaring from behind. Quickly he moved forward and parked a short distance away.
“Idiot, why did you stop on the road like that? Do you think you’re in your father’s house?” a man behind the wheels of the car that had been behind him braked angrily as he drove past. Olawale ignored him, opened the doors of the car and stepped out, hoping he had not just seen a vision. He walked back to the part of the sidewalk where the girl had been standing and he couldn’t spot her. Had it really been a stupid vision? He wondered and turned back dejectedly, suddenly realizing he had attracted the attention of a good number of the people who had observed his previous car-braking stunt. He bit his lip and began to move when he almost bumped into someone.
“Hey, watch it, Mister Man” she called out.
He was about to apologize when he found himself staring at the same woman he had left the car to look for. He swallowed saliva as he took in her looks from close range. She was indeed all he had seen previously and much more.
“Hi lady,” he began in his flawless English accent. “I’m really sorry for bumping into a rare beauty like you. Would you care to forgive a gentleman’s folly?”
The young woman, amused by his display simply smiled and turned away. “It’s okay,” she said with a curt wave of her hand.
Olawale sighed as he noticed more people were staring at them. He thought of screaming at them to focus on some other place but quickly discarded the thought. Some of them probably thought he was mad and he wouldn’t want to make them believe they were right. He put his hands in his trousers pockets and assumed the stance of a comfortable gentleman.
“If you don’t mind, may I ask where you’re going?” he asked turning his attention back to the woman beside him.
She turned to look at him, obviously irritated. “I don’t see how that would concern you?” she replied rudely, keeping her eyes fixed on him angrily.
He shrugged. “Well, it might not be my business anyway but I don’t think a fine woman like you should be standing waiting for a cab or whatever at this time when I can conveniently take you wherever you’re going.” He paused for effect. “There’s my car over there,” he added, pointing out the Toyota Avensis parked a few metres away.
The woman turned to see where he had pointed towards and her gaze rested on the car for a while. Olawale suppressed a grin.
“Nice car,” she said.
“Thanks,” he replied with a short smile that exposed his clean set of teeth and the dimples on his cheek. “So where are you going?” he enquired.
“Just going to hang out for the night actually?”
Her response was much calmer now and Olawale relished the feeling of victory again as he always did whenever he achieved his constant ‘woman-catching’ feat.
“Any specific place in mind?” he asked, winking at her.
She shrugged. “I don’t have a specific place in mind. Maybe you can show me,” she said, smiling.
“Why don’t we talk in my car?” he said confidently. “We could decide on something while we drive on.”
Two minutes later, they were settled in and chatting excitedly as he drove on. He decided to head for Ikoyi where he knew was the place to be on a Friday night, considering the fact that a good number of funspots and clubs were situated there. He smiled as he watched the girl sitting on his right from the corner of his eye. The music blaring from the sound system in the car and the air conditioner pumping out cool air were definitely registering in the young woman’s system, he noticed as he caught her nodding slowly and feeling very comfortable.
“You must be a very big boy,” she said after a while. “Imagine all this luxury.”
“It’s God, my dear. God and hardwork,” he said with a chuckle.
“So, what do you do?” she probed.
Olawale smiled again as he wondered to himself why all the women he met always asked this question. He had a programmed answer for this same question.
“I’m a businessman” he said casually. “Someday, I’ll invite you to come see me in my office on the Island. Would you love to come?”
“Sure, anytime,” she said quickly. “My name is Gina.”
He had been waiting for her to tell him her name. He made it a point never to introduce himself first. That was a typical big-boy attitude, he had since learnt.
“Wally,” he simply said, and drove on.
“Wally? Nice name.” Gina commended.
He smiled again. “Thanks. Yours sounds nice too.”
They had just climbed the Falomo Bridge through Akin Adesola Street and as they approached the Police checkpoint, he noticed Gina was suddenly jittery.
“What’s the matter?” he asked in concern. “It’s just the police.”
“Don’t stop. Just drive on!” she commanded.
He looked ahead and noticed the policemen were signaling from the distance for him to pull over. It wouldn’t be the first time he was been asked to stop by policemen. They were just doing their duty and he had no problems with that.
“What? Why?” he began, but was suddenly cut short when Gina pulled out a pistol from her handbag. He shook visibly as he beheld the gun in her hands.
“Pl . . . Please …” he began, as cold sweat broke out on his forehead, in spite of the working air conditioner in the car. He slowed down as they got within thirty metres of the checkpoint. The car in front of them had stopped as the policemen spoke with its driver.
“Shut up and drive on!” she yelled, pushing the gun against his ribs.
The feel of the metal against his body sent shivers down his spine and instantly, he lost control of the wheels and crashed forcefully into the car in front, sending shreds of broken headlights and windshield into the air. Within seconds, they had been surrounded by policemen who shouted angrily.
“Are you crazy? Wetin you dey drive?”
“Get out of that car now!”
“Na only you sabi drink?”
The angry voices of the policemen roared from all sides. Olawale had hardly recovered from the shock of the impact of the accident when he felt himself being dragged out of the car and kicked viciously. He attempted to talk but was silenced by more beating.
“Shut up! You still dey talk?”
He felt a mixture of pain and drunkenness at the same time and as he felt his strength seeping away from him, he heard one last audible statement.
“Ah, dem get gun sef! Can you imagine? Criminals! They have a gun!”
Olawale woke up hours later in a police cell where he could hardly move his limbs. He wondered if the policemen had not gotten some of his bones broken in the process of beating him up. He felt his swollen cheek and blood stained clothes. Slowly, he began to remember all that had happened and silently prayed that the policemen had not confused him for a criminal. The reality dawned on him when he was later led into the interrogation room at daybreak.
“Where did you people get the car?” the man in front of him asked.
“I don’t understand,” he said and he would have said more but was cut short by a deafening slap that hit him across the face.
“I say where una steal that car,” the interrogator repeated.
“I’m a driver.” Olawale said quickly, holding his burning face in his hands. “It’s my madam’s car. Abeg, officer. I no be thief!”
“You are a liar!” the man challenged. “That girl said you were together. You people were going to rob, abi?”
Amidst the beatings and unending slaps, Olawale managed to say all he knew about what had happened. He furnished the policemen with his boss’ contact details.
“If we find out that you are lying, you will die here. That’s a promise!” one of the men said, his eyes burning with anger. “We will call your so-called Madam Briggs and confirm if you are lying or not. Criminal!”
When he was led back into his cell, he felt worse than he had been before the interrogation. This time, it wasn’t just because of the physical pains. He knew his life was over. He would no doubt lose his job once his boss caught wind of what had happened. The damaged car was another issue entirely, but what was worse was the police case. Had it only been about the damaged car, he could have explained things away to her without getting into trouble, but how would he explain getting involved in police trouble. Mrs. Briggs would no doubt fire him. That was the least of his troubles in fact. He could cope with being fired but how could he cope with being labeled a criminal. He wondered what in the world he had gotten himself into. He had only been out to have some fun and he had unknowingly picked up a criminal. Now, the girl claimed they were together and of course the policemen believed her. Even if his boss attested to the fact that he was her driver, that wouldn’t be enough to get him off the hook. For the first time, his colleague, Theo’s words made sense to him. He wasn’t smart after all. He had simply been lucky all this while.
Mrs. Kathy Briggs showed up at the Ikoyi Police station shortly after noon and to add to Olawale’s troubles. She came with his wife, Sade. At the sight of his wife, Olawale almost wet his pants. He was done for!
“Wetin dem talk say you do, Baba Tomiwa?” she yelled, putting her hands on her head. “Oga Police, abeg o. My husband e no be thief o!”
His wife had to be taken out of the scene forcefully and the policemen briefed Mrs. Briggs on all that happened. She attested to the fact that Olawale Martins was indeed her personal driver for about three years and she could vouch for his honesty. She chided him for his promiscuity when she heard his part of the story and promised to deal with him if ever he came out.
“So what happens to him now?” Mrs. Briggs asked. “Can he go with us?”
“I’m sorry Madam,” the officer in charge of the case told her politely. “He can’t. We found a gun in his possession.”
“But he just told me it was the girl who had the gun and she even threatened to kill him!” she challenged. “I know this man, okay. He’s not a criminal.”
The policeman sighed and shook his head. “I’m sorry there’s nothing I can do about that, Madam. The girl told us they were together.”
“She’s lying. I swear she’s . . .” Olawale began, amidst sobs.
“Shut up!” the policeman yelled at him.
“So . . .” Mrs. Briggs began, but was cut short by another policeman who walked in.
“Sergeant, there is new information,” the newcomer said to his superior, the officer in charge.
The officer in charge excused himself and left with the policeman who had come in. Mrs. Briggs stared at Olawale who bowed his head in shame as he stared at the handcuffs on his wrist.
“I’m very sorry Madam,” he said as tears flooded his eyes.
The white woman simply shook her head and turned away without a word.
About fifteen minutes later, the officer in charge returned.
“I’m sorry for taking your time Madam,” he said to Mrs. Briggs. “It appears your driver is actually correct. My man just told me that on thorough interrogation, the girl has confessed that she indeed had the gun and your driver here had nothing to do with it.”
“Now you see,” Mrs. Briggs said.
“She thought he was a rich man and it appears she planned to actually rob him later on. She saw us at the checkpoint and she was scared and so had to push him.”
“What a heartless girl!” Mrs. Briggs remarked.
“She appears not to be a professional though. We’ll do some further interrogation.”
“So what happens to him?” she asked, pointing at Olawale.
“He’s free. You’ll just have to pay for his bail.”
“Bail! I thought bail was free.” Mrs. Briggs said.
The officer smiled. “Just a routine procedure, ma.”
“I see. It’s okay.” Mrs. Briggs said, unconvinced.
Thirty minutes later, Olawale sat in the front passenger seat of the car as Theo drove them home. He could not bear turning to look behind at his boss who sat right behind him or at his wife who sat on the far left. He knew it would only take a miracle to save his job. Well, miracles sure do happen, he thought. So far, his boss had been quite nice. After all, she had bailed him out. He could only hope and pray. As for his wife, they would sort issues out at home. He was prepared to face the music.