BOOK II: NEW HOME

Posted: October 9, 2014 in Uncategorized

As days turned into weeks, so were my few naira notes fast depleted to coins. I became worried that I might not even have enough to last me through that week. I became desperate. A miracle had better happen and fast!
Three days earlier, I had hopped on a moving truck heading to Idumota, a popular district on Lagos Island. I was awed by the sights of tall buildings lining both sides of Idumota lane. As I walked down the busy street of Nnamdi Azikiwe, I realized that Idumota was not a place for the lazy, a lazy man would require more than good luck to feed. Young boys and old men were pushing carts about the busy district, women advertising their wares spread on the road with their infants strapped to their backs, flirted with pedestrians as they busily walk the seemingly endless road. Across the road, two young cart pushers were arguing over who was called to carry a big box while the owner seemed unconcerned about who eventually got to carry it, horns blaring and commercial vehicles formed a long chain towards the exit of Nnamdi Azikiwe street towards Carter bridge.
“These people have control over their lives at least, they resume work at their free will, nobody dictates to them, they make money for themselves, they might even not have parents like me to fend for them, may be they live in a lonely world just like me. Am going to make it and prove a point to that ingrate of a father” again, I consoled myself.
It was getting dark and I hadn’t eaten lunch, I checked my pocket and counted out the few coins I had and decided to buy beans porridge from a road side restaurant. I found the projected platform of a nearby kiosk and devoured the food quickly. Once I was done, I continued to survey the whole place around me, this time searching for a place to sleep. Stores lined up the streets were all illuminated. I was worried the police might pick me up if I decided to sleep at the entrance of one of them. In the end, I gave up my fears and slept at one of them using a carton I had earlier picked from a heap of garbage.
I woke up early but with no idea of the time. The skies were still pitch black. I could hear distant voices out there. I lay back and before long, drifted back to sleep.
I was suddenly awoken by something nibbling at my underfoot. It was a giant rat. I quickly stood up and dashed after it but it was too fast for me. By now the dark skies were gradually easing up. I decided to take a walk.
After walking about five hundred meters, I stood for a moment, looked around; there was nothing strange.  I continued walking. My shirt was gradually becoming damp from perspiration. Dawn had finally crept in and some traders were beginning to arrive but none paid me any notice. I decided to slow down and leaned on a defective street light pole and slowly, the market began to get populated. Buses were arriving with consignments and men and women, young and old were jostling to be a part of the offloading process. I instantly stood up and approached the scene, apprehensive of the likelihood of one of the many hardened faces challenging me. Fortunately that didn’t happen. I earned a reasonable amount of money that day and was earnestly looking forward to the next day.
That night, I secretly followed some of the boys I had earlier worked with as they chatted loud on the street, shoving one another and laughing raucously. They made a bend and I noticed that they were headed for a mosque. I wondered if they wanted to say their prayers at such an unusual time. After a long wait, I walked into the mosque and was surprised to find neatly arranged rows of human beings on mats some still trying to find the best sleeping position while other were perfectly still. I spotted a slot on the inner right from where I stood. I tip toed to the place and quietly fit myself in with my bag serving as a pillow.
After five days of work, my whole body ached like I had just been run over by a truck. I stayed down that morning while the other boys prepared to leave. One of them looked in my direction and said something to his fellows and they all laughed. I didn’t sit up but stayed down and kept watching them. It only made them laugh the more. They soon left.
When I thought I felt better, I sat up and looked at my body over. I felt emaciated. I made quite some money over the past few days but spent more than half of it feeding. My appetite suddenly became insatiable. I yawned lazily and looked around. There were still a few people left. I placed my head back on my “pillow.” My whole body was in pain. I knew I wasn’t cut out for that sort of job but where would a better one come from?
Later that morning, after rinsing my face and legs with water from the tap at the ablution wing, I moved out and my first stop was at a drug store where I bought aspirin tablets and popped them in my mouth. The attendant was kind enough to hand me a cup of water to wash it down. I decided to take the whole day off. I soon found a not too quiet place behind a fence with a government sign. I sat there jaded and undecided. The chirping sound coming from a tree filled with nests and not a single leaf bothered me at first but I soon became oblivious of the noise.
I left there soon after noon and bought food. I stayed back at the restaurant after eating and was listening to three friends recounting their experiences. It made me feel better and relaxed. It also reminded me of my dad. When they stood up to leave, I knew it was time for me also to leave, luckily it was getting dark. I didn’t want to go back to the mosque, so I decided to find a suitable place. I settled for an abandoned bus for the night.
I woke up very early shivering from the cold oozing in from the windowless abandoned bus I made temporary refuge. My chest vibrated from the cold. I climbed out with my bag slung across my shoulder; my legs felt numb and unsteady because of the partial circulation of blood to the lower parts of my body. I decided to go for a walk.
I tucked my hands into the pockets of my short to keep them warm and walked briskly down the long road. As I approach a bend, the sight of round amber lights not wider than the tip of my index finger and a cloud of smoke caught my attention at the entrance of one of the stores sprawled along both sides of the street, I ignored the movements noticed in the dark where the lights and smoke were coming from and walked on, then I heard a husky voice yelling “Hey!”
I ignored and continued, aware of the possibility that I was the one being called; my knees felt weak but I kept on trudging forward. The sound of quickened steps behind me made me turn round and saw a guy with biceps as big as my skinny thighs  without a shirt on, approaching me, I kept on walking or so I thought I was, with my heart in my mouth now. As he came face to face with me, he asked me with glaring eyes if I was deaf. I told him I was sorry and lied I didn’t hear. He ordered me to follow him so that I could go and tell that to ‘President’ whom I later knew to be Sparko. When we got to their hangout, I knew I was in for it. I stood and said
“Good morning”
I was not surprised when I didn’t get a reply; instead, I was swept into the air and landed awkwardly to the floor by one of them, then Sparko spoke “that is how you greet your father, isn’t it?. I nodded, avoiding his glare.
“Where are you coming from and going to?”
“My aunt stays on the next street; I was on my way to see…”
“The street doesn’t have a name, eh?” Sparko interrupted
I fell silent thinking about home now.  “My dad would be glad now knowing I was in trouble” I thought.
“What do you have in your bag?”
I quickly emptied the content of my bag on the floor; Sparko’s boys moved closer for a better view but retreated almost immediately.
“Oh, I see, your aunt must be waiting for her nephew to arrive in the wee hours of the morning, what kind of job do you do?”
“I’m a labourer” I raised my head “I know her house, I just can’t remember the name of the street.”
“Since you don’t know the name of the street, let my boy here, do you the honour of safely taking you home to your aunt, at least you know where you’re going even if you don’t know or have where you’re coming from”
Sparko brought out a thin white paper, poured “dried leaves” on it, rolled it up and placed it at the back of his right ear. He tapped a short, thick set boy to escort me home to my ‘aunt.’
On our way to my supposed “aunt’s” house, I thought my companion was clumsy as his strides came slowly, there was little distance between him and myself.
“I could beat him in a race with my long legs, let me put these legs to test” I thought. Beads of sweat started to break on my forehead as I contemplated ditching him. We kept walking. After a few moments had passed, I suddenly stooped fumbling with the buckle of my sandal until the short man had gone ahead of me, I disappeared into a narrow opening between two buildings but didn’t get far as a big hand yanked me in the shoulder and simultaneously leveled a blow to the side of my face. I felt dazed but quickly recovered and made to escape again, this time his firm grip on my wrist was like a vice to a bench. I gave up trying to run away.
As he led me back to the road, he coolly asked me if I still wanted to go see my ‘aunt’, I ignored him, feeling the fresh cut inside my mouth with my tongue and steadying my breath. He repeated his question and I ignored again, not because I wanted to but I didn’t know how to explain my situation. Without saying another word, he dragged me back towards their hangout.
The dark sky had begun to give way for a bright sky. The boys were gathering their stuffs together preparing to disperse for the morning when we got back there. Sparko asked if my aunt had also gone out early. I quickly replied “No” to avoid being hit. He gave me a knowing look then asked if I needed a place to rest my head, my aching feet and empty stomach answered that question through the service of my mouth. As everyone dispersed in different directions, Sparko asked me for my name
“Charles” I told him
He asked me to follow him.
Sparko lived on the first floor of an old building that was probably designed by the Europeans because of its beauty. The building comprised several apartment types for different occupants of varying financial status. It was said to have been occupied by members of staff of a defunct furniture making company. He fumbled for the keys in his pocket and brought out a single piece which he used to unlock the door to his room. His single room was simple but neat, a bed, three single chairs, a twin speaker radio cassette player, a table fan and a refrigerator. He told me to sit and went to his refrigerator where he brought out two bottles of beer and offered me one. I declined. He returned to the refrigerator and brought a soft drink. He handed me the soft drink and opened the beer for himself. I was first hesitant to open the drink in front of me wondering why he was been nice to me but couldn’t stand the suspense of waiting to feel the sweet content of the bottle run down my throat. I haven’t had one in months! I opened it and started to drink. After the second swig from his bottle, he casually asked without looking at me why I ran away from home.
“He knows already” I thought. I went all out to explain myself not sparing one detail.
I told him about my father and mother and my brother Jerry and then about Ruth. After I had told him everything, all he did was shook his head and uttered the word “poor boy” then he continued with his beer. He told me I could lay on the bed if I wanted but I told him I was fine. He soon went out, bolting the door from outside which I didn’t mind, I hadn’t been on a bed for weeks, so I simply jumped on the bed and was fast asleep when he returned about an hour later. The aroma of something nice cooking in the kitchen woke me but I stayed in bed with my eyes shut. Few moments later, he called me to breakfast.
It was a plate full of scrambled eggs and a big loaf of bread plus a cup of rich tea, not the type I used to drink that usually was ninety percent tea, ten percent milk. I devoured my portion quickly and he offered me some of his which I declined at first but on a second offer, I accepted.
After breakfast, I had difficulty thinking because my stomach was full. I helped with the washing of utensils used in cooking and preparing breakfast. He drew a chair near the window side and brought a wrapped paper containing “dried leaves” from his pocket and lit it, he dragged a lung full of smoke then gradually released the smoke into the air through the open windows. He offered me twice telling me it was good for me and twice I declined.
I began to observe him: there was something calm yet menacing about him; behind those eye lids were somber eyeballs that always seem to be distant in thoughts. His averagely built physique didn’t portray a violent man yet he was revered by his boys I saw earlier. After some time, he told me to get bathing water from the tap downstairs and have my bath after which I decided to take a nap. It was not until six in the evening that I woke up with Sir Victor Uwaifor’s music playing softly from the stereo, I rubbed both eyes with my palms and gently placed my feet on the naked floor, looked around but there was no sign of Sparko in the house except for a bowl of rice on th table and a scribbled note that simply read “your food”. I took the food and ate it feeling like a young pampered prince.
Three hours later, I heard footsteps approaching and then it stopped at the front of the door to Sparko’s room. My heartbeat came faster and my brain became active. A quick fumble with the lock and the door flung open. Standing at the entrance was a tall, averagely built guy who told me Sparko had asked him to come and fetch me. I wore my sandals and followed him, this time leaving my little belongings behind.
We met them in a ecstatic mood chatting away and laughing at the top of their voices, I moved towards Sparko who only signaled me to sit anywhere among the gathering. ‘Dried leaves’ changed hands. As it went round, it got to my turn and I simply passed it on. When everybody had been served, the ‘ceremony’ began at full swing. Randomly, one end of rolled “dried leaves” was torched and before long a cloud of smoke hung in the space above us. There was local gin to accompany the ‘dried leaf meal’. Sparko then made a formal introduction of me to the rest of the gang. Some smiled to me while others didn’t care. As the (uncalled for) celebration continued, my lungs began to get filled with the burnt aroma of “dried leaves” others were puffing and before long, I was getting intoxicated. I’d laugh raucously to a witless joke. Once, I almost fell off my seat laughing but quickly caught myself. I asked the guy sitting next to me if I could have some of his joint; he looked in the direction of Sparko who nodded his approval.
My first drag was shallow and I quickly let out the smoke, the second drag went straight for my lungs through the windpipe. I chocked for air followed by spells of coughs which made me double up. My eye balls became red and swollen and glistened with tears. After some time, I was handed another wrap and this time, was told not to rush it and to drag the smoke gently into my lungs. I was determined to prove I could do it – following their instructions and getting it right. My head became light after sometime and I started to hallucinate and for a moment I felt at peace with the world around me. I smiled with my eyes glowing and suddenly felt like talking a little more. I introduced myself to the rest of the gang for the second time and they all laughed, I joined in the laugh and became serious again. I demanded to know each and everyone’s name. They all introduced themselves and when it was the turn of the short thick set guy that had landed a fist on the side of my face to introduce himself, he did and winked at me and I gave him a knowing look. The eighth and last person introduced himself. I thanked them all.
After a week of staying with sparko, and smoking Marijuana constantly, I became perfect at it.
One evening, I was sent on an errand to deliver a parcel to a man that lived few blocks away. I didn’t open it though, I knew what was inside. Money exchanged hands between myself, Sparko and many clients around the neighborhood for a long time but none came to me. This went on for five months before I called Sparko and told him I wanted in on whatever business that I was involved. He smiled and told me I was a smart boy. He said he’d think about it.
Four days later, he gave me ten percent of the money I delivered to him that evening and subsequently, that became the norm.

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